HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Isobel” is a pseudonym.
I was homeschooled in kindergarten and from fourth through twelfth grades. I was public schooled for first through fourth grade, when my parents and church began to become more cultish. I have been Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) since birth, but my church drifted further and further into Jack Hyles orbit as I grew older. We were also a Quiverfull family who did not put much stress on female education.
I always knew that something was different about me, but could never put my finger on just what it was.
It was so hard to fit in and make friends, whether I was at church or at public school. Home was my reprieve, and I enjoyed being home schooled because I didn’t have the stress of having to interact with people outside the family. What we didn’t know at the time, and wouldn’t know until last year, was that I am autistic. I didn’t get diagnosed until I was 31.
Being autistic actually was somewhat of a protective barrier to the patriarchy and cultishness being preached in the IFB. My lack of eye contact was perceived as being a properly submissive young woman. My quietness was interpreted as me knowing my place. Inside, I was fuming at the way women were treated, but I was never able to explain why it bothered me.
The worst part by far of being homeschooled, IFB, and autistic for me was the extra time that my siblings and I were able to do door to door soul winning. I hated having to talk to strangers. Even though I had a script of what I was supposed to say, I wasn’t able to adjust as the conversation played out, so I was always awkward in my attempts.
The thing I enjoy most about no longer being IFB is the lack of proselytizing.
My favorite part of being home schooled and autistic was being able to indulge my interests. I had a knack for turning my interests into school projects. It was not uncommon for me to write 10-15 page research papers on things that caught my fancy. I made murals of my favorite periods of history and frequently created historical clothes and scenery for my toys as school history projects. I recreated historical technology for science projects. I would never have had this kind of freedom and flexibility in a traditional school setting. I loved every subject except math, mainly because I just could not understand math and no one was available to teach me. I have always learned better from books than from lectures, so home schooling really was the best possible option for me.
Being home schooled allowed me the freedom to control my curriculum and be as prepared as possible for college, even though my church was against females in college. My parents were willing to let me take advanced courses because they knew how much I loved learning, and I was able to balance the home responsibilities of an older Quiverfull daughter with many younger siblings because I could do my school work early in the morning and late at night, when my siblings were in bed.
I have a lot of food-related sensory issues, so being homeschooled allowed me to avoid having to deal with school lunches. I could choose what I wanted to eat from what was available, I could choose when I wanted to eat, and I could eat while doing something else, which effectively allowed me to have enough distractions to be able to tolerate the food. At first, my parents were worried that I was rebelling through food, and I was frequently disciplined for my pickiness, but over time, my parents eventually gave up and let me start cooking I also had some sensory problems with my clothes. So much of what I wore was uncomfortable. Being homeschooled allowed me to wear my ankle-length skirts and loose tops without having to be made fun of. I was also able to keep my three comfortable outfits in constant rotation without having to be made fun of by my peers.
I am grateful to my parents for homeschooling me.
It probably made my life a lot easier than it otherwise would have been. Being raised IFB was not great for me, and has given me a lot to process as I have slowly deconverted to humanism as an adult. I had bought in to the system with all my heart, believing that I was less-than as a woman. I have been slowly gaining my independence and beginning to see myself as an independent person instead of a helpmeet for a future husband. I have also, since my diagnosis six months ago, begun to learn how to work with my brain, using the strategies that were most comfortable for me, many of them learned from trial and error as a homeschooler.
On my journey as a homeschool alumna with higher functioning autism, it is patriarchy, not the homeschooling, that caused the problems I have faced.
Homeschooling was Mom’s idea. Her public school experience was horrible, and she was thrilled when she heard Raymond Moore talk about homeschooling on Focus on the Family.
Dad was not thrilled about homeschooling but agreed to do it “until high school”. Mom was to focus on academics and not follow Raymond Moore’s “unschooling” method which focused on teaching children real life skills and learning at their own pace. Mom, to her continuing regret, obeyed Dad because she had been taught that wives submit to their husbands.
Unknown to us at the time, not only was I on the autism spectrum, but my father also fits the criteria though unlike me, he has not been officially diagnosed.
For the sake of my family, I will not go into details of all the issues my family has faced because of Dad’s likely higher functioning autism along with likely narcissism. When Mom sought help from church leaders for Dad’s issues, she was told they were her fault for not “submitting enough”. Mom did her best to follow the advice in the book “Me? Obey Him?” by Elizabeth Rice Handford, but overall, the horrible advice in the book made things worse, not better.
Because of Dad’s issues, my family never fit into to the local homeschool community and I never had close friends there.
Meanwhile, I learned from patriarchy that one did not become an adult until one got married, that single, childless, women were worthless, that women needed to be submissive, and that it was a sin for a woman to work outside the home. I also learned that psychology was evil and that environmentalists were crazy.
I knew that I was different, and the outside world was scary. The idea of staying home and homeschooling my children was safe. I wanted to follow God with all my heart, to fit in, to be safe. So I planned for nothing else in life but to be a wife and mother.
Meanwhile, homeschooling me was far from easy on my precious mother.
But MOM! I DON’T UNDERSTAND THIS! I HATE MATH!! I would scream.
Mom would tell me to put it aside for awhile, which was difficult to do. I wanted math out of the way so that I could relax. Mom went through multiple math curriculums with me.
Alas, battles over math were not the only issues Mom faced with her higher functioning autistic daughter. Among other things, I was extremely sensitive to certain stimuli, socially awkward, threw fits when her routine was disturbed, and became an expert on subjects she was passionate about.
Because Mom was so focused on my problems, she did not have the energy and time to give my younger brother the help that he needed, for which I feel bad. Thankfully younger brother is overcoming the issues we had during our youth and is becoming a success.
Thankfully, Dad did not believe in the extreme tenets of patriarchy and insisted that I get my GED, which enabled me to go to college.
Unfortunately, my college education has been worthless career wise because of the lethal effects of patriarchy when it is combined with autism. As I discovered, one can be free on the outside but bound on the inside.
God in his great mercy has led me out of patriarchy, but the effects remain.
Meanwhile, I am deeply grateful that I was homeschooled, and that I was not diagnosed with autism until I was 21. My quiet, happy, mostly isolated homeschooling years spared me the stress of life and thus given me more strength to handle the challenges of life.
