A news story about the Naugler family of Kentucky has been going viral this week. Headlines from sites like infowars.com and Off the Grid News state that CPS “seized” the family’s ten children simply because they live off the grid on several acres of Kentucky land and homeschool, and are therefore being unfairly persecuted for their lifestyle by local government authorities who are in disagreement with the family’s values. It is not my inclination in writing about this story to make anyone feel stupid, or to say that CPS is completely right, but rather I am irritated at the sensationalistic angle being taken on the internet that is perpetuating the viral nature of a story in which there are many components that the average reader is unfamiliar with, but those who study the Christian Patriarchy movement know all too well. Also, what is the place of disability in this story?
Off the Grid News writes: “An off-grid homeschool family of 12 in rural Kentucky was raided, the mother arrested, and the 10 children seized simply because the government disagrees with their lifestyle and their educational choices, family members and friends say.”
It is not surprising that adult friends of the family and the Naugler parents themselves are taking this protective angle and making the issue seem like unfair lifestyle persecution, therefore turning the outrage squarely on authorities and distracting from the realities of this case. It has been extremely effective, hence the viral nature of this story, and certainly appeals to American ideals of freedom from unwanted government interference and regulation. The heart-wrenching image of an innocent pregnant mother trying to keep her children from being taken away by cops is also shocking and compelling.
The Naugler family also has been asking the public for money in order to fight CPS. So there is more than an angle for sympathy here, the parents do have a financial agenda in presenting the story this way. As for the “news” sites, interviewing adult friends of the family who are likely of the same ideology and have a motive to protect the Nauglers is not unbiased reporting, and portrays an ideological and financial agenda on the part of both the websites and those interviewed for this story.
The ones who are unable to speak in this case are the children. It is important to remember that.
This paragraph has been repeated on several sites:
“The family may be off grid, but they aren’t anonymous. In fact, they have Internet, as well as a Facebook page dating back to 2012 where they frequently post pictures and videos of their children, animals and their off-grid life. A May 5 post showed a video of a toddler, Mosiah, learning to walk. An April 24 post showed a happy family, gathering around a campfire, roasting marshmallows.”
How sweet, Mosiah was learning to walk, and everyone was toasting marshmallows. The video of Mosiah walking can be viewed on the Facebook page. This doesn’t provide evidence of a non abusive family. Anyone can carefully select a photo from a happy event and post it online. This photo does not indicate abuse one way or the other, but it is being used by biased websites and Naugler family supporters as evidence of no wrongdoing.
There is a social media presence, yes, but this does not mean that the parents are being completely free and open about everything, or that the images are not controlled and selected to perpetuate an ideological agenda. People tend to think that child abuse always happens behind closed doors and that an abusive family would never have children that look happy in any circumstances, nor would they have a public Facebook page. Abuse is much more complex and subtle. Many abusive families have public blogs, write books and have Facebook pages full of smiling children, particularly in the Christian Patriarchy movement, which the Naugler family is a part of. It doesn’t mean either way that they are abusive or not, but public interface can be an aspect of promoting Christian Patriarchal Homeschooling and controlling public opinion of what can amount to a pretty oppressive lifestyle and set of beliefs.
So what about these photos?
This is the family’s homestead, referred to by them as a cabin. It is up to reader to make their own inferences from these photos, which are not being widely publicized on sites like infowars.com or Off the Grid Living. These images can be found on the family’s Facebook page. Those who know about Kentucky can attest that this type of off the grid lifestyle is not uncommon there. It is also not the reason that the children were taken, nor is the fact that they are homeschooled. As noted on the site Homeschoolers Anonymous, homeschooling is legal in Kentucky and many people flock there due to the extremely lax homeschooling regulations. Also included in the recent article linked on that website titled “Here Are Seven Surprising Things You Need to Know About Joe And Nicole Naugler” are testimonials from community members who also unschool and who know the family personally, and state that the parents are troubled. Mr. Naugler is described as violent and “scary”, and so is Mrs. Naugler by a few people who claim to actually know them.
The original CPS complaint, posted on Facebook by Nicole Naugler herself, states that piles of garbage, broken glass and nails litter the property; remember little Mosiah learning to walk? In the video he is barefoot and walking on a dirt floor. Threats of violence had allegedly been made to neighbors by Mr. Naugler, a pond without any type of barrier around it was another issue, no septic or running water and a complaint was made that Mrs. Naugler was giving birth unassisted in a tent. These issues led CPS to conclude that the children were unsafe on this property. It was not because the parents homeschooled.
What is the Christian Patriarchy movement?
You may have heard of the popular TLC television show, “Nineteen Kids and Counting”. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar are Christian fundamentalists who follow the large family, no birth control, strict gender binary, homeschooling patriarchal culture of Quiverfull, although they do not use the Quiverfull label. Many of these families don’t, because it has negative connotations due to yes, the abuse that is almost a naturally occurring and inherent part of this system, depending on the family. A good place to start to learn more about it is the site No Longer Quivering. Like many people, I enjoy watching the Duggars on TV and I am not making statements that they or the Nauglers are abusive to their children. However, part of the ideology that these families follow can involve practices that could be considered abusive or oppressive.
