Thursday, April 22, 2010

Milleu control in families

This is one I have been thinking about for days. After reading often at Cindy Kunsman's web site, Under Much Grace the reality that families and congregations of mainstream churches can also be cultish has been tumbling around in the back of my mind. I think in many of these instances, the people involved in cultish behavior- seeking total conformity to the stated ideals/goals- must believe the ideals are so worthwhile and the goals are so noble, that the measures taken to insure conformity are justified. (I would say "extreme measures" but obviously to the group engaged in them there is nothing unreasonable or extreme about it. Only those outside the group find the measures "extreme".)

Milleu Control for the purpose of this blog entry is defined as: the control of information and communication both within the environment and, ultimately, within the individual, resulting in a significant degree of isolation from society at large...Information from outside sources is often criticized and discounted to discourage acceptance by group members. Under Much Grace

I have a hard time getting past that paragraph.

It so succinctly describes many of the religious home school families and support groups I have been acquainted with during my thirteen years of home schooling. It even describes a few of the secular homes and home school support groups with which I have had personal experience. It is eerie, to say the least.

Good parenting is supposed to limit access to information and communication to some degree. Concerned parents are informed about the developmental stages of children, and familiarize themselves with what is appropriate to discuss with children at what age. We parents all control to some degree with whom our children communicate- what they watch on television, what they read, with whom they play or hang out, even the relatives with whom we allow them to develop close relationships. Many limit access to computers or install search engine filters so that young minds are not exposed to troubling realities they are not yet equipped to process in a healthy way. In this sense, milieu control is a necessary and good thing that allows our children some time to grow before they face all the mess this world has to offer.

In this way, all parents exert milieu control to one extent or another. It is cruel to do otherwise, and although there is great difference of opinion about what/where/when/how exposure to realities outside of the family is appropriate, there is much on which most parents agree. I don't know anyone who thinks it is appropriate to expose young children to porn, for example.

From the earliest days of home schooling being legally recognized, opponents of home schooling have pointed out that the possibility for milieu control is so great that it should be of major concern to society, and by extension, government as the formal institution regulating society. Libertarians like myself counter (rightly in my opinion) that all freedoms hold the potential for misuse, yet freedom itself is so precious and valuable to society that such hazards must be allowed.

Cultish groups had no problem flourishing in the days before home school was legal and popular. I remember the Pentecostal Holiness girls in my public school, as well as the single Jehovah's Witness, who were daily subjected to feeling like outsiders due to their parent's insistence on total behavior control. I even know a young teen girl my son's age, who was forced to wear the same clothes to public school for two years by a domineering mother. She had two sets of the same clothing, and did laundry every night for the day ahead. Of course the other children teased her and thought she was weird. The clothing isolated her even though she went to public school. This same teen was also not allowed to watch television (it was locked up), not allowed to shower more than 3-5 minutes, was not allowed free access to food (pantry and fridge were padlocked) and was spied on via web cam set up in the kitchen so that her working mom could keep control of her at all times.

In those examples, public school served as simply another venue for the cult control to operate, the parents using the shame and ostracization they were able to generate from the group to further dominate their children and/or force them to identify with the cult, be the cult family or religious in nature.

Controlling parents exist in all types of schooling, but it is true that there is more opportunity for total milieu control in a home school. I am asking that any home schoolers who drop by here stop and think seriously about their own families and home school programs. More specifically, I am asking Christian home school parents who might be reading to think long and hard about the appropriateness and the extent of the milieu control they have established in their own family's lives. Seriously. Intently. Prayerfully.

The second part of the definition above "Information from outside sources is often criticized and discounted to discourage acceptance by group members" of course made me think of all the Creation Science Only crowd. I exposed my children to creation science, as well as teaching them all about the modern scientific community's acceptance of evolution. We looked at evolution vs. creation from every angle, not only from the 6 Day Creation model but at all the different beliefs within Christianity as a whole and outside of religion. Not all Christians reject evolution, you know.

That is education: teaching all of the perspectives you can find on a subject, with all the pros and cons of each, and throwing in your own personal perspective for good measure, and owning it as such when you do. Teaching only one point of view, or teaching that all other points of view are invalid, is milieu control. Milieu control is the stuff of cults.

Likewise, when I recently used a religious curriculum for foreign language, it clearly portrayed competing Christian sects in the worst possible light. That isn't education; it's indoctrination. Education would have included the positives associated with other Christian sects as well, and maybe followed up with a concluding argument as to why your sect believes it is preferable. Indoctrination was the goal of that textbook, more so even than acquiring fluency in the foreign language it was written to teach.

And what is the point of indoctrination? Is it not to control so completely the possible thoughts available to the indoctrinated, that they have no real choice about what to believe?

That really concerns me as a believer in Jesus Christ. If salvation is by faith alone, in Christ alone, does it not have to be freely chosen faith? Can it still be called faith if you never really had any other choice?

