Generational Observations: Jeri Lofland’s Story, Part One

Generational Observations: Jeri Lofland’s Story, Part One

Jeri’s story was originally published on her blog Heresy in the Heartland. It is reprinted with her permission. The second part of Jeri’s contribution to HA is “Of Isolation and Community.”

Someone asked me about the long-term effects of homeschooling vs. public education, and it got me thinking. I won’t consider secular private education in this article, mostly because I don’t have firsthand experience.  I have enjoyed teaching my young children at home, but we have decided to send them to public school while they are still in the elementary grades because of our observations over a generation of homeschooling.

Effects on Society

Certainly homeschooling promotes elitism. Even without religious motivation, announcing that you can get a better education from your mother than from certified degreed professionals has an air of snobbery. Socially, the kids can hardly escape the inference that they are too good (or smart, or rich) to rub shoulders with the inferior proletariat, especially when they are repeatedly told their home experience is superior. Latin for kindergarteners, anyone?

Public school introduces children to others who are like, yet unlike, them at the same time. It broadens their understanding by allow them to work and play alongside real people of other races, other religions, other languages and backgrounds. When conflicts arise, involved parents have an opportunity to encourage cooperation, sensitivity, and compassion, as well as personal boundaries. My children are learning to respect diversity in a way that would be impossible if they only played with kids from their own neighborhood. And they see that excellence is a personal choice independent of circumstances.

Our public school welcomes parental involvement. Teachers are thrilled to have parents volunteer in the classroom and the principal has always had an open door when I stopped in with a question or concern. When I spend an hour helping my daughter’s classmates practice multiplication, I multiply the teacher’s efforts and support the cause of education far beyond my own children. Our school truly belongs to the community and it is what the community makes it.

Government policies and education budgets now affect my children directly, so I have heightened interest in the issues. I better understand what educators do, helping me relate to a much larger group of society. When teachers and professors in my book club begin to discuss particular stresses on public education, I can participate. Rather than supporting divisions based on class and ideology, I can connect differing perspectives to broaden people’s view of the big picture.

Effects on Students

I maintain that it is neither normal nor traditional for boys to spend their days under the tutelage of their mother after they reach double digits. In the days of the pioneer, a boy might grow up isolated and self-taught. He was prepared to explore the frontier, self-reliant and independent. Those are hardly the skills needed by adults today.

It would be interesting to hear from men how they think homeschooling affected them emotionally. My hunch is that all that time at home with Mom often stunted their decision-making and negotiating skills and either increased their susceptibility to manipulation or their ability to manipulate, or both.

Boys–and girls in contemporary society–need to learn goal-setting and negotiating skills. School exposes them to a range of leadership styles and personalities and varied levels of accountability. It helps them build a portfolio of social skills (and coping mechanisms) that can serve them in the work force when they have to deal with cranky managers, lazy teammates, and charting their own professional course.

Even in modern homeschooling, with its drama groups, advanced math co-op classes, and sports teams, families tend to be overly flexible, to lack commitment to schedules, and to make sacrifices for one child at the expense of the others. In spite of its flaws, the school system does allow for a more level playing field that offers individual choice and rewards accordingly.

Effects on Family Dynamics

Family dynamics are the primary reason I decided against long-term homeschooling. Put simply, my daughter appreciates me much more when she doesn’t have to spend all day with me! Though we spend less time together, we use that time more efficiently, deepening our relationship and helping her develop emotionally and socially. Homeschooling strains the parent-child relationship unnecessarily. It is unfair to a teenager for one or two adults to hold the keys to his education and grades as well as his: social life, access to transportation, food choices, access to employment, daily schedule, recreation, healthcare, and moral guidance. This absolute power tends to corrupt parents, or simply exhaust them.

How many moms have “burned out” on homeschooling, devoting themselves to their children’s needs or success while ignoring their own? If she has her own dreams, the teaching parent may resent the inefficiency of spending so many years as a caregiver and educator for a handful of children, when she could be pursuing a satisfying career while sharing the educational responsibility with professionals who chose the job. The early homeschool movement seems to have coincided with an era when technology and a stronger economy had recently reduced the load on stay-at-home moms. Homeschooling may be a healthy alternative to watching soap operas, but it can be a real financial hardship for some parents–contributing to marriage and family stress.

Adolescence is a time for widened horizons, a time to experiment with choices and learn specific cause-and-effect sequences, with the home as a physical and emotional safety net. When teachers reinforce what parents have been telling their kids, the whole family benefits. Feedback at regular intervals gives kids a chance to test different approaches to learning and meeting goals. When they struggle in one area (academics, social relationships, or family issues, for example), they can lean on other networks for support and hopefully build confidence by succeeding in something else.

As the product of homeschooling, and a homeschooling parent myself, I think the benefits of homeschooling are usually overstated. Certainly religious motivations have driven the movement’s growth, but weighing the social and educational results does not convince me that homeschooling prepares people to better thrive in their society.

But What About Socialization?

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on October 10, 2011.

"Socialization matters. It is not a bogeyman or a silly question."
“Socialization matters. It is not a bogeyman or a silly question.”

This is probably the most common question homeschoolers get. As a child, I was well schooled in how to reply to it. “Do you have any idea how many friends I have?” “Segregating children by age group is not a natural form of socialization.” “Socialization is just a code word for peer pressure.”

Today, I read blogs and articles by homeschoolers using these same arguments and insisting that socialization is no problem at all, and I want to scream. More than that, I want to bang my head against the wall.

You see, socialization matters. It is not a bogeyman or a silly question. It is important. And, it is an issue about which I am very passionate.

I arrived at college after being homeschooled through high school. I had had plenty of friends across a variety of age groups. I had been in homeschool co-ops and clubs, including a speech club. I had gone to political events and had spoken with reporters. I was articulate, well spoken, and outgoing. I thought I was socialized. I wasn’t.

The truth is, my first year of college was extremely painful. I had no idea how to interact with people who were different from me. I had no idea how to take criticism. I had no idea how to interact with those around me. I had no idea how to handle myself around large groups of people, or how to act in the ordinary social situations that come up at a large school. I had no idea how to handle someone not liking me. I had no idea how to function in a diverse society. I was incredibly awkward and felt extremely lost, and I cried more than you want to know.

You see, socialization is not about being able to carry on a sentence. Socialization isn’t about being able to make a friend. Socialization is about interacting with people who are different from you. It’s about learning how to deal with the bully or the “mean girl.” It’s about learning how to handle having people not like you. It’s about feeling put down by cliques, but learning to deal with it and surviving. It’s about growing a tough skin. It’s about handling playground politics. It’s about being friends with people who disagree with you.

There is a second issue here too. Homeschooling made me into a cultural misfit. The things the girls I met in college talked about, I didn’t understand. The things they were excited about, I was ignorant of. I experienced – and still experience – a huge cultural disconnection. I’m not saying I wanted to conform or just be a clone of the girls I met in college, but I would have at least liked to understand what made them tick and to have been able to communicate with them on this level. As it was, I couldn’t. I didn’t understand their culture, I had no common experiences with them, I had no basis for communication or identification. I was an outsider looking in.

Wikipedia defines socialization as follows:

Socialization is a term used by sociologists, social psychologists, anthropologists, political scientists and educationalists to refer to the process of inheriting and disseminating norms, customs and ideologies. It may provide the individual with the skills and habits necessary for participating within their own society; a society develops a culture through a plurality of shared norms, customs, values, traditions, social roles, symbols and languages. Socialization is thus ‘the means by which social and cultural continuity are attained’.

