HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “PhilosophicalPerspectives” is the author’s chosen pseudonym.
In this series: Part One — We Need Advocates | Part Two — A Tool In Someone Else’s Culture War
The stories shared so far on HA are rough. Whenever another story pops up on my blogroll, I take a deep breath before reading – and sometimes I have to cut myself off. There’s only so much trauma I can read in a day, especially when so much of it triggers my own.
Part of growing up in the homeschool community in the 80’s and 90’s was living defensively. Our parents felt like they were culture warriors, and everyone and everything in the world was against them and their choice to homeschool. We, their children, were the proof they offered to the world (and each other) that they weren’t screwing up. Not only was it vital that we act like little adults on all occasions, but we had to be well-spoken, articulate, and ourselves advocates for homeschooling. I remember many conversations with my mother at the age of 8, where I agreed with her disapproval of *that* family whose children just couldn’t sit still and be quiet, or walk through a museum and respectful read all the placards. We, on the other hand, were excellent at it – and this meant that we were “good children”.
We visited well-respected leaders in government and business, we politely and persuasively argued the case for our political agenda, all while going through puberty. We were nowhere near normal, but that’s why we appealed to powerful people. Who has ever heard of a 15 year old who argues persuasively in front of the state legislature, instead of hanging out at the mall with her friends? No one.
Except homeschoolers. We sure churn out a lot of teenage spokespeople.
I always cringe when I hear stories like Sarah Merkle’s, because I was one of the kids who spoke before legislatures and guest-lectured in local high schools. I was a tool in someone else’s culture war. I was remarkable for my non-normalcy, and I was praised for it.
My reality check came later. I don’t know Sarah, but when I was in her shoes, I didn’t actually have my own, well researched, well-formed and nuanced thoughts on gun control or any other topic – I had my parents’ thoughts, or my pastor’s thoughts, or the thoughts of another influential adult who told me what the “good arguments” were on the topic in question. I was smart, so I didn’t just take talking points from my handlers – I accumulated a lot of other people’s ideas, and even a couple of dissenting opinions, and synthesized them all so that I could speak from “my own” perspective. The thing is, it didn’t require me to seriously wrestle with dissent, or the complications of policy ideas, it just required me to adopt, reformulate, and regurgitate what I’d heard. What’s worse – I was never really allowed to ask questions about the assumptions that were passed on to me. It wasn’t until I got to college that I was actually free to think and ponder and explore, intellectually as well as personally.
I didn’t have my own thoughts at 15 – they weren’t allowed. As others have noted here, debate is seen as a vital skill for homeschooled offspring – after all, “God’s Harvard” prides itself on the quality of their moot court team (as well as, apparently, soccer…). Debate is important, not because it teaches kids to think, but because it gives us the skill to package propaganda in a convenient, Bill O’Reilly-friendly segment, and makes us appealing politicians and lawyers, ready to be the next generation of culture warriors.
For all our debating, dissent wasn’t allowed. I remember losing debate rounds because an argument that I made sounded something remotely like it could be related to a philosophical principle advocated by Marx. I’m not kidding.
Wait, let me rephrase. Dissent was fine, within a prescribed sphere.
The following topics were open for discussion:
• Infant vs. Adult Baptism
• Predestination vs. Free Will
• The moral weight of a vote for a republican (compared, of course, to a vote for the constitution party)
• The US Farm Bill.
• The failings of other religions and how to prove Christianity was right
• Whether or not it’s morally acceptable to wear a sleeveless dress on your wedding day (the answer: no)
• And, my favorite — the real reasons for the Civil War (slavery or states’ rights?!)
Anyway, the real point — we’ve been parroting a Republican platform and the great things about homeschooling since we were toddlers. Any negative or critical commentary was marked as “rebellious”, and unacceptable, especially when it was directed at homeschooling itself. The options were, repent, or get out. I carried my parents’ defensiveness about the homeschooling movement with me into college, where I had many conversations that started off, “yes, there are some downsides to homeschooling, but…”
It’s taken me a long time away from the homeschooling movement to detox, and come to terms with the pain it inflicted. After eight years away from the movement, I started realizing that I wasn’t just a disobedient, sinful, and rebellious teen. I began naming the things I suffered, and the perpetrators who inflicted them.