I am also grateful for decisions by both parents that have helped me learn coping skills. When I was seven, Dad decided to get chickens. I became their caretaker, and they became my therapy. Many times I would wake up depressed, and caring for my chickens would cheer me up.
They also helped teach me responsibility and other life lessons.
Mom, who worked as an LPN during the early years of my life, became disillusioned with the harsh, ineffective treatments she saw in her work and started to seek out alternatives to modern medicine. There were many times when she could have put me on drugs, but chose to seek out alternatives to my issues. Thanks to her suggestions, diet has helped me function more easily.
Since my autism diagnosis, I have heard dozens of horror stories from individuals on the autism spectrum who went to public school. I know that going to public school would have been a horrible experience for me, even though I might have been diagnosed with autism earlier. At the same time, I have heard homeschooling horror stories from neurotypical people and people with various mental issues.
I still believe that homeschooling is the best option for those on the autism spectrum because it enables those with autism to learn at their own pace in a safe, comfortable environment. But since not every parent is perfect, I think that homeschooling should only be done by mentally healthy parents free from the influence of patriarchy who truly love and want the best for their children.
Overall, for this “Aspie” being homeschooled is one of the greatest blessings of my life. It’s the patriarchy that did the damage, and I will never stop fighting to end it.
My eighth grade year found me in the public school.
I had been kicked out of the small IFB church school that I had been attending. Suddenly the world was larger. I had been told that the public school was filled with Satan worshipers who would force me to believe in evolution. I was sure that rock and roll music would steal my soul, remake me into Satan’s servant.
So I entered the school, and found an entirely new world. I, a shy and awkward kid, found a world where the most painful thing that happened was being made fun of. There were no mysterious fists striking me as I walked past, there were no mobs on the playground. At that school, paddling was not done. There were no mysterious calls to the principal’s office. There was no mandatory daily chapel service. There was just more and more learning.
Today, I know that that school was still heavily influenced by the churches in the area. Still, it was eye-opening. While they didn’t teach evolution or the dreaded sex education, I found that there was room to be who I was without as much punishment. There was room to question the world.
In the church schools, I had been socially isolated. Somehow I was always getting it wrong with people. I would misread intentions, and find myself repeating something that was supposed to not be said. The punishments were severe. Today, I know that this was due to being autistic, that it was normal that I didn’t understand the social cues being given.
Back then, I didn’t know; I just knew I was different.
Fast forward to my senior year, and they pulled me out of public school. I was to do homeschooling. While there was no explanation at the time, I can connect at least one reason to this: a couple of weeks before they pulled me out, I had broken up with the boy I had been ordered to court. Exposure to a not-so-fundamentalist group of girls at summer camp had infected me with the idea that I could say ‘no’ and that it would be respected.
I, with my long hair, skirts, modest clothing, I was too wild. I, who was still socially inept, without friends to influence my questioning. I, who didn’t dare listen to rock music, who worked so hard to believe everything the church said was true.
I was too wild.
Being ‘frugal’, they saw no reason to invest in homeschooling materials. They worked the system to get the county to send a teacher to me once a week. I worked on my schoolwork in solitude, never quite sure that it was a real education anymore.
I was terrified that I wouldn’t be allowed to graduate, that I would be trapped at home. At the same time, I was relieved to be given a reprieve from school. I found it so exhausting, trying to understand all the people and the social groups. I would find myself at the mercy of the popular kids’ laughter one day, and the next I was separated from everyone. Doing my classwork without that pressure meant I could finish a lot faster.
But it also meant I was isolated.
Even influenced by the local churches, the public schools I attended had begun to give me glimpses of a different world. There was history, science, math all rooted in provable facts. The bible played no part in my educational days any more. There were no verses to memorize in every class, no reflections back to the bible to prove whatever was being taught was true.
Questions were welcomed.
This, perhaps, was also part of why I was pulled from school. Fundamentalism and autism are a poor mixture. Everything they said was true, I tried to believe. I forced belief on myself with Abraham’s sharp knife. I cut away my unbelief over and over again. There was no room for questions, for doubt.
Another part of how autism affects me is that I need things to make sense. I need to be able to line them up, ordered beauty, geometric fractals piercing light. Fundamentalism did not lend itself to order. Oh, they tried to teach that it was the most ordered thing, but their elaborate methods of laying out what was ‘of g-d’ and what was ‘of the devil’ made things complicated.
Still, I tried to believe.
I tried to stifle the questions. I memorized more verses. I answered every question I had with accusation, I found myself more and more guilty. To punish myself, I would pray over and over every night, hoping that this prayer would be heard. All while knowing that the bible told me that if I had sin in my heart, that my prayers would never get higher than the ceiling.
And so my prayers hovered in the room. Broken-winged, they flapped about the room, choking away any hope I had of being forgiven. Each night, I added more black-wing prayers to my room, until I wondered how anyone could breathe in there. I was glad of their invisibility, I wanted no one to know just how many prayers I prayed that never reached heaven, and I hoped that g-d would keep my secrets.
In the middle of suffocating, the questions grew. I had no one to ask, though. So they, too, became broken-winged thoughts, tangling with the prayers. Sometimes I thought they were fighting, the questions and the prayers.
I never knew who I wanted to win.
I desperately wanted the absolution that would come with forgiveness, but I knew my prayers could never find heaven. I found myself rooting for the questions. I found myself longing for someone to ask them of.
I never found that person.
Once I was homeschooled, I thought the questions would stop. I thought without the world’s influence, I would stop inventing questions. But they piled up anyway. Heavy branches that sliced away dark from light. They tangled belief into shadow, until there was no breathing. Terrified, I tried to silence them. I wanted to believe.
In that world, belief was the safest thing.
So I pushed the tangle of thinking, of questioning, away from me. I pretended they didn’t exist. I pretended my prayers were being answered, that I was finding forgiveness. I memorized more verses, I served more at church, I tried so hard to be the perfect christian. I tried to study and show myself approved.
I was required to use the bible as my proof text for everything from math to science. Even the papers I wrote for history had to be done through the bible. I wrote a lot about authority structures, and how they needed to be respected, I wrote about how politics needed to do more to support the authority in place. I was no longer allowed to have new ideas, to question old ones.
