Homeschool Researcher Brian D. Ray Promotes Books Linked to Child Abuse, Deaths

Brian D. Ray is probably the most well-known researcher on homeschooling outcomes. He founded the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) in 1990 as a partner to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), the most prominent homeschool lobbying organization in the United States as well as an essential force in the Religious Right. Ray’s research through NHERI was and is specifically for activism, not academia: it was used, and continues to be used, to buttress HSLDA’s efforts across all fifty states to completely deregulate homeschooling. Indeed, some have called NHERI merely a “research arm” of HSLDA, which is quite an accurate description—though Ray takes great pains to try to deny NHERI’s association with HSLDA.

While Ray’s research has received repeated criticism from academics due to its cherrypicking nature and methodological problems, less attention has been given to Ray himself. Ray is no neutral academic trying to let the evidence about homeschooling lead wherever it may. He is, rather, a far-right extremist who uses his research on homeschooling to engage in cultural warfare and advance the vision of Christian Nationalism that so many Christian homeschoolers adhere to. A proponent of the Quiverfull and Christian Patriarchy ideologies popular in Christian homeschooling, Ray is a homeschooling parent himself who homeschooled all eight of his children on a secluded farm in a conservative enclave in western Oregon.

Since at least 2005, and as recently as 2015, Ray has promoted books by evangelical “child training” experts that have been linked to numerous cases of child abuse and even deaths. These books encourage beating infants as young as a few months old, treating children like animals, and disobeying, circumventing, and abolishing child protection laws. Such books include: To Train Up A Child by Michael and Debi Pearl; What the Bible Says About… Child Training by J. Richard Fugate; Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp; and The Way Home by Mary Pride. Ray has encouraged homeschooling families to buy these books as far back as 2005. That year Ray published his book Worldwide Guide to Homeschooling. In that book, Ray urges parents to read the Pearls, Fugate, and Pride. Here’s an excerpt:

Since 2005, of course, much has changed in the homeschooling world. Many homeschool alumni—dubbed “homeschool apostates”—have now spoken out about the widespread child abuse and neglect they experienced. Through websites like Homeschoolers Anonymous, Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, Recovering Grace, and the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, homeschool alumni shared their stories and urged the homeschooling world to change, to place children’s interests above parents’ selfish desires to “train up” their children into their mini-me’s.

Part of what these websites revealed was the extent to which books by evangelical “child training” experts have been used by abusive parents to justify their mistreatment of their children. It is unsurprising, then, that over half of homeschool alumni surveyed in a 2014 study say they experienced abuse and an additional quarter report knowing another homeschooler who was abused.

Increasing the visibility of these alumni’s voices were high-profile child abuse and death cases linked to the very books Ray has promoted and continues to promote. The case of Hana Williams, for example, revealed how the cruel practices promoted by Michael and Debi Pearl in To Train Up A Child encouraged the Williams parents to murder the 13-year-old Hana.

Hana is far from being the only child abused or killed by Christian homeschooling parents following the practices taught by the Pearls, Fugate, Tripp, and Pride. There’s little Sean Paddock. There’s poor Lydia Schatz. And so many others.

Despite these horrific cases, however, Ray continues to promote the books linked them. As recently as 2015, Ray was encouraging homeschooling parents to buy these same books. The following is an image from a 2015 speech entitled “Nurture and Admonition— Not Pain and Provocation” that he gave at an Arizona Families for Home Education conference. You will notice that Ray is still promoting Fugate, Tripp, and the Pearls:

Ray’s promotion of these books is, unfortunately, unsurprising, considering that Ray himself participated in the 2009 Men’s Leadership Summit on homeschooling. He and others at the Summit articulated a clear vision for homeschooling’s future that included the complete dismantling of the United States’s child protection system. Doug Phillips, a former HSLDA attorney, stated at the Summit, for example, that “the core problem with Child Protective Services is its existence” and that we should aim for “eliminating it altogether.”

This sentiment against child protection is front and center in one of the books Ray recommends, Fugate’s book, What the Bible Says About… Child Training. There, Fugate argues that that “child advocacy agencies and child abuse laws” are unbiblical because “there is no such thing as ‘child rights’ sanctioned by the Word of God.” Instead of allowing government to intervene on behalf of abused children, Fugate believes children should instead consider their abuse to be God “preparing such a child to glorify Himself through suffering.”

This is not only a horrific message to send to child abuse survivors, it is also illegal, considering mandatory reporting laws in many states. It is beyond time that the Christian Homeschooling Movement takes Brian D. Ray to task for continuing to promote books linked to so many cases of child abuse and deaths.

Published by R.L. Stollar

R.L. Stollar is a child liberation theologian and an advocate for children and abuse survivors. The author of an upcoming book on child liberation theology, The Kingdom of Children, Ryan has an M.H.S. in Child Protection from Nova Southeastern University and an M.A. in Eastern Classics from St. John’s College.

