Pills and Popsicles: Mahalath’s Story

HA notes: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Mahalath” is a pseudonym.

My mother up and decided around the time of puberty that I had ADD. She’d just bring it up randomly, saying that’s why I wasn’t focusing on my work, getting good grades, etc. There were two problems with this. The first was that she demonized ADD. It was a “condition” that made me lesser than my peers.

I was treated like I was broken.

Some days, depending on her mood, I was purposefully causing it; other days it was something I could not help that would plague me for the rest of my life. She spoke to me in a high voice, like you would a baby, and would constantly ask me if I understood the simplest things. It took me some time many years later to get a proper understanding of ADD because of this.

The second problem was that I did not have ADD. Immediately upon her initial announcement, I did some research of my own and discovered that with the exception of some memory issues (hereditary from my dad) I did not display any symptoms.

Many years later, professionals confirmed for me what I had believed as a child: I do not have ADD. I have never had ADD.

I tried and still do try to convince my mother of this every time the subject is brought up. But there was no convincing her. She started checking magazines about special needs children from the library and reading them around me. After homeschool conventions she’d bring back these weird things that were supposed to help me “focus”. There was this weird beanbag thing I was supposed to keep on my lap, a plastic spinning thing for the end of my pencil, an enormous timer for each assignment. None of these did any good, apparently. So she started making me take these caffeine pills. They were stupid and yellow, bought from Walmart in bottles of fifty. They didn’t do anything for me. Really, I felt no effects at all. But I had to take two every day, regardless of where I was. She literally pulled me aside at a youth event because it was “time for my pill”. I kept telling her they didn’t work, and it was ages before she realized I was right.

So around the age of fifteen, I was in the office of my pediatrician (a small private practice), and they made me take this test with colored boxes. I tried to answer as normally as possible. Then they came back with big smiles and said I no longer had to take the caffeine pills. I was thrilled, but then the doctor held up a paper of blue and yellow pills and said that these were my new ones. They proceeded to talk about the price, effects and frequency, completely ignoring my frantic questions. When I left that day, the only thing I knew was that I only had to take one per day at breakfast. This seemed more reasonable, so I was willing to give it a try.

The first day I took this new pill was the day of a friend’s 16th birthday party. It was at the church, so I was allowed to attend unchaperoned as long as I was picked up early. Soon after entering the designated party area I realized something was wrong. It wasn’t that I was quite overdressed and old fashioned (which I was), or that everyone already knew everyone else and I was alone (which I was). There was a movie playing on the TVs at both ends of the room, so I tried to focus on the Phantom of the Opera, which I had never seen before. Yet even this opportunity to learn about popular culture could not hold my attention.

I felt dizzy and sick to my stomach. All the noises seemed far away, and my mind seemed foggy and dark. Everything seemed duller, almost as if it was not there at all. And I realized suddenly that this was due to the medication. I was horrified. The rest of the party was spent silently crying the darkness of the “movie house” theme as the beautiful normal people laughed and ate cake.

Perhaps I was still adjusting, I reassured myself. These effects could be temporary. But these side effects continued on, and soon the most terrible truth hit me between the eyes: because of the pills, I could no longer daydream. This was indeed what the pills had been designed for, but I needed to daydream. Escaping to my private world of fantasy was my primary coping mechanism to surviving my homeschool experience. When I couldn’t stand the emotional abuse, the ever increasing rules, the loneliness, I retreated into my head. Suddenly, I became a starship captain, mountain climber, or long lost princess. I’d paint a Hitler mustache or bunny ears on my unsuspecting parents as they screamed at me, and it made things better for a bit. Dreams were my oxygen, and now I couldn’t breathe.

That year became “the year of hell”. My schoolwork suffered. Depression overwhelmed me once again, almost stronger than the initial onset. I read books like they were food, bargained for every extra scrap of TV, played music constantly to keep the pain at bay. Any stimulation for my suddenly still brain was coveted. I begged my parents to let me stop. When they refused, I hid pills in increasingly complicated ways. Upon discovery of my schemes, it became mandatory to watch me take the pills every day, like a prisoner. Choked breakfast table sobs went unrecognized, and discussion was not permitted.

