The Most Controversial Thing I Ever Wrote, Part Two: By R.L. Stollar
By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
“When I heard that CFC was banning the book and telling people not to buy it I raised an eyebrow.” ~An email from a complete stranger, two months after I wrote my most controversial essay ever
I didn’t think it would be a big deal.
I really didn’t.
Which, I know in retrospect, was stupid of me. But, for what it’s worth, my parents — who underwrote my research books each year prior to publication — didn’t think it would be as big of a deal as it was, either.
When I wrote “The Anatomy of the Pedestal” almost a decade ago, for my 2004 research book Uber-Plethora, I wrote it for, not against, NCFCA. I wrote as an alumnus, a current coach, and someone who cared deeply about and for my students, my peers, and my friends — both currently and formerly in the league. I wrote it because, as a 20-year-old relatively fresh out of competing in NCFCA myself, I was worried.
I was worried about the patterns I was seeing. I was worried about some of the struggles I myself had, that I was seeing my friends having as well.
So I wrote about it, with the hope that it could start a conversation among the people I worked with and respected. I wrote about it passionately — which, unfortunately for me, means I also wrote about it in rather dramatic form. I didn’t use as many disclaimers and qualifiers as I do now. But I also didn’t have the knot in my stomach that I have now, the knot that tells me I could “get in trouble” for what I write, even if it is the truth.
What happened, at time, was thus highly unexpected.
People. Were. Outraged.
How outraged? Like “Kill-the-Beast!”-Beauty-and-the-Beast-style outraged.
Communicators for Christ (now Institute for Cultural Communicators) had — for the past three years — carried my research books on their tour and sold them exclusively. Which made sense, because I pretty much spent my entire high school traveling with David and Teresa Moon, the founders of CFC (Teresa also being one of the founding leaders of NCFCA, along with my father and several others), designing their curriculum, and teaching thousands of students speech and debate across the country. I was one of their original student instructors. So it made sense that they’d carry my book.
But now CFC was outraged. They were going to immediately cease selling the book and would tell everyone to not buy it. After a long conversation, Teresa offered a compromise: if we ripped out my essay (as well as two other less controversial parts) from my book and sent them new copies, they would consider reselling it. David Moon from CFC had gone further, demanding that the entire “Sociology of Debate” section get ripped out. It was outrageous, he said, what I wrote. It was inappropriate, out of line, flat out wrong, and could damage the reputation of homeschool debate. But in the end their exact demands were as follows:
“1) Remove The Anatomy of the Pedestal, R.L. Stollar
2) Remove All About Resolutional Kritiks, Stephen Mar
3) Remove references to dating in any bios”
If we would “consider these modifications,” Teresa said an email follow-up to David yelling at me over the phone for two hours, maybe, just maybe, we could “work out the remaining book-selling details with David.”
But CFC was not only outraged party.
Parents starting calling. Parents from around the country. They demanded my parents let them talk to me (even though I didn’t live at home and was 20?). I had some of the most intense conversations (although “conversation” isn’t accurate — they were more like lectures, since I never talked much during them) I have ever had, as parent after parent lashed out at me for saying the evil things I said. I spent several hours listening to one of NCFCA’s leaders (and later one of the founders of STOA) argue that I was making it all up — which was ironic, because one of his daughters was one of the people whose struggle with self-injury inspired what I wrote. But I couldn’t tell him that. And he wouldn’t have listened anyways.
Then there were the emails.
Here are excerpts of one such email I received. This one is from Dorr Clark, who would later serve as the Debate Committee Chairman for STOA :
“There seems to be something capable of offending almost anyone, although I believe that a great many people who could be offended will never see it, and I’m grateful about that…”
“Some readers will be offended by the politics, some by the lack of moral discretion. What is most grievous to me is the carelessness towards the feelings of others, and the manifest ingratitude. There are other emotions on parade as well…”
“I have to believe [Ryan] took his observations pretty seriously; but for me it’s all very reminiscent of that moment when teenagers come to realize that their parents must have had sex, and may still be…”
“I hope for everyone concerned the sales are really, really small.”
So what was it that I wrote, that had my book almost banned and had my words so vehemently attacked and actually censored? That had grown men and women, the “adults” in my life speak down to me (a legal adult) as a child, an evil, rebellious child? What did I dare say, that made a leader in the homeschool debate world wish that a project I poured my heart into failed miserably to the point that I would suffer economically?
Well, it was this, the most controversial thing I ever wrote:
The Anatomy of the Pedestal: A Case Study in Idolatry (circa 2004)
American culture is idol-obsessed. From the halls of Congress to underground recording studios, the American people place heroes and heroines upon platforms and glorify them. It is a trait common to all: every subculture, whether great or small, whether mainstream or fringe, has this obsession. While the majority of U.S. adolescents might idolize Avril Lavigne, Blink 182, and other such denizens of pop radio, the anti-pop movement engages in the same acts of deification. They might denigrate Miss Duff, Miss Spears, and Master Durst, but they do not hesitate to magnify Master Folds, the confessions of a dashboard, or even Miss Björk. In short, American culture is a culture that longs to put spotlights wherever it can.
