Angry Emails And Thoughts On Why They Happen: By Andrew Roblyer
This past week, Homeschoolers Anonymous has been featuring articles written by former students about their experience in competitive forensics. These articles have mostly focused on the National Christian Forensics and Communication Association (NCFCA) and Communicators for Christ/Institute for Cultural Communicators (CFC/ICC), but many of the concerns raised in those posts can be found throughout the site, not just in this series.
The legalism, the double standards for men and women, the focus on controlling external appearances and behavior, the desire to appear as put together and perfect as possible to the outside world and especially to other homeschoolers; these are all common threads throughout this tapestry of stories we are weaving here on HA.
And I have some thoughts about why that is.
As I was reading Ryan’s excellent duology about a controversial article he wrote (you should take a moment to read both posts if you haven’t already), I found myself asking why so many people were and are so terrified of criticism within the homeschooling community. More specifically, why are so many parents scared to hear someone suggest that maybe, just maybe, we should think about things in a different light?
Because in reading Ryan’s article, I saw nothing that attacked or demeaned individual parents, leaders, or students. I saw nothing that advocated for the dissolution of the competitive NCFCA environment. I saw nothing that assigned motives beyond that which all the parents I knew in the NCFCA would have willingly reminded students: we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. What I saw was a young man imploring a group of people he knew and loved to be compassionate. To be understanding. To live out the love of Christ towards those students that they lauded as representing the epitome of what they hoped their children would be. It was a criticism of perfectionism and of the very real danger that perfectionism brings. One would think that conservative Christian homeschooling parents would have eaten that stuff up. So…why didn’t they?
To find an answer, I turned to the public school system (blasphemy, I know). Critiquing the public school system in this country does not yield the same percentage of outraged responses from educators as criticism to institutions like the NCFCA yields from parents, in my experience. I know plenty of teachers who will join with you in listing the flaws of the public school system and their frustrations with the things that prevent them from doing what they love: teaching students how to think. So why is homeschooling any different?
The difference is that the public school system is separate from the teachers who make it up. The teachers are not the system, they are but one piece of a greater whole, and so, for the most part, criticism of the system is something that they can at least tolerate and even share without any cognitive dissonance.
Homeschool parents, on the other hand, are their own educational system. They are their schools. They are entirely responsible for their children’s education, and so it is much harder to separate the teacher from the parent from the education.
I think I first started to realize this a few months ago when I was discussing my public accounts of coming out with my mom. She told me that she felt like I had painted my “education” and “childhood” with such broad strokes that, for a reader who didn’t know me, it would be easy to assume my parents had contributed to many of the problems that I perceive with both. And, as she felt that she and my father had tried very hard not to be the cause of problems like my negative self-worth and depression/anxiety, she felt hurt by what I had written. I quickly tried to reassure her that I didn’t blame her or dad for any of that, and have since tried to do a better job delineating between the loving, supportive home life that I had growing up.
This, I would imagine, is not a unique situation. I would imagine that, for many of our parents who have poured so much energy and time into us as children, fretting over curriculum and wanting us to be good, Godly people, their methodology is all-too-easily conflated with their intentions and personal character.
I spoke about this exact phenomenon in my article for the Homeschoolers Are Out series, when I struggled to separate the structure of homeschooling from the conservative Christian religious community I was raised in. To me, homeschooling and NCFCA and CFC/ICC are all structures first and foremost, but I realize now that they are structures informed by a very personal passion of our parents.
As I told my mom, it was true that they never spoke negatively about gay people at home, but we never really discussed it at all. This meant that I was hearing one message denigrating my self-worth from external sources and silence on the subject at home, so the external message was the one I internalized. I don’t blame her for this, nor am I in any way upset about it, but it’s something I have to recognize and process as I become more self-aware. And while it was easy for me to see that this was not a personal failing or character flaw of my parents, I think it was much harder for them not to see that criticism as such.
I say this not to suggest that we should cease criticism of these institutions and structures; quite the opposite in fact. We should continue to offer thoughtful criticism and tell our stories in full, with the hope of provoking thought and change to those institutions. However, I think that we must be cognizant of the ease with which a structure like homeschooling or the NCFCA can be conflated with the hearts and souls of those parents who created them.
After all, most parents are not bad people with evil intentions (though as the stories of abuse on this website show, some of them can be), and by working to differentiate between the people and the system(s) we are criticizing, we strengthen our message and, in the process, help ourselves on our journey to self-awareness. It may be difficult to parse out what criticisms we have about the system and what criticisms we have about individuals, but I think it is worth the effort.
Let me close by saying that this is not a criticism of HA or any of its authors. Their/our stories need to be heard and I am honored to be a part of a group that wants to tell them. In addition, I would love to know if you (readers/authors/critics) agree with my thoughts on the conflation of the system with personal character. Let me know in the comments!