A year later, I went for my yearly doctor’s appointment. I had planned how, in calm tones, I would make my case directly to the pediatrician. As soon as the topic was brought up, my mother started to babble on about how wonderful the medicine was and how much better I was. I began my piece, but immediately I was shouted down by both pediatrician and parent, claiming that I didn’t know what was best for me. I looked a lot better now, insisted the physician, and my mother claimed my behavior had improved. Denying her claims did not help.

Asking about the test I had taken a year ago was fruitless: it “didn’t mean anything”. When I inquired as to the basis for this knowledge, she said, “I see you in Bible study every week. You are a lot more focused now.”

It was then that the true nature of the situation became apparent. The doctor and my mother were friends. Close friends, it seemed, as they chatted about the most recent passage that the group had been studying. Of course this woman believed her. This group that I was marched to every Thursday morning was quite large, but I was still stunned. How had I never noticed before?

All of my carefully constructed calm was gone. In tears and hysteria I pleaded my case yet again. I explained how the medication was hurting me, how I couldn’t focus on anything, why I needed to be able to daydream. With everything in me I tried to make them understand what they were doing to me, but it was all for naught. They simply smiled thinly, reiterated my “disease”, and told me that I would continue to take the medicine. In fact, the pediatrician suggested, a higher dose might be a good idea.

They exited the room, and I broke down. What if it was like this forever? What if I never got away from my parent’s home and I wasted away, lifeless and desperate?

I started sobbing hard and I couldn’t stop, because I’d lost control over my own mind, quite literally, and there was nothing I could do.

A soft knock on the door frame caused me to look up. A student nurse stood in the open doorway, looking concerned. She had sat in the corner during my examination, silent and observing. Now she tiptoed inside again to where I was curled in a ball on the crinkly paper of the counter. In a soft voice, she asked if I wanted a popsicle.

I was touched by this tiny act of sympathy, and said yes. She flitted away, returning in a minute with the orange flavored treat. Remaining in the room a moment longer before rushing out again, she rubbed my back and looked at me with sympathy. She did not say a word, but this little act of kindness helped calm me down and gave me hope that not everyone was out to get me. Student nurse, if you ever read this, thank you for what you did for me.

Some time after this, I was informed that I would no longer have to take the blue and yellow pills and would resume the caffeine pills twice a day. Any annoyance at this earlier means of control was gone, and I reacted joyfully. Of course, I asked why. Why did I no longer have to take the prescription drugs? Could it be that someone had finally heard my cry for help? No. The pills had just gotten too expensive.

I cannot overstate how much of an impact this experience had on my life.

To this day I become agitated in all matters concerning medication, doctors, or really anything to do with the medical practice.

Yes, if something became seriously wrong I would force myself to take medicine. I would get myself to a hospital if the need arose. But these convictions have only been a recent development, and the condition would need to be quite serious (a.k.a. detached limb). This is not a healthy view, I know. I’m working on it.

This doctor was a close friend of my mother. They went to Bible Study together. They were friends. Other than that test that “didn’t matter”, her diagnosis of me was based on my mother’s accounting of my behavior. There was no actual medical analysis involved in the whole affair, nor did anyone bother to explain things to me or ask how I felt, physically or emotionally. And of course, mother knows best.

While on medication, it was as if someone had erected a brick wall in my mind, keeping all the creative, imaginative parts of me blocked off, so I couldn’t access them. I could not think beyond the here and now, and even that seemed all blurry and dark. My head hurt sometimes, a few times I literally felt short of breath. I lost any faint sense of time that I possessed. Everything ran together in my mind and got confused and jumbled up. I had trouble focusing on the words on a page. It was terrifying.

The worst part was when I began to doubt my own sanity.

Perhaps my mother was right? Perhaps I really did have ADD? Perhaps this WAS the way normal people felt? Well, if this was normal I didn’t want it. It hurt. Besides, I didn’t have ADD. I didn’t! Or did I? I spent many nights crying myself to sleep, sure that I was losing my mind. It is only now, after a professional diagnosis (utterly terrifying, by the way) that I can confidently say that I do not have ADD, nor did I have it as a younger child.

Even though I’ve chucked the bottle of caffeine pills my mother sent me for college, even though I’ve had someone properly assess me, even though I am learning about medical care in a whole new light, it is not over for me. I am safe, I tell myself, no one will ever force me to take pills again. But I was still misdiagnosed and improperly medicated.

The scars from this will never go away

The Road to Depression: By RD

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The Road to Depression: By RD

HA notes: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “RD” is a pseudonym.

I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I was abused as a child.