I felt totally alone.
None of my non-homeschooled friends had any categories to begin to understand what I was talking about. I was lucky if they’d ever even heard of Josh Harris, and they’d certainly never had personal interaction with his family. They had no concept of a world where it was acceptable for a father to deny a daughter her driver’s license, because her husband might not want her to have that freedom (a position I heard advocated at a young age, at a homeschool conference in my home state). Any time I began a conversation about my own experiences, I ended up answering the same questions. “Did you, like, have a desk in your living room?” “Did you go to school in your pajamas?” “Did you get to sleep in until 10?” Sometimes, we’d get to the real crap, but they were so shocked by the extremes of the movement that they didn’t believe they were real, or that something so blatantly ridiculous had actually impacted my life. I never got to process the things that really changed me. I never had space to talk about how the patriarchal narrative that reigns uncontested within the homeschooling movement affected my identity as a woman, or how purity and courtship teachings twisted my view of cross-gender relationships, whether platonic or romantic. Two examples spring to mind.
1. I remember telling a prominent female homeschooling leader during my senior year of high school how excited I was to go to the prestigious college to which I’d been accepted. She responded with concern, asking me “whether or not I was planning to pursue a career.” I think I told her that I didn’t really know, but I was looking forward to all the new opportunities to learn. The next time I saw her, she gave me a graduation present with a note reading, “with prayers that God will reveal his word and will clearly to you that you might joyfully embrace His ways.” For those not adept at reading between homeschooler lines – my pursuit of a secular education, and potentially a career, she was telling me, was at best based on ignorance of the Word of God, and at worst, on disobedience and rebellion.
With a few swift words and a terrible present, she not only undermined my accomplishments, skills, and personality (I was too ‘leaderly’ for a woman), she questioned my obedience to the God I claimed to follow. I’ve noticed that the thoughts that this woman reinforced (they’d been planted much earlier) have haunted me as I’ve applied for fellowships, talked to recruiters, and pursued career paths. Despite my (objectively) impressive resume, I find myself wrestling with a toxic combination of shame, insecurity, and guilt whenever I pursue or am offered a prestigious position or set an ambitious goal. Mental accusations of pride, selfishness, or narcissism rush to the forefront. I’m just now learning how to fend them off.
2. I recently came across an Instant Message conversation with the guy I sort of dated in high school (culture notes, for the uninitiated – AIM was a primary source of social interaction for many of us. I say “sort of dated” because the attraction we felt was taboo, and therefore secret). It was the conversation where we decided that we “had romantic feelings for each other”. I was 18 at the time. The exchange went something like this:
Me – “I need to pray about what to tell my parents.”
Him – “What kind of commitment do we have to each other?”
Me – “well, we’re not dating… we can’t”
Him – “just because we haven’t verbalized it doesn’t mean we don’t have one. I think our commitment should be to prayerfully and cautiously court nine months from now, when you go to college.”
Me – “That sounds great.”
Him – “Shall we state our commitment?”
Me – “I commit to begin a relationship with you for the purpose of exploring a deeper commitment, while bathed in prayer”
Him – “I commit to prayerfully begin a relationship for the purpose of exploring the possibility of a more permanent and concrete commitment, to begin approximately nine months from now. I intend to ask your father’s blessing when we begin the next phase”.
When I found this conversation, I couldn’t help but laugh. Such contractual language was the model we had for beginning a mature, and godly relationship – and it gave us both the warm fuzzies (I’ll spare you the rest of the conversation). All of this, mind you, was undertaken under much secrecy, because our parents would have objected in a million unimaginable ways. This doesn’t even begin to cover the number of problematic things about that relationship – but it strikes me how deep courtship culture influenced me. I saw myself as an object to be negotiated for, between me, my “beau” (as my mom always calls them), my father, and God. I was “progressive” in that I was willing to strike a deal on my own, at least in the short term. Thus, this dry, non-salacious exchange between people who were legally adults, via computer, across thousands of miles, was considered both the height of “romance” (because of the bargain we struck) and the height of rebellion (because my dad wasn’t at the negotiating table).
