Torching All That Is Sacred — One Child’s Emergence From a Totalitarian Environment: Alexander Anon’s Story, Part Two
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Alexander Anon” is a pseudonym.
In this series: Part One | Part Two
Something people should know about me: I am a fighter. Now, I am not an obvious fighter, and if I was put into the ring, I guarantee nobody would put money on me; but that does not change what I am by nature. See, I am a quirky fighter. I am weird. I am unpredictable, though not always intentionally so. For a while, I simply took what my parents dished out and did not question it. I do not mean what they intentionally dished out; I mean that I adopted a victim mentality and pitied myself for being in the situations I found myself in.
As I grew older though, I started wanting to change things. I would still take things timidly, but if they pushed too hard, a fire would flare up in me and I would push back. Harder. Through this, I learned that I am much stronger than I had ever previously thought. I am not a victim; I am the one in control. If my parents would chide me for engaging in foolishness, I would keep it coming and even ramp up my efforts. What could they do? I was invincible. My foolishness knew no bounds; there were no depths which could be plumbed, no dregs that could be drained. I could out resource them, outlast them, and outsmart them at virtually every corner until they admitted the futility of their efforts to make me into the cookie-cutter Christian homeschool child. I had another advantage: the sibling just under me was much more openly defiant (although he used vastly different tactics), thereby allowing me to get by being just slightly less troublesome.
Since being in college, my mom has several times equated my academic success (completed undergraduate honors program with a GPA of 3.92) to having been homeschooled. This is quite possibly true, but I have never quite had the heart to tell her the truth: her perceptions of my homeschooling experience are much different than my perceptions of that same experience. If I was to be completely honest, what I enjoyed most was the freedom of homeschooling. I could do what I wanted, when I wanted, and pursue whatever caught and kept my attention for as long as I wanted without interruption. For me, at that point in my life, it meant creating Redwall cards that played similar to the Decipher Lord of the Ring’s trading card game. I would spend hours reading the books, creating workable game mechanics and themes for each culture, and then drawing and coloring the cards. I was an artist, and a not-too-bad one at that. I was also an avid reader, but only if the book was of interest. Many history books and other required readings were simply not to my tastes, and since there was no way to prove if I had actually read the book, I occasionally lied about how much of the book I had read in a particular day (or, at my worst, simply did not read the book while claiming I did). I did this so that I could spend time doing what I wanted to do: Redwall cards.
I was also notoriously bad at science. For a while, I thought I simply sucked at science. Since then, I have realized I did not understand how to study at that point in time. I would shove a bunch of scientific definitions in, then output them for the test. On tests where there was more information to memorize, I would earn lower grades. This measured nothing about my ability to actually understand science; it measured how well I could replicate 15+ definitions word-for-word, with each definition containing several sentences and sometimes looking more like paragraphs. My junior year, she threatened to kick me into public school for my senior year if I failed a particular science test (since I wouldn’t then be able to pass that grade of science). Needless to say, I took the ethical high ground and cheated my ass off. I did not (and still don’t) think it is fair to both at once tell your child that public school is essentially hell and then threaten to send your child to that hell if they do not perform to your liking.
I mention these two aspects of my homeschooling life because they would later get me in trouble just when I thought I was home free in college. After attending college a few years, I casually joked about how I sometimes wasn’t the best homeschool student as a kid. To me, it was funny. Look how well I’m doing in college despite goofing off the last few years I was homeschooled (11th & 12th grade). My mom, on the other hand, broke out crying at even the hint that I had cheated or lied. To her, my not taking some aspects of school seriously somehow reflected on her. It told her she hadn’t done well enough homeschooling to make me care, even though not caring about school is typical for teenagers at that age and I had proven I could excel in college. She had not failed in any sense of the word, since I was prepared for college and doing well. But she did not see it that way; only saw that I was admitting homeschool had not been the perfect picture of happiness she thought it had been.