The two sides of the spotlight
Many Americans want the spotlight on themselves. A brief glance at American Idol will confirm this fact. Something about the spotlight promises that one’s fantasies can come true if one just has enough popularity. One sees this mindset in Hollywood. Even though it has had more than its fair share of rumors, heartbreaks, and corruption, Hollywood has retained a veneer of innocence. It still represents “the American dream,” the dream of driving to sunny Southern California and pulling up to a red carpet. Many Americans retain their Disney mindset of wishing upon stars. They hope for some new “gold rush” — or that their prince will come. And, oddly enough, stardom seems to promise such things — and stardom has no qualms with flaunting this side of itself.
Because of its promise to fulfill dreams, the drive towards popularity has become so intense that most of the U.S. population — while mocking those who succeed — secretly wish to appear on Reality TV programs. Medical professionals even have a name for this drive: “Celebrity Worship Syndrome.”(1) As long as the devotees have their day of fame, they have no qualms appearing the fool. They will air their putrid inner thoughts on blogs. They will pose naked for the public eye. They will even sing at karaoke shows.
Underneath the glamour and glitter of stardom, however, lies a very dark underside. Most people today, when they refer to “the underside,” have a specific economic and/or sociological phenomenon in mind: that of Third World poverty. These people — who are often “liberation theologians” — call the poverty-stricken masses of Latin America, for example, “the underside of history,” because the Latin American poor rarely receive the attention of historians, policy makers, or the media. Instead the world focuses on the grandeur of civilization: its advances, medical revolutions, tabloid rumors of political leaders, and various and sundry world wars. Rarely, though, do newspapers bother to report in depth about “the underside”: the mother who cannot feed her child because she herself has no nutrients in her body and therefore has run dry of breast milk, or the child who has not eaten in days and can see his brittle skeleton pressing against his skin.
While “the underside of history” has this economic and social meaning, it seems applicable to the spotlight of stardom as well. For beneath the grandeur of the rags-to- riches stories, underneath the silk garments and multi-million-dollar homes, lies the grief of humanity. The newspapers rarely portray this grief. It appears now and again, of course: when an Olsen twin acquires anorexia or when Natalie Wood descends into a watery grave. But Americans do not like to discuss these matters. Oh, they love to gossip. It tickles their voyeuristic appetite to read the latest happening or scandalous rumor in The National Enquirer. But they never do this to understand the human beneath the celebrity. They read it for entertainment’s sake and The National Enquirer reports it to sell magazines. For all their railings against pornography’s evils of objectification, American culture at large engages in no less of an evil: objectifying its celebrities.
Occasionally, of course, the objectifying does not bring pleasure. Every now and again a story will “shock.” What this shock does, though, is not create true compassion for those who struggle with a drug or alcohol addiction, family abuse, or suicidal tendencies, but rather it creates outrage. The public becomes disgusted with the “imperfect” lifestyle this or that celebrity lives: when, for example, a celebrity enters a rehab program or fails in a marriage. The public demonizes him or her and suddenly that celebrity’s career is jeopardized: not because the public actually lives a better life, but because the public has not the moral and spiritual depth to know how to understand and tolerate its celebrities’ imperfections. Thus it commits the ultimate hypocrisy: it condemns those who admit to having the very struggles common to each and every human being by nature of his or her humanity.
The spotlight and the forensics subculture
It is of the utmost importance, as we turn our attention now to the forensics subculture, to remember that it is an extension of: (1) American culture at large and (2) human beings specifically. As a result, all of the previous observations regarding cultural forces come to play within forensics. The longing for stardom, the struggles that come with being human, the tendency to either deify or demonize — all of these mindsets and energies manifest themselves in speech and debate. And this applies without exception to NCFCA itself.
Such a suggestion, of course, seems rather shocking. To implicate NCFCA, a Christian organization of primarily Protestant conservative homeschoolers, with voyeurism, idolatry, and demonization, may initially appear audacious. In the long run, though, this implication has no “uniqueness” (as far as debate theory goes). Since the beginning of time Humanity has poked its nose into others’ affairs, even to the point of desiring the same knowledge of good and evil that belongs to God alone. To desire this requires not only an insatiable curiosity but also the hope of being equal with God, a hope of nothing less than idolatry. And the moment God questioned Humanity’s motives, Humanity resorted to blame shifting: Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. Only Satan himself had the respect and inner consistency to accept his punishment without speaking back.