While an uncomfortable reality, it was necessary in order to understand what was wrong with me. To be clear, I wasn’t seriously abused (as if one form was abuse was better than another…) but it was there.

While I don’t remember much of my childhood, there are parts I do remember. If I told a lie, it was (10) spankings with my father’s belt. Same thing for if I snuck something. (Stealing only applied if I took something from a store, which only happened once. And even that is debatable; I was between 5 and 6 years old waiting in line with my mom at the grocery checkout, and I took a pack of gum and opened it. Broad daylight, no subterfuge; I think it was an action born out of ignorance than ill-intent. But “sneaking” was taking any food or candy while at home that wasn’t approved.) If I used a “dirty word” I had my mouth washed out with soap.

My mother was fond of the “wait until your father gets home” method as well.

I can remember days that I had really angered her, and she passed that anger on to my dad via a phone call during the day. As soon as I heard the garage door open that evening, I knew the first thing my father would do was smack me upside the head.

It’s a very odd thing to know you’re about to get hit very hard, but to take no evasive or protective action because doing so only increases the punishment.

This abuse works; that’s the tragedy with the Pearl’s method or other methodologies based on corporal punishment. They work. But it is the underlying psychological impacts that belie the merit of these methods. Cocaine or methamphetamines will help keep you awake, but we all know it’s not wise to take these things. So why is the value of “training” or corporal punishment still debated?

My parents were members of HSLDA. I remember their receiving the Court Report and Focus on the Family magazines and other publications that called homeschooled families to action in order to fight the government from over-reaching. I realize now that many, if not all, of these stories were extremely over sensationalized or outright misrepresentations of the truth, similar to the drama unfolding with the Romeike story.

But to my parents these stories were real and reminded them of the dangers of this world.

As I was growing up, I couldn’t play outside during normal school hours because a city official might see me, think I was skipping school, and something terrible would happen. I was told that if Child Protective Services ever had the slightest suspicion of child abuse, they would show up and take me and my brother away from our parents and put us in a foster home. I was told that psychology wasn’t really valid; a psychiatrist would try to pin all a person’s problems on the parents while prescribing unnecessary pills. All these lessons were carefully crafted to try to create a particular world view, a view that sees anything that is not Christian as evil, harmful, or detrimental.

So what does all this have to do with mental health? I’m getting to that point, but I still have a few more bricks to lay in my foundation.

I’ve mentioned in a previous piece that my parents chose to homeschool me primarily because I was diagnosed as a young child with ADD. I even took Ritalin until I was 11 to 12; I cannot remember at what age I started taking it. I do remember as I grew older that my parents began to express the belief that ADD was over-diagnosed and that children are supposed to have energy and be hyperactive and all that. I’m not sure where they picked up on that idea, if it was from some of the Christian homeschooling circles, but it served to create in my young mind that ADD wasn’t real, that parents used that as an excuse for their child misbehaving or not performing.

My father was also an extreme perfectionist.

I can remember many nights staying up exceedingly late trying to figure out some math or science problem as he berated me because I’m was smart enough that I should know how to do something or that the mistakes I made were because I was being careless.

There is nothing quite as powerful as a backhanded compliment.

“My dad thinks I’m smart, but if I was smart I should be able to figure this problem out. Therefore either 1) I am not as smart as he thinks and thus a failure or 2) I’m as smart as he thinks but I’m failing to apply myself.” This method of thinking, created by a backhanded compliment, is very destructive to mental image.

So where does all this lead?

The abusive methods advocated by people like the Pearls are akin to dog training (very loose analogy) except without positive methods. You are training a child for instant, unquestioning obedience without thought, but you don’t reward the obedience.

You excessively punish the failing.

Thus as a child grows up, as I grew up, I focused on what was wrong, not what was right. Even today when I look at something, my first thoughts are what is wrong with it. While this helps me most times as an engineer, it is a very harmful mindset to have.

When you combine this way of looking at things with the perfectionist mentality I received, it creates a very negative self-image.

When children are raised with the message that if they have faith in Jesus or live their life according to the Bible then they will be blessed, it creates a very false expectation. Anything bad that happens, any misfortune, becomes interpreted as God’s punishment for not being faithful enough, for failing in your walk with him. I’ve seen this illustrated over and over again in the stories I’ve read of people involved in the courtship culture.

