Is This a Discussion?: Lana Hope Says Yes

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As we all try to make homeschooling better, are we having an open discussion?

Lana Hope says yes, Sarah Jones says no.

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on December 7, 2013.

Hi, I’m Lana.

I was homeschooled my whole life. Today I am somewhere. I’m not sure where. Nor does it matter.

If you’ve followed my tweets, you’ve probably noticed something. I forge my own way. Sometimes I agree with my friends, but then, sometimes I disagree.

Usually I’m suspended somewhere in between, in between a sea of voices.

I’m not complaining. I’m happy with difference.

The last month or so has been the first time in my life that I’m finally happy for difference. I’ll tell you why.

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There is no pure narrative.

I hear homeschool leaders say, “Not all homeschoolers are like that.” But, then, what are the homeschoolers like?

These leaders are not hinting at nowhere. They are pointing towards a narrative we’ve been told.

There is a dominant narrative. Sort of.

But the narrative has no base. It’s socially constructed. It has no pure form. It’s like all history. History is socially constructed.

In America we call it the Vietnam war. In Vietnam, they call it the American war. We called the west “the frontier” while others called it genocide. We called British imperialism imparting human rights on the world while others called it robbing culture. We call building schools in third world countries humanitarian work while they call it white man’s education.

We built a giant narrative about an “American history.”  Except I’ve heard some people call it a rebellion.

Narratives are socially constructed. This does not make a narrative false. It makes narratives limited. They can only tell so much, and they are not pure. Narratives are events pasted together as Ricoeur said in his complex volume Time and Narrative, and in this way narratives are constructed.

This does not make narratives bad. As Hayden White says, they are inevitable. We are people of stories, and so we will socially construct stories.

But there is no pure form of that narrative. Every time I sit down to write my story, it’s always slightly different. Sometimes my story sounds really dramatic, sometimes hopeful or simplistic.

I’ll tell you where narrative flourishes.

Narrative flourishes in difference.

Ricoeur called this as narrative “speaking otherwise.” White calls this history as allegorical. In short, instead of one narrative, we should find millions of narratives and millions of people with millions stories.

Anytime we say, “but not all homeschoolers are like that,” we’ve missed the point.

Of course, no one is me. But no one is “you” either.

There is no dominant narrative worth defending because it was socially constructed in the first place. This is why I don’t worry about the homeschool narrative being destroyed. If it’s taken apart, praise God.

The day has come for people to realize that the dominant homeschool narrative was socially constructed all along.

I’m passionate about this because dominant narratives matter. They matter because they bring everyone else into conformity. You want to know why British imperialism was toxic? Because it forced the colonized to conform.

You want to know why the dominant American historical narrative was toxic? Because it created the illusion that we were all the same. It hide the discontinuity in our land and all the violence we did. The American narrative said that we were all the same. It did not acknowledge many religions (just the favorite religions). It hid all of the broken pieces that allowed us to discriminate against minorities, gays, women, blacks, etc for 200 years.

One of the ironies of dominant narratives is they don’t have to represent the majority of people. Is the modern European narrative representative of the “majority” of the world? We all know that’s not true. Europe is just a fraction of the people in the world, but we can’t travel the world without coming face-to-face with European modernity presented in some abstract ideal (and westerners train the people to follow this ideal; we think those who live by science and secularism are better than the third world person who practices superstition).

The fundamental homeschoolers have dominated the homeschool world.

They’ve dominated the conventions. They’ve built the biggest homeschool legal defense, and they’ve accomplished a lot in American politics (here lately they’ve been dragging Germany into our narrative).

Maybe the dominant homeschool narrative represents the majority of homeschoolers, or maybe they’ve just brought everyone into conformity.

Except they haven’t actually.

De Certeau wrote in The Practice of Everyday Life that systems and institutions create the narratives, but underneath it all is a bunch of people who never quite conform. For example, he tells the story about how in New York City, the systems built sidewalks, but then the people come along and take short cuts.

You see, the real meaning takes place in the short cuts. The real story takes place underneath the narrative that you hear.

This is what I see in homeschooling. Conservative Christians told THE HOMESCHOOL NARRATIVE. And this narrative created everything we were to do from no TV, always wear dresses, have large families. We could go on and on.

But then we watched TV when we went to a friend’s house. We sneaked pants inside our ATI bags.

I went to an ATI camp at the ALERT academy. They told us to put our heads to the ground when we walked by the ALERT guys. But they couldn’t stop us from talking about the boys as soon as the adult left our dorm room at night.

So who were the real homeschoolers? Those who made up the rules, or those who broke the rules?

The fact is, there never was a “pure” form of Christian homeschooling. It was always shattered glass. It was always a bunch of different people.

I felt so much irony as a child when certain families would come over to our house in pants, but then we’d get together with a homeschool leader, and suddenly the skirts were back on.

The reason the dominant narrative thing is a joke is because inside, everyone is different.

The dominant narrative is the Wicked Witch of the West. As Foucault says, it’s all imaginary. It’s not real. There is a dominant story told, but no real unified narrative.

