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.