In light of human history, therefore, it is no great claim that a collection of human beings — in this case, NCFCA — contains voyeurs, idolaters, and banshees. The only other clarification that might be necessary here is that this problem extends beyond NCFCA. As an extension of American culture and a manifestation of humanity, NCFCA is but one place in which the evils of humanity manifest themselves. Other prime areas of manifestation would be you, the Apostle Paul, and myself, for the Apostle said (and I echo), “I am the chief of sinners.”
The infamous pedestal
All of these attitudes and energies appear in debate most notably in a concept known to most every NCFCA competitor yet rarely articulated. The concept itself is numinous: tempting and desirable, yet at the same time fearsome and hallowed. The concept is “the pedestal.” The pedestal is the place of honor. It is forensics’ olive wreath. It is that upon which any god or goddess of this league stands so that others can look at him or her and admire the person’s finesse and expertise.
As such, the pedestal is not primarily for those who win tournaments. Of course, winning tournaments helps one on the quest to step upon the pedestal. But the pedestal is more than tournament conquest. It represents honor, not merely trophy collections. To stand upon it one must first win the hearts, minds, and souls of the NCFCA populace — always the competitors, and often the parents as well. One must have the tact to avoid offending parents, but also the courage to speak one’s mind when necessary. One must play with fire, and yet know when to blow out the match. One must speak with wisdom, while wearing a coy smile. In short, one must be a public master of oneself and be recognized as such by both one’s peers and one’s elders.
The difficulty arises once one succeeds in scaling the pedestal. For suddenly the ground appears very far below oneself and the spotlight shines directly in one’s face. Suddenly one realizes that to obtain stardom in NCFCA is to receive a grave responsibility — and a nearly unbearable weight: that of being the standard of excellence within a Protestant, conservative, homeschooling subculture.
Instantly the shackles descend and, make no mistake, the pressure weighs down heavily. One may be an adolescent, but the subculture ignores this. They reference their mantra: “Do not let anyone look down upon you because of your youth, but set an example…” And this mantra serves many a purpose: it dictates what you can wear even after a tournament, it puts limits on which persons you can befriend, and it has no tolerance for the pains and agonies of “growing up.”
Naturally such a burden is hard to bear. Many have cracked under its weight.
Once this occurs, of course, the gossiping choirs descend. Word spreads like wild fire and one’s reputation can be tarnished in an instant. If NCFCA were large enough to have a National Enquirer, it would seize hold of such opportunities and exploit them to the maximum. Often, though, a newspaper is not required: homeschooling parents do this task well enough. (And if they miss anything juicy, it will at least still surface on Homeschooldebate.com.) Furthermore, homeschooled adolescents are naïve enough either to blindly follow such parents’ leads or to recklessly cheer on “the rebel” without their parents’ knowledge.
The pedestal, therefore, takes on a demented shape to those atop it: the pedestal is that towards which all aspire, and, once conquered, that which all its conquerors long to leap off — yet cannot without great inner and public turmoil. In short, the pedestal is the point of contact between the Protestant, homeschool subculture of debate and the American culture at large: it is the clearest manifestation of the devastating impact of the spotlight of stardom. When Hollywood celebrities suffer their blows, they turn to alcohol, sexuality, or suicide. When NCFCA’s pedestal-ized icons suffer such blows, they often turn to similar tonics.
This, of course, does not surprise anyone who understands human nature and the times. But, oddly enough, it probably surprises most homeschooling families.
Nursing the wounds
The question arises: what can and should one do in light of this reality? Naturally, a thorough answer cannot be given in an essay of this length. But at least a suggestion or two can be made. First, members of NCFCA — and Americans in general — must realize just how devastating success can be. (2) Stardom is no easy cross to bear. The pleasure is but momentary and the effects can last a lifetime. We must constantly keep this in mind as we allow adolescents to engage in the struggle for success. We must be sensitive to their needs and attentive to their cries.
To be able to do so requires that we have knowledge. We must take the time to equip ourselves. Many psychological and sociological accounts exist that explore what impact the debate subculture has on the adolescent mind. (3) While the disciplines of psychology and sociology often discredit themselves with strange conclusions and faulty assumptions, they still can perceive forces at play within a social context that participants in that context cannot. At the very least we ought to allow these disciplines a voice. Then we ought to consider the voice well, with all the talent debate affords.
If the disciplines do perceive well, we must next consider how to heed their warnings. Must we alter our vision? Must we entertain the notion that, in our passion to “save the world,” we are losing the hearts and minds of the next generation by exhausting them? Do we hold our children up to false and dangerous expectations? Do we not express our love for them adequately? Do they feel accepted? Do we give them the room necessary for them to grow up and make the natural failures along the way?