This is why Homi Bhabha said we are not one or the other but something else besides.

We are just pieces. Somewhere. Underneath it all.

Bhabha said that if we are ever to get over this freakin’ narrative problem, then we have to stop privileging our difference and just let it be. This is the problem we are seeing in homeschooling right now. We are trying to hold onto the old narrative, trying to preserve it, trying to revise it, and keep it together.

I get it. If you are a homeschool parent and unsettled, I understand. I am unsettled too. I’m very unsettled.

But the thing we have to realize is, we don’t need dominant narratives. We just need pieces.

I discovered something recently.

I discovered that the meeting ground between us is in our broken pieces.

It’s in our broken pieces that we say, “oh, me too.” It’s in the broken pieces that we are able to share stores. We relate to each other, not because we are the same. We relate because we all know what it’s like to be a broken piece trapped in a dominant narrative.

This is what Bhabha was saying about being neither one or the other but something else. As long as we focus on who we are through some polarized ideal, then we miss out on the meeting ground between us.

I want to say this to homeschool parents: I will meet you in the space between us.

I’ve heard some people say homeschool parents and leaders need to shut up and listen. Well, they do need to listen. This is so, so true. But I want to converse.

I want a conversation.

I’ll tell you a secret. I don’t have a clue who I am. I don’t have a dang clue. And I’m not interested in regrounding myself. I’m not interested in building a new dominant narrative where I can understand my life. All I want is a conversation.

Maybe I’m being unrealistic. But I’m hopeful. Because as the dominant narrative crumbles, it’s going to force people to talk.

Or fight.

I guess we are faced with the frightening choice Homi Bhabha faced. What are we going to do with history? Are we going to set the dominant narrative aside, or are we going to fight and spill blood for whose narrative wins?

Are we going to fight over whose narrative is true? Or are we going to let them all just be what they are. Stories.

Of course, on the internet we don’t actually murder people like they did in the Civil War. But we can be bullies. The secular narrative was so important to Europe they spilt blood. Is the Christian homeschool narrative so important that we turn against each other?

I’ve had lunch with Brian Ray, set down and talked with Israel Wayne, and stood on stage with Camden Spiller.

You know why I’m scared? I’m scared because I’m afraid it’s going to get internet bloody. I’m scared that I will be standing on the front lines, computer screen against computer screen, fighting against the people I used to eat lunch with.

I have tears in my eyes right now. Because people like Dipesh Chakrabarty and Homi Bhabha, two postcolonial Indian theorists, know what it’s like to me in my place. They know what it’s like to love Europe and love India, be a breed of both, and see culture murdered and blood spilled.

It’s interesting to me that Bhabha had two enemies. His first enemy was Europe. His second enemy was other postcolonial theorists who were more concerned with building a new narrative than creating a common ground.

I am not saying people have bullied yet.

But then, I sense something. I sense that the day has barely begun.

The homeschool apostates are here. We have stories I beg you, please listen. Listen, talk to me, because I don’t want to stop our dinner conversations.

I got upset when Libby Anne blogged a picture of a 16-year-old homeschool girl’s marriage to a 26-year-old. I’ll tell you why.

I remember when her brother was my friend.

It hit me personally because she posted a picture of someone who is one of us. Someone who is not a statistic. Someone who I may bump into at the grocery store next week when I’m visiting my family for Christmas.

It hit me because when dominant narratives are challenged, it comes with sacrifice. At the risk of sounding like the idiot who just quotes theorist after theorists, Roland Barthes said this one best. He said history demands the sacrifice of nature.

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Edit: Someone pointed out that we cannot have conversations with abusers. I agree for the most part. However, I hope it is clear that a lot of homeschool parents are also victims of spiritual abuse. While conversation may not be possible with everyone, it is with a lot of people.

11 thoughts on “Is This a Discussion?: Lana Hope Says Yes

  1. Justin Hanvey December 8, 2013 / 1:07 pm

    We may not be able to converse as equals with abusers, but I hope we can live in a world where abusers have hope of change, and people who hope for them can work towards that in whatever way they feel God calls them. Hearts don’t change without communication, or even as hard as it sounds, love. I look to the story of Dahmer, who on Death Row was visited by a chaplain for many weeks. They talked through Dahmer’s actions, and Dahmer came to feel guilt, and know he’d done wrong, and that he needed hope, and in his personal case, Christ, to change.

    I think people need people telling them what they’re doing is wrong. We need new information given to us to change what we’re doing now. Often that takes getting into the actual messiness of a relationship.

    Just some thoughts.

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  2. Sheldon December 8, 2013 / 1:21 pm

    Lana, you are awesome. 🙂

    I do think that most fundamentalist parents can change, if we can find a way to get through to them. We need them to leave the system in order to get the abusive fundamentalist culture to collapse.

    Someday, I hope it will, and that after it happens, that we follow lead the lead of Nelson Mandela in what he did after the end of apartheid: learn to forgive, and refuse to take retribution against those who harmed us.

    That’s not to say that it still won’t be painful, in some cases, we may have to cut ourselves off from our abusers, and venting our anger can be therapeutic.