The bible was true, and that was all I needed to live.
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Olive” is a pseudonym.
I’ve always been autistic.
Since I was a baby. Vaccinations didn’t do me in and it wasn’t because my breastfeeding mother or I ate too much milk or gluten. From the time I was born, I struggled to cope with things like bright lights, loud sounds, and the feeling of having a body.
I learned early that my sensitivities wouldn’t be tolerated, though, and that in order to get by I needed to let people kiss, hug, and touch me even though it often hurt. Being hungry and tired gave me meltdowns, but my brain couldn’t feel that I was hungry, or tired and so I didn’t know why it was happening or how to stop it and my screaming was often met with threats.
Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.
The threats terrified me, so I taught myself to stop crying and to calm down, which my mother took as proof that I was just being stubborn and strong-willed. If something were really wrong, then I wouldn’t have been able to stop crying on a whim.
I struggled through elementary, but because my school was small and private (and aggressively evangelical), I stayed with the same 10-15 kids from K-6th grades, so there was stability in that and I always knew I’d have friends at school. I had trouble relating to other kids and couldn’t easily make friends outside my built-in friend group, but I didn’t have a lot of reason to anyway. There were plenty of slumber parties and trips to the rollerskating rink as it was.
Then I pretty much failed 6th grade. It wasn’t out of nowhere. I had started having issues in fourth grade with the volume of homework, and my mother wasn’t good at offering support, subscribing wholeheartedly to the idea that kids should learn to be responsible by being left fully responsible for as much as possible. I was blamed for my failures and when my mom took an afternoon off work to come visit my least favorite class with me, it was all over.
I would be homeschooled, she decided.
Some kids just aren’t cut out for school.
A refrain that would be repeated throughout my junior high and high school years. It would cripple me. Completely disempower me. Because I just wasn’t cut out to deserve the things other kids did, or to be allowed to have peers and friends.
So much happened from 7th grade to 12th, but it feels like a dark hole to me. It was an ugly time. When homeschooling didn’t work because I had a single mother and she worked as a nurse for 40 hours a week, she tried to put me in public school in 9th grade. When that didn’t work, she got me a floppy red set of ACE workbooks and told me that if I wanted to learn, then I would finish them. When that didn’t work, she got me Saxon math books and started calling what she was doing “unschooling”, which meant that math was the only subject that really mattered anyway, because I could learn all the rest just from being in the world.
When I made friends online to replace the ones I’d lost in school, she took them away too because I called one of them my boyfriend and we weren’t allowed to have romantic relationships until we were 18.
When I couldn’t provide myself with the structure I needed to complete the ACE curriculum, she got me a job babysitting for 8 hours a day. I bathed, fed, and read to 1, then 2, and eventually 4 little siblings who lived in a small, sticky apartment.
If you aren’t going to complete your school work, then you should at least learn a work ethic.
So, I did.
The anxiety never left. The social anxiety was worst and I wasn’t able to make friends or even talk openly with people I already knew, but I also had anxiety about my future and how I would survive once I turned 18. I wasn’t being given anything that my peers were, and it was all my fault because I’d failed so miserably. There was no school counselor to help me through college applications. There was no one there to tell my mother that what she was doing was hurting me. I thought she was only trying to help.
And since there was no one else to blame, I fully blamed myself.
If only I could have kept it together in 6th grade.
If only I could have stayed at public school in 9th grade.
If only I could have finished the ACE curriculum, or the Saxon math.
I am a failure.
I never studied my schoolwork. It caused too much anxiety. I never finished the ACE curriculum or the math books. I snuck back on the computer to my friends, and studied them instead. They had expansive vocabularies gleaned from philosophy books and collections of novels I’d never heard of because of my conservative upbringing. They gave me book lists ranging from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to Ishmael, The Perks of Being a Wallflower to John Grisham novels. I studied our language, the language of kids online in 1999. The way we communicated via acronyms and words couched in asterisks.
At 17, I passed the GED with mostly flying colors except for math, which I almost failed but was too afraid to take again. My mother was calling my “education” unschooling by then. I wasn’t a neglected child, I was an “autodidact” and this had been my choice. After all, I could have finished that ACE curriculum like she’d wanted me to.
And I believed her.
Which was the biggest lie homeschooling/unschooling ever told me.
I had no outside influences to tell me anything different. That I could strive for something greater than an almost-failed GED. That maybe I could be cut out for school if I had the right support. That maybe I could have a future.
The only people speaking into my education were my mother and other homeschooling/unschooling family members. I was young, depressed and broken from years of not having a peer group or any outside support. Listening to them finally tell me that I was a success felt good, and I clung to it.
No matter that I couldn’t carry on conversations, that I felt awkward and out of place no matter where I went, or that I had no friends in real life. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t count back change with any accuracy or that I wasn’t ever taught to say no to anyone, resulting in many bad relationships and a traumatizing sexual assault.
If I had taught myself like I was supposed to, I wouldn’t be in this position.
It was like a poison that ate me alive.
I received no explanation of how to choose a college and was simply driven to the local community college one day by my mother and enrolled. Whether I wanted to go or not was irrelevant. What I wanted was irrelevant, because my mother wanted me to look like I was succeeding.
Through sheer force of will I was able to keep up and get good grades while working full time and going to school full time.
For one semester.
But after that, everything fell apart again and it was like deja vu. It cemented for me over and over that what my mother said was true, I just wasn’t cut out for school.
By the time I finally learned that I was autistic, I had given up on school. I was married, living overseas. More things made sense, but I still believed that I was broken, unfit for education. I’ve been a stay-at-home wife for most of our marriage, although I did try school once and had an awful breakdown halfway through the second semester.
My mother seems to view my stay-at-home status as a success though, because women are meant to be at home.
What else would you have had me do with an autistic child who was failing in school?
She demands to know and I feel at a loss. I don’t know what could have been done in the 90’s for a girl who nobody knew had autism, but I know the answer isn’t: Take them out of school and saddle them with the responsibility of orchestrating their entire education alone.
And I know I wouldn’t do this to any kid I know. Autistic or not.
