It May Be Early to Call It a Pattern, but …

Three apparently unrelated news stories are tied together by one factor. The news stories are:

  1. Rachel Dolezal and her attempt at race reassignment;
  2. Ariel Bradley, the “ISIS bride” from Tennessee who has gone all-in for jihad; and
  3. This week’s murder of five family members in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, allegedly by the oldest son.

The common factor is that the principles of these stories were all  home-schooled by parents who were tightly controlling and kept their children isolated from mainstream culture.

A few days ago Amanda Marcotte wrote an article that tied together the similarities between Dolezal and Bradley. They both were raised in such isolation, by rabidly controlling parents, that when they approached adulthood they either were compelled to invent new identities for themselves or create identities out of whole cloth that separated them from their upbringing. Marcotte writes,

BuzzFeed pieced together the 29-year-old Bradley’s story through conversations with her friends and a brief interview with her mother. Her friend Robert Parker says that Bradley was raised by a fundamentalist mother who was intent on keeping “her away from materials that would make her question Christianity.” Not only was Bradley homeschooled; she didn’t even learn to read until she was a preteen.

Bradley started rebelling against her parents in adolescence and spent her teens and early adulthood drifting from one identity to another, according to her friends. “It was like, when I first met her she was a Christian, and then she was a socialist, and then she was an atheist, and then a Muslim,” one friend explained. “As far as I could tell it was always in relation to whatever guy she was interested in, so if she meets a guy that’s an atheist then she’s an atheist, falls into that for a year.”’

Having not been allowed to become herself as she was growing up, she had to take a persona where she could find one.

I found Dolezal a bit baffling until I read about her upbringing by hyper-conservative Christian home schoolers who were also white supremacists. And who also adopted black children while being white supremacists. What little information has come to light makes the Dolezal family sound like a house of horrors. My guess is that adopting a black persona was a highly elaborate coping strategy for Dolezal. She wasn’t trying to perpetrate a hoax as much as she was deceiving herself as a way to distance herself from her upbringing. Or somehow work through her upbringing. Or both.

We don’t yet know if the Bever family of Broken Arrow were religious fundamentalists, but the neighbors are saying that the parents barely let the children out of the house.

While the community was left shocked by the brutal violence, the neighbor tells PEOPLE that something hasn’t seemed right with that family for a long time.

“They’re very reclusive,” the neighbor says. “The kids don’t come out of the house.”

She adds: “It’s a very big house, but I’ve only ever seen a boy once and they’ve been here for many, many years. We only really knew they had kids because they have a pool and there are toys outside. But they don’t come out.”

The neighbor says the kids were homeschooled by a married couple who kept the children “on a very short leash.”

“It’s weird because they’re old enough to drive,” she says of the detained brothers, “but I’ve never seen them. And I’ve never seen a friend come to the house at all.”

She continues: “They never open the blinds. The windows are never open.

“It’s very scary.”

We don’t know for certain that the oldest son Robert Bever and possibly another son, both now in custody, really did stab and axe their parents, two younger brothers and a sister. I will try to keep track as more information comes out. But it’s past time we needed to pay attention to the “home schooling” movement and take care it’s not fostering and perpetrating physical and psychological abuse.

16 thoughts on “It May Be Early to Call It a Pattern, but …

  1. I found Dolezal a bit baffling until I read about her upbringing by hyper-conservative Christian home schoolers who were also white supremacists.

    Information that I had not seen anywhere, until now. I remember when the story broke, there were oblique references in the MSM to an ongoing dispute over child abuse within the Dolezal family, apparently pitting Rachel against her parents. But even though this only raised a huge pile of questions, nobody in the MSM (to my knowledge) followed up on them.

    Expose children to an extreme environment, and it will yield extreme behavior in the long run. Guaran-freakin-teed.

  2. I can understand parents wanting to protect their children, but to essentially put them in isolation (solitary confinement), and having them only interact with family and church members, is way over the top!

    And how is it not child abuse when you don’t teach your child to read until s/he’s a pre-teen?
    A young mind without the stimulus of reading, and interacting with other children of the same age, is a wasted mind – and, maybe life.

    They don’t go through a “normal” childhood, which is learning that you’re not alone in every crisis, and that others go through things like hormonal changes, and frustrations. That’s what we learn from, and that’s how we learn empathy for others, and hope they’ll show empathy to you.

  3. I have a cousin who, along with his wife, is this kind of right-wing isolationist homeschooler. One of their children died after they denied him proper medical care for over a year, because they were scared of exposing him to outside influence.

    If one of their other kids were to kill them, I’m not sure I wouldn’t call it self defense.

  4. Extremism does not provide the flexibility and creativity needed for human growth. I know that sounds obvious, and that people living such lives do not see themselves in that light, but it is true. The fear of “other” turns into a fearsome thing.

  5. Interesting coincidence here. Pattern maybe, but of what? The three cases here had toxic parents/home environments in common, which I would think as being the dominant factor in their mental pathologies, their particular home schooling (if you can call it that) being an aggravating factor for sure. As a teacher in this era of “reform,” I’m not so sure I wouldn’t home school my own kid now if he were that age. At least through middle school anyway to guaranty grammar proficiency and exposure to a challenging canon of literature. There are many excellent secular curricula available to any parent wishing to undertake the challenge and commitment of being an educator. The effect of home schooling as a prime mover in personality disorders looks like something that would need some serious scholarship and research before making any fixed assumptions about it or even regulating it more strictly at this point in time. IMHO, where you would find substandard, or toxic Home schooling, you’ll likely find a home-life/parenting situation that suffers from same, regardless.