You see, socialization has nothing to do with whether you can make friends or hold a conversation. Socialization is about cultural understanding and cultural knowledge. It’s about having shared experiences and a shared system of symbols and languages. It’s about having things in common with those around you. It’s about a common culture. This is why public schools play such an important role in the socialization of our nation’s young. Public schools pass on our common traditions and disseminate our common culture.

In my experience, homeschoolers who laugh at the socialization question don’t have any idea what socialization actually is. They don’t understand the question, and they therefore bungle their answer. And every time I read another homeschool blog or website laughing off the socialization question, I want to bang my head against a wall.

Now, there are some who would say that, as such, socialization is a bad thing. They would argue that socialization is designed to turn children into robots. The problem with this argument is that socialization is not so much about conformity as about shared meaning and common knowledge. A person doesn’t have to accept every cultural value or live the way culture expects in order to be socialized. Instead, a well socialized individual simply needs to understand these things. Having a common culture and common experiences and traditions doesn’terase our differences, it holds us together as a nation despite our differences.

Similarly, there are those who would argue that segregating children by age is not a good way to socialize. These individuals generally point out that public schools are a recent phenomenon and that children used to be socialized in their families and home communities. But this misses the point. Public schools may be a recent phenomenon, but they are still our reality. I understand that many people wish they could return to the past in some aspect or another, but the reality is that we have to live in and work within the present. Proclaiming that children used to be socialized differently is not going to change the fact that this is how children are socialized today. Wishing for the past does not erase the present.

Interestingly, the people I met in college were not the mindless conformers I had been taught to expect coming out of public schools, not in the least. Rather, they were intelligent, confident, and independent. The made a lie of my parents’ claims that public schools are factories that turn children into robots. It’s simply not true. Public schools don’t rob children of their individuality or dumb them down. Socialization isn’t about enforced conformity or pushing children into molds or turning out robots. Indeed, the friends I made in college, every one of them public schooled, were – and continue to be – inspirations to me. They knew how to handle themselves and they understood how to interact with those around them. The were confident and comfortable, and I envied them.

I sometimes wonder if one reason so many homeschool parents cannot seem to understand the real meaning of the socialization question is that, having been socialized themselves, they cannot imagine what it would be like to not be. They don’t understand what it feels like to be a foreigner in your own country. They don’t understand what it feels like to not be able to fit in. They don’t understand what it’s like to be robbed of the ability to be normal because they have the ability to be normal. Parents who homeschool may choose to be different, but their children have no such choice.

Those who are homeschooling for other reasons other than “sheltering” their children don’t get a free pass here. While their children will likely have an easier time adjusting than I did, they will still almost certainly face many of the same problems. The socialization issue is not specific to homeschoolers who shelter their children, but is, rather, common to all homeschoolers. These other homeschoolers, like their more sheltered counterparts, will also not have to learn to handle playground politics and will certainly not have the common experiences of pep rallies or bad social studies teachers. There is some element of dealing with other people that they will miss and a piece of our common culture they will not experience. And while homeschool parents may not see these things as important, their children, like me, may disagree.

Am I arguing that no one should ever homeschool? Not necessarily. I don’t know every situation, and every family is different. I would not presume to speak for every family. What I am arguing is that parents who homeschool need to take the socialization question seriously rather than laughing it off. They need to be aware of the potential socialization problems their children may face and take steps to mitigate them. Most of all, homeschool parents need to understand what socialization is and why it is important, and they need to be fully aware of what they are doing when they remove their children from the public schools.

Socialization is actually the #1 reason I will be putting my daughter in public school when she turns five. Honest.

Note: If you are a homeschooler and you dislike what you have read here, please don’t get all defensive. I am not trying to judge, simply to share my experiences. I was homeschooled. I have been there. I was not isolated or kept in a closet, I had plenty of friends and was involved in plenty of co-ops, but I was nevertheless not socialized, and I regret that. The fact is, socialization does matter. Rather than getting upset and defensive, please just take my perspective and opinion for what it is.

Burn In Case Of Evil: Cain’s Story, Part One

Burn In Case Of Evil: Cain’s Story, Part One

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Cain” is a pseudonym.

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In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

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Religious fanatics simply ruin children.

"Evil rock and roll saved my life."
“Evil rock and roll saved my life.”

The quaint, happy, innocent life of a child can quickly be replaced by the stark absolutes of fanaticism. Muslim, Christian, and Jew are one in the same monster. Their fanatics take different names, they act in different ways, but they are all the same.  Fanatics know no middle ground.  They know no compromise – other than our mutual destruction. Bill Gothard turned my parents cultists and they focused all their energies “training up” a perfect son. My parents attended an Institute of Basic Life Principles conference and eventually joined ATI, Gothard’s homeschooling cult.  I remember my mom coming in to tell me we were going to burn some things to remove the evil:

“Honey, your father and I have decided to make some changes around the house.  We’re going to stop getting cable and we’re going to get rid of some of our things.”

“Ok, mommy. What are we getting rid of?”

“We are going to get rid of our evil books,” she said.

I had never thought a book could be evil. But I certainly wanted to get rid of all the evil books we had! My parents explained that we would be burning books, movies, and records. 

 “Of course, mommy!  I’ll look through my books right now!”

There was only one book that stuck out to me as especially “evil.” I can’t recall the exact title, but I remember that the title had something to do with the devil. Of course, it was really just about a submarine voyage, or maybe some Moby Dick variation. It was part of a compilation, so my mother said we didn’t have to burn the whole book, maybe just the title page. Not many people have experienced a book burning, I must say. I guess that makes me special?

Children are so impressionable. In retrospect, most everything I was taught was ridiculous and mostly untrue. Rock and roll was not invented by the devil, or even just by the “evil Africans” who brought over their “demon beats” in an attempt to corrupt America. But what child is going to risk being possessed by demons just because they listen to rock music? I certainly wasn’t. It was easy for others to convince me I needed to proselytize, pass out tracts, and otherwise make myself a general asshole. My adolescence was little more than a protracted church service.  When you’re homeschooled, the son of fanatics, and not allowed to even go in the neighbor-children’s houses, it’s difficult to think for yourself. I was always a well-mannered, funny kid, so I had friends, but I was beyond sheltered. 

I always felt that “normal kids” had it so easy. I envied the kids that attended private school and my parents would not let me attend a school outside of our home. Of course, I did not envy the public school kids, because I was told that they were being brainwashed by a communistic system and God was being forced out. Before I became involved in NCFCA (a Christian, homeschool speech and debate league), I was a huge sports nut and I always craved the camaraderie and friendship of the people on my team. My parents did not allow me to go into my neighbor’s houses because I might see some television – yes, I am being serious. 

Without the internet, without Wikipedia, or without message boards, it’s possible that I would be a mindless, fanatical robot. But, for a sheltered child with very little contact with the outside world, the internet is like heaven. Unfortunately, that internet usage was limited by firewalls, parental filters, and the like. However, Wikipedia was never blocked, nor was peer-to-peer downloading. Most children without sex-ed are left to flipping through encyclopedias and dictionaries to discover sexual issues. I knew the very basics from my parents, but they never cared to elaborate. I was taught that AIDS was a GAY DISEASE, that gay people received from being gay. I was taught that if I had more than one sexual partner, I would most likely get an STD. Reading studies, normal people’s thoughts, and seeing that my parents were crazy about just about everything helped me grow up a lot. 

