By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator
Friends of mine and readers of Homeschoolers Anonymous may notice that, despite my involvement in HA from the beginning, I’ve yet to tell “my story.”
At first, I wasn’t sure what my story was or what information I wanted to make public, so I waited. I also hoped my gentle public criticisms of homeschooling would start a dialogue with my parents. Quite the opposite: they talk to everyone but me about HA.
I do not want a bad relationship with my parents, but I am no longer willing to limit my expression in an effort to try and appease them.
It’s sad because my parents no longer participate in ATI, but they still hold to the most radical and cultic beliefs promoted exclusively through Gothard and his allies in IBLP and ATI. Sometimes I see glimpses of the loving, fun people that my parents are, but the religious fundamentalism preached by ATI hijacked our relationship.
To put it simply, I was raised in a homeschooling cult (ATI) and my parents were/are emotionally manipulative and spiritually abusive. It has taken me a long time to be able to write that, and for the longest time I didn’t want it to be true. But my time reading others’ stories and talking about our complicated parental relationships, patterns began to emerge. I hope that telling my story can help other troubled young adults to find ways to assert, defend, and express themselves with their parents. As for me, I’ve given up waiting for the fun, loving version of my parents to take over the fundamentalist version.
Many people will call me embittered, angry, or any number of pejorative terms to delegitimize my story, but I am not telling my story in an attempt to lash out and hurt my parents. I am telling my story because I now know that my story is not unique. All across America, former homeschoolers are dealing with convoluted and dysfunctional relationships with their parents. Sometimes parents give up the rigid legalism of Gothardism as they age. But my parents did not.
All too often I see the scared little boy (me) that my parents created — cowering in fear of reprisal, instead of confidently asserting my thoughts and beliefs.
This may seem odd to the people that know me because I am far from meek in debates about politics and religion. I debated competitively for eight years, which makes me good at finely tuning my advocacy to avoid conflict. Over the past few years, I’ve carefully avoided answering questions about my religion because I was too afraid of the reactions my immediate family would have.
It was easier to lie to them than to deal with being their “project.”
So for all the people who wonder where I am coming from — and I know religion is prima facie to many Christians when weighing an argument’s or source’s validity — here is it all laid out.
I am a non-Christian Theist.
I believe that there is something in the universe that is omnipresent and supernatural — unexplainable by modern scientific knowledge — but it certainly is not some father-God-Lord-Universe-Creator. I believe the universe originated at the Big Bang, which may have been triggered by aforementioned supernatural being, and life evolved. I believe humans have consciousness that is equivalent to a soul. I arrived at these beliefs through years of study, exegesis, and weighing of all sides. I don’t need evangelizing.
As far as the Old Testament of the Christian holy scriptures, I view them as a typical ancient history where a cultural group claims some supernatural justification for their conquest. I do not believe a loving God would order genocides, but I believe a group would commit genocide in the name of God and defend their actions with “God told us so.” I view Muslims, Christians, and Jews as essentially the same monotheistic religion, relying on ancient incorrect history to prop up a modern religion. That said, I believe the modern forms of these religions look nothing like they did in their original form. All religions evolve substantially over time, often changing core tenants or relying on arbitrary man-made decisions as Divine Truth (i.e. Council of Nicea, Papal Ex Cathedra, etc.).
When it comes to the New Testament, I believe that the historical Jesus was nothing like he was portrayed in the epistles and NT outside of the Gospels. Jesus was likely a real person, but the historical Jesus and verifiable source texts do not reflect the modern Biblical interpretation of Jesus’ divinity. That said, I believe Christianity, like Islam, Judaism, and many other religions, introduced many great moral codes to humanity.
When I traveled to Afghanistan to teach debate, I could not believe how similar the rural orthodox Muslims were to patriarchal fundamentalist American homeschoolers. (I’m sure some of you are incensed reading that, but remember I’m just being honest). Women were treated as second-class citizens, many were forced into a form of “stay-at-home daughter,” and laws discriminated against them. It was the exception for a young Afghan girl to attend as much school as her male peers, and certainly to attend a university.
Modesty is also rigidly enforced in both cultures, to an obsessive degree. Only in Afghanistan and American homeschooling have I seen so many arbitrary rules regarding modesty only for women. Granted, the level of modesty required of American homeschoolers does not reach the level of the burqa, but the philosophy and its outcome is relatively the same thing.
Just like many of the rural Orthodox Muslims, patriarchal fundamentalist American homeschoolers want their version of Christianity enforced through the government. Afghans also revere and respect their elders – a tradition that thrives in patriarchal fundamentalist American homeschooling. Even as a married adult, my advocacy in America faces the “you’re just a rebellious bitter child” line all too often.
The similarities were haunting and during my month there I started writing what would become a catalyst for the stories that built HA.
My mind made so many connections and being in the repressive atmosphere brought back so many memories. Even teaching Afghans debate mirrored my experience teaching patriarchal fundamentalist American homeschoolers. At first, they could not grasp the idea of arguing both sides — since they had been raised to only believe in one side. But as the light bulbs went off they lit up and they were so excited by debate. One thing that struck me was how religiously devout the Muslim students of the universities remained. Although they were among a very small cohort of their peers who attended secular universities, they all left the debate tournament after lunch to pray. The entire tournament halted because they needed time to pray.
Something like that would never happen at an NCFCA tournament!
My next essay will focus on the impact of ATI on my childhood and teenage years. And the terminal third essay will explain how ATI’s toxic teachings continue to poison my relationship with my parents.
Part Two >