Briefly, Quiverfull and Christian Patriarchy are ideologies that can be applied to almost any religion, but primarily is followed in Protestant Christian Fundamentalism. In the United States, it is an ideology that exalts the Puritan New England model of large families headed by a Patriarch who is next in line to God as the ultimate authority. The roles of men and women are rigid and strictly defined within this model: women are often completely submissive, sexually and otherwise, to their husbands, and birth control or in some cases, even natural family planning, is considered an affront to God, so families of ten, fifteen or even twenty children result.
Daughters are expected from a very young age to care for and help raise their many siblings. For women and girls, standards of femininity are enforced which includes what is referred to as “modest” dressing, long hair and patriarchal control by the father and church over things like dating, going to college or having a job. Women in this model often do not work unless it is at home in a family business, they do not debate theology like their husbands do as church leaders, they are supposed to take care of the home, have babies and provide educational instruction. Debt or relying on government assistance is considered sinful, and modern medicine is often eschewed. Christian Patriarchy is a spectrum, like many things, and people fall anywhere along it.
The Naugler family, wherever they fall upon the Quiverfull spectrum, are a part of this movement. Built into it is corporal punishment, something that is not discussed very much at all on any internet forums or television shows due to the bad publicity received by Quiverfull families who have had children die. The teachings are straight out of the Puritan Era and are the same ones used by Protestants in the 17th through early 19th centuries. Professor Phillip Greven of Rutgers University writes extensively about the historic tradition in his book. Switching and beating children and infants as part of child “training” and instilling obedience is used by modern Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchal families who look to Michael and Debi Pearl’s book, “To Train Up a Child”. Due to several abuse-related deaths which occurred in large homeschool families who used the book as a manual, Christian Patriarchy members do not advertise this “spare the rod” philosophy, but research reveals that Michael and Debi Pearl are very popular and considered influential in this movement. They run No Greater Joy Ministries, based in Tennessee, and have a slew of books, products, YouTube videos and blog posts found at their website, Nogreaterjoy.org.
The question I often have when viewing these types of lifestyles is what happens when there is a disabled child or presence of something like a learning disability in a family member? While an adult might have a right to live in what amounts to a three room cabin off the grid and allow children to be unschooled and “free range”, is it really possible to accommodate disability in this environment? In a family of ten, there is a likelihood that a child may have a learning disability or some other type of disability, and within the Quiverfull movement, there are many disabled children, as there are in any other part of society. In the case of the Jeub family, another Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchal homeschooling family, daughter Cynthia attests that at least two of her fifteen siblings was learning disabled, but her parents did nothing about it. And how could they? With that many kids, no one had the time or the resources. Taking that time and extra attention was simply not feasible, and seeking help from outside sources or government assistance for things like hearing aids or a wheelchair runs counter to the ideology. A wheelchair can cost five thousand dollars. A child who needs a wheelchair or assistive devices is not going to appear to be falling over on the ground. Sometimes you cannot tell by a photograph if someone is disabled. They are just straining very hard to get by. I would like the question of disability to be raised when people read stories about these families, because disability is a common occurrence.
Also, how much of the “free range” thing is actual ideology, and how much of it is just easier than trying to supervise ten children in these conditions? As someone with psychiatric disability and sensory-neural hearing loss, this type of upbringing would not have fostered my intellectual development or health. Another aspect of this lifestyle is that often there is no health insurance, no government benefits taken (as mentioned) and few trips to doctors or specialists, as stated on the Naugler family blog, Blessed Little Homestead, by Mrs. Naugler in a post titled, “No Doctors, No Drugs, Lots of Critics”. The rhetoric she uses makes it seem like modern medicine is pretty unnecessary and she can teach herself almost everything she needs to know. Again, this type of rugged individualism can be respected and admired in the United States, but what are the consequences for disabled children within this mindset, and even for the non disabled children?
Living in conditions where one is consistently exposed to the weather or living in a tent on the ground is another issue that might severally constrain and hurt a child with a disability. So while the Naugler’s life is portrayed in the viral posts as being bucolic, one has to ask, whom is it really ideal for? And yes, their blog looks really sweet. So what? So does the Jeub’s, so does the Pearl’s, so do most of the blogs that come from this movement.
Read more about the theoretical concept of Crip Time and the Christian Patriarchy in my essay here, if you are interested. Crip Time is the time that disabled people need in order to learn, thrive, get ready, or do a number of other things. Within these type of highly structured or in the case of the Nauglers, completely unstructured environments, disabled people can have a hard time adjusting to a concept of time designed by one who is able-bodied.
Read Cynthia Jeub’s blog Insights on Epic Living to hear a rare perspective of a child who was raised in this type of family. Yes, the Jeubs have an internet presence, they are friends with the Duggars, they were on TV, they write books and everyone looks happy in the photos. However, the corporal punishment inflicted on the children was right out of “To Train Up a Child”, and Michael and Debi Pearl were close friends of the family. Erika Shupe, a Quiverfull mom who writes “Large Families on Purpose” also cites the Pearls as influences on her blog. The lists go on and on. Before sending money to the Naugler family or decrying their so-called persecution at the hands of government, it is good to really examine the reporting of this story and also to examine the reality of their lifestyle.