The internet was my trail-guide on the trip to knowledge and enlightenment. When you hear of the 18th century “Enlightenment,” some people might think that term is a bit ostentatious, but I disagree. There is nothing like the pure bliss of understanding the truth. Indeed, to cut through the bullshit that the powers-that-be throw at you on a daily basis. To rise above the propaganda. To cut through the paranoia. Some people call me arrogant, and I suppose I can come across that way. But really, I just want to share my enlightenment. 

The strangest feeling is after your enlightenment, when you return home. My relatives had served in the military, been “around the block,” and refused to believe that my college education gave me any insight into the truth. To my reborn self, everything in my parent’s home became a symbol of my oppression and repression – all the books, the magazines, the religious rituals before mealtime, and the constant use of Biblical allusions in conversation. Every conversation with them eventually comes to a head with their religious beliefs – a black and white world.  Every time I asked them for advice, I don’t get just a normal answer with life advice. It’s all about God’s will, his plan, his desires. 

For the longest time, I could not even admit to my parents that I believed evolution was true. It took me three years to work up the courage to tell them that. I knew it would upset them because they spent so much time indoctrinating me about creationism. When we get into arguments and they start breaking out Bible verses and condemnation, I have an uncontrollable physical reaction. So many arguments in high school, which usually involved them telling me to stop talking to a girl that I really liked, ended with me feeling trapped and isolated. On one occasion, at the age of fifteen, my parents made me call the girl I’d secretly been IM’ing (because I wasn’t allowed to talk to girls over email or IM and they caught me) and break up with her. Then they sentenced me to a month of solitary confinement – I was banned from talking and hanging out with any of my friends. I could attend the weekly speech class held in our home, but that was it. I was stuck in my parents’ house, trapped by their ideologies, with no one to talk to. As you can imagine, that’s a lot for a 15 year old to handle. 

Essentially, I was imprisoned and the people who put me in there were constantly there with me. I couldn’t go to school every day and get that escape and that’s all I wanted. My only escape was a Sony Walkman that included an FM radio. I remember laying in my water bed, with my headphones in, tears streaming down my cheeks. I don’t know exactly what emotion I was feeling at the time. I don’t know if there’s any worse feeling than being forced to not speak to the one girl who loves you and listens to you. Sure, I was only 15 and I wasn’t going to marry the girl, but why be a bitch about it, mom and dad? I knew my dad kept many handguns in his room and plenty of ammo. At the time, I was in total desperation. I couldn’t tell anyone about how I was feeling, not even my guy friends. This left the thoughts and feelings to run laps around my brain, never stopping. The only way I felt like I could be whole again was to kill myself.

Translucent, I wonder the halls,

In search of companion,

In search of purpose,

Cannot gain traction.

Reaching out, my hand passes through,

All the bodies,

All the walls,

Everything.

Ironically, that’s when evil rock and roll saved my life. I don’t know if I would have actually killed myself, but I was pretty damn close. The fact that I heard that specific song at just that time seemed absolutely divine. The girl I’d been forced to break up with and I both loved Green Day, especially the song Time of Your Life (Good Riddance). Thanks, Green Day. Their punk asses understood my teenage angst and told me that everything would be ok.  After this point, I decided I had to have privacy and I had to have an escape.

My laptop became my secret diary, if you will. It included all the instant messages I sent to the girls I wasn’t supposed to be talking to, all the movies I wasn’t supposed to download, and let’s not even mention all the evil rock and roll I wasn’t supposed to even own. As I said before, even my internet was covered with protections. If I ever visited a site that could be considered related to drugs, sex, nudity, anarchism, or full of profanity, my parents would receive an email telling them exactly where I went. The internet was also set to go off at 10pm. This was pretty shitty since all my girlfriends were long-distance (you just try to date someone who lives in the same city when your parents track your every move). I found a way to circumvent the Evil Firewall and talked to my girls on AIM or Gtalk. 

I dove headfirst into books, films, and music. I wanted to learn about these beautiful expressions of self that touched me so dearly. I read books about what good films were supposed to look like and my friends and I made our way down IMDB’s Top 250 Movies. I obsessively began to immerse myself in popular culture. I went 15 years not understanding movie references, pop songs, and TV shows. I know it seems petty, but when everyone is talking about their favorite band, something they saw on tv, it’s easy to feel excluded. Even the other homeschool kids could listen to rock music, but not me. But after that I didn’t care because I just wanted to be able to cultivate healthy relationships with people who liked me. 

To be continued.

Bad, Evil Psychology Helped Me

Crosspost: Bad, Evil Psychology Helped Me

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Latebloomer’s blog Past Tense Present Progressive. It was originally published on July 7, 2012.

"I've slowly been reconstructing a healthier and more balanced view of myself and others."
“I’ve slowly been reconstructing a healthier and more balanced view of myself and others.”

Growing up, I heard a lot of scoffing at psychology in my family, homeschooling community, and fundamentalist church.  In those circles, the study and application of psychology represented a worthless human attempt to feel happier apart from God and become better without the guidance of the Bible.   The anti-psychology sentiment was so strong that even building kids’ self-confidence and self-esteem was derided as a “worldly” goal.  There was too much “self” in the name.  Real True Christian children were to be obedient and humble instead. 

Looking back, I definitely had the obedience thing handled; in fact, I cannot remember ever purposefully disobeying my parents, even in my teens.  Yet I was constantly reprimanded for unsatisfactory performance because I was unable to be constantly cheerful about the instant unquestioning obedience that was required of me.  The impossibility of my situation left me feeling extremely frustrated and guilty; however, I reasoned that my faults were just a “thorn in my flesh” to keep me humble and seeking God’s help (

2 Cor 12:7).  

But apparently even my humility was a fault; I wasn’t doing that right either.  In my late teens, I heard Reb Bradley‘s teachings about pride at his homeschooling church Hope Chapel.  According to Reb Bradley, true humility was the absence of thought or awareness of yourself.  So those feelings of shame, awkwardness, self-consciousness, and frustration that I dealt with daily?  Sinful pride, not humility.  Talk about kicking a person when they’re down!  My tortured teenage mind twisted itself in knots trying to get out of my body, trying to have no positive or negative thoughts about myself, no “selfish” dreams or desires or goals for the life that stretched endlessly before me.  Really, I was tearfully and prayerfully trying to cease to exist..  It’s no wonder that my depression often spiraled out of control, and I spent almost all of my free time in my teens lying on my bed like a zombie, alone, dead inside.

One day in my early twenties, as I was driving my car home from work, I heard an unexpectedly beautiful and compassionate new voice coming from the Christian radio station.  In his gentle Southern accent, he talked about dealing with the pain of rejection and struggling with poor self-esteem as a result; I stopped the car and cried.  It was the first time I felt that my broken-heartedness was not yet another fault of mine; it was the first time that I heard the idea of self-esteem referenced positively.  

Who was this pastor who seemed so liberal and gracious to me at the time? Charles Stanley, the president of the extremely conservative and fundamentalist Southern Baptist Convention.  

Starting with that one small first step of hearing a sympathetic voice on the radio, I’ve slowly been reconstructing a healthier and more balanced view of myself and others over the last ten years.  Shedding my misunderstanding of the Bible and my deep distrust of extra-biblical resources, including psychology, has been immensely helpful to me in my own journey.  It has opened up a whole new world of fascinating ideas, including ones that have helped me make sense of my own childhood experiences and their effects on me. 