Today, I’m still a stay-at-home wife. We rent a tiny house with a big back yard where I grow tomatoes and strawberries and our dog chases cats and stray chickens. It took me so long to realize that the lies I’d been told about my education weren’t true, that I’m in my 30’s now and still have no college degree. In picking apart everything that went wrong, I’ve begun to be estranged from my family. I gave up my faith, too, and am now an atheist instead of an evangelical Christian.
The transitions have come all at once, like hitting a wall and removing brick after brick just to get to the other side. I still have meltdowns when I get too hungry, or I’m surprised, or when the weight of all the things feels too much, but I’m learning to be gentler with myself now. The more bricks I pull away from the wall, the more clearly I can see and it turns out that kindness helps a lot more with supporting my autism than tough love ever did. I still struggle to make friends and don’t really have any, but hope that as I get healthier through therapy, I may be able to develop more social skills. And I still don’t know if I’m “cut out” for school, although I hope someday I will be.
I think the one thing I do know now is that autism doesn’t mean I have to hide. If I am struggling with something, I can ask for help doing that thing. I don’t need to have the thing taken away from me. I can get support in being who I am and doing the things I want to do, all at the same time.
And it’s not my fault that I didn’t get the education I deserved.
April is Autism Acceptance Month, a time when the autistic community is speaking out about their experiences as autistic people.
Many of us might not have known we were autistic during our homeschooled life. Our parents didn’t believe in the mental health industry. Or perhaps they just felt we were being extra difficult with our sensory needs, or our need to repeat things. Maybe it was because they didn’t know how to seek help for us. Maybe our parents were supportive, but just didn’t know how to handle our differences. Maybe they did know, and chose to homeschool us in the hopes it would be easier for us.
Are you autistic and homeschooled? Did you find out later in your life that you were autistic? What was homeschooling like for you as an autistic child?
We would like to hear your story.
* This is not a call for stories for parents of autistic children, or for siblings of autistic homeschoolers. This is specifically to elevate the voices of autistic homeschoolers.
As always, you can contribute anonymously or publicly. Please let us know your preference when you contact us.
* We will be publishing your stories as they come in, through the end of April *
It’s funny, isn’t it, when we hear something we’ve never heard before, and yet immediately, it strikes a chord, and we go, “Yes! That’s IT!” I just had one such experience. I was out shopping today with my friend, Rowena, and we stopped in at Maurice’s, as we always must, when we’re shopping near one. I saw a shirt that said, “I’d rather be someone’s shot of whiskey than everyone’s cup of tea.” As soon as I saw it, I knew I needed it. That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking the last couple years, as I work on becoming more myself. Of not being afraid anymore. Of dying my hair, and piercing my ears, and wearing my black lipstick, etc., etc.
I remember many, many times when I looked in the mirror, and had no idea who it was staring back at me.
I knew who it was supposed to be. It was supposed to be me. But it wasn’t. I never really matched the part that I played for so long. And after a while, I completely lost who I actually was. As a kid, I was a rather fearless, adventurous tomboy. I often thought about joining the Navy, like my dad had. I was inquisitive, liked to figure out ideas by way of arguing (I deconstruct an idea, and then build it back up- much like an engineer takes apart a clock to understand how it ticks), and I was usually allowed. But after my family joined ATI, that all stopped. I was expected to be the meek and quiet, obedient lady. I was expected to have long hair, dress “modestly” (read…”baggy” and “frumpy”), wear no makeup, accept everything I was told as truth, stay at home until I married, have a dozen children and homeschool them all. That never appealed to me. And yet, it was supposed to. So I told myself it did.
ATI (the fundamentalist cult my family was in for 9 years) basically taught us that we were supposed to be everyone’s cup of tea. That with a bright smile, navy and white clothes, and the right attitude, we could win over anyone. Bill Gothard (the cult’s founder and leader) loved to tell all of us “apprenticeship students” stories of ATI students boarding planes in their navy and white with a good smile, and being randomly upgraded to first class. About ATI students who worked so hard for an employer, they were given a high paying job that normally required a college degree, without having a college degree. He loved to talk about the very rare exceptions to the rule, and tell us that, with the right attitude and dress and actions, everyone would love us, respect us, and the world would be open to us as we made money and gained the ear of heads of state.It took me years to realize what a complete joke that was. So I tried, so hard, to be everyone’s cup of tea. To gain everyone’s respect and admiration. I failed miserably, of course. I was labeled a rebel and a temptress at my fundamentalist church. Apparently, mothers actually warned their sons about me. Funny thing was, I really wasn’t that interested in guys in general until I was in my twenties. But no matter how hard I tried, I never really fit into their little mold of who I should be. As much as I often functioned as an ISTJ, I was still an INTJ. As much as I tried to function as a neurotypical, I was still Autistic (though I didn’t get my diagnosis until the age of 32). As much as I tried to content myself with not going to college and with the idea of being a stay-at-home homeschool mom to goodness knows how many kids, it never worked. It just wasn’t who I was.
But who I was, was bad.
And to be concealed and denied and buried and crucified as much as possible.
And so I forgot. For a very long time, I completely lost sight of who I was. After I got out of ATI, bits and pieces came back. My INTJ was eventually coaxed out of hiding. I started to wear makeup and clothes that, while still extremely modest by most standards, would be considered scandalous by ATI standards. I listened to secular music (GASP). I lived alone. I got a college degree, and then a graduate degree. I even started teaching college. When I finally read the Divergent trilogy and was reminded of who I was, I immediately started changing how I dressed and did my makeup. I got contacts, later, I got a much edgier haircut and even dyed it black and purple. I got more ear piercings, and planned a nose piercing and tattoos (which have yet to be gotten). As I looked in the mirror, more and more, I saw myself looking back at me. I was coming out of hiding. Sure, some people may look at my hair and makeup and piercings and clothes (which seriously, are still super modest by most standards), and make judgments about my character, based on that. Some may decide they don’t like me. And some may look at my departure from Christianity and decide I simply wanted to live my own life my way, and not by God’s rules. That I wanted to live my life governed by the “pleasures of this world.” They can judge all they like. It’s not true, not by a long shot. There’s way more to it than that.
But it’s okay if some people judge. It’s okay if people decide they don’t like me anymore. Or decide that I make them sad, or anything else. At the end of the day, I really would rather be someone’s shot of whiskey than everyone’s cup of tea. Because at least if I’m someone’s shot of whiskey, I’m being myself.
