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!