To get back to the point. As I look back at experiences like these, which are far less intense than many others shared on this blog, I realize that I have never had a chance to actually dig into the underlying values I imbibed, and process the pain, anger, and embarrassment that I experienced. I need space to write, and to read, and to be reassured I’m not crazy or alone when I tell stories like mine.
That’s why Homeschoolers Anonymous is so important. We’ve been isolated from each other from a long time. We’ve never had anywhere to share our stories with each other and the world. This is a space for recounting the past and healing from the damage it has done. Trust me, we know the good bits of homeschooling, and we know the ways it’s benefitted us – we’ve been talking about it since we could talk. What we need now is space to voice the bad.
To be continued.
“Trust me, we know the good bits of homeschooling, and we know the ways it’s benefitted us – we’ve been talking about it since we could talk. What we need now is space to voice the bad.”
I sort of felt bad identifying with and telling friends about HA because so much of my homeschooling experience was great…but I guess that puts it in perspective. Thanks for that and also this excellent piece.
Oh boy, that AIM conversation. It was indeed the one source of romantic interaction.
This brings back the memories of when I was 12 and we went to the state capitol to lobby against the bill that would have made it a felony to picket within 400 feet of an abortion clinic. Now, to be clear, I still don’t like protest buffer zones–I don’t like the First Amendment implications and oppose them on principle, and because of that I’d still oppose it today. That said, I was as aware then as I am now that the reason I was there was to play a role–I was supposed to be the cute kid who the politicians would be turning into a felon, and in retrospect I wonder about whether I should have been put in that position. On the way home from Tallahassee that day, we got the news that at pretty much the same time I was playing the role as the cute little non-violent protester, Michael Griffin had turned the anti-abortion movement deadly. What gets me to this day was when I learned later that the spokeswoman for Operation Rescue had already received word about the shooting before we were sent out in front of the cameras to insist that the pro-life movement was non-violent. While I may have allowed myself to be used to paint a narrative, there was no way I would have knowingly gone out in front of cameras to lie. Yet that’s what I unwittingly did. Looking back, that was the beginning of my disillusionment.
On another note, I see I wasn’t the only one who received books about being a submissive wife as highschool graduation presents. I remember being somewhat baffled that here I was getting ready to go off to college and THIS is what people are giving me?
I apologize as I have written a response on another post that, given what you say here, might annoy you once you read it.
I just want to understand. Do you want people to reply to these posts? Do you only want people who agree entirely with you to post?
I detect a lot of anger. I would be angry, too. But your parents would likely have still been your parents regardless of where you went to school. Homeschooling just made controlling you easier in some ways.
If you are ever of a notion, you can read some of my blog pieces (none about homeschooling so far) so that you can see that we probably have much of the same world view and concerns and things that make us passionate, critical thinking women.
But let me tell you some of my experiences in public school. There are two that stand out that sound kind of similar to several stories you told in this post; women who are supposed to be encouraging that hurt us and men who look to bring us down because we are women.
I was accepted to a very prestigious college in my state. No one at my school had gone to this school for at least five years before me and no one went there from my high school the whole time I was in college. My female guidance counselor, after discovering my acceptance, called me into her office to tell me not to expect to get all A’s in college.
I was crushed. Not that I might not get all A’s (that was just terrifying), but that she didn’t believe I could. And she didn’t qualify it at all or try to explain what she truly meant (if she intended any different meaning) or what her motivations were in telling me.
Earlier that same year, we had had student council elections. Three of the girls in my senior class (all of us friends) were running for Student Council President. We were the ones that actually did all of the organizing for events for our class in prior years and it should have been a natural progression that one of us be elected president. We decided that those of us who did not get elected would run for Senior Class President, VP or Secretary. It wasn’t political, just strategical.