I’m not watering myself down and forcing myself into a mold, and wearing a mask.
I’m not playing a part. I’m being, well, me. Does it hurt to be rejected? Yeah, sometimes. But in the long run, I’ll be far more satisfied with my life, and far more at peace, if I’m open and honest. If I quit playing a part. At the end of the day, I can respect who I am. And I have the support of my parents, who know pretty much everything there is to know. While they may not agree with me on everything, they do absolutely respect me, support me, and they’re okay with where I am in life. I have many others, too.
People who have known me for a long time have witnessed this transformation. Some have been surprised, some haven’t. Most recognize I’m much more at peace with myself than I ever was before. And I am. I’m done being everyone’s cup of tea. I’m going to be myself. Sure, it takes courage, but hey. That’s what life is all about. Being brave, and not letting fear rule your life. Could I really call myself “Dauntless” if I was letting my fear of others rule my life? Nope. So I’m going to be brave and be myself. Otherwise, life is just a really sad exercise in jumping through hoops, toeing the line, and making sure all the “I’s” are dotted and all the “T’s” crossed. And that’s just a shame.
Step Forward And Call For Change: Sheldon’s Thoughts
The author of this piece writes under the pseudonym Sheldon at his blog, Ramblings of Sheldon. He describes himself as “a former Christian fundamentalist” who “is now a semi-closeted agnostic” that writes about “his fundamentalist past, his beliefs now, and the cult known as the Independent Fundamental Baptist denomination, which his sister was a part of (and he also had some personal experience with).” Also by Sheldon on HA: “Looking Back at my Fundamentalist Home Schooling Past.”
I spent about a year at a well known Southern Baptist university, and some of the people there were homeschool alumni. They use to make jokes about the “awkward homeschool kid” stereotype, and many of them were even members of a Facebook group that was built around such jokes.
It wasn’t very funny to me. They were relatively well adjusted, or at least appeared to be. Many of them had been a part of homeschool groups, sports, some had even been to community colleges or spent some time public high schools before they entered college. They seemed, at least for the evangelical world I was in at the time normal. I never felt that way.
I was lost, confused, very depressed, and unable to understand the people around me in any way, shape or form. It lead to depression, panic attacks, alternating muscle pain/weakness, fatigue, and and overall nervous breakdown that lead me to move back with family in Southwest Illinois.
The “awkward homeschool kid” jokes weren’t funny, because it was very real to me. It was my experience. I was raised in a family that always seemed to be more extreme that most of the churches that they were a part of, which I always thought was odd. My father was always a rather easy going parent towards me, but my mother could have her abusive moments, and she rejected the outside world almost completely, and expected me to do the same.
She saw any modern forms of music, especially anything with a beat as “evil” (except for, hypocritically, more modern forms of country music, which she liked), she hated anyone who didn’t look, think, act, or believe like us. People with large amounts of tattoos/piercings? Must be evil! Does someone follow another religion, or is a liberal Christian? They’re evil! Are they gay/bi-sexual etc? Evil!
As you can expect, shutting out most of the world around you, and fearing them as well doesn’t do well for developing someone’s social skills. To this day, I have a hard time understanding the culture around me, but looking back, I realized I couldn’t understand other children my age at the time either. Not only do I not understand the culture around me at times (though I have gotten far better at that by immersing myself in it), I just don’t understand how people think and act the way that they do in ways ranging from the major to the very minor. It’s like I’ve never learned how to be “normal” in most people’s estimations.
When I’ve talked openly about this, I have had people question whether I was autistic. I really don’t know if I am or not, I can see quite a few similarities, but I have never been to a psychiatrist (though I should, if for no other reason than my persistent depression), and I wonder how much of it is in fact due to my own mind, the isolation of homeschooling or the compound effects of both. It’s hard to tell, especially, since I keep encountering so many stories of people who have experienced the same effects from isolation in their own life.
Some homeschooling parents love to dismiss or even mocked concerns about socialization, but in a recent post by Lana of Wide Open Ground, she complied 12 statements from me, herself, and 10 other people made on her blog alone, from people who had experienced this kind of isolation, and are still struggling to fit into this world.
I’ve had my struggles, but also had my high points in my journey to live post-fundamentalism. Being able to experience music I never heard before, and growing to appreciate and love it. II now listen to that “evil” rock music, and love it. There’s few things I enjoy more than listening to Cake, Rise Against, Metallica, or Alice in Chains.
I’ve also had the opportunity to meet people that I would have never met before, both in person, and online. I remember getting involved in a local discussion website, and getting to know a woman who was a Wiccan. Along with her husband, she owned a music store in my town (unfortunately it closed last October). I was so surprised when I got to know her, not only did she shatter all the preconceived notions I had about Wiccans, but she showed more of a sense of love and compassion to the world than most of the Christians I knew at the time.
I have also gotten to know some great people online as well, many of whom have lived through fundamentalism, and have left it behind. People like Lana, Jonny Scaramanga, and Godless Poutine are people that I am proud to say that I know, and they have been an inspiration to me, as I plan to move on, and come out as agnostic sometime this year.
Though life is starting to turn around for me, the isolation still had its effects, and though some may disagree, I think it’s abuse to isolate a child to the point that they are shut off from the outside world. Letting children interact only with people within a narrow circle of fundamentalists is not socialization, despite what such parents may say, and it does not prepare them for life.
I hope that as time goes on, that we will start seeing some changes in the Christian homeschooling community, I know there are good homeschooling parents out there, and I would like to see more of them step forward and call for change.
I got older and middle school went by and it was time for high school. My freshmen year, I met a new set of friends. They were the goth kids and they were awesome. All fucked up, suicidal, death metal freaks, but they were still christians.
My parents hated these kids.
At one point in time, my mother accused them of turning me into a lesbian because I didn’t have boyfriends. Never mind that I was not allowed to date and every attempt had ended brutally at their hand. It didn’t matter these girls were straight. I was hanging out with these strange girls and they were making me a lesbian.