11 thoughts on “Homeschool Researcher Brian D. Ray Promotes Books Linked to Child Abuse, Deaths

  1. Thank-you for sharing your knowledge regarding a Christian who happily sets aside his humanism so he can harm others with authority! ‘The Bible says’, is a phrase that should disappear because it is so often used as a preface to state an opinion that is repugnant to other humans. (Ray doesn’t seem to use that preacher’s phrase that often but he does regard the Bible as true and like all believers he means a true that is personally divined and propagated. The Pearls do the same and beat the heck out of chldren because they know they are right and biblical. To hell with human decency because God. The fundamentalist evangelical feels an authority given to free the believer to commit all kinds of abuse, abuse towards babies and children (read for a minute anything the Pearls write), disdain for women, subjection to rigid, shallow roles, threats of eternal abuse for those who do not agree with them and well, you know the drill. Brian Ray likes to guild his denial with evangelical zeal under the cover of academic pursuit. He basically takes the bully Christian insistence that all begins and ends with Jesus and makes his learning conform to that foundation. He does this while expressing discomfort with other ways of looking at things, say through the lens of Marxism, or femininism. He feels these perspectives for observation and interpretation are not at all what he does with his Biblical lens! When you wade through his very wordy prose, you see yet another Christian who feels free to harm others because God. I much prefer the perspectives of child advocates who abhor the abuse that is biblically supported. I much prefer feminist views that allow women basic freedom and respect, liberty, not Christian denial.

    1. “When you wade through his very wordy prose, you see yet another Christian who feels free to harm others because God.”

      Absolutely agreed! And a Christian who encourages others to harm people as well.

  2. R.L.: I appreciate your concerns. I think many of your concerns are appropriate. And the so-called “Christian homeschool ‘movement'” needs to address the abusive character of too many of its “leaders” who, themselves, have been proven abusive.

    AT THE SAME TIME, I want to call you out on your comment in the seventh paragraph that “[i]t is unsurprising . . . that over half of homeschool alumni surveyed in a 2014 study say they experienced abuse and an additional quarter report knowing another homeschooler who was abused.”

    Paragraph 2 in your article says, “Ray’s research has received repeated criticism from academics due to its cherrypicking nature and methodological problems.” –Agreed. And for very good reason.

    But now don’t you need to wear those shoes on your feet? Wasn’t HARO, the source of the study participants, a rather cherry-picked audience? (That was certainly my impression while the organization still existed.)

    If you look for the abused and disaffected, you will find the abused and disaffected.

    I don’t want to criticize you or HARO for the work you-all did. At the same time, I don’t want you to hold out statistics you gathered from that rather unique audience as being, somehow, representative of homeschooling in general, or “Christian” homeschooling, or “the” Christian homeschool “movement.” . . .

    1. Hi John! Thanks for the comment. I appreciate the feedback.

      The HARO survey was certainly not representative of the homeschooling community (or at least we cannot *claim* it is). Though I wouldn’t say our audience was “cherry-picked.” I did everything in my power to ensure that as many homeschool alumni outside the survivor communities took the survey as possible. And in the end I think we did a decent job, as the overwhelming majority of respondents did not hear about the survey from a survivor community. In fact, only 25% of the sample came explicitly from such a community. Furthermore, the survey found that negative homeschooling experiences were not limited to alumni who consider themselves part of a survivor community. Check out the demographic section of the survey here with more info on this:

      Additionally, I think that intentions here are important when we are talking about cherry-picking. Ray specifically uses his surveys to claim they represent the homeschooling movement. He has done this repeatedly despite being rightly called out for it numerous times. I have never claimed the HARO survey is representative and HARO took great pains to say so in (I think) every section of the survey results. In the above paragraph you cite, too, I only say “over half of homeschool alumni surveyed in a 2014 study.” I do not say, “over half of homeschool alumni,” which is more comparable to what Ray does.

      1. I think that John Holt’s work in developing views of learning, is a great place to begin in any schooling endeavor. I say that in full knowledge that Christians are holding strongly to what they perceive to be biblical guidelines. Still, believers might benefit by reading Holt’s work as if was talking about their own version of schooling, while trying to be open to scrutiny and understand that the essential foundations of learning are individual and virtually endless. If we apply this to our own choices for our children, we soon realize that it is our choices that might hold back our kids, our choices for them.
        John Holt began to verbalize a reality he observed in his years teaching in schools. And it seems to me that he learned to not offer choices so much but to accept the choices of children in their learning. This is, I’m afraid, antithetical to evangelical Christians in my experience. I am the almost 70 year old son of a fundamentalist Baptist preacher, so I have an inkling of the world of belief and some of the rest too! One of the biggest hurdles to jump in sharing ideas with fundagelicals is the challenge they feel when you suggest less control and more connection with their children. They feel that the control, the raising up of the child in the way they should go, is commanded by God and that their job is in a very real sense, more Jesus and less me, meaning more being guided by the preacher or their own interpretation of the Bible. This is the lesson their children will learn in fundagelical education and parents will cry out in protest if asked to consider that learning is not first and last about Jesus/Mohamed/God but about something else.
        John, above, seems to want us to realize that Christian homeschooling is not riddled with abuse and is just what the doctor ordered in many cases. All learning is what the doctor ordered and if children run their own learning (mostly how to play and never lose that gift), then learning will be successful. (And from the pews, uproarious laughter!)

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