Now add to that the distrust of science, society, or psychology. As these negative thoughts, this negative self-image grows in the mind, the fundamentalist worldview pops up and says “you can’t be depressed; there’s no such thing. You are having these thoughts, this self-loathing, because you realize how out of tune you are with God’s will.”

This only creates a downward spiral that leads to more depression.

In my case, this spiral was fueled by my ADD. Throughout college I still carried my parents’ view that ADD wasn’t real; it was simply children being children. While I don’t deny that there are many cases of ADD (now ADHD) that are wrongfully diagnosed, I understand it is very real. Any adult reading this who suffers from ADHD will know exactly what I mean (and if you don’t suffer from it, you can find some excellent lectures by Russel Barkley on YouTube.). I cannot focus or concentrate if there are external distractions; put simply, ADHD is an executive function failing of the brain.

As I struggled through university with my ADHD untreated, I constantly felt like a failure as my GPA slowly dropped down to a 2.9. This lead to depression and even self-mutilation for a time. It wasn’t until several years into my professional career that I began to see a counselor, and later a psychiatrist, and began to identify the problem and take the steps to correct it.

But this is the danger of the fundamentalist’s method of child rearing. By linking bad things, misfortunes, with disobedience to god and equating negative thoughts as god’s working to convict the wayward child, it establishes a tragic downward mental spiral that if left untreated can end in suicide.

How Not To Homeschool Your Children: Judith’s Story, Part Two

learning

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Judith” is a pseudonym.

< Part One

I didn’t know why I couldn’t focus.

I didn’t have answers, just tears and shame and frustration that I couldn’t seem to make myself get things done. I was convinced that I had no self-control and that if only I could try harder, care more, something… maybe it would stop. (But probably not, so who cares.)

I would go to bed at night and math problems jumbled up with random digits would float around in my head; grey-ish white numbers on an endless black background… and I would want to scream and pound my pillow because I could never seem to get away from it.

My brain was numb.

I became continually tired and listless. “Privileges” were taken away—I didn’t care anymore if I never saw my few, kind-of sort-of friends that I tried to cultivate in my pitiful excuse for a social life. I didn’t care if they took away desserts. I didn’t care if I had to stay home from some outings. It seemed sort of embarrassing when I was threatened to be made to take my schoolwork with me when we would go over to someone’s house for dinner, but trying to get it all done in time was stressful and made me feel sick and mentally exhausted, so I resigned myself to the shame because I didn’t see any way around it.

I did get raving mad on the inside when my music lessons were threatened—the one thing that I actually enjoyed and people said I was good at—but nothing registered on the outside.

I cried myself to sleep several nights out of a week, but I couldn’t explain my feelings, and I was constantly questioning myself and swinging between giving up and guilting myself into more tiresome, useless effort.

Finally, eventually, I had scraped by until I had gotten through Algebra 2, barely getting a passing grade, despite the fact that I easily passed tests for concepts I had never studied when placing for college classes. My parents “graduated” me at 17, and I was told to either get a job or go to college.

Since I had no work history and no degree or training, I picked college—and the program that looked the easiest, didn’t take four years, and had minimal math requirements, anything that would just get me a job so that I could earn money and move out and not be around my mom any more.

I didn’t know how to function in society because I had basically been closeted away in a little pocket of Christian subculture until that point.

Interacting with other people was scary, awkward, and frequently embarrassing. I was still depressed and didn’t know how to express my needs to anyone; I didn’t know what exactly my needs were. I felt angry sometimes, but didn’t know whether it was justified or what exactly sparked it.

I got good grades, I tutored other students even, but I didn’t believe it when my professors told me I was good at what I did. After all, I was just opting for the easiest way out. Miraculously, I made it without a major public meltdown. Unless you count the time I cried unashamedly in the cafeteria because a creepy guy had asked me out and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back on that particular day. Or the time when I started yelling at my sister to stop telling me about how global warming was going to flood India, because I didn’t care. I had too many things of my own to worry about and was just barely keeping it together as it was.

Today, three years after having graduated with my measly little degree, I am not even working in that field.

I haven’t touched anything academic until very recently, because my love of learning was completely stripped away. I did what I had to do to survive, and spent my spare time watching the “stupid” movies and television shows that I never saw, hiding from society because I was too emotionally exhausted to deal with people. An avid bookworm in my childhood, I stopped reading anything except for brief stints where I would read the first chapter and then never picked the book up again.