When that tactic didn’t work, my mother tried to convince me that they were witches. She even had our pastor come visit and lecture me on the “appearance of evil.” They appeared evil. This didn’t work either, I was prepared with verses to counter his. When that failed, my parents decided they were going to put me in a girls’ reform boarding school. They wouldn’t take me. I had bad grades, but I was good kid. I didn’t smoke, I didn’t do drugs, I didn’t drink, I didn’t skip school, I wasn’t having sex. With the exception of my grades, I was a perfect teenager. I never once got in trouble at school.
I did not misbehave until the stress broke me.
The stress of all the pressure and the attempts to separate me from my only friends and still regular beatings with a belt, drove me to self harm. At the age of 15 I started cutting myself. My mother’s tactic for dealing with this was to hypothetically lecture me on how stupid it was to cut yourself, but she never actually acknowledged that I was doing it.
I cut myself for 3 years without anyone ever trying to stop me.
I made a couple more normal friends as well in high school and my senior year, I started attending church with them. It was there, a senior in highschool at the age of 18 that I met my future husband, but I didn’t know it yet. Honestly, the first time I met him, I thought he was giant ass. We had an argument on tithing in youth group. He believed there were legitimate financial reasons for not tithing. I did not
A month later, the church held a camp out. I had to beg and plead at the age of 18 to be allowed to attend a camping trip where boys would be present. Never mind that all of the adults were going too — there would be boys!
On that trip, my mother’s worst nightmare came true. I met a boy. An older boy.
We had our first date, he took me to a movie. I had to be home at 9 pm. She told me that she wouldn’t stop me, but that it was very inappropriate that Brian hadn’t come to ask my father for permission to date me. Before I could see him again, after this date, he would have to come meet my parents. So the next Saturday, I had him over for lunch. I had to show that I could be a good house wife. So I had to top to bottom clean the house and cook the entire meal by myself from scratch.
This wasn’t because of Brian. He didn’t care.
My parents however, thought this was going to be a traditional Christian courtship and if I didn’t show off my womanly skills, he would find someone else. Lunch went fine, and my partly tattooed 20 year old boyfriend showed up. Begrudgingly, my parents gave their consent, mostly because I was 18.
Sunday, after church Brian and his family invited me to go play miniature golf. I called my parents to ask permission and they gave it, even though they didn’t sound like they liked the idea. I stayed all day, had a wonderful time and made sure I was home by 9 pm.
When I got home, all hell broke loose. My parents hadn’t told me, but they had wanted to go grocery shopping that evening, but they would not leave the house while I was gone with my boyfriend. I had a 5 minute screaming match at the front door because I was home on time and they never mentioned I needed to be home sooner.
Sobbing, I walked to my bedroom and opened the door.
My bed had flipped upside down.
All of the clothes from my dresser had been pulled out and thrown on the floor the clothes were ripped from my closet and lying on the floor. My beside table drawers had been ripped out and dumped. My room was in shambles.
I turned around, walked out of my room to the kitchen, got a drink of water and my mother came in. She pointed to a pile of clothes on the floor and said, “You need to put these away and clean that awful mess in your room.”
I snapped and started screaming at her at the top of my lungs. My room had been spotless, I wasn’t putting away a damn thing (it may have been the first time I had ever sworn) and she needed to fix what she had done to my room because she had no right.
Then I heard the door knob.
Dad was home, I didn’t know dad was home.
For some perspective. I was 5 ft tall and weighed maybe 120 lbs. My father had almost a foot and more than 100 lbs on me. My stomach sank and I started running for the front door. He caught me and slammed me into the fridge. I pushed him off me and started running the down the hall to my room. He caught me again. I slapped him to try to get him off me. He swung me around and started choking me.
My mother screamed.
He let me go and I locked myself in my room. He told me through the door that I was no longer allowed to leave the house unless it was for school. No church, no extracurriculars, nothing. Then he hid the phones and went to bed. I couldn’t call the police, I couldn’t leave because they had set the alarm and even if I could get out, we lived almost 8 miles out of town and it was cold. I sat on my bed holding my baseball bat all night waiting for my dad to come after me.
The next morning, after no sleep, I packed the $20 I had to my name and a couple changes of clothes into my backpack and got on the bus. I never went back home. I didn’t know it yet, but it was the first day of the rest of my life. It was only going to get better from here.
After school, my youth pastor picked me up and drove me to a battered woman’s shelter. The next day, the police tried to get my parents to release me the rest of my clothing. They refused and I declined to press charges. Between the church, my boyfriend and the shelter, they replaced everything I owned. I had never had new clothes before. All of my clothes came from goodwill and the dav. They looked awful, they were torn, and I only had two pairs of jeans and a couple shirts anyway. I ended up better off in that respect.
I endured several months of harassment. My parents tried to find the shelter I was staying at. Also had one very failed attempt at family counseling.
I ended up staying at my youth pastor’s house and dropping out of high school. I couldn’t maintain a full time job, school, and my church duties — and, for the first time, a social life. About a year later, Brian and I married. Now, almost 10 years later, my husband and I are happy, non-believing parents to three beautiful children.
Over the years, I have tried a couple times to form a relationship with my parents. However, it never worked out and I eventually ended up cutting them out of my life entirely. I am happy, healthy, and I have the family I never thought I could have.
My children are thriving in public school and the difference between them and myself at their age sometimes hits me like a brick wall. They are happy, they aren’t afraid me or my husband and they love it when daddy is home. They have friends and all three are such different people with distinct personalities. The monster in the closet isn’t a demon coming to possess or kill them. And when they do get scared, they come running to mommy instead of freezing in fear unable to move.
I showed up for school with my back pack on, my lunch packed, my patent leather white dress shoes and my frilliest pink dress. I marched straight up to the first girl my age, stuck out my hand and said “Hi, my name is Jessica and I think we’re just going to be the best of friends.” She laughed at me, and walked away talking about me to her friends.
I was completely socially inept.
I had never been around other children. The only other child that I had been around regularly was my older brother, so I acted like my autistic older brother. Every time I spoke, I would compulsively say what I had just said again under my breath to listen myself say it. Literally every sentence. Until the other children started making fun of me for it, I had never realized that other people didn’t do that. It took me over two years to break that habit and I still do it in my head to make sure what I just said didn’t sound stupid. No one played with me and no one spoke to me except the teachers.
That was just the social aspect. I was capable of all the grade level work the other children were doing, except the math.
However, I had never been in a class room.