Answering such questions will prove crucial to the health of NCFCA competitors — and in general to the health of all American adolescents. When teenagers today turn to bulimia, cutting, and drugs, and increasingly so, we must stop and ask ourselves: why? And instead of pointing fingers at “secularism,” “Hollywood,” and other such easy excuses, perhaps we ought to aim our fingers at ourselves. Perhaps we ought to wrap our hands around our own necks, and shake out of our heads our preconceived notions. Only then can we look objectively at what presuppositions we bring to the situation. Only then can we answer in all honesty: Are we obsessed with idols, we who claim to believe in a triune God and no other? Do we push our children too harshly in our desire to “raise up” this “Generation Joshua”?
If so, why?
Think long and hard. Put yourself in the shoes of someone in the spotlight.
At what cost the pedestal? A child’s life?
I will conclude with an excerpt from an email I sent to a close friend who contributed to Uber-Plethora and whose essay was also lambasted by STOA’s Dorr Clark. This email, like this controversy, is also from a decade ago:
“if we touch the heart of but one parent, or but one student, we will have done our duty — even if it comes at the cost of a thousand dorrs. at least we’re being honest. being honest — that’s really the best thing we can do…
“i want everyone to know what life is really like. i want these younger ones to know that even the oh-so-impressive [name omitted]s, ryans, etc. struggle. it’s ok to struggle as Christians! they NEED to know this.
“if it pisses parents off, that’s their parents’ loss.”
A decade later, we are fighting the same fight.
End of series.
Ah, I remember these articles! Mine was nowhere near as controversial… but then, my pedestal was not as tall as yours. I am glad we said controversial things. I am glad you’re still saying them. I am going to email you this beautiful bit that I found in a book that I am reading. It reminded me of you, and HA, so much. ❤
Ryan, I wish I had read this essay when I was in high school. God bless you for writing this. Seriously.
Amazing. Infuriating. Exhausting. I’m so thankful that you channeled this energy into something that could bring relief and healing to so many others. Thank you, Ryan, for trying so hard a decade ago, and now for succeeding so wildly.
These are the moments that show people’s true colors–when faced with criticism, how do they respond? It’s very disappointing to see many homeschooling parents and leaders exposed for being immature and defensive, rather than gracious and teachable.
Homeschooling kids everywhere needed you to write that article, Ryan, and I am so glad you did.
I love that you pointed to the struggles seen in the homeschooling community. Similar to the criticism against HA, folks don’t want to see that there is pain, struggle, hurt in their community, in their kids. These common teen problems shouldn’t be controversial! They should be seen, understood, aided, healed, and not brushed under the rug. I wish I’d read this during my years of debate. It would have helped me.
This needed to be said a decade ago and it still needs to be said. Nobody can last under the pressure of perfection forever, and especially not when you’re still a teenager or college student trying to figure out life.
It’s why I cringe whenever I see the impossible pedestal that Tim Tebow has been put on as the biggest, most famous homeschooler ever. I don’t know how he’s managed to stay on the pedestal as long as he has and I can’t imagine that it’s all that pleasant.
How I wish I’d read this when you wrote it. 🙂 it’s pretty cool that you’ve been able to finally keep going with what you started so long ago. Keep on proba omna-ing, my friend.
I already see so many people saying this, but I need to say it, too: I wish I had read this a decade ago. So many times, I thought that I was the only one who struggled with these sorts of things. By the time I graduated, I saw myself as a colossal failure for struggling with an eating disorder, self harm, and suicidal ideation. Thank you sincerely for writing it.
I can see why they didn’t want this anywhere near them. Uncomfortable truths are just that, uncomfortable. It’s commonly said to address the log in your eye before the splinter in your neighbors, but in practice I’ve seen the church and other organizations opt to stay comfortably away from addressing problems that they can scoot under the rug. The irony is under the rug is where such darkness thrives, feeds and grows.
In my years of homeschooling I observed that homeschool parents are quite a truth averse bunch. I think that’s why they hide their children away from the world; they fear truth.
Oh wow, I can see why it caused such a firestorm! I can also see why you would be so surprised by the firestorm. That essay is full of the passionate, strong idealism that young people are so good at, and that so frequently shames their elders.
I remember how much I idealized homeschool leaders. I was 19 in 2004; it was not until a couple years later that I started really seeing the problems and eventually began reading blogs and learning to think for myself. I thought at first that leaders were “making mistakes,” and would be open to one of their own well-trained young people pointing some things out. Oops.
I love HA because now a great many of us are getting together and they can no longer ignore us. They can dismiss us repeatedly, call us names, whatever, but they cannot ignore us anymore. Generation Joshua is speaking our convictions with courage and, if they really believe what they taught us, they will consider what we say with humility, and remember all those verses about esteeming others/respecting younger ones. After all, it must be exhausting for them too to be on pedestals. Nobody has it all together. We need to be able to learn from each other.