I have read on the internet a lot—cathartic bits that helped me integrate my thoughts and feelings and put words to my hurts and angries. Things that helped me decide what was wrong and what was right about what happened. Things that have helped me learn not to beat myself up or be scared to do something new.

I still have a relationship with my family, albeit a “safe” sort of one—I see them once or twice a month as my schedule allows, but I keep my dreams and goals and personal life to myself. My parents presumably have no idea that I consider my homeschool career to have been hellish. They have not asked my thoughts on the subject, and I am loathe to bring it up unnecessarily. But if it did come up, I would want to ask: why?

Why did they make me waste those years of my life like that?

From their perspective, I suppose they do not think they “made” me do it—but why, why did they handle things the way they did? How bad did it need to get for them to decide to try something different than threats and punishments? Why did they not try a different curriculum? Why did they not make more effort to work more closely with me, instead of relegating me to work in the loneliest corner of the house on my own? Why didn’t they get me a tutor?

If public school wasn’t ever actually evil like I assumed they thought it was, why didn’t they send me there for someone else to hassle with? Why was the busywork involved in “preparing for college” so important that they let “preparing for life” slip to the wayside?

I still love homeschooling as a concept. I think it is a great alternative to public school and I currently plan to be involved in homeschooling in the future.

But I also consider my home school experience to be a valid example of how not to do it. 

How Not To Homeschool Your Children: Judith’s Story, Part One

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Judith” is a pseudonym.

My parents started homeschooling me in the mid-90’s.

Recently I asked about the factors involved that led them to homeschool, something I never thought to ask about previously because I always assumed it was for the stereotypical reasons. Turns out, they were not ever “anti-public school”, nor was it a matter of “we can better educate them at home”– in fact, one of the reasons why they chose the home they bought was because it was in the “good” school district.

They were also not afraid of secular thought and stated clearly to me that their decision was not influenced by religious-based fears like evolution vs. creation or “liberal brainwashing” or any sort of dominionist thinking. Apparently they simply were exposed to the idea, gave it some serious thought, and decided to go for it. At one point in the conversation, the comment was made that they are glad they made that choice and are pleased with how things have turned out—and by that I assume they refer to the fact that at the time of writing this, one child has a master’s degree, two have bachelor’s degrees, and two more have associate’s degrees.

All of us are under 25, and there are still a few children at home, still being taught by both of my parents. They frequently receive comments about how smart and well-educated we all are and how proud they must be.

But in the process of “turning out” there was, for me, a lot of pain.

There were lots of tears. Nightmares. Crushing of dreams. A un-feeling stretch of depression. [cue creepy dramatic music]

I had lots of dreams and ideas when I was a small child. I wasn’t scared of anything (except large predatory cats). I assumed that when I grew up, I would be a mom, because that was the only adult woman role model I had in my life at the time—my mom. As I got older and was exposed to teachings about daughters staying at home until marriage and motherhood being a woman’s highest calling, this assumption was given even more ground to stand on. But I also had dreams of outdoor adventuring, sleuthing, going to a prestigious music college, becoming a famous novelist, creating stunning pieces of art. Being a successful business woman who got to wear fabulous office clothes. Being a ballerina. A Christian vocalist. Going into politics and “fixing” everything.

Aside from the music, which became my emotional release, I never pursued any of these dreams for a couple reasons.

The first was that I quickly became withdrawn and shy. My mom got swept up in the quiverfull/patriarchy fad that was making its rounds in the homeschool community, despite the fact my dad thought it was cultish (thoughts that apparently he never shared with her at the time), and as the babies kept coming she became more stressed and irritable. You never knew what would set her off, and you sure as anything could count on the fact that whatever you were doing, you weren’t doing right. And there was a chance that if it wasn’t done right, obviously it was because you were lazy and rebellious.

While only very, very rarely physical (not counting incidents of “non-abusive spanking”), my mom was quite verbally abusive and we would be made to sit and listen to long lectures and screaming tirades about how awful we were, complete with many shame and horror-inducing threats mixed with half-given, half-taken back apologies made in annoyed tones.

Obviously, this sort of environment does not prompt one to be open about their dreams and live without fear of mistakes.

The second reason was that my schoolwork got in the way of everything. I have never been officially diagnosed, but I am pretty sure that I had ADD (or something with like effect) as a child. I would continually swing from hyper-focusing on something that was insanely fascinating to me to being completely unable to focus on anything at all no matter how hard I tried to harness my crazy livewire thoughts and daydreams.

