HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly. It was originally published on April 17, 2013.
The following is a list of things that range from impolite to incredibly disrespectful that I have heard since I started speaking out about this issue. I’m (unfortunately) not making any of these up and I’ve actually had every single one of them either said to me or seen them said to others. If you don’t want to be a jerk, please don’t say any of the following:
1. Tell me how good of a homeschooling experience you or someone you know had and imply that it cancels out mine.
2. Say that obviously it was just a parenting problem, not a homeschooling problem at all.
3. Say that obviously it was a religious fundamentalism problem/bible-based cult problem, not a homeschooling problem at all.
4. Say that I am not describing real homeschooling so I should not be talking about my experience like it was homeschooling at all.
5. Say that I need to be careful, that openly speaking about this will help enemies of homeschooling (nosy neighbors/government/the minions of the Antichrist) have the political cover to mess up or destroy homeschooling for the good homeschoolers.
6. Say that obviously because I am standing here today with a job/degree/spouse/all four limbs that the homeschooling I got really wasn’t too bad and therefore we all should keep calm and carry on.
7. Say that my parents only homeschooled because it was a problem with the school district and obviously any public school in my area/state/nation/world would have been worse.
8. Say that maybe my homeschooling experience was even secretly good and I likely don’t know enough about what I’d be comparing it to, with public school being so awful and all.
9. Say that you/your kid/someone you know had a much worse experience in public school/government school/a hole in the ground and so I should quit bellyaching and overdramatizing my homeschooling experience and instead just be grateful it wasn’t as bad of a story as the one you just told.
10. Say that what happened to me was so uncommonly rare that it’s not something we need to be generally concerned about.
11. Say that you are sure that it was that my parents were uneducated/rural/brainwashed/obviously raised wrong and that’s why they did what they did, even though you know nothing about my parents’ background.
12. Say it is obvious that I am so hurt/broken/angry/bitter/emotional/weird/vengeful that I have lost track of reality, don’t know what I’m talking about on any of this, and no one should listen.
13. Say that I need to just let the past be the past, understand that parents make mistakes/are not perfect, then go forgive mine (immediately assuming that I haven’t), and stop disrespecting them by talking about this issue.
14. Say that the way life works is that your parents can raise you however they want/force you to be the person they ask/mess you up for the first 18 years of your life and then it will be your turn when you have your own kids.
Concerning religion and politics:
15. Say that if my parents were real Christians that this never would have happened.
16. Say that this is obviously a problem with Christianity itself and all homeschoolers should respond by being secular/atheist/Buddhist/some other faith.
17. Say that you seriously doubt (or had it laid upon your heart by Jesus himself) that it is in God’s will/my best interest/society’s interest for me to be talking/thinking/spreading lies like this and you will pray/worry/be quite concerned for me.
18. Ask me if I am aware that when I talk about my story it is mainly going to be helping people who hate homeschoolers/Christians/parents/Americans/suburban white people unfairly stereotype/hurt/oppress all of your group because people will mistakenly think you are like me and my family and obviously you are nothing like us at all.
19. Accuse me of being put up to this by teachers unions/liberal brainwashing/feminism/Satan and not having actual good reasons for how I characterize a problem I lived through and/or am studying.
20. Accuse me of being anti-homeschooling, anti-Christian, and anti-family all in one fell swoop because I said what happened to me should not happen to other kids.
Now that I’ve listed all the rude, insensitive, selfish, and potentially threatening things I can think of that you should not be saying to people who have shared their horrible (or even just a little bit bad bordering on mediocre) homeschooling experience (I’m sure I left some out, so please feel free to include them in the comments), here are eight examples of something that might be a good idea to say:
1. Thank you for sharing your story.
2. I am trying to understand where/when/how this occurred. Can I ask you? How did X, Y, or Z happen/come to be/take place?
3. What helped you get out/get better?
4. What do you think could have made this situation better/not happen at all?
5. What do you think someone like me might do or keep in mind to prevent this from happening to others?
6. What do you like to do today, now that you’ve left that environment?
7. Can I share what you said with my friend/relative/pastor/neighbor/blog readers/Facebook?
8. I wish you well and hope that tomorrow/this week/life/the future will be good for you.
Also, even if this stuff is foreign to you and you really have no idea (or maybe don’t care) what it is like to walk in the shoes of someone who has had this kind of homeschooling experience, please try for a moment to imagine how it would make you feel and what it might lead you to do and then have compassion. Personally, I love to argue and I have a lot of “fight” in me, but for many people who are sharing their story, just finding the words and the strength to do so is incredibly hard. People should not, under any circumstances, be pushing someone who’s telling a survivor story to defend themselves or expect them to deal with the kind of obnoxious behavior I listed above.
Thank you so much for saying this. I’ve seen so many people respond in ignorant and insensitive ways to stories of abuse or trials. I think a lot of people are fundamentally uncomfortable with having to face the fact that sometimes bad things happen to good people and good people act bad… even people within their particular group. Trying to confront that reality causes many people to get confrontational and angry, even lashing out at victims rather than dealing with their cognitive dissonance in a more mature and thoughtful manner. I hope that a few people will read this post and re-think before they comment.
5 and 17. YES. Similar happened to me when I spoke up about the abuse in a local church. They were sooo very concerned…about my calling them out…not for the victims.
I plan on spreading this around if you don’t mind…
The sad truth about this is that I think it could conceivably cover 90% of the issues at hand – Perhaps a better title would be “20 Ways Not To Respond To x Stories”, because I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. So many people fail to realize how their words and actions affect others.
As legitimate as your complaints may be—both against your homeschooling experience and against those who have responded to your stories—ultimately you’re getting what you’ve asked for. Naturally, when you put people on the defense, they will respond in a defensive manner. Is this the most responsible or mature way to respond? Certainly not, but it is natural. A better response to a “homeschooling horror story” is to show sympathy towards the hurting individual and gratitude for receiving intimate details that could aid you in making your own choices. In the end, though, people are flawed, and your expectations—unless you are expecting a flawed response—are likely to go unmet.
Let every writer (or blogger) be warned: if you can’t take criticism/skepticism/disagreement/”the heat”, keep your stories to yourself. Just be glad you’re no longer living in “the echo chamber,” and try not to exchange one for another.
Obviously, they shouldn’t even get defensive if the criticism really does not apply to them. As the saying goes, “If you’re not the problem, you’re not the problem.”
And as for that last paragraph, some people really need a place to tell their stories, free from blame and interrogation. Telling them, “If you can’t take the heat…” is really insensitive.
Basically, what your post boils down to is, “This article shouldn’t have been written because it won’t do anything.” That is a very low opinion of the human race. Some people probably will read this, and learn from it, and even if they don’t, others have this article to share with those who do these things.
I can’t believe that people would be such “jerks” as to actually try to defend themselves or their way of life against your accusations. You should certainly be allowed to make any accusations that you want and people should not be so “obnoxious” as to question anything that you say. They should just listen and respond in the ways that you tell them to.
What about prescribing violence- a lot of it- towards those who hurt you? Is that an acceptable response?
Because clearly these abusers communicate via violence, ergo, speak the same language.