Wow. To echo the general sentiment, I wish I had seen this when it was originally published. That was right around the same time my life started to get messy. For forever I thought I was the only one who crumpled under the weight of ‘being perfect.’ It wasn’t until after highschool that I realized most of us were fucked up in one way or another.
It’s not easy to remember an essay that I read ten years ago – but I remember this one, and how deeply it resonated then. It still resonates now.
Even though I write anonymously, every once in awhile, I wish I could publish my name. Because whenever people respond with “neglect doesn’t happen in our community” or “no one I know struggles with self harm or eating disorders”, or “this pedestal you speak of is rubbish, and complaining about it is ingratitude,” I want to say, quietly, “oh, you’d be surprised at what you don’t know about me, about your sons, about your daughters, about your role models.” Because, so often, we were screaming silently, and no one chose to hear. The signs of our pain and struggle was literally displayed in and on our bodies, yet no one chose to see.
Maybe I’ll write a post about this. I remember seeing an episode of a TV show at one point in high school – it must have been on nickelodeon, so I must have been at a friend’s house. Anyway, the main plot point was about how the high achieving kid was freaking out because he’d gotten a B on a test. Everyone was yukking it up at his expense – his dismay was so obviously unnecessary and silly, right?
But I remember my heart breaking for the kid. Because I understood what it felt like to be held to impossibly high standards, and be crushed under the weight of them. I knew that his pain was real, and important, and not ok. I knew what it felt like when your identity and acceptance was contingent upon that A (or, in NCFCA terms qualling / getting to outrounds / getting to semis or finals or winning Nats).
As a former NCFCA National Champion, I think that what you wrote was completely accurate, and I wish I’d read it back when I was still a competitor.
Your points are well taken! Sin is certainly going to affect every Christian organization; especially so in a subculture that focuses on the such ‘externals’. How does one find the balance between pushing your kids to excellence and idolatry? Is it possible you 3’rd generation homeschoolers might figure this out? There’s no doubt that parents need to let down their ‘barriers’ of defensivenss and ‘lighten up’! Perhaps my barrier is more penetrable since I have not made the sacrifices that most have made.
1: I was impressed with how well written your original essay was for 20 years old, and speaks well of the homeschool & college education you received no matter how flawed the community (as every community is!)
2: I was neither homeschooled nor took part in any debate community but your description of adolescence in America rings true then and now especially in conservative Christian environments…right down to the recreational youth group culture I was a part of. Well seen, well expressed truths.
3: I’m sorry. It appears you were the scapegoat of a lot of very scared parents. It’s too bad they could not have accepted and engaged with the truth…so many kids might have had the chance of having real relationships with their parents.
4: keep up the good work…as a currently homeschooling parent (though not of the conservative christian bent) your insight is invaluable.
Your willingness to speak the truth means a great deal to me. I’m home educating three boys (13, 11 and 6) and the 13 year old is developmentally delayed. The standard that is supposedly so crucial to the success of this journey is, quite honestly, completely out of my reach. The main reason I wanted to home educate was that my public school education was completely Godless. The bible was never mentioned (can’t remember it even once…maybe once in World History, but not with much importance). As a lost ex-Catholic divorced kid, I subconsciously eventually believed that I was a complete mishap in the mutative chain of creation and of no worth to anyone, including myself. Did my teachers say this? Not in so many words; but their attitude, actions, beliefs and mantra all might as well have stamped a big (“INCONSEQUENTIAL”) on my forehead and heart.
After years of chasing every little bit of enjoyment I could conjure up with a complete disregard for any Biblical wisdom, I learned the truth of my heritage and who I was designed after…you may be saying yada…yada…yada. Nevertheless, I wanted my kids to have the freedom to believe that they mattered and their omnipotent Creator had a plan for their lives and I was going to help them figure out what that was. Meanwhile, Generation Joshua and NCFCA looked pretty darn interesting. I loved the idea of adults seeing the beautiful potential in the next generation to free more souls from the deception of insignificance. So I signed up for a beginning speech class and had fun helping my boys overcome the fear of speaking in front of a small group. Alas, it was completely obvious that my boys are just not as polished and serious as most of the other kids. Was I doing something wrong? Am I too easy on them? Should I push them more? Would my oldest be “doing better” developmentally, if I forced him to perform more often? He seems so wise about God’s ways and at peace with himself, despite his challenges. I must be doing something right. “Lord, please show me exactly what you want me to do and focus on each and every day!”