Recently, I’ve encountered one particularly relevant idea that has increased my self-understanding. I am what personality psychologists call a “highly sensitive” or “high-reactive” person. This refers to an inborn aversion to novelty and a tendency to more easily become overstimulated; it is not very common, but it is strongly correlated with being introverted.  It explains why I always order the same food in restaurants, choose comfort over style, love predictability, and avoid spending too much time around loud noises and large crowds.  Understanding the biological basis of my personality quirks is helping me manage my stress and not demand too much of myself.

But it has been even more helpful to look back at my childhood with the understanding that I was a highly sensitive child. In her book “Quiet“, Susan Cain discusses how childhood experiences can affect the highly sensitive or high reactive child:

“The destinies of the most high-reactive kids are also influenced by the world around them–perhaps even more so than for the average child, according to a groundbreaking new theory dubbed ‘the orchid hypothesis’ by David Dobbs…This theory holds that many children are like dandelions, able to thrive in just about any environment.  But others, including the high-reactive types that Kagan studied, are more like orchids: they wilt easily, but under the right conditions can grow strong and magnificent.….

[T]he reactivity of these kids’ nervous systems makes them quickly overwhelmed by childhood adversity, but also able to benefit from a nurturing environment more than other children do.  In other words, orchid children are more strongly affected by all experience, both positive and negative.

Scientists have known for a while that high-reactive temperments come with risk factors.  These kids are especially vulnerable to challenges like marital tension, a parent’s death, or abuse.  They’re more likely than their peers to react to these events with depression, anxiety, and shyness.  Indeed, about a quarter of Kagan’s high-reactive kids suffer some degree of the condition known as ‘social anxiety disorder’….

High-reactive kids who enjoy good parenting, child care, and a stable home environment tend to have fewer emotional problems and more social skills than their lower-reactive peers, studies show.”  (p. 110-111)

I had wondered many times why some of my more extroverted peers who also experienced social isolation and authoritarian parenting seemed less traumatized and could enter mainstream society more quickly, while I struggled with severe depression and crippling anxiety for years and years.  In “Quiet”, I found a reason that in retrospect makes perfect sense.  As a highly sensitive child, the negative experiences simply affected me more strongly.

I started adulthood almost destroyed, with almost no ability to function.  Yet here I am today, a far happier and healthier person.  It turned out that my high sensitivity was an asset in my recovery in the end.  Once the conditions were right for me to “grow”, my development took off.  Positive attention, kindness, and acceptance coaxed me back to life and helped me grow into my true identity. 

Contrary to all the warnings I heard about psychology in my youth, I have found that the increased self-understanding has resulted in genuine self-improvement.  I much prefer this approach to the ineffective and tearful fumblings that were promoted by my church.

I Was Trained to Torture Myself: Grace’s Story, Part Two

I Was Trained to Torture Myself: Grace’s Story, Part Two

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Grace” is a pseudonym

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In this seriesPart One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

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January 25

I’m finding that my story is more about my parents, and their relationship with each other, which is now falling apart, than it is about homeschooling or religion. Everything I learned about the world was from them. That knowledge motivates me to be a better parent to my babies.

I am trying to make my life more organized and manageable, and ask for help when I need it. I had been really good about not isolating myself and shutting down, but I did shut down last week and it got bad fast. I found myself staring at [my husband’s] rifle thinking it was an easy way out.

Usually I recognize the depression symptoms before that point and catch myself.

I hope that sharing this might help you to not feel so alone, because I bet you can identify in some way.

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February 17

I’m going to talk about the depression and anxiety with which I struggle. This is going to be mostly about my life now, maybe not so much about when I was younger.

I have felt a tangible darkness in my life almost as far back as I can remember. And I think the anxiety started more around my teens. When I was younger depression took the form of guilt, and not measuring up. I remember learning about God in the earliest stage of my life. At 5 years old I felt the weight of my sin like a burden (remember Pilgrim’s Progress? Did your family have that book?) and gave my life to Jesus because I felt the need to be forgiven.

When I think about it now, it is amazing that I have continued to follow God, because that first conversion was very much out of a fear (afraid, not respect) of God and his wrath because of what my parents taught me. I have always been extremely sensitive, caring, and aware of others’ feelings, whether in general or their feelings towards me. I believe it is a gift, but it also has its challenges.

So here I was, 5 years old, feeling the need to be saved from myself because I believed that I was very evil. I’m not sure when the voices started, but I did hear voices as a child. I’m not talking about negative self-talk, which did happen later in life. I’m not talking about a still small voice that is supposed to be God. I heard narration in my head of what I was doing. My mind was tortured.

I believe it stemmed from witnessing and experiencing the violence my father dished out. I was “disciplined” by being spanked with a wooden paddle, which was bigger than my dad’s hand, and his hands aren’t small.

I learned later that he made the paddle himself. It sickens me to think about it.

I really do forgive my parents for the things they did, because I think they were doing the best they knew how, and even when my dad got a little nuts and hit us or threw us around, which was totally wrong, you simply cannot live a healthy life without forgiveness.

So as a result of being abused, which to me was not as hard to deal with as the trauma of watching my dad hurt my siblings or my mom, and seeing what I saw, I think my child-brain dissociated, and the part that distanced itself decided it was safer to tell the story so that perhaps there would be a happy ending.

This is all speculation.

Another theory about this is that I wanted to be able to blame myself for my father’s outbursts, because if it was something I had done wrong, I had control over that, I could fix that.

So I became a perfectionist and a control freak.

***

February 20

Anxiety has been a part of my life in a big way since I was 12. I walked in on my dad looking at a picture of a naked woman on the computer. I confronted him about it, and he said he didn’t want Mom to know. I waited until he fell asleep on the couch, and with my heart pounding out of my chest, snuck out of the house, over the backyard fence, and slept in my neighbor’s backyard until 5 am when my friend’s mom woke up. Then I scared her half to death by knocking on the window. She invited me in, and let me sleep on their couch until morning.

My dad came over, looking for me, and then took me out to breakfast. We talked about other things, and he finally said that he had told mom about what happened.

The thing was, it took me years, more than a decade, to realize the damage done by witnessing that one event. The anxiety and anorexia started at the same time. I became afraid of gaining weight, because in my young mind, that was the only thing I could see that was wrong with my mom, that she was slightly overweight, and not happy about it. I somehow equated my dad mentally cheating with my mom’s so-called imperfection.

My mom even remembers that all through my teens, I was never hungry. I didn’t even become aware of my eating disorder until I was in my 20s and didn’t gain enough weight with my pregnancies, and lost weight after I gave birth. At one point I was 111 pounds, and I’m just over 5’6′.

Counseling, years of counseling, has brought up all these issues, and I have been able to work through many of them and continue growing and maturing. There is much pain in my heart, but pain is what helps people grow.

So back to my story.

I was anxious, fearful, and never hungry. I was afraid, no, convinced, that a man would leave me, whether emotionally, sexually, or just plain get up and walk out the door, if I was fat. The thing is, my mom has never been obese. I never thought she was overweight. My mother is beautiful. Her eyes and smile are radiant. And she’s curvy, in a good way. I never saw anything wrong with her. But she was unhappy about her weight, and I picked up on that. So I thought it must be really easy to gain weight. I thought maybe I wouldn’t even know when I was fat. So I didn’t eat very much.

When I did eat a lot, I felt guilty, like I was doing something wrong. I’m not even talking eating a lot. To me, a lot is like what normal people consider a regular portion of food. This fear of being left eventually drove me to losing my virginity before I was really ready for it, to practically manipulating my ex-husband to marry me after we slept together for the first time, before we were married.