Schoolwork was not usually interesting, and there was a lot of it (we were the “bringing school to the home” type), but I was pretty smart and most of it didn’t require much thought or deep concentration of any kind. I could breeze right through everything except math– my brain would move on to something else within five minutes because as a whole, math was simply manipulating meaningless numbers into meaningless answers for no real reason at all, except, you know, college was in my future and I would need it for that. It was not difficult to learn how to solve certain problems or formulas, but I never learned why math worked the way it did, or what use it would be to me in real life, and so much concentration was required to get through thirty plus problems without making several stupid mistakes.

I couldn’t concentrate that hard for that long on something that boring.

At least in the other subjects, we used words instead of numbers, and words conveyed meanings and ideas that were much more likely to be interesting. So more often than not I would do my easy subjects during the morning and then sit down after lunch with my math book and a sinking feeling of impending boredom. And that one math lesson, that supposedly only took 45 minutes to finish, would take me the entire rest of the day.

This, of course, was not a good thing. The mantra in our household was “work before play” and work included school work. As it became more and more common for me to be sitting at the dining table staring blankly out the window all day long, one of the first casualties was my closest sibling, who tearfully confided to my mom that it wasn’t fair that I wasn’t available to play anymore.

Cue lectures on what a selfish big sister I was being.

My grades suffered. Cue lectures on how I should be getting excellent grades considering how long it took me to do things, and bonus lecture! Here’s a comparison of your poor grades and another sibling’s excellent grades (and academic drive)! Feel guilty, but don’t worry, we know that you two are not the same and we are not comparing you at all. But while we’re (not) at it, don’t forget that even your less intelligent sibling is getting better grades than you. Ah, now we will move you to a location where you cannot stare out the window, that will help you not be distracted. Erm, look, this is not a convenient place for you to be, we will move you to a desk in your poorly-lit room where you will spend the rest of your teenage-hood prior to college. A dark, dusty existence where we will occasionally come to yell at you for being rebellious and refusing to do your work. Wait! You are 16 now! You will learn to drive and I will spend the entire time that I am sitting next to you as opportunity to lecture you not only on every little driving error you may make, but also on how poorly you are doing on your schoolwork and how bad of a person you must be. Why are you this way? Why? Why? You don’t know? Let me tell you why! It is because you are a bad, selfish, miserable excuse for a human and your adult life will suck if you don’t get it together! By the way, you will also be fat when you are forty, because you are sitting around too much.

Part Two >

Burn In Case Of Evil: Cain’s Story, Part Four

Burn In Case Of Evil: Cain’s Story, Part Four

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Cain” is a pseudonym.

*****

In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

*****

My Home “Education”

A lot of people read this site and remark on how accomplished, out-spoken, and well-educated we all seem.  Many have remarked that it was obviously homeschooling that made us who we are.  The answer to that question is complicated because I am what I am because of, and despite of, homeschooling.  When your entire social life and community K-12 is homeschooled, of course these influences significantly impacted my life.  But much of my adult life has been spent “re-learning” everything (from social skills, to history, to biology, to relationship etiquette).  I was taught about all of these things through homeschooling.  Some subjects I was never taught properly in high school and my insufficiency handicapped my educational opportunities.

My mother was the primary instructor and, bless her heart, she only had a GED and a few college classes.  It’s not that my mother is not smart, or stupid; it’s that she was not qualified to give me a high school education.  I consider most of my educational experiences before 8th or 9th grade to be generally positive.  I excelled in spelling, math, science, and language arts.  I really had an interest in science at an early age – I can remember enjoying earth science, nuclear science, and astronomy/space.  As I entered high school, a few things happened.  First, we got involved in ATI (a homeschooling cult) when I was about 10, but by my high school years the “Wisdom Booklets” became my primary textbooks (other than math).  Second, I became involved in NCFCA/CFC when I was 13 – started debating at 14.  Third, I started liking girls and “rebelling” by falling for them and having innocent phone and text conversations.

We used Saxon math as a supplement to the Wisdom Booklets.  I excelled at geometry, basic algebra, and word problems.  I’ve always enjoyed problem solving.  As I got involved with advanced geometry and algebra II, my mother simply could not keep up.  I would call my older sister, who was pursuing an engineering degree, and she would try to help me through it.  But math-by-phone is no substitute for a math teacher.