It is a very good thing to ask yourself, as a home schooling parent. Have my children freely chosen faith, or did I take away all the other choices so that this one way is the only way they CAN possibly choose?

Something worth thinking about, at the very least.


  1. Absolutely. Great post.

  2. While this is an excellent post, I do have a few niggling doubts. Are you saying that to present Jesus and Christianity as the only way to heaven is to indoctrinate our children? I don't think that's what I'm hearing, but I'm not quite clear on it.
    I would think that there might be some issues where we do need to "indoctrinate" our children. Salvation being one of them...but I would also say that there are very few of them.
    Many things that are held dear by various denominations of Christianity need to be taught as you describe, "This is what I believe, but others who love and follow Jesus believe another way."
    I feel we would be remiss as parents not to present the absolutes of the Gospel as just that, absolutes.
    Just my two cents on an early morning!

  3. "Milieu Control for the purpose of this blog entry is defined as: the control of information and communication both within the environment and, ultimately, within the individual, resulting in a significant degree of isolation from society at large...Information from outside sources is often criticized and discounted to discourage acceptance by group members."

    Are you controlling all aspects of your student's lives? Do you vet every book, movie, magazine, person, etc. that you allow in your teens lives? While that is appropriate at a young age, I know that by the time my children were in middle school they KNEW EVERY THING I believed and that our church taught.

    They had memorized the Apostles Creed and many, many chapters of the Bible by then. They had sat through countless hours of Sunday school, VBS, AWANA, adult church, children's church, morning school day devotions, evening family devotions...They know God's Word and especially how mom and dad interpret it. I wonder how many hours of Bible that adds up to? And if you add in all the hours of prayers I prayed with them?

    And yet, as they grew, that has to loosen up (unless you are trying to brainwash your children rather than lead them to faith).

    I'm not still cutting my teen's food up for them, and I am not controlling what they are allowed to know of the world around them. They can take public school classes, go to the movies, make non-Christian friends. We have a close relationship so we can talk about all these things and how to keep Jesus first (as I hope they will always do- but in the end it's their life, not mine).

    It's my Father's world, and He loves it. He loves it in all of its messy and glorious order and chaos. My children are born again, with the Good Shepherd to lead them, and even go rescue them if (when) they run off on their own.

    LOL. I guess I just have more confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit and the trueness of my children's young conversions than many other Christian home school parents. But the question still remains, then-

    Is your children's faith real, valid, did they come to it on their own, or is it forced on them, so that they have no other choices in life except the prescribed choices the milieu control allowed for?

    Salvation being SUCH an important topic,and I agree it is VERY IMPORTANT. That is exactly why it is so very important to me that I not force them to say/do/act/believe like mommy says they should.

    I want them to come to an honest faith out of an honest heart, a freely chosen walk with Jesus- influenced by my testimony of love and faith and informed by my personal reverence for the Word and an early and often exposure to truth.

    But is it faith if they have ONLY been taught this one thing, and that all other ideas/doctrines/beliefs are evil? Is is faith if their lives have been ALL DOCTRINE, ALL THE TIME with no opportunity to experience any other ideas or people with other ideas?

    I submit that is not discipleship, it's brainwashing. And the end result of all works of the flesh is death. Do not be deceived, my beloved sisters.

  4. Great post and comments. Thank you. When I was a newer Christian and homeschool mom I would ask various people at various stages in my walk what the deal was with all of the "character training" stuff, all of the materials that seemed to say that if you do "A" (like follow their parenting plan) then "B" (like truly saved Christian children) is a sure result. My salvation experience was so NOT my own doing but a total work of the Lord's. I hated Christians and all things Christian until the day He changed my heart. So down deep I knew that I couldn't "make" my kids Christians. I bought into all of the stuff though - wasted a lot of money and stopped asking the Lord for His help because I had the latest greatest book or manual. I'm just now coming up for air. Blogs like these help so much. I also really liked your post on marriage and submission. I drank that poison for a time too. Thanks!

  5. Drink deep of grace, anonymous, everywhere you find it! =)

    I even bought a book at a home school convention (Doorposts? I'm not sure so don't quote me. The book is long gone.) that had a "scriptural" consequence- with proof-texted verses to back it up- for every imaginable sin a child could commit. Thank the Lord Jesus Christ that it only came off the shelf a very few times!

    Can you imagine having someone monitor YOUR every sin and appropriately "consequence" you? What hell it must to grow up under that kind of scrutiny.

    I don't think the verse, "Forgive as the Father forgives you" was ever part of the counsel. Nor "It is the glory of man to overlook an offense." Nor "judge not, lest you be judged, for the same measure you meet out will be measured back to you".

    Nope, it was only "train up a child" like that is the sum total of family relationships- as if none of the verses about love, mercy, forbearance and acceptance apply to the parent-child relationship.

    Personally, I'm glad I was more interested in raising children than training them. I am just guessing, but I bet my children are glad too!

  6. Your blogs are intensely interesting. I am seeing how large a variation there is in home school experiences. Thanks for helping me to understand.