A lot of these situations were also exacerbated by my fear and religious zeal. I was so worried about trying to obey God so that I wouldn’t be in trouble, I tried to fix any mistake, and would many times mentally beat myself up because I had made what I considered the wrong decision, whether I had the information to be able to make a better decision or not.

I was mean. I was harsh. I hated myself, and hated on myself.

Negative self-talk was a way of life. Sometimes I joke about this being from the “Catholic” side of the family, because of the idea of penance, or atoning for your own sins. But Jesus… the whole reason he died was supposed to be to save us from these sins we’re trying to make up for.

My eyes are tearing up as I write this. So much wasted time spent trying to make things right that were already covered by God’s grace. Imperfection. God loves it. He loves us. It took me so long to know this, to experience this.

I had heard it many times but it meant nothing because my parents modeled self-hatred. I think this is the core of what tortures many of us: our parents’ modeling of behaviors.

It would be impossible had I not already been sharing it all along, in bits and pieces, with friends, and hurting people who needed to hear it. I so appreciate the opportunity to reach people on a broader scale. Connection is the heart of existence, I think.

***

February 26

There are plenty of times when I want to just have it out with people, but experience (being the scapegoat, especially having my dad yell at me, which I still have nightmares about on a regular basis) has taught me that:

1. Nobody likes being yelled at, and

2. The people who have made the biggest impact on my life are the ones who always assume the best of people.

I want to be like the latter, because it will have a positive and comforting impact on the people around me, and shows the love of Jesus. I will, however, attack religious zealots with great fervor. See Jesus v. Animal Sellers at Temple.

***

February 27

More about depression and anxiety. From January until April, my depression is hardcore. I had a miscarriage in late March, another in early April (different years), right after my grandfather died.

When I was 11 I was molested (in January), and again in April.

My sister was sexually assaulted in April when she was young, and was hospitalized as a result.

February is my birthday, Valentine’s Day, and the anniversary of my ex and my marriage. January was when I left my ex, and also when he took the kids from me and wouldn’t give them back.

One year I tried to commit suicide in April.

March I was served with divorce papers.

April he had his first supervised visitation and I started smoking.

The list goes on… These are definitely not in chronological order. But you get the idea. So, left unchecked, my auto-pilot goes into self-destruct mode during those months. It’s not too bad the first couple months of the year, and I can get through it alright, but once the end of March rolls around, I am a dead woman walking. It’s a struggle to do anything productive. The rest of the year, the depression is much more easily manageable.

This hasn’t always been the case. It’s taken years of counseling to even realize I had depression.

I could describe some of the symptoms, but my parents had always called it laziness. I thought I was just stupid, lazy, a bad person, and not good at life. Even though it’s clear that mental illness runs in my family, ex. depression, anxiety, possible bi-polar, and a distant relative was institutionalized when I was a kid. I know relatives who have eating disorders, paranoia, OCD, and aggressive tendencies. But almost none have been evaluated or diagnosed. I think it’s more about the stigma, and not enough information being out there about these illnesses, than refusal of treatment.

I think there is a correlation between mental illness and homeschooling. Not that homeschooling creates or affects mental illness, but that those who suffer from mental illness tend towards the option of homeschooling their children. When people with social disorders who have a hard time getting along with others are deciding on school options for their children, they may have the idea that their child may suffer from the same anxiety when around other children that they did when they were kids. I think unfortunately they may only think about this subconsciously, and not think about it as possibly a challenge to be overcome, but rather something to be avoided.

So we see a lot of socially awkward parents, isolating their children, homeschooling them, and the children may or may not be socially awkward, and whether this is a genetic disorder that is passed on, or simply something the children learn from their parents is something else to figure out.

I think another sad reality of people who choose homeschooling is that some use it as a way to hide abuse in their home. They are already paranoid about the authorities, especially in homeschooling-hostile states, and don’t realize how damaging, illegal, and cyclic abuse is. They also seem to believe they are above the law.

It really is like a separate religion.

And then when you have crazy cult leaders like Bill Gothard and make your children wear jean jumpers to the floor and dear God no shorts or tank tops!

It just makes the whole bunch look like nutcases.

So don’t drink the koolaid. Homeschooling is not evil, as I used to say, and neither is communism, and in a perfect world, they would work.

But this world is imperfect.

*****

To be continued.

homeskooled )q.e.d.): A Poem by Adam O’Connor

homeskooled )q.e.d.): A Poem by Adam O’Connor

*****

johnny asked a question

his momma couldn’t answer

billy popped a pill

he knew he couldn’t handle

then the dog got hit

while out runnin’ the street

that boy limped home

and he got a treat

so i woke up late

and left my bed unmade

so I could come home

to fall asleep again

some love too much

and others too little

but both

clip

and snip

what is held

most tender

cause the lesson

done took

much more

than it gave

so see

i dig me some

shallow graves

*****

adam
Adam O’Connor.

About Adam

Adam O’Connor’s homeschooling was, at first, sprinkled with other forms of education. Homeschooled for preschool, he then went on to attend public school for the first and second grades, private school for third, charter school for the fourth and fifth before finally returning to his homeschooling roots for the remaining years of primary education. His family joined CHEF, where he taught photography and tutored in English for his local chapter. In his sophomore year his family joined NCFCA and IBLP / ATI. He found himself a modest success at speech and debate and competed in the national tournament in his junior year. The year following his graduation he left with a small group as an ATI sponsored initiative to teach English in Yuli, a rural town in Hualien, Taiwan. It was during this year that the accumulated years of indoctrination and his otherwise ultra-conservative, hyper-religious mindset began to unravel and he soon found himself in a crisis of faith. Although it took much longer to fully realize the effects of this year, he lost his faith in Taiwan and came home unrecognized and at odds with the social circles he had spent his entire life thus far building. He spend the next year commuting to Nicholls until transferring to Louisiana Tech for nearly three more years, dropping out one quarter shy of graduation. He is now pursuing his writing, particularly poetry, and hosts the Secret Meetings of the Dinky Tao Poetry Hour, the second oldest reading in New Orleans, currently located at the Neutral Ground Coffee House. He has been seen reading at the 17 Poets at the Goldmine, the open mic at Buffa’s, and was featured at the Apple Barrel on Frenchman for the Book Fair in 2011. He is currently working on his first book of poetry, entitled “…till the moon howls back”.

Visit his poetry blog here.

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part One

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part One

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Latebloomer” is a pseudonym. Latebloomer’s story was originally published on her blog Past Tense, Present Progressive. It is reprinted with her permission.

*****

In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven

*****

Everyone has a different story to tell, and this is mine.  Although it involves a lot of painful memories, I believe that re-evaluating my childhood experiences will help me not only heal from them but also avoid repeating them now that I’m a wife and mother.

*****

Part One: Good Intentions, Bad Fruit

I heard the stories so many times as I was growing up, the reasons for my parents’ decision to pull me out of public school halfway through first grade and start to homeschool me.  I heard how I cried every day when my mom dropped me off at school.  I heard how I was bored in class because I had learned to read at age 3, long before going to kindergarten.  I heard how my teacher was wasting classroom time on political issues by having the class write a letter about saving some whales.  I heard how the teacher hurt my feelings badly by insulting my quiet speaking voice during a presentation.  I heard how I had the problem boy as my seatmate because I was the best behaved student.  I never thought to question my mom’s narrative; school was certainly a terrible place for me, based on her stories.