After years of all this, I’m still not sure what their calling is. However, my unique oldest guy is definitely going to be a terrific addition to any project, family or organization if they value his input enough. The 2nd one seems to have a bent toward inventing machinery. Even though there are times it seems that he only cares about Star Wars Clone weapons (chuckle); he has a neat idea for a self-perpetuating, electricity producing gadget. The little guy appears to have no problem finding multiple endeavors to pursue and will probably pay off the national debt single handedly by the time he’s 25 (slight exaggeration). I’m praying that my passion for spending time and energy on things that will help them in their specific journey, along with some basic skills, will result in young adults that feel free to find their own way in life (with God’s and my assistance). Yes they are protected from being introduced to sex, drugs, porn, STDs, panic attacks, possible jail time, oppressive guilt, social ostracism for crazy actions, and all the other things that I wish were never options in my past.
Maybe some of this will give you an appreciation for your parents’ drive to create something different for you. On the other hand, I’m so grateful to hear the whole truth about the polished performers that seem almost unrealistic If I wasn’t seeing and hearing them with my own eyes and ears, I wouldn’t believe the talent I’ve witnessed. How did these parents motivate their “students” to do so well? What am I doing wrong? Why are these ideal debate contenders so discouraging to me? Will my boys ever be so inspired to excel to such a degree? Yet, do I want them to be? Lord knows. I just want them to know how much God loves them whether they “shine” or not. They are beautiful to me with their messy hair, obsession with Star Wars, outward lack of interest in academics, only doing the “schoolwork” that I insist upon vehemently. Despite their falling short of the classical Christian home-educated ideal, I just love staring at them and giving them big smooches and reminding them 30 million times I day how much I love them.
I’m praying that they don’t get too comfortable or lazy or become too “idol” or “entertain themselves to death” as the veteran homeschooling perfect families rant about. I’m praying that we’re good enough just as we are and don’t need to prove our worth with trophies and honors and test scores and college acceptances and whatever else would prove to everyone else that I’ve done a wonderful job forcing them to be good, acceptable Christian examples. Maybe I’m not as far off-course as I’m left feeling, after reading articles written by the lofty veteran home educators that I’m trying to learn from.
Please excuse the length of my response. This article was a beacon in this dark voyage called a 21st Century Christian Home Education. (no time to proofread…sacrelige!) Have to get a bug or big piece of dirt out of the middle guy’s eye…;)
Success!!!!! It was a gnat! Yuck…
I am floored. Absolutely. Floored.
And yet, if “we” (Christian homeschooling parents) are following the formula, that comes out of the Bible, no less (does it really? or is it man’s rules added to God’s rules to make them “better”?), then there is no possibility for failure. Nope. We cannot even entertain the thought that our children might not turn out as promised. God always keeps His promises, doesn’t he? (Even the ones that have been hijacked and warped?)
Thus, our heads are buried in the sand, and we follow the smooth and persuasive (and reassuring) voices of authority, desperately wishing for the good outcome, wondering why there’s strife in the home (and blaming on the children, perhaps, because WE’re following the FORMULA so it can’t be OUR fault — or the Formula’s, either, because it’s straight out of the Bible… or is it?) and wondering why our family can’t be as perfect as those picture perfect families we know. Surely their children don’t fight. Surely their children have mastered first time obedience. Surely their children never contradict their parents. Surely they’re making the Formula work just fine, so why is it so hard for us?
For some of us, it takes a suicide note (or something like that) to shake us from our complacency.
(What I meant to say in my earlier comment, was that the voices of authority cannot, simply cannot, allow for any negative comment that might rock the boat. Cannot admit that there might be a worm in the apple. Anything like that might shake people’s confidence in the Formula, and if you don’t have confidence in the Formula, then what DO you have?)
Maybe you have a terrific formula that needs to be tweaked to match God’s intentions better. Maybe there is, as I remember the Bible saying in so many ways on many different occasions, a Holy Spirit guiding us on our specific journeys. It tells us not to compare ourselves with others. It tells us there are different parts of the body that serve different purposes. It tells us we can be blessed many different possible spiritual gifts. I’ve never read of one specific way to educate our children, have you? The Classical Christian Model is terrific. We just need to exercise our brains, ears and hearts to apply it effectively to our children’s individual lives and God-given purposes.
That’s just it. There isn’t a formula, per se. In our experience, I’m sad to say, Checklist Christianity just doesn’t work. As a matter of fact, it crushes hearts and spirits, and constrains life to a “box”. Where is the abundant life promised by the Lord? Not in the box. “Abiding” becomes a constraining force, a prison sentence as you file down your square corners to fit the round peg hole. I don’t think that’s what “Abide in Me” is supposed to mean.
“Did you abide in the Lord today!? When?” -A homeschooling mother
I guess we have no clue how intricate or broad the debate version of Christianity is, when I say that you might have a good formula (in response to someone else) that may need to be tweaked? We didn’t make it past Beginning Speech yet and I’m not sure we ever will. That is simply because I abide with the Lord all day long every day as best that I can. He decides how we spend our hours, days, weeks, months, years and decades.