Secretly, deep down, I suspect the true reason she cried is because my goofing off the last 2 years I was homeschooled sent a clear message that I did not need her and homeschooling as much as she thought I did. Did not need her as a teacher, that is.
This gets to the crux of the matter; it ties together this up-until-now rather bizarre and random story of my childhood. I think that despite whatever reasons my mom thought she was homeschooling us for, her true motivation was to never have to be alone again after living her entire childhood virtually alone. Homeschooling, while it may have been about us not getting hurt by others in public school, was also about her not getting hurt by nobody needing her. It was about making us dependent on her, so that she felt wanted. Needed. Ironically, she sometimes lashed out when we expressed the very dependence on her that she had fostered in us. More than a true need for us to be homeschooled was the need for her to have an identity outside of her children. An identity that should have come from her relationship with my dad, and with friends her own age. She needed to escape the burden of parenting for a time instead of embracing it even more fully and homeschooling us all.
I am not saying we should not have been homeschooled; but rather, homeschooling us should not have been the top priority. She often screamed, “What about me? When do I get to do what I want to do?!?” when she got mad at us for needing her. But the truth of the matter is this; she was too scared of nobody needing her to ever wander off and do something she wanted to do. She was afraid that if she did wander off, she might return and find everyone had forgotten her, or worse: never even noticed she left in the first place.
This, then, is what I want to communicate: my entire childhood was shaped by events driven just as much by my mom’s need to be emotionally fulfilled as it was trying to give me what I needed in an education.
The worst part is knowing she did not do this consciously, she simply failed to recognize what was going on and intervene. This is not a ‘Fuck you, mom! Fuck you, dad!’ letter. This is not an article to be used for arguing homeschooling is psychologically harmful and should therefore be overseen, controlled, or prevented by the government. There is no political message here, no hint of animosity towards anyone; no purpose for saying any of this other than that it is the truth.
Truth is never something I was good at hiding, or even wanted to hide. I tell everyone who will listen that I would rather have a ‘fuck you!’ screamed in my face and punctuated with physical blows than have someone pretend to be my friend. I do not care if I am physically assaulted; I care if I am told the truth. Asshats are a dime a dozen; but honest people are virtually impossible to find. Bluntness, that is. People who throw social politeness under the bus in favor of calling it like it is. The ‘ain’t no bullshit here, captain!’ kind of people. There many honest people in the world, but few who will be blunt with you.
That is what I mean.
In order to avoid ending on a downer note, I will fully self-disclose that things have gotten so much better over the past few years I have been attending college. Only my youngest brother and sister are still homeschooled, with my oldest sister having attended public school since 9th grade. I do see my youngest brother struggle with many of the same things I did, but I know I am here to guide him through the confusion and pain that accompanies his upbringing.
More importantly, I know what helped me cope and have given him access to these means at a much younger age. When I was growing up, I did not have anyone to reach out to about this. My youngest brother can talk with me about this all; about how sometimes although our parents love us both very much, they do not act rationally and instead resort to violating their own rules and taking their emotional issues out on the children and use us to meet deep needs that we can never fullfill. He can question me about why most people think the earth is billions of years old but he learns it is only several thousand. I do not provide him with ‘the answers’, but ask questions to help him think through the issues on his own.
That is what true homeschooling should be: parents providing their children with an outlet to escape the biases and politics of public school without imposing their own biases and politics. Because ultimately, that’s what homeschooling is: freedom. Freedom to question authority, to question rules, to question the ‘no tolerance’ policies that are a virtual shitstorm in public schools. My story is one of that freedom being unconsciously abused, but that same freedom can be used to free others from the abuses they may receive elsewhere.