As a former elementary school teacher, my mom knew that she could give me a more personalized education than I would get in a classroom of 30 other students.  While helping me get ahead academically, she would also be able to protect me from worldly and liberal influences.  The temporary sacrifice would certainly produce rich rewards for our family, she believed, so she steeled her will against criticism and dove in the the relatively new homeschooling movement in Northern California.

These days, I am often amazed at adults who remember what grade they were in for important world events, or who say things like “This was my favorite song in 6th grade!”  As a homeschooled student, I have almost no time markers on my memories.  Everything is a blur.  However, it seems like homeschooling went fairly well for my family throughout elementary school.  We were part of a homeschool group that had weekly park days and occasional field trips to factories, restaurants, and government offices.  My younger brother and I were very independent in our learning, with high reading comprehension, so we could complete our assignments each day with very little input from my mom.  Although there was almost no regulation of homeschooling in CA at the time, my mom still made sure that we covered the same general topics as our public school counterparts in each grade, except of course that our education was exclusively from a Christian perspective.

Years of countering criticism of homeschooling, years of being surrounded by other like-minded Christian homeschoolers….the effects on my family were detrimental.  We lost the ability to objectively evaluate whether homeschooling was still working for our family.  Things were obviously falling apart as my brother and I reached our teen years and as my younger sister reached school age, but no one could acknowledge it.  By then, our identity as homeschoolers was inseparable from our spiritual, political, and family identity.  Failure was not an option.

Desperate to achieve the Christian homeschooled family ideal, my family was drawn into the dangerous personality cult of Reb Bradley and began attending his homeschooling church, Hope Chapel.  Each member of our family has suffered as a result of the messages and culture of Hope Chapel.  Our weaknesses were exacerbated by the well-intentioned “support” we received there.

For me personally, the last 10 years have been an intense journey, a re-working of my entire worldview, in an attempt to become a healthier and happier person.  I’ve been working hard to weed out the deeply-rooted ideas that were planted by the homeschooling community and Hope Chapel, and I’ve seen the positive effects on my life as I have done so.

Upcoming posts will cover my personal growth in each of the areas where I was damaged:

Social isolation

Fear of sexuality

Emotional repression

Poor boundaries

Restrictive view of gender roles

Warped view of humanity

*****

To be continued.

Was I Spiritually Abused?

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly. It was originally published on January 30, 2013.

I was just asked if I could add my blog to No Longer Quivering, a site for people who have left and are speaking out against the Quiverfull movement and people who are interested in learning about such things. My blog will now be cross-posted under the Spiritual Abuse Survivors Blog Network. I guess this is sort of a big deal for me, particularly considering the role NLQ bloggers had in helping me understand my own story.

"Spirituality, faith, was just as much a tool for my parents to control and hurt me as the belt or the red stick, or being put 'on restriction.'"
“Spirituality, faith, was just as much a tool for my parents to control and hurt me as the belt or the red stick, or being put ‘on restriction.'”

Being a researcher at heart, even in the middle of a meltdown, when I was hit by these scary and to me inexplicable symptoms (flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, concentration problems, a generally creeped-out on-edge feeling, and feeling compelled to avoid people for reasons that made no sense even to me), I started googling late into the night (and early into the morning) for answers. I finally typed in “overcoming childhood abuse,” not even mentally sure that what had happened to me qualified as “legitimate” abuse, with all the levels of doubt and denial that were in between me and the past. I quickly discovered that that’s what this was, and I ended up making a counseling appointment where I was told I had PTSD. I didn’t accept that either (yeah, authority issues), until with more research, I realized that yes, it was true. I did.

It was through trying to solve this issue, find others like me (hopefully ones with good advice and happy outcomes), that I googled “homeschooling and child abuse.” I came across the NLQ site, Chandra’s posts, and then I looked at some other posts, Melissa’s, then Vyckie’s story. I read it all with a lump in my throat. This was exactly what had happened to me. How? People were talking about spiritual abuse. Had I been spiritually abused? Was that a real thing? I had never even considered it because that would have meant considering spirituality itself, an off-limits topic in my mind.

I spent considerable time trying to wrap my head around all this information and getting to the point of where I decided to publicly tell my story, and can honestly say blogging about spiritual abuse is still never something I imagined myself doing.

As someone who considers myself agnostic, sees the idea of God as being a giant question mark, a blank I’m not too worried about filling in, writing about spirituality seems kind of hypocritical to me, like a virgin writing about sexual experience, or an old man writing about what it’s like to be a young girl, or a pastor writing about what it’s like to be Jesus. It is a topic that is sort of removed from my day to day life, and one that I still haven’t fully addressed or worked through I think.

The concept of spiritual abuse (or even emotional or verbal abuse) existing didn’t cross my mind growing up. It was the physical abuse, material neglect, and the educational and medical neglect that I was primarily concerned with. All of those issues had a spiritual component though. It was because the spiritual aspect of life took up all the room, the fact that everything was seen as spiritual, that made life pretty dangerous sometimes and often at least generally unpleasant and sad for the physical side.

Few people knew that I had stopped believing in God at age 11 or that I’d been repeatedly told I was on a “pathway to hell” after ill-advisedly sharing my new perspective on religion with my mother. If I did mention it to anyone, I turned it into some sort of a pastor’s daughter joke. Deep down it wasn’t funny though.

I once walked out of a high school play about the garden of Eden that my then boyfriend, now husband, had invited me to. Shaking with rage, I explained to him how not only was the dialogue crappy, but in this version Eve was wholly blamed for the fall, and how inaccurate and anti-woman it was. He just looked confused. I had never talked about how attending funerals or weddings or services where I’d hear someone preach was a weirdly nerve-wracking experience for me, that even people inviting me to church or questioning my beliefs made me very uncomfortable. When my mother-in-law invited me to go see Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” movie, the only possible answer was no.

I didn’t want to explain that there had been a spiritual component to me being dragged across the floor by my hair (headship, disobedience), or having my butt and legs covered in welts from an old leather belt, or living in fear of the red stick (spare the rod, hate your child). I didn’t like to discuss the fact that my siblings and I didn’t have medical or dental care before I turned 17 (trust in the Lord with all things), or that the medical neglect had started when I, the firstborn of my mother’s 9 children, had almost died due to an unexpected breech birth at home, no prenatal care, and unlicensed “birth assistants” from church rather than real midwives. I didn’t want to recall how all childhood injuries and illnesses I had, including a hernia, a broken tooth, and a concussion, were responded to with only “home remedies” and prayer. I didn’t mention how scary it was to be an 8 year old, watching my dehydrated little brother’s eyes roll back in his head, knowing “laying on of hands” is all he would get and if he died of the flu it would have been seen as “God’s will.”

My parents said it was all in the bible, that I’d come to understand. So I read the bible and saw a lot worse things happening, genocide, rape, war, women and children treated as chattel. I told my parents the bible was barbaric and disgusting, like them. I rejected the idea of submission or having some burden due to the sin of Eve. I bluntly said that girls should not be forced to constantly care for their younger siblings just because their parents didn’t properly understand birth control or abstinence. I even *gasp* told my Dad to quit loafing and go put his own cup in the sink. Because of this, and my penchant for responding to abuse with explosive violent anger (using your fists is solely a manly thing apparently), I was viewed as somehow not feminine, not desirable or womanly or any of the things I should be. My parents even told me no man would want to marry me, that because I rejected their ideas that guys too would reject me and go find other, more pleasing, girls. This hurt because, like most people, more than anything I wanted to find love, to feel I was desirable and worthy of love.

