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How the internet supercharged white supremacist homeschooling

Extremists using homeschooling education to spread white supremacist ideology is becoming a growing problem.
A girl seated at a desk with a laptop, notebook and pens.
Homeschooling has exploded in popularity since the pandemic.Tatiana Maksimova / Getty Images

Earlier this week, news outlets Vice and HuffPost wrote of an Ohio couple who had created a neo-Nazi-themed homeschooling channel, “Dissident Homeschool,” to distribute elementary school lesson plans to a group of 2,400 subscribers. Interested parents can download antisemitic and racist lesson plans to teach Nazi ideology, along with anti-LGBTQ+ videos and other hateful content.

By the spring of 2020, 5.4% of families were homeschooling at least one child — a number that more than doubled, to 11.1%, by the fall of 2021 during the height of the pandemic.

The story draws attention to a strategy that has long been key to white supremacist groups: indoctrinating their children through curriculum designed to teach white supremacy, while keeping them out of what they see as the brainwashing multiculturalism of public schools. The school superintendent of the Ohio city where the neo-Nazi homeschooling curriculum is being used noted that the district “vehemently condemns” the resources, and the state’s department of education is now investigating the neo-Nazi homeschool network.

Homeschooling has exploded in popularity since the pandemic. The movement gained initial momentum in the 1960s and 1970s as it was embraced by a complex mix of fundamentalist Christians and other religious conservatives, counterculture hippies, and educational radicals promoting “unschooling.” By the spring of 2020, 5.4% of families were homeschooling at least one child — a number that more than doubled, to 11.1%, by the fall of 2021 during the height of the pandemic. Although some of those families have since returned to traditional schools, local data suggests that the numbers of homeschooled students remains exceptionally high.   

Homeschooling as a strategy to indoctrinate children into white supremacy is nothing new — although the phenomenon represents a tiny minority of homeschooling families. Even before the internet, women in the white supremacist movement wrote newsletters with homeschooling tips alongside recipes intended to help raise pure, white families to secure the future of white civilization. Millennial far-right women have modernized the movement, crafting video blogs and channels that detail their experiences growing vegetables, being a housewife and homeschooling children with an emphasis on “heritage, race, culture.” 

It’s this latter, modern phenomenon that takes advantage of both the growth of homeschooling families and the ease of online connections and support networks — which reduces the isolation of homeschooling and helps families access high-quality curricular materials and social networks of families and peers. 

But online networks also run risks. With millions of new homeschooling parents looking for resources online, the last thing we need is hateful or antidemocratic content being served up to them as academic curricula. And while the neo-Nazi homeschooling network was run by overt white supremacists — offering lessons that teach handwriting by writing quotes from Hitler, among other examples — other curricular resource networks, antidemocratic homeschooling blogs and online communities are less direct about aims that may be divisive or teach values contrary to American multicultural democracy.

Many states subsidize homeschooling with public funds through voucher plans. But few have serious mechanisms to ensure kids are protected from harmful, antidemocratic or hateful content taught at home. Some school districts approve homeschooling curriculum and monitor its implementation, but in other states, parents only have to commit to providing the instruction, and can choose any curriculum as long as it meets basic standards and required topics.

Many states subsidize homeschooling with public funds through voucher plans. But few have serious mechanisms to ensure kids are protected from harmful, antidemocratic or hateful content taught at home.

It’s important to acknowledge the wide range of reasons why parents choose to homeschool, most of which have nothing to do with white supremacy or other forms of extremism. Some families reject the bureaucratic nature of schools and their standardized testing regimes, while others are worried about persistent school shootings, post-pandemic teacher shortages, or are teaching children with special needs. 

But the vast majority of families who homeschool, according to a 2022 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, say they do so because of moral or religious reasons. This means that values are the most important factor driving choices to homeschool. In light of the egregious actions of the Ohio-based neo-Nazi curriculum channel, it’s worth at least asking what safeguards are in place to ensure that the values families teach at home are ones that reinforce and support U.S. democracy, its institutions, and an inclusive society more broadly.

It’s especially ironic that in a moment of so much moral panic about what kids are reading in school, what books are allowed in libraries, or what public school teachers are allowed to say about race, racism, or LGBTQ+ identities, we completely ignore the millions of kids who are only learning what their parents deem relevant. With record-breaking growth in antisemitism, hate crimes, documented spikes in misogyny and anti-LGBTQ+ hate and more, we can’t assume that every adult is equipped to teach in ways that promote tolerance, respect, and social cohesion.

There’s a reason why Germany, some 80 years after the Holocaust, does not allow homeschooling: because they see the state as having an obligation to teach democratic citizenship and socialize children in ways that lead to the rejection of antisemitic and extremist ideologies. This approach recognizes that individual families are not always equipped to help their children build resilience against online propaganda and conspiracy theories — or, like in the case of the Dissident Homeschool group, they might deliberately teach things that run counter to inclusive democracy.  

Organized schooling outside of the home has already been proven to be key in cases where young people leave hateful movements. Derek Black, who was raised in the white supremacist movement and is the godson of former KKK grand wizard David Duke, credited his time attending a small liberal arts college and the new ideas and different people he encountered there as laying the groundwork for his break with white supremacist extremism. (That same college has been targeted by Florida Ron DeSantis for a “hostile takeover” to remake it as a haven for conservative families.)

I am not suggesting that the U.S. ban homeschooling. Educating children at home is a tradition and a right that should be respected. But in light of the neo-Nazi homeschooling revelations and the massive growth of homeschooling overall, it is clear we need greater monitoring and regulation of homeschooling curriculum. It’s easy to focus on and condemn overtly racist cases like the Ohio neo-Nazi homeschooling channel. But with millions of families newly embracing homeschooling in the post-pandemic era, lawmakers and school districts across the country should ensure that no child is indoctrinated into hateful ideologies at home, especially without the counterpoints that public education can provide.