My HS Vice Principal pulled one of the more intelligent/slightly jocky boys from History class around this time. We thought he must be in trouble, but in fact, the VP had asked him to run for Student Council President. Why? Because we would split the girl vote, he would get all the male vote, and he, a male, would win. That is exactly what happened.
After all these years, I still think about those things and I get mad. But that doesn’t even include the hurtful cliques that were common place in High School and the pressure to get up at 4:00 in the morning so you could have your hair and clothes “just so”. I would not go back to High School if you offered me $10,000,000 and that is not an exaggeration.
But even still, that doesn’t touch on my dysfunctional home life which included drug addiction, alcohol abuse, mental illness, emotional abuse, and physical abuse (when I was younger). I cleaned house, watched my younger sister, and played mother to my mother. I did not have a childhood, really. And despite the fact that I went to public school, not one person ever stepped in to help (except family, but even they were at a loss). Bright kids from dysfunctional homes are very good at putting on a good show because regardless of what is going on at home, it is better than the unknown; plus I adored my mother (at least until I was about 15, and then I just loved her).
You say you are only 8 years out of the dysfunction. I am 30 years out of it. Cliche or not, time does have a way of rounding off the sharp edges.
I would only suggest that instead of lashing out at the people who really do enjoy homeschooling and accusing them of being part of the problem, tell us what we can reasonably do to help those kids who are in the situations you describe and how do we recognize when someone needs help?
Cindy, many of the articles you are posting on are authored by someone who choose to obscure their identity. While the authors are certainly allowed to reply, they are not obligated. You may receive more feedback if you posted on our posts authored publicly – like Nicholas Ducote (me) or Ryan Stollar’s. With that said, we will try to respond to your comments because they are relevant to our discussion here.
I can only speak for myself, but I believe that those who are homeschooling and don’t speak up against the abuses *are* part of the problem. That’s why I’ve chosen to speak up on my own blog–because even though I had a positive homeschooling experience, I’m aware of the problems. The reality is that a lot of parents go into homeschooling being sold a specific image, and because of the silence of people who are aware of the pitfalls but don’t want to make homeschooling look bad, more kids end up getting hurt.
The people who have been hurt deserve the right to tell their stories because they’ve been silenced for so long. Public policy people can come up with solutions but first the people who have been hurt need a voice.
Or at least that’s how I see it.
I am asking how one speaks up from within the homeschool community. You are out of it, right? I do not know of someone personally abused. I do not agree with all of the other mother’s individual political and theological ideas, but I can say the same for the people in my own church.
Can you provide a constructive way for someone within the homeschool community to help who is not actually privy to the type of abuse you are describing?
To begin with, to suggest that I’m “out” of the homeschool community is inaccurate. When you were homeschooled, you’re never “out” of it. Not really. And even if that’s the case, then anything that a homeschool graduate says will just be written off because we’re “out” of homeschooling now, when our voices are precisely the ones that current homeschool parents need to be listening to.
That aside,when you say, “I do not agree with all of the other mother’s individual political and theological ideas” that’s precisely the silence that I’m referring to. That’s how the problems never get addressed–individual parents write it off as just not agreeing with other parents’ ideas. Oftentimes, those are ideas that should be addressed. When homeschool groups start passing around the Pearls’ books, parents stay silent because they don’t want to question anyone else’s parenting style. When people start pushing Vision Forum, no one says anything because they don’t want to criticize someone else’s theological and political beliefs. When HSLDA starts using homeschool kids as the tools of Republican party politics, nobody says anything because that’s just what they believe. That’s precisely when you do need to speak up, to say wait a minute, this isn’t right.
I publish my blog pieces and I link them to my Facebook account. Women in the co-op have sent me friend requests and I have accepted. They can link to my blog. What they read, they know are my thoughts.