The spiritual side of me got put in a trunk with mothballs. There was no other option, really. Spirituality, faith, was just as much a tool for my parents to control and hurt me as the belt or the red stick, or being put “on restriction.” It was safer for it not to exist at all. So I grew up without feeling any sense of faith, without praying, without imagining that there was any higher power, that there was anyone there for me except the real people that I knew, and they weren’t there as often as I needed them, leaving me largely alone with my troubles, ultimately needing to solve them myself. I figure some people would describe this as incredibly sad. Others would say it’s accurate. My take? Heck if I know.

When I stopped believing at such a tender age, I never really revisited it. Well, I did a few times, going to church with friends as a teen, but I wouldn’t attend more than once after learning the same bible verses used to cause pain in my family were blithely being recited or referred to in this church, often in what seemed to be a similar context. This experience would make me so uncomfortable that it only reinforced not questioning or revising my stance. How could I feel safe? It was better to make an excuse and not even approach it, not have my friends think less of me or feel hurt when I said I didn’t want to go back to their church. How could I not like church? Was it because I didn’t respect their choices? Was it because my soul wasn’t right?

For a while I just wished religion didn’t exist. Then nobody would inquire about my “church home,” or invite me to bible study with virgin margaritas, or ask if my family was Catholic. My favorite answer for that last one, before I knew Quiverfull was the name for it: “No, they’re Nondenominational bordering on Southern Baptist with a little Pentecostal and Christian Scientist thrown in.”

My distaste wasn’t just confined to Christianity either. I was pretty rude and dismissive to a (slightly annoying) cousin-in-law who was into Wicca. When a very nice Jewish friend invited me to a Passover Seder, I found the beef brisket and matzo ball soup to be amazing culinary delights (the gefilte fish slightly less so) and the traditions very moving, but I still got a lump in my throat when it was my turn to read about Moses from the Haggadah. When Muslim friends of mine invited me to an Eid al-Adha dinner honoring the day Abraham didn’t kill Isaac, I brought a bottle of sparkling grape juice and thoroughly enjoyed hanging out and eating Egyptian macaroni bechamel casserole, fragrant Afghan rice, and spicy Pakistani mutton biryani, but secretly wished we were celebrating something that hadn’t been used as a veiled threat against me by my parents growing up.

Apparently I’ve always had low-grade PTSD symptoms that could be triggered by religious activities even though to me that was just my normal baseline level. I guess in many ways these issues also manifested as post-traumatic resilience. I had this intensity that helped me learn and remember, a semi-photographic memory, an obsession with literature and the written word, a fascination with learning what made people tick, with picking out errors in an argument. I had a little “bullshit alarm” that beeped in my head. I was also lucky (or perhaps somehow blessed). The few opportunities I had to make things better I took and those turned into more opportunities. It wasn’t because I was being intentionally strategic either, rather that I was truly excited about learning and positive human interaction. I intellectualized things though, I put a wall up, and that wall is definitely still there.

So today I am an un-spiritual person writing about spiritual abuse.

Confessions Of A Homeschooler: Faith’s Story

Confessions Of A Homeschooler: Faith’s Story

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Faith” is a pseudonym.

Being homeschooled is an incredibly unique experience. It feels like you’re part of a giant club that no one else understands unless they also grew up being homeschooled. It’s impossible to explain to “outsiders”, not to mention that I have always felt a tremendous burden to avoid breaking ranks, so to speak, and making any criticism of homeschooling to the uninitiated. To me at least, there always seems to be an unspoken agreement amongst homeschoolers that we might quibble and squabble between ourselves but we present a united front to the public.

I am in my late 20s now so my education started in the early 1990s. Homeschooling was not quite as popular, particularly in the area of the country where we were living, nor were there as many resources available to homeschoolers. I honestly am not 100% sure of what motivated my parents to decide to homeschool (I’m the oldest) but I do know that, initially, their parents, my Grandparents, were relatively skeptical and not quite “on board” with the crazy kids. Between the relatives and the oddity of homeschooling itself, I have always felt a bit like my siblings and I have carried the burden of proof — living, breathing results that the experiment didn’t go horribly wrong (so we all hope!).

I have never felt like I could discuss my conflict, particularly criticism, with my homeschool experience with my other homeschool friends as they all seem quite happy with their education and plan to homeschool their own children. Not my parents because they would take it as a personal attack on their lifestyle. Rarely with my non-homeschool (and let’s just say it…the non-Christian) friends nowadays because, as I said before, the pressure to maintain the united front still has influence on me. Having the opportunity to write this is incredibly liberating.

First, I want to preface my “true confessions of a homeschooler” by saying that, from the bottom of my heart, I am sincerely grateful for my parents and for all the time, money, energy, and love they have invested in me and my siblings. I understand and have always known that they chose to homeschool us with the best of intentions. Their commitment and sacrifice has been tremendous. I want to acknowledge that and say that I love them, respect them, and hope that, in many ways, I can be as incredible a parent someday as they have been.

Throughout elementary and middle school I really enjoyed being homeschooled. To this day, I can honestly say that I sincerely believe that I would not have such strong relationships with my siblings if we had not spent so much time together. It’s a privilege to be able to say that my brothers were my first best friends and that my sisters (10 and 12 years younger than me) are some of my favorite people to call and talk to. I have great memories of “going to school” with my brothers. The moment one of them zoomed his roller chair into the corner of the wall and broke off a big chunk of plaster, which we then proceeded to color in an attempt to hide the damage. Or the moment my Mom drove down the driveway heading to the grocery store, my brothers burst into a loud rendition of “Ninety Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” The opportunity of spending time with extended family, particularly my Great Grandparents, who have since passed away, has given me so many priceless memories. Our ability to vacation was much more flexible, which was really great and we took some exciting trips. The hours and hours we spent playing outdoors when we probably would have been cooped up in a classroom somewhere are fond memories as well. I have such positive reflections on my homeschool experience during elementary/middle school that I am fairly certain that I would like to homeschool my own children at least through elementary.

I can also say that my early education was quite solid. My Mom never really “stuck” with any one curriculum. There was some cherry picking from various publishers but I recall using Saxon Math, Bob Jones, Calvert School, Abeka…the usual that I’m pretty sure most homeschoolers have seen and used.

Once high school hit things got a little more hairy. I am a classic example of the tendency that, at least in the past, homeschoolers have been minimally educated in math and science. My Dad really did his best (math at that level was beyond my Mom) but he was working all day so I definitely wandered through Algebra 2 at my own sweet will. The same with geography and history and basically everything my 10th grade year. I’m pretty sure I learned…just about nothing that year. The one thing I actually remember is writing a paper on Eva Peron. So, I have that in my bank of knowledge! Every year most of my friends would go to the church school (the “umbrella” school for those of you who will recognize that term) for the standardized state testing but since my Dad was a college graduate, he was able to administer the tests himself.

The one time I darkened the doors of a public high school was when I took the SAT. I actually don’t remember much about that experience but I do remember that sometimes we’d go to high school football games because some relatives lived near the high school. I had a great time observing that other species, the public schooler, those heathens!

The best part of high school was taking classes twice a week at the church school and for 11th and 12th grades I took some classes at the local community college. Quite a few of us from the local homeschool community took classes there so we would generally meet up and have lunch together or walk around campus. In general, my teachers were impressed with me. My English teacher told me I was the best student he had that semester (between several classes) and one memory in particular stands out…he asked the class what the Luftwaffe had been. I responded that it had been the Nazi air force during the Second World War. He looked at me and said “How do you know that?!” and I just shrugged and said “I read a lot.” Good times….