This abiding takes on many different forms. I’ve never seen the Bible dictate a certain schedule or method. It describes many different ways of communicating with God. I’m not sure what the homeschooling mother a few comments above is driving at. Are you asking if we all sat on our knees for a certain period of time with our hands folded and our eyes closed, talking with and listening to God? Are you making sure we have a prayer closet? I’m not understanding what you are asking or assuming about our version of abiding with God. Do you mind explaining this a bit more thoroughly? In short, what are you asking exactly?
You wrote this the year I started debate, as a freshman in high school. I only wish I had read it then.
As I became increasingly interested in debate, and started getting recognition in the community by my junior and senior year, my cutting (that had started at a young age) had become increasingly worse under the pressure and “stardom” the debate community gave me.
My self-harm was something that few people knew about — something that would have been detrimental to my debate career, had the word spread — and yet the secrecy and pressure in the NCFCA only contributed to it.
Your insight into that issue, especially as it is infamous yet ignored in the debate community, is something that every debater should have to read before they start debate.
As many on here have said before me, I wouldn’t re-do my debate years; I learned and grew so very much through them, and had many positive as well as negative experiences. I do, however, hope and pray that the debate community will start really analyzing themselves and how they could be better.
I’m late to the comments on this, but I just wanted to add – as an English professor at one of the larger Christian Universities I wish that my students would write like this. It’s not only the good technical skills on display, but the passion for the truth and the willingness to grapple with difficult questions that encourages me. I’m so sorry you were burned by this experience and I’m glad that you didn’t hide or shut up despite the fear you now feel. Be strong and keep up the good work!
I was a homeschooled student myself, but with significant difference – my mother was a well trained teacher who continued to develop her skills, she wasn’t afraid of science or secular textbooks, and we didn’t have the organized, large scale homeschool community that many HA readers had. In some ways, that last part is a real blessing.
I just discovered this website and have spent most of the afternoon and evening just reading and crying. It astonishes me to find this community of people who share so many of my own experiences.
Thank you all for having the courage to step out and talk about these issues.
I had graduated by the time you wrote this article, but I was involved in NCFCA for a couple of years prior to that, and had what became a very dog-eared copy of Plethora.
You are correct, the pressure to perform, to smile, to be bright and articulate and wise, all while struggling with the developmental challenges of adolescence, was crushing. I’m sorry I missed your article when it originally came out, but am happy to find it now, as I’m continuing to work through the aftereffects of that pressure.
Love the site, love the article!
The essay written is very insightful and well said. I never did compete in NCFCA, but I knew people who did. And even so, I have been aware of much of the conservative homeschool culture through my own homeschooling experience and through the internet. There definitely is Christian fundamentalism that turns into strict moral perfectionism. But, thankfully, God offers grace to sinners and we can accept this grace without having to “try harder” but instead relying on God to mold us into the sort of people we ought to be. We will be justified and have fully received grace when Christ returns and the redeemed world comes.
I fail to see what is so controversial about this essay that it was cause for so much turmoil? But then I am a mom and one of the tarnished families the perfect inner circle of Protestant Republican Christians have shunned who still suffers from the repeated rejection of my children and myself. An artist not a speaker, I knew my shortcomings and wanted my kids to be well rounded.
I know looking back that God had other plans for us and did not want us comfortable in that world. The homeschool community is actually very small but fluttering around the huge void between the Christian Protestant Republicans and the ‘Art World’ is very lonely.
Reading the following snip from your article gives me a glimmer of hope that there are kids out there that are not actually oblivious or even worse, willing participants, in the cruel practice of ostracizing those who are not followers of the latest perfect idol in this closed community.
I always take comfort in the honesty and depth of Christs life, he was utterly rejected, denied, ostracized, shunned, -nothing new under the Son… and love him more for His love and sacrifice.
Thank you for your honesty here. Honesty was not one of the things I encountered when I attempted to address this with mothers and leaders in a of couple groups and was told I was imagining things. Even worse, I was told I was not a Christian because I was even trying to address it!?
” … it puts limits on which persons you can befriend, and it has no tolerance for the pains and agonies of “growing up.”
Naturally such a burden is hard to bear. Many have cracked under its weight.
Once this occurs, of course, the gossiping choirs descend. Word spreads like wild fire and one’s reputation can be tarnished in an instant.
I think we may still have our copy of “The Last Breath of a Dying Plethora” somewhere…….
I still remember the one FB post you wrote on the wall of the group that was protesting the NCFCA nationals at BJU and how
we applauded that. Today, I applaud this. Thanks for being controversial!
Thanks, Helen. I really appreciate your kindness and support.
