By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
On March 2013, 2 years ago to this month, Nicholas Ducote and I launched Homeschoolers Anonymous. With nothing but hopes and dreams and a handful of stories from homeschool alumni, we began a project that has — 2 years later — exceeded our most fantastical expectations. Our press release, amateurish at best, declared that we were “joining together to bring awareness to, and healing from, different forms of abuse in extreme homeschooling subcultures.” Little did we know just how significant of an undertaking it would become.
We started that day with about 20 stories in our queue — stories from close friends that we’ve known since our days competing and coaching in NCFCA, the homeschool speech and debate league. Our site now features over 1,000 stories, covering topics as diverse as purity culture, child sexual abuse, corporal punishment, courtship and betrothal, Ken Ham and young earth creationism, Oak Brook School of Law and Patrick Henry College, and so much more. We’ve broken news stories about the fall of Doug Phillips, the resignation of Bill Gothard, how HSLDA enabled and funded child abuse in the German Twelve Tribes, the cover-up of child abuse among the Old Schoolhouse Magazine and the Great Homeschool Conventions, and the resignation of Patrick Henry College president’s Graham Walker. These stories and others have been featured in mainstream media ranging from the Guardian to the Daily Beast to WORLD Magazine to Christianity Today to the Christian Science Monitor.
Our official non-profit organization Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out recently conducted a large-scale, national survey of homeschool alumni, which has been cited in various media. We created a free child abuse awareness curriculum for homeschooling communities (and have several more curriculums on other topics in development). And we will soon be announcing the recipient of our first-ever scholarship for female homeschool alumni studying in STEM fields.
Despite the naysayers, who 2 years ago said we would run out of “horror stories” to share, we are continuing to run strong. We have a slew of stories we still need to publish (in fact, we are so overwhelmed with stories that we are months behind) and we don’t see us running dry of stories anytime soon. Haters have hated from the beginning, but we — and the amazing community we have found through this project — continually prove them wrong, day after day. We are honored and humbled to have so many loving, caring people supporting our work and bravely contributing their own voices.
Since beginning Homeschoolers Anonymous in 2013, even I myself have learned so much from my friends, peers, and allies. I look back to my first contribution to the site, “Homeschool Confidential”, and I cringe when I read that I wrote, “What you might not know about conservative, Christian homeschoolers is that we are actually a smart bunch. Unlike the completely ridiculous cultural stereotype, many of us received more than adequate socialization.” Through the ever-growing Homeschoolers Anonymous community, I have realized that socialization is not a joking matter and I am sorry that I ever thought it was. There are many, many alumni who did indeed grow up without adequate socialization. They were isolated significantly, sometimes entirely, and that isolation had extremely painful impacts on their well-being — impacts that they still feel to this day.
This project has been a sharp learning curve even for me as someone homeschooled K-12. I have had educate myself about all sorts of issues, and I am grateful for my fellow alumni who have given pointed criticism that I needed to hear it. When I announced our LGBT* homeschool series, for example, I originally called it “Homeschoolers Are Gay.” But Kate Kane from Queer PHC pointed out to me that “gay” doesn’t included everyone who is LGBT* and thus can be erasing. I am thankful to be held accountable by my peers like this. That caused us to re-name the series “Homeschoolers Are Out.” It broke my heart that I had made people feel erased, but I apologized and changed course accordingly.
We’re all learning and we’re going to make mistakes. And one part of leaving fundamentalism, leaving the Generation Joshua we were so carefully trained to become, is being ok with not being perfect and getting knocked off a pedestal. It’s ok to say, “I made a mistake, I hurt you, and I am sorry for that. I will do better.” We can all do better and this amazing project we’re doing together, Homeschoolers Anonymous, is a perfect example of how we can learn from one another, learn the freedom to find our voices, and also learn the freedom to listen to others who have long been silenced.
In the 2 years since we launched Homeschoolers Anonymous, and the 1 year since we formed Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out, there have been some deeply discouraging moments. We are constantly belittled by homeschooling parents, infantilized and called “children.” We are referred to as bitter, as engaging in the “spirit of Ham” by exposing parental abuse. We have endured homophobic slurs, threats of physical abuse, mockery by HSLDA employees. We have earnestly sought to partner on several occasions with HSLDA to make homeschooling better — and have been ignored entirely. We have had hopes to present vital information about child abuse and mental illness at homeschool conventions — only to be rejected on several occasions.
We have even been called “a bigger threat to homeschooling than any teacher’s union” and “the greatest threat to homeschooling freedoms” by fellow homeschoolers.
This can be so discouraging. Sometimes we wonder if we’re actually making any difference and if there is any point in continuing. But then we hear from alumni that they thought they were the only ones, they thought they were “crazy,” and that we gave them hope to carry on. One letter in particular continues to make me tear-up every time I read it:
“I came across the HA blog through the article on The Daily Beast. Journeying as far as possible from my upbringing – involving fundamentalist homeschooling, a church cult, and an abusive home – has been a long and oftentimes lonely road. I have never found a venue that allows former homeschooled kids to share their stories like this. So. There are certain moments in life, remarkable for their rarity, when you feel something pivoting, when a door opens and you can see a little light crinkling in. This is one such moment. I am not alone. I am not alone and I am not crazy. Now I want to start writing my story too. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
That makes all the difference in the world to me, and that is what inspires us to continue the work we’re doing, no matter how hard it is. We are not alone. We are not crazy. And we’re not just bitter, angry kids. We are human beings, many adults with our own children now, and we are doing our best to make the lives of future homeschool kids better. That’s all we want to do. And we do it because we care.
We care about our siblings still in homeschooling and we care about the future generations.
We want homeschooling to be a safe, nurturing environment for every single child.
And we’ll keep fighting until that happens.