As hinted at in my opening paragraph, eventually my parents figured a lot of their issues out and loosened the stranglehold conservative Christians had on their throats. This legalism went to hell when our family became the black sheep of the congregation and the pastor and elders treated our family like shit. We were accused of much, and treated like enemies instead of brothers and sisters in Christ like they claim to treat all believers. What they failed to mention when you sign up is that their interpretation of the Bible only tells you to treat people as human if they think as you do and do not question what you demand of them. Anyone who threatens their reputation, who is similar enough to them and then suddenly appears less than perfect, is quickly either intimidated to fall back into line or else cast out into the cold world to die a lonely and painful death. Fortunately, our family pulled together and told them that while we appreciate their willingness to spend their entire lives with their heads on vacation in the wonderful world of Up-Your-Ass, our family preferred to admit we are living, breathing, feeling, fallible individuals who must address our shortcomings and forgive each other.
So yes, our family is no longer the perfect Christian, homeschooling family we once were. Thank God. And I mean that; I am both relieved to leave the bullshit and small-mindedness, and thankful to God for rescuing us from the bullshit.
As you can tell, I still believe in God. But not the Orthodox Presbyterian Church God that requires men to dominate women, for children to obey their parents without questioning what they are told to do, and for His followers to spend their time prior to dying and enjoying their life in blissful paradise feeling like shit because they believe happiness is automatically indicative of falling into sin. Focusing on how fucked up you are, or others are, does nothing to solve the problem. Even their own book tells them that much, but they still do not see despite claiming you do not see. Slowly, their God died to me (not for me), and I can personally attest that this death did not occur on a cross. It took place in my mind, after years of watching my family suffer the consequences of sucking it up when things got hard and pretending everything was alright. However; this god did die at a cross. Crossroad that is. The death of the OPC God was a crossroad where I switched paths. Where our whole family switched paths.
I have never been more proud of our parents than when they essentially told our old OPC church to go fuck themselves. (This message was not communicated quite as bluntly, but the effect was the same).
In closing, I am not mad at my parents. I hold no bitterness for them, or anyone else, including the OPC church and their members. I am still friends with many of them, and see the pleading looks in their eyes to come back when I occasionally visit. But I see more than this.
Underneath the pleading for me to return to them I see another kind of pleading; a pleading for someone to rescue them from themselves. As for me, I am never going back. Not permanently, although I do visit every once in a blue mooon. Having now experienced life in the open — in the sunlit world having emerged from Plato’s cave with the totalitarian forces striving to keep individuals locked away in the cave — I know what it is I will spend the rest of my life doing:
Fighting to free others from the blindness, from being emotionally used and feeling helpless to escape, whether it occurs while being homeschooled, public-schooled, or not schooled. Because using others, even unconsciously, to meet your needs is not right; and having gone through this myself, I find that I cannot wish it upon anyone else either.
We are Anonymous.
We are Legion.
We are Homeschooled.
End of series.
Oh, I love it! I am so proud every time I meet another home school grad who exhibits all the fine characteristics we aspired to instill: courage, independence, strong work ethic in achieving personally chosen goals, honesty, excellent communication skills. Alexander, you got it going on!
My own daughter honed her writing skills role playing on Neopets. Yes, she was assigned work from Stobaugh’s Literary Criticism curriculum guide, but she learned to write role playing Lupes on Neopets, no question about it. Making your own trading card game out of the Redwall series sounds like a fine way to learn all kinds of skills, including prioritizing your time and knowing when to cut corners in one area to achieve the goals that were more important to you. Those are skills every bit as important as organization, spelling, grammar, etc.
The oldest in every home school is a trailblazer for their younger siblings. I am glad your little brother has you to help him through the transition period. Best wishes to you and your family. I hope that through resourcefulness, good will and humility, everything works out in all your family relationships. Enjoy the sunshine.
“I would shove a bunch of scientific definitions in, then output them for the test. On tests where there was more information to memorize, I would earn lower grades. This measured nothing about my ability to actually understand science; it measured how well I could replicate 15+ definitions word-for-word, with each definition containing several sentences and sometimes looking more like paragraphs.”
Haha! Did you do Apologia science, perchance?