I post to my blog with my name and my picture. I put myself out there for all to see. It takes courage to do that. But I do this to keep myself honest and so that I do not have to pretend. I also do this so that fundamentalist Christians (and their children) will perhaps see that not everyone with a different belief is a moron and a devil (am I succeeding? I don’t know.)
My beliefs regarding politics and how Christians should act are contrary to how many of them believe, I’m sure. I refused to join HSLDA. I refused to send my daughter to TeenPact. I made it clear that I wanted my daughter to learn about government raw, not from a theological position.
When you choose to be yourself and speak your mind in an environment where your views are the minority, it is gut wrenching and stressful. I’ve been doing that my whole life. I wish it on no one. But I now have my daughter to think about. I can’t ostracize her from everywhere and everything.
So, just a little respect, please, for someone doing her best to make changes to her small sphere of influence while at the same time trying to maintain a safe and nurturing environment for my own child.
By the way, those other people and situations you mentioned, we have not been introduced to yet. But I will keep my eyes and ears open.
P.S. my daughter is not instructed to NOT talk about Halloween, Harry Potter, the Easter Bunny or Santa. But we still try to respect other people’s beliefs.
To Cindy – I appreciate your engagement with this project.
1. This article nowhere discusses my home life and what was or was not happening in my family, so your comments on the fact that dysfunction is not unique to homeschooling don’t really have anything to do with this post. I’d point you to several other posts written here that argue that homeschooling masks and therefore perpetuates abuse. I don’t think anyone is arguing that abuse is the exclusive purview of homeschoolers.
2. Sexism is certainly not the exclusive domain of homeschooling, but the specific pressures exerted within the movement are unique in the extremes that they’re taken to, and the isolation that goes with being homeschooled. I’m so sorry that you experienced the things you did in your public school setting – those things should make you angry.
3. This blog is complicated, because many different types of stories are shared here. Some are personal histories, some are argumentative essays, some are a mix of the two. This article is a reflection on some of my experiences in the homeschool movement, and particularly, a justification of our (ex-homeschoolers’) need for a place to share specifically negative thoughts and opinions (see the last sentence). The space for honest processing has not existed before this.
4. I don’t see this article as “lashing out” at those who enjoy homechooling. It’s also not intended to be a practical guide to how to help those in abusive situations (I wouldn’t be able to write that if I tried). I’d argue that the purpose of this blog as a whole is not to merely provide instruction on “getting people out,” but also giving space. To quote the post, “I need space to write, and to read, and to be reassured I’m not crazy or alone when I tell stories like mine.” I’d also argue that grief and anger are both appropriate responses to the experiences I shared above, as well as the stories you outlined. In fact, I’d guess that if we’re not experiencing anger, that’s a sign of lack of health.
My point, in the article, was to explain why we need a place like HA. I hope that this clarifies that, and that as you read, you’ll understand more of what we have experienced and why sharing it is important for us, individually and as a community.
I read Part I and II together thinking they were written as one piece broken into parts with more possibly to follow. These are exact quotes from Part I:
“I’ve read many things like, “you could find 30 abused kids in any school system!,” or “these kids’ parents were just crazy. That’s not what home schooling is really like!” It seems like many people invested in the homeschooling movement are reading this blog in the same way my mom read stories like the ones mentioned above
I’ve read comments that go so far as to dismiss these stories outright. More people, though, lament the suffering they read about, but make comments that distance themselves from the problem. These extreme cases are hard to catch, the sentiment goes, because these families never show up to homeschool groups or 4-H clubs or churches or anywhere we (homeschoolers) might be able to intervene. “These kids were totally isolated! It’s not our fault!” they declare, explicitly or implicitly.
This is misguided.
And yet, we suffered serious abuse and neglect, and no one intervened on our behalf.
As a survivor, I started asking why. I was (almost constantly) involved in a myriad of extracurricular activities, and none of the adults in my life intervened in the neglect I experienced. They either didn’t notice, or didn’t care.” *end of quotes*
You insinuated you were abused. You insinuated that it was there for all to see and that they were either being obtuse or didn’t care. You insinuated that people around you could have done something more. That is why I mentioned abuse.