As a former NCFCA competitor, and a former scapegoat for Christian Homeschooling Parents, I think this is perhaps one of the most relevant papers I’ve ever read that deals with the topic of homeschool debate. “The Pedestal” is just as much of an idol today as it was ten years ago, if not more so, and yet, for the most part, we’re still forbidden to talk about it, or to talk about any flaws in homeschooling.
Thank you so much, Mr. Stollar, for your courage to speak up on this issue, both then and now, and I’m sorry that you had to go through what you did simply because people cannot question their own worldviews.
I’m near the beginning of the essay at “Rarely, though, do newspapers bother to report in depth about “the underside”:” My sense is that newspapers report these stories a lot. There are dozens or hundreds of stories reporting on the abject poverty in Latin America, Africa and India (plus across America…). Economic historian Angus Deaton’s “The Great Escape” tells the story of how everyday people in western economies, Christian societies, escaped this abject poverty over the last two centuries. Over the last two decades hundreds of millions more in China and India especially have worked their way to middle incomes. Institutional reforms plus International trade and investment opened the door for everyday people to be their own entrepreneurs (farmers in China, for example) or work for others.
Maybe this reference doesn’t matter to the rest of the story, or maybe I’ve misunderstood it’s intended relevance or meaning.
Newspapers and magazines regularly report “the underside of history,” generally claiming that the wealth created in prosperous societies somehow causes or burdens workers in poorer societies. This is what is taught to students in a great many college courses and in novels, movies, PBS segments. Yet the claim is so misleading. Thirty million plus Chinese peasants starved to death in the collectivization family of the 1960s. They didn’t die from being underpaid making goods for export. They were not ground down by global capital. They died instead from the idea believed by Mao that global capital and markets and private property were tools of exploitation and dependence.
I’ve enjoyed meeting thousands of homeschool debate students and parents over the last decade. Their enthusiasm for life and learning (and discussing and debating) I feel at every debate workshop and tournament. (I meet some similarly enthusiastic students in public schools too.)
Too much and too intense competition is always a challenge. But compared to what? Public school culture and debate or private and prep school social life? Every family hits emotional difficulties and occasionally worse. But don’t most homeschool families mostly ignore the dysfunctional popular culture of television? That seems to me a healthy thing.
My general concern and complaint about homeschool (and high school) speech and debate centers on the limited historical research and discussion of economics, public choice, and real-world policy issues. So that’s the direction I keep pushing. Teenage years are traumatic in many ways and for many reasons. Many teenage homeschool debaters have suffered, as have parents, and that’s unfortunate. Outside the Christian homeschooling world my sense is that there is much, much more suffering as well (or worse, a sort of hollowing out). Thoughtful, knowledgable, and articulate Christians improve the lives of those around them as they do their best to live according to Christian principles.
I will agree at the end though that debate can be a dangerous game. Debaters benefit from examining and advocating ideas from inside as if they believe them, then an hour later examine and advocate the opposite positions. Some young people probably drop too deeply into conflicting ideas, or disconnect too much from what they believe or think they believe, and end up not knowing what they believe.
Spending too much time in the homeschool speech and debate bubble has a high opportunity cost. Like eating too many pieces of pie, too many debate rounds and too many hours chasing fanciful debate cases has diminishing benefit and much cost. These are hours students could be digging deeper into researching core issues, or speaking and debating in other forums, at Rotary or Kiwanis clubs, or at community hearings or nearby college or high school forums. Or interning and writing newspaper articles or helping research policy papers.
And… Baylor’s Rich Edwards as well as many others note the damage Kritiks have caused with philosophically absurd claims and perspectives pushed on students more to drive them to left-wing world views. As instructors tell student audiences and Michigan and other summer debate camps “competitive debate is a race to the left.” Kritiks are a way to push this agenda, but it also deflects policy debate to off-topic games. Just watch the trailer to Resolved (2007) to get an idea of what “competitive debate” has descended into. These brights but unfortunate students have been told that the style and arguments they study and debate actually have some meaning.
The result though is policy debate declining to a few thousand in the public school works (a couple years ago NFL said 7,000 policy debaters nationwide). Instead, most debate students choose Public Forum topics that change each month or LD.
Anyway, pardon the rant… I wish the best to everyone on all sides of the homeschool debate debate. No one knows how best to direct the vast energy students and parents are willing to invest in speech and debate. Students and parents do their best and learn from mistakes as they consider new ideas and opportunities.
I only judged one match and was concerned about the left-wing ideology being discussed. It seemed as though the topic had somehow been led to the left regarding government involvement of farming practices. For all the effort invested in the subject, a great deal of truth was never mentioned. It saddened me. The students were impressive in technique and incentive, but the meat of the subject was completely missing. It caused me to wonder if NCFCA was truly a Christian organization or if the topics and rules were derived from another source. Thanks for speaking up about poverty also. Your opinions are a breath of fresh air.