But, on a personal level, high school was hell for me in regards to being homeschooled. I had an extremely negative relationship with my parents, particularly my Mom, for various reasons that I won’t detail. But I can tell you that when you don’t get along with your parents whatsoever and you are miserable, that being at home with them 24/7 is not quite the way to deal with that. I struggled with depression and self-injury throughout high school, of course without ever seeing a counselor or getting any sort of professional help.

Being homeschooled throughout that period of time was damaging in the sense that I felt trapped, which did not help my emotional stability whatsoever. I was not involved in any sort of social group, not even a youth group because my parents didn’t approve of youth groups. My Mom was very occupied with my younger siblings so she had little time to talk and never any opportunity to sort out our issues. I certainly won’t blame my struggles on being homeschooled but I am sure, without a doubt, that homeschooling exacerbated them.

To be honest, I have spent the past 9 years struggling with how bitter I am about my high school experience. There are moments that I wish I had been able to go to a prom, that I had been able to wear the “cool” clothes, that I had gone to the mall and movies with friends like “normal” high schoolers (my friends and I did go sometimes but it was always planned in advance and was never a “spur of the moment” event), not to mention that I really, really wish I had dated in high school. I wish that I had gotten some of the “crazy” out of my system in high school and had more freedom to experience the “real world” and meet non-Christians and sort out my own thoughts and beliefs for myself.

This has been pointed out by other bloggers, but it can be frustrating for those of us who are “first generation” homeschoolers because our parents never had the experience of being homeschooled. I understood that my parents had their reasons for choosing to homeschool and they tended to reflect more negatively on their public school upbringing. But I have always thought it ironic that they seemed to believe that being homeschooled was the best thing since sliced bread and couldn’t understand why we could possibly dislike any aspect of our experience but they had no idea what it was actually like. Sometimes I wish that we could have an honest discussion about it so that, someday, they will understand why I won’t homeschool my own children “all the way through.” Perhaps one day we will. Even if we don’t, at least I will get to make those decisions on my own.

The face of homeschooling has significantly changed, so it seems to me. I don’t think my sisters ever had that fear of being taken away by social services (I avidly read the HSLDA magazine and all the horror stories), they have an extensive social life, they have gone to prom, and have a well adjusted, mature relationship with my parents. They are far better educated than I was upon graduation from high school and I am happy for them. Their experience seems to have been tremendously different from mine (from what I observe) and that is encouraging to me. It definitely seems possible to homeschool without some of the negative results that I experienced and I hope that it is an opportunity I can provide for my own children one day, if possible.

Training Up Children the Homeschool Movement Way

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on March 17, 2013.

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Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” ~ Proverbs 22:6

You see that verse?  Probably every homeschool parent heard that verse too many times to count throughout their homeschooling years.  It was engrained in us.  We did not want our children to depart from “the way they should go” and the solution was to “train” our children.  At least that’s what they told us.

Homeschool books from the Smith family library. Photo courtesy of Spiritual Sounding Board.
Homeschool books from the Smith family library. Photo courtesy of Spiritual Sounding Board.

Ever since my spiritual abuse journey, I have been trying to figure out what led our family to that spiritually abusive church and pastor who sued us in an attempt to discover who our primary influencers were over the years. I found that the most influential people in the last couple of decades have been leaders in the homeschool movement who had a spiritual agenda, not necessarily an educational agenda. We have been taught so strongly to “train our children” and some of us did that quite well. We created little obedient and compliant robot children who were polite, respected authority and looked really good in church all lined up in a pew. People always commended us on our beautiful large family.

These influencers not only taught us how to parent, but taught us what they thought was very important:  large families, courtship, modesty and purity, fathers as spiritual heads/priest of the home, mothers as hard-working submissive wives, preparing wholesome meals from homegrown gardens, grinding wheat to make whole grain breads.  The boys were taught how to be boys, play like boys, work like boys, helping their fathers in projects around the house.  Daughters learned traditional homemaking skills that would last them a lifetime when they got married and started families of their own, because that was their ultimate lot in life.  Yes, in many homeschooling families, daughters were discouraged and even forbidden from going to college for any higher level education, they were to stay at home serving dad and their family while they waited to be courted by a young man approved by their father.

True to the homeschooling culture, I did own a denim jumper or two, and I sewed matching jumpers for my daughters who were 7 years apart in age.  My five boys may thank me that they never had matching homeschool uniforms like khaki slacks and polo shirts, but they did manage to always match by having jeans with holes in the knees.

Not only did we raise good obedient children, we invested in our children and pushed them towards educational excellence.  We made sure they were well-versed on the popular homeschool-movement agendas which we adopted as our own:  they knew how to debate creation vs evolution, they were politically involved in their communities, worked on political campaigns, participated in speech and debate classes and competitions, attended worldview conferences, and went on missions trips.  In my family, our kids knew how to evangelize the “right way,” how to defend their faith, and knew the tenants of 5-pt Calvinism inside and out.  Homeschooled students were good students, usually testing years ahead of their peers.  They were accomplished in music, sports, volunteered at Crisis Pregnancy Centers, lobbying at the capital for homeschooling rights, etc.  What more could we ask for?

What many are finding out is that those brilliant robots, when released to the real world, start questioning where they came from, what they believed, where they are going. This is a normal response for young adults. But I’ve seeing a disturbing trend especially among young adults who were raised in this kind of environment. Many of these “trained” adult kids are now venturing 180 degrees in the opposite direction, perhaps in response to the controlled environment in which they were raised, some suffering a host of problems similar to what spiritual abuse victims experience that I deal with so often: mental health issues, addiction issues, etc. There is a lot of heartache among this group.

I feel very responsible for buying into this garbage.  I will continue to speak out against disturbing aspects of the homeschool movement on my blog.  It takes a lot of emotional energy to work up one of these posts because it means I have to admit my failure.  Of course my blog will also continue to be a platform for these precious young adults.  I believe in a way that some of us parents were cult leaders in our families. We were fed an agenda by those home school leaders. We believed it. We saw their perfect families and wanted to emulate what we saw and expected that kind of obedience and educational excellence from our children.  We trained them alright.

Not too long ago, I was asked if I would like to partner with others in a new blog called Homeschool Anonymous.  I was thrilled to be asked because I have attempted to use my blog as a Spiritual Sounding Board to the abuses that I’ve noticed in the homeschooling movement.  Most of the participants in the Homeschool Anonymous blog are former homeschool students, and two of us have been (or currently are) homeschool moms. Interestingly, you will notice that many of the blog participants no longer connect with their Christian heritage. I think conservative homeschoolers will find this shocking. In fact I admit that I am afraid to post about this on my private Facebook page because I have easily 300+ homeschooling friends/moms who might be pretty upset if I mention this big homeschooling secret:  some of our adult kids have departed from the way in which we trained them.

I have long ditched my homeschool mom uniform, the denim jumper.  I refuse to go to state-run Christian homeschooling conferences whose conference leaders get to hand-select vendors and speakers based on their approved religious agenda.  So as I continue to teach our last two kiddos at home, those destructive religious-agenda influences play no part in our homeschooling anymore.

So yes, I am partnering with R.L. Stollar who is an amazing individual and new friend who was completely homeschooled and put together this group.  I have so much respect for what he is doing to help his peers walk through their homeschool journeys and the aftermath or perhaps fallout. I hope Homeschool Anonymous reaches many former homeschooled students and parents and that our collective voices will be heard and considered. It’s never too late, right?  Oh my, parenting is a humbling journey – so, so humbling.