I think this is probably an accurate assessment of the situation. I’m not certain how to avoid the problem though, since homeschooling is so much a part of people’s identity that you might as well be attacking an immutable characteristic. “Homeschooler” isn’something people *do*, like “teacher” is–it’s what they *are*. How can you separate the people from the system when it’s such an internalized identity?
Indeed, it’s definitely more intertwined. However, I think that means that we need to back up and start there; we need to figure out how to start separating the structure of homeschooling from the reasons that people homeschool…just like teachers can separate the structure of public education from the reasons they teach.
It requires self-awareness on the part of the parents, and a willingness to admit to not being perfect or having it all figured out. And while I think most homeschooling parents I know would admit to that if asked directly in a vague context (e.g. “do you have it all figured out?”), fear of criticism, legal action, or some other retribution would send them into self-defense mode pretty quickly, justifying their actions with this post’s eponymous angry emails.
This is why conversations like HA are so good…they help to raise external awareness of the problems present in the system so that those who are most ready to internalize that knowledge can start to ask the right questions to help separate their intentions from the system that those intentions have created.
One major difference between the public school system and the homeschool system is the method of instruction. In public school, the system is responsible for a child’s development. That system is made up of multiple teachers who teach based off a curriculum that has been chosen by others. Thus when teachers criticize the system, they are not explicitly attacking themselves or their coworkers, but a faceless machine of which they are a small part.
However, the homeschooling system places a child’s development almost completely in the hands of that child’s parents. The choice of curriculum and method is completely in the hands of the parents, and the instruction of the child is completely in the hands of the parents. Therefore any failure in the child is a direct reflection of the parents and their choice of method and application.
I think the major problem is that no parent wants to admit failure, especially within Christian homeschooling circles. The main metric within the homeschooling community is how your child compares to 1) the other kids and 2) the ideal child as defined by the various homeschooling “leaders.”
Now the real issue arises as you said: within the Christian Homeschooling Community (CHC), there is a desire, an almost pressure, to appear as a success. And this is driven by the false equivalency of godliness; if your children deviate from the accepted norm, then you are not rearing them in a Biblical manner according to the interpretation of the recognized leaders and you are a failure at your religion and living outside of god’s grace. And therein lies the problem: all the standards that Christian families use are based off someone else’s interpretation or definition and tied to godly approval. The parents measure their own self-worth against that external definition, and the main metric used is the child.
I am 29 and was homeschooled until college. My mom used my National Merit Scholar status going into college as proof that she had succeeded as a parent, and continued to take credit as I moved through life. I was able to graduate as a chemical engineer because of the excellent job my parents did teaching me. However, as I began to make my own decisions, some of which she did not agree with, her concern became how other people would view her and my dad in light of my decisions. And this is indicative of the mindset embraced by far too many in the CHC: the success of the parent is tied to the product, the child.
I am a public school teacher who graduated from public schools. As a teacher, you are dealing with 20-30 students at a time in elementary school and 120-150 at a time at the secondary level. The advantage to seeing these much higher numbers of students is that teachers learn the normal range of development for a given age group. As a high school science teacher, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what reading level and math level most of my students have when they enter my class. Some kids are a bit lower; others a bit higher, but most fall in a predictable range. From this basis of development, I can start to judge which students need extra help because of missing skills in one or more area or will need an extra challenge to continue expanding their skill ranges. When you know the range of ‘normal’, you are under less stress.
As a teacher, I have many ways to prove my competence in the classroom. I also have many students to demonstrate learning with. Parents who want to prove their home schooling prowess don’t have either of those options. The only acceptable outcome is showing that your children have become stellar academics due to your methods. From a statistical standpoint, no families are large enough to prove that a home-schooling parent is an excellent teacher. All you can do is provide case studies and anecdotes – not very rigorous and very liable to exaggeration.
I think home schooling can work very well in many cases. I do think, however, that parents should be aware that home-schooling is not a way to make the parents’ look good.
I think it is easy to see why assaulting the structures while applauding the people is taken personally. It is homeschooling that these original first generation parents lived and died for, that privilege. To assault the structure is an affront to their entire life’s work.
Are you saying American homeschool parents literally died defending homeschooling or they dedicated their life’s work to defending it?
I’m saying they lived & have/or will die to this end. Meaning the core of who they are/ were was put in the homeschooling basket. To them it was their entire Christian expression. Understandably in a post-Christian world, they are in question because not only did they do something counter-cultural that was all-consuming & encompassed their entire beings, but in some cases, they did that very passionate thing very badly. This is where the sorrow on all sides is coming from.
If public schools ever do become that dangerous place that first generation homeschooling parents promised they were, will the painful, sometimes shameful ( maltreatment of their own children) work they did etching out this educational liberty be allowed to exist? Casualties and all?