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  3. Chris Jeub December 8, 2013 / 2:23 pm

    This is a really good post. This hit me: homeschooling has no narrative. Those who have controlled the narrative were wrong in that everyone should conform. Thank you for helping uproot that.

    Who knows? The latest falls of hard-lined definitions of homeschooling may just be a gift. We’re in for a boom.

    Like

  4. Lana December 8, 2013 / 2:26 pm

    With what Sheldon says, I would like to add that I think it is crucial that we engage with homeschool parents if we are to change the paradigm. Kathryn Joyce’s article was about need for more regulation. I am 100% behind Joyce and those in the article. So I think that regulation is an important issue but separate from what I am talking about.

    Homeschool regulations would not have changed the spiritual abuse dynamics in my family.Homeschool regulations might have helped me get a better science education, but it would and could do nothing about the legalism. What could have changed the legalism? People like us who told a new narrative. People like us who talked to parents about the problems of growing up in legalism.

    There is simply no way we can fight our way to freedom. Fighting will not stop spiritual abuse.This issue must start at the bottom, not at the top. Homeschool regulations can be fixed at the top. Legalism cannot.

    Like

  5. Nancy December 9, 2013 / 10:15 am

    Welcome, R.L. Stollar, to the world of semiotics. I would say “semiotics of the abused” but that is not a healthy narrative. I was not home-schooled. I certainly was not a home-schooler. I was encouraged to fake illness so I could stay at home and my mother could play teacher. I am convinced that before home-schooling and resurgent, regressive fundamentalism exploded around the globe that many women gained attention and recognition (power is a problematic construct, so I don’t use that word very often) in a patriarchal system by exhibiting Munchausen-Syndrome-by-Proxy-like, or one of a number of factitious disorders, whereby they gained status through being the “good mother” to a sick child.
    My story isn’t important here, but I did want to say that I understand, to a degree, about homeschooling abuse. I actually have said many, many times, that I was concerned that homeschooling mothers and families might be doing something similar to what I experienced as a child. The teen years played out very differently than in a Joshua Generation experience. But the early comparison is valid.

    All I can say is, it is good, wonderful and heartening that you are realizing that conversations mimic narratives and that narratives are the infrastructures of perspectives. You are in the process of building your own narrative with other survivors. Coming to understand the construction of meaning through semiotics saved my sanity many, many years ago. I am truly happy to see that you and your peers are doing the same. Just don’t forget to live your life while you are understanding and deconstructing and reconstructing. You deserve time to play, explore, and experience wonder and happiness.

    Peace to you and best wishes.

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  6. Nancy December 9, 2013 / 10:20 am

    I see now that this was Lana’s post to which I responded. My comments were addressed to her, but are appropriate to anyone coming out of isolation and into the world.

    Like

  7. FloraPoste December 10, 2013 / 9:50 am

    I think the conversation you need to have with Chris Jeub, is to ask him what concrete measures he would advocate to check the abuse and educational neglect. I’m talking what specific regulations and oversight, not vague exhortations about “more love”, etc. I mean concrete checks and balances to the absolute power and control parents currently have to isolate and abuse their children in some states.

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    • Lana December 11, 2013 / 12:49 am

      (1)I never mentioned Jeub in this post. (2) I did not even have homeschool regulations in mind. I had legalism and patriarchy in mind. I am all for homeschool regulations, but that’s a separate debate that I was not thinking about when I wrote this post.

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  8. FloraPoste December 11, 2013 / 1:33 pm

    Hmm, sorry if I got hold of the wrong end of the stick, but I came from the link from Sarah’s post, which seemed to be a response to Chris Jeub, and it’s tagged Chris Jeub. But now I feel I’ve been complicit in derailing the conversation to be all about Chris Jeub, which was not my intention!
    RE: your second point, about patriarchy and legalism. I’m not really comfortable with the Christianese word, “legalism”. I don’t think it means anything to anyone outside a particular Christian bubble. If you say ” my parents were overly controlling, and viewed parenting as a process of forcing me to perform to a pre-written script based on their neurotic fears, rather than a joyful journey of mutual discovery” then I think more people would get it. Is that what you mean by the term?
    And you’re right, in one sense, laws and regulation can’t do anything to directly address that kind of dysfunctional parenting, nor is is it limited to the Christian homeschooling community. On the other hand, the Christian homeschooling community creates an environment that allows the
    overly controlling parent to flourish and pretend their neuroses and fears are biblical mandates.
    As for regulations being a separate debate, I don’t agree. Why do the patriarchs fight so hard for unchecked power over their children? When we fight for homeschool regulation, we fight for the principle that children are individuals with rights of their own. That principle strikes at the very heart of patriarchy

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    • Lana December 13, 2013 / 11:22 pm

      I agree that the patriarchs do not want checks and balances. My main point is that checks and balances will not stop patriarchy. I agree that legalism is hard to define, but however one defines it, the strick rules and harsh means to live a holy life are an issue in homeschooling. This is by far not the only issue. Gender roles, sexism, etc, are all issues.

      Like

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