I would like to say, that I do not approach this as trying to justify anything. Your blog appeared on my feed probably because the blogosphere knows I have an interest in homeschooling. If anything, after reading stories here, I worry that I could be doing irreparable harm to my daughter and allowing irreparable harm to come to someone else (mom fear and guilt), yet trying to weigh that with the wonderful experience my former, publicly-schooled child is having through homeschooling.
But if anything seemed insensitive or self serving, I apologize.
Thanks for clarifying, that helps me understand your comment. Yes, I’m the author of both pieces, but it’s not so much a continuous story as separate thoughts on different topics – the first post was written about isolation, the second in response to the idea that the blog is “too negative”, or that the authors writing here are somehow being ungrateful by not talking about the positives of homeschooling.
A couple of comments come to mind for me when I read your comments. First, I did not insinuate I was abused and neglected, I stated that I was abused and neglected, as were my younger siblings. I don’t know that it was “plain to see;” in my first article, attempted to explain why people may not have seen it (ie, we were trained to cover it up to “outsiders”), and offered a few potential reasons why those who could have seen it (ie, movement “insiders”) didn’t speak up. I agree with heatherjane and many of the others who have posted here, that one of the major problems we’re identifying with the homeschooling movement is that it doesn’t take the problem of abuse seriously enough. I don’t think this is because homeschooling parents are intentionally malicious, but, good intentions aren’t cutting the mustard.
I think one of the inherent difficulties of this blog is that the very audience who has the power to change things (ie, people like you, Cindy – homeschooling parents) are the people for whom these stories are probably hardest to process. My mom would still say that all three of her kids had “a great experience being homeschooled.” She remains ignorant of the neglect and abuse she inflicted. It’s one of the reasons I blog anonymously, because stating these things to her privately is almost impossible, let alone making them public. At some point, my siblings and I will have to confront her, but that time is not now.
I don’t know you, or your children, or your situation, and I don’t want to cast any aspersions on your methods or your intentions. All I can say is that I was raised in a homeschool family, and by a homeschool community, and many of the systems and structures I participated in perpetuated oppressive systems and facilitated abuse and neglect. I so appreciate your engagement here, because you, as a homeschooling mom, have power to change things. Your empathetic listening is really what we want – because as you (and people like you) empathize with us and act on what you discover, you will change the homeschooling movement.
I know I’m late to the ballgame on this article, but as I read your story, I saw what we subjected our older kids to and it makes me sad. I had dutiful HKs (homeschooled kids) who manned phones during political campaigns, went door to door promoting a certain candidate. They certainly followed what their parents/church family had taught them. I think part of that “going along with your parents’ ideas” is normal in any family, but it seems to go over the top in homeschooling families because of the hidden agenda that many of us got caught up in. I think many of us parents did not realize we were actually part of a “movement.” I know I didn’t. That has angered me as well. Actually, let me just say that I am LIVID about that aspect – – that I got taken on THEIR ride to promote THEIR agenda. And here you are saying the same thing. I get it. I really do. Anyway, I’m rambling, but your this story resonated with me on different levels and I’m glad you are speaking out. Keep talking!
Thanks, Julie Anne – I appreciate your affirmation! It is quite the childhood.
Your article made me both empathize about the pain we both experienced and laugh about the sad-but-funny truths you pointed out (the stuff we were allowed to debate about was especially good, though in my house we debated a lot of useless theology [Arminianism vs. Calvinism] as well). Until I found this blog, I felt that I could never work through what I experienced in homeschooling because NO ONE understood, not even my therapist. Finding this blog has been such a blessing. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I agree that we need this space! I also was trained to tell anyone about the benefits of homeschooling all day, but I’ve never had the space or ability to voice my dissatisfactions until I came here.
I am another homeschool mom who is reading the blog and taking it to heart… Sharing it with other families, too. Thanks for opening our eyes.