When I did my work at home, I would sit at the table, read my books, do my work sheets or tests and then I was done for the day. It usually took 2-3 hours. I knew nothing about school. My first day, I got in trouble for answering the questions when the teacher asked them. After a couple questions, I realized that the other children were raising their hands and being called on. However, it was too late. I lost my recess and had to write “I will not speak unless spoken to” 150 times. My hand ached and I didn’t speak in class again for weeks.
After the first 9 weeks, I found out that I was failing school. I aced all of my tests but I wasn’t doing any of the assignments I didn’t have the attention span to pay attention in class. I had never had to pay attention for that long before, so I didn’t hear any of the instructions. I didn’t understand, I was doing everything I was asked at school. As much as I heard before I involuntarily spaced out. What I didn’t realize is that I wasn’t done when the day was over. I was supposed to be doing work at home too. I was beaten for flunking, but no one told me what I was supposed to do to change it. My mom had checked out of our education as soon as the homeschooling was over.
Finally, after failing my 2nd nine weeks, my teacher started paying attention and realized what was wrong. I didn’t know how to be in school. She kept me in at recess (I didn’t play at recess anyway) every day for a week and taught me how school worked. She explained homework, she moved me to the front row so she could work on keeping my attention. She explained why everything was the way it was and I finally started catching on.
Socially however, was another story. I had no friends. No one would speak to me.
It became even worse after I tried to start a conversation about demons at the lunch table.
My grades came up the first half of the 2nd semester and after that, I could no longer make myself care. I didn’t belong at home, I didn’t belong at school, the kids were afraid of me, my parents hated me. I had no reason to exist. I stopped doing anything that I did not want to do. I was never going to measure up to the expectations of my family or my peers, so trying was useless.
At the end of the year, my teacher informed my parents that I was not ready to progress to middle school and I was held back to repeat my 5th grade year. This of course was an abject failure. I had humiliated my parents. What would the other people in town think? This was always very important. My mother cared deeply about how she appeared to the other people in our small, entirely too nosy town. I went back to school the next year and did nothing at all. I did what I had to do in class so the teacher wouldn’t yell at me and got beatings at home for the straight D’s and F’s on my report card. I didn’t care. They passed me anyway.
In Middle School, the social aspect of school started to become easier. I made some friends, yes they were the other weird kids, but they were my friends. The age of 12 brought new difficulties with it. I was starting to be interested in boys and this was unacceptable. I was allowed to go to school, but I was not allowed to go to any school social events. Dances were immoral and there was no reason to be pursuing boys until at least the age of 16 if not 18. Sports were a frivolous waste of time, so I did not need to go to those events. Still, they had to let me do something, so middle school began my years of church lock ins and Bible camp.
I will come back to church events. First I would like to tackle the ideas of privacy and sexuality. In the sixth grade, I had my first “boyfriend”. It was completely innocent and consisted note writing, sneaking phone calls and holding hands in the hallway. It was in stark contrast to what I had been taught. I was taught that boys were only after sex and that dating was unnecessary and immoral. So even this completely innocent venture into crush land got me in more trouble than I had been in my entire life. I had been writing a diary, but I had kept it secret. I was not allowed to have secrets from my parents. I accidentally left my diary in room one day and my mother found it. She went through my room on a near weekly basis. Something she never did to the boys. I was the one that had to be kept pure. My life went on like this until I left when I was 18. I would try to have some semblance of self or privacy and it was be swiftly and harshly be stomped out as soon as it was discovered. My thoughts were not my own. I was not allowed to be different, I had to fully give myself to Jesus and my parents.
Church events were the only time I could really be a kid. At the age of 7, I was “saved” at our little baptist church. However, I didn’t have an emotional coming to Jesus moment. I was sitting in the children’s section. The alter call started and I had never paid attention before. The pastor asked if there was anyone in the room that had never accepted Jesus. I hadn’t done that. So I put up my hand.
Now I have express the sheer lack of emotion in this experience — I had no idea what I was doing. The pastor asked if we had done something and I hadn’t. He was a man and spiritual leader, so I had to do what he said. I would have had the same response if he had asked me if I had brushed my teeth that morning. I went down, I repeated the prayer the lady had me say, and I was done. I did what I was told and then I tried to go sit back down. They wouldn’t let me.
I had to stand in front of the church.
Everyone was cheering, my mom was crying. I had no idea why. The next Sunday I had to get baptized. At some point in time, I realized that I was supposed to have had an emotional response to this event, so I faked one and played along because for once, people were proud of me.
In middle school, I went to my first church camp. It was wonderful, all the kids were just like me and we got along wonderfully. I didn’t realize until many years later that the reason we got along was because they were all just as socially inept and weird as I was. Still, it was a release. Everything was great, except worship service on the 3rd day. We had been having Bible studies, music and praise, but they didn’t have the first alter call until day 3. We had a long lesson on hell and suffering. Then they outlined the steps of salvation. I had an emotional break down along with about 30 other children. I hadn’t been saved, not properly. I was going to burn in hell. I crawled, sobbing down the isle to the front and terrified, I accepted Jesus. Properly this time. I had such a sense of peace.
I was on fire for Jesus for the rest of the week.
Unfortunately, the assurance wore off and a new sense of terror joined the terror I had about demons and the 2 am hour when my father came home from work. I still wasn’t saved. I had doubts and I was told Jesus would take all my doubts away when I became saved. I must broken, why can’t I get properly saved? The scenario of tearfully crawling my way up to the stage repeated its self at nearly every youth event I attended until I stopped attending youth events at 18.
I believe that the greatest source of tension between myself and my mother is that I have deep sense of compassion. I care about the suffering of others, too much in her opinion and it set me apart from her in a serious way. I loved to help people and she always believed that people need to help themselves. A very staunch conservative Republican. I was not her mini-me and she couldn’t stand it. I also didn’t fit her mold in any way. My mother always told me, “I had three kids. I wanted an older boy, then a girl, then another boy. That way you would be in the middle of two protectors, but your older brother can’t protect you and you don’t fit.”
She was right. I did not fit.