I think about 15 or 16, when I got involved heavily in debate, my mom stopped requiring me to do math.  Debate literally took over my life and I spent about 40 hours a week researching, writing speeches, and talking to friends in homeschool debate.  I consider my friends from CFC/NCFCA as the closest thing to a “high school class” because they were the only social group that I interacted with somewhat limited parental oversight.  I excelled at debate and it fed my father’s interest in history and politics.  So for three years all I did was debate, which was vastly superior to Wisdom Booklets.  My education with Wisdom Booklets made me think that AIDS was a gay disease and my sex mis-education was downright reckless.  I “learned” about logarithms intertwined with the tale of Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes.

When it came time to submit my high school transcript for college (and to apply for state scholarships) my parents sat down at the computer and literally made up my transcript.  Debate-related activities and research were labeled under lots of different titles (American History, Composition, Logic, Civics, Public Speaking, English, etc).  Of course, I got A’s in all of these categories.  Now, my parents had some semblance of ethics and they decided I needed to complete some science courses to qualify for the state’s college entrance requirements.  My science courses in high school were pathetic, with the exception of computers because my dad worked in the industry for his entire adult life.

During most of my junior and senior years, I worked full-time and debated.  There was a long-distance Latin course from PHC, chemistry, and biology course interlaced with working and debate.  I got C’s in all of these classes and I’m pretty sure I had to cheat on two of the finals just to pass.

Technically, I took a chemistry and biology course, but in reality, I learned nothing about those subjects.  My mom wasn’t that knowledgeable in sciences. I used the Apologia biology textbook.  I remember bumbling through the biology book, not understanding anything I was reading.  Mostly because there was no grand narrative, like evolution, to make sense of all the different species.  I excelled in college biology, but not until I understood the topics from an evolutionary perspective.  My chemistry course was me and my homeschooled friend learning from his father, who was a doctor.  The “classes” lasted for maybe a month or two, but then life got busy and I stopped going.  He didn’t really follow-up, for whatever reason, and my parents didn’t seem that interested either.  So I taught myself chemistry?  Nope, I suck at chemistry – on a very basic level.

As a side note, I’m great with computers because of my father, but I never took a programming class beyond Visual Basic.  He tried to teach me about things, but it always seemed like I was missing part of the story – like he wasn’t “dumbing it down” enough.  Looking back, I realize it’s because my father was trying to teach me only the practical applications of computers while never learning the scientific theory.  I know he knows all about it, but I don’t know that he was qualified to teach it to a child.  It’s not like I gained marketable skills from my computer education.

I was also a huge asshole when I began college. I’m sure you know the type: fundamentalist Christian debater.  I had no idea how to navigate relationships with non-homeschooled people and it took a year or two, many broken friendships, and loneliness to find friends.  I was also encouraged through programs like Summit to challenge my “evil, secular humanist” professors in class – to “stand up” for Jesus in the public classroom.  I was prepared to enter an atmosphere that antagonized Christians and Christianity.

College was fantastic, but difficult and filled with substance abuse.  I realized that I had ADD, but self-medicated for sometime with cannabis.  Alcohol and cannabis helped with the anxiety –social, existential, spiritual, school and parent-related – and helped me to socialize with big groups.  I still can’t socialize with big groups of people easily and I lucked into taking a lot of Honors classes with small class sizes.  I almost lost my big scholarship (which required me to keep a 3.5) in my sophomore year because I got terrible grades in science and foreign languages.  I didn’t know how grades or tests worked, let alone how to study.  I excelled in political science and history, so that’s where I stayed.  I didn’t take biology until my senior year.  I finally understood it and, since then, I’ve developed a keen interest in neurobiology, psychopharmacology, psychology, and health care issues.  At this point, I’d love another two or three years of school to get a B.S. and another three to get an M.S., but that part of my life is over now.

I remember a time in middle school when I really wanted to be an engineer and I still think I could have excelled at it, if it wasn’t for my homeschooling.  Yes, I have an MA, but I’m confident I could have a stable, well-paying job in a science-related field.  My liberal arts education came easily to me, but I would have relished the challenge of advanced science and math.  Almost every public school student has a somewhat competent math teacher and most have access to AP calculus.  Yes, debate is a great skill and it has made me successful, but I’ve always been jealous of people who excelled in math or science – like I once did – and moved seamlessly into the job market.

To be continued.