  6. Dolezal is a best-case scenario.
    Let’s face it, parents; the kids will disappoint you, by not being you. Pre-break your heart, and you’ll feel much better later.

  7. A lot of parents do home school their kids through middle school, letting them finish up in public high school the last four years. Anecdotally, I’ve seen this done with no apparent problems.

  8. I know in 1997, the fictional Buffy Summers (the vampire slayer) once said to her mom, “Homeschooling — it’s not just for scary religious people anymore,” but the fact is, in the intervening two decades, that perky optimism turned out to be horribly untrue.

    Every home-schooled person I’ve ever met (most in the past 15 years) turned out an extreme political conservative, with no understanding of how American government works, or even where factual information about government or current events can be found. They all believed Fox News was the only “fair and balanced” news outlet. They were pure products of parental indoctrination, and I have no idea how they passed state standards considering how little they actually understood.

    We have decent public schools where I live. My sister-in-law is a passionate public-school teacher in a neighboring state (albeit one with an extreme-Right governor on a mission to destroy the public schools). If I had kids I’d want them in public school, encountering other kids of different religions and ethnicities. Public school is a bastion against sectarian indoctrination, and the Right clearly understands that.

  9. Homeschooling may work for some families, if the parents allow their children other exposure to the outside world, including people with alternate points of view. If they get to play with other kids, participate in sports, or join organizations like 4-H or various forms of scouting, they may be just fine. Keeping them isolated within the family, or even restricting them to those of “approved” ideologies, is a recipe to create monsters.

  10. I can’t say I know any home-schooled people and there may not be any problem with learning at home by parents if they are qualified but children need social contact with others of their own age. Also, parents can’t keep them isolated from the big bad world forever. Therefore, they need to learn from an early age how to interact with others of all ages. If not, then they suffer culture shock when they venture out from under parent’s authority. Humans are social critters after all. One can observe babies or even toddlers when they encounter another human “of their own kind”. They get a special light and excitement in their eyes. If parents are so unsure of their own belief system that they don’t want their kids exposed to other ideas, there is something wrong there.

    • Many years ago I remember reading an education journal article that said home schooled children tended to do better on standardized tests and in college. But, as I said, that was many years ago. Most home-schooling situations back then were either of a child with special needs or a child of highly educated and motivated parents who were certain little Chauncy was a genius who needed a more intellectually challenging education than he could get in public school. So, most of the time, it was fine. The worst that could happen was that little Chauncy grew up to be socially awkward, but didn’t we all? But the new home schooling craze among fundamentalists could very well be creating many dysfunctional adults who are going to be a growing problem.

  11. Socialization is the missing element all right. After all, who is going to give them a wedgie–Mom and Dad?

  12. Our local homeschoolers were back to the earthers, who lived without even electricity. Their daughter started half time in high school, along with a program with cooperating astronomers at the Green Bank telescope. By the time she graduated high school, she won several national scholarship awards, and attended a big 10 college. And her parents moved to town and became the town librarians.

    Fundy homeschoolers? Whole different kettle. Different fish. Different outcomes.

  13. As I mentioned before, my neighbors all home schooled. In fact, our home address was the headquarters for the “New Jerusalem School.” I don’t have much other experience with home schooling, but I think this particular school was an exception to the rule. The kids were combined into a class, all ages together. The parents would teach their specialty, if they had one. They did frequent field trips, including to museums in Charlotte. The kids are all adults now and they all seem to have done well. One advantage was that all of them seem to relate well with both older and younger people. Even as kids, we were always impressed with their ability to interact with us, even though we were older, northern and from a different religious background.

    The major downside was that their church really doesn’t believe in “wasting” education on women. There were some very bright young women who really could have done remarkable things if they’d be given the right start. A few of them did do pretty well as business owners, etc. But, we still wonder what might have been.

    But, on the darkest side, I shudder to think of what the worst of homeschooling is like. You could have two parent/teachers who are dumb as proverbial rocks, and really just want to indoctrinate their kids. The accounts of the abusive punishment both physical and psychological, linked in this post, are chilling and seem sure to produce very scarred adults. The school here in our little community was the result of a group effort by adults who were genuinely interested in doing a good job. They had the resource of a pool of adults, many of whom had attended college. Most home probably don’t have those advantages or that commitment.

    As a final note, those kids are all grown up and have kids of their own. As far as I know they have ALL opted for public school education. Some are active in their church, but, many have “moved on.”

    When Gomer teaches Goober, both shall fall into a pit.

  14. Just a casual observation:

    There was a news story about Chattanooga as the center of the American jihad. It is also, considered the “most religious” city in the US. I am not sure how valid this assertion is, but, it is safe to say, it’s among the most religious cities in the US.

    Fundamentalists commonly like to shield their children from information and views that might compete with Christianity. The ones I know don’t want their children to be willful or worldly, particularly the girls (I wonder why.) In my opinion, they don’t seem to spend a lot of time ruminating about the more subtle meaning of their faith. They seem to be comfortable following a set of proscriptions. They don’t do metaphor, so they see a literal, simple “truth” as having penetrated and accepted the authority of God or his appointed surrogates here in this temporary holding cell, as they wait for the great hereafter. Being devout and submissive is the signature of a true believer.

    This is certainly a simplified, jaundiced view, but, for now, let it stand.

    So what happens when a person raised with this set of characteristics finds a group of people who seem to follow this same path, and perhaps, even do a little better at it? There would be the temptation to step it up a notch.

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