My mother did get her wish on the order of the children. I am the middle of three children. My older brother has a mild form of autism known as Aspergers Syndrome. My younger brother was the definition of the baby. My parents made the decision to homeschool after a series of bad experiences with public school. Autism, especially high functioning spectrum disorders, were not at all well understood in the late 80’s and early 90’s. So when my brother, with his severe speech delay (caused by deafness as a toddler) and a complete inability to cope with his peers came to public school, they had no idea what to do with him. The school attempted to diagnose him with a range of disorders from mental retardation (he has a genius intelligence) to epilepsy. This difficulty with public school coupled with their extreme religious right views led them to homeschooling.
It was perfect. My parents could hide away the autistic child that they did not understand and were ashamed of, they could indoctrinate us and they could discipline us without fear of anyone hearing the stories or seeing the bruises.
I believe of the most fundamental problem with religious homeschooling is that in the seclusion provided by homeschooling, abuse can hide and thrive. There does not have to be anyone else around that differ from the views of the parents. How can a child even know they’re being abused if they don’t know that other children aren’t treated that way? It took me years to identify the sources of abuse in my childhood. There are still times when a childhood memory comes to mind, I think it through and realize just exactly how fucked up the situation was.
My three earliest childhood memories go as follows:
Memory number one: I remember myself sitting in a highchair, I couldn’t have been more than two. My mother was chasing my older brother around my highchair with a rolling pin.
Memory number two: I was about four and was sitting playing with dolls in the living room. My oldest brother starts screaming from the bathroom. I walk to the bathroom to find my mother beating my 7 year old brother’s head into the shower wall and there was blood running down his naked body. Then we went to the hospital for stitches. We had to practice saying, “He tripped in the shower.” This was my first introduction to the government. If we didn’t say what we were told, the government would take us away and put us with awful people that wouldn’t feed us.
Memory number three: I was 5. I do not remember what I was in trouble for, but I remember my mother looking at me and saying, “You give me looks like you want to stab me in my sleep. I’ll get you first.” I’m sure at some point in time, I played with my parents. We had a swing, I had a bicycle, but I remember almost nothing before around age 10 that wasn’t traumatic.
The curriculum that we used was from Bob Jones University. The famous science textbook page that is floating around the web about the girl with the hair dryer that states we don’t know how electricity works? That was in my elementary “science” book. I will say that my mother did dedicate herself fully to our education, but we inherited her educational weaknesses. She was not at all proficient in even basic math. As her daughter, she was convinced that I shared her lack of math skills. She firmly placed in my head the idea that I was incapable of math. Instead, we focused on reading. The science was young earth creationism and the history, revisionist christian. I knew that the earth was no more than 6000 years old. God created it in six literal days and then flooded the planet.
When I shared my disdain for the idea of killing everyone on earth, I was beaten. God was not to be questioned. This was the academic aspect of my early childhood years.
The theological side was pure right wing extremism and some things that I can’t even give a label to. I would like it to be noted before this section that I believe my mother suffers from untreated mental illness. She is a pathological liar and possibly schizophrenic. I will lay out the basic tenants of my religious upbringing.
One of the most important lessons that my mother ever tried to teach was about evils of abortion. Alone in the car one day, she told me the story of my twin brother. I could not have been more than five. I learned that my mother had originally been pregnant with twins. After she was several months pregnant, she was in a car accident that killed my brother. At this point, she did not know that she was pregnant with twins. She was informed at the hospital that the fetus was dead and needed to be removed before it caused infection. She refused because she does not believe in abortion under any circumstances. God would deliver the baby when he was ready. A month later, the doctor did another ultrasound and found me. If she had submitted to an abortion I would not be here. Then, in graphic detail I was told how my brother’s arm was born, then he came out, then me.
I was horrified. I had nightmares for weeks. I cried and cried. I spoke to my brother in prayer for years. Even as a teenager, I would lay in bed at night wondering how my life would have been different if my twin hadn’t died.
This might be one of the most important stories of my entire childhood.
It is completely made up.
At the age of 27, I told this story to a very close friend of mine. He looked at me like I had three heads and called bullshit. I was completely taken aback, highly offended. How could anyone hear one of my most personal, painful secrets and tell me it was crap? I had to prove him wrong. I ran upstairs to get my birth certificate, it would say twin birth and then he would apologize. I had never really read my birth certificate before and it said single birth. I became instantly nauseous as the details of the story ran through my head. My mother never mentioned that story in front of anyone. We were always alone but we discussed it a lot. I ended up filing for copies of my birth records at the hospital I was born at.
I was a single, uncomplicated delivery. Single.
2) Obedience to men:
To quote my mother, “You kids are the third most important things in my life: God, my husband, then you. Remember, I will always choose your father over you.” This was ironic, very ironic. As I’m sure you, the reader, has noticed, I have thus far said very precious little about my father. There really isn’t anything to say. I saw him for roughly one hour a day in my early childhood. The only other times I saw him were on his few days off and vacations. When he was home, it was misery. He hit us; he beat my eldest brother with sticks. We also sometimes saw him at night. If we had misbehaved during the day, my mother would report to him as the head of household. He would then come home from his second shift job and wake us up for a spanking with a heavy leather mechanic’s belt. It was rarely more than one child a night, so if you were awakened in the night to the screams of another sibling, you were safe.
Even though my father was rarely present, I was to submit to him in all things. Then one day, he would pass me to my husband and I would submit to him.
Women were created to help men. We were not to question. Honestly, this is all I know about my father. I don’t know what his childhood was like. I don’t know his favorite food, his favorite color. I know that he’s a Republican, that he enjoys camping, and that I was to listen to him second only to god, just like my mother. This was also in my homeschooling curriculum. Most lessons for girls were somehow tied back to obedience of the father and, one day, the husband.
3) Demons are real:
My mother was in constant fear of demonic influences and witches. Growing up, she would constantly discuss demons and witches. She was very fearful of witches casting spells on items to watch us. Things like MTV and other modern tv and radio could lead demons into us. This was so deeply ingrained from such a young age that I would lay awake at night paralyzed with fear that the scratching sound at my window was a demon. I even had to burn a present given to me by a friend once because my mother believed that my friend had cast a spell on it. Even today, as an atheist with no supernatural beliefs, I still have to catch myself if something unexplained happens. The anxiety can be literally physically paralyzing and I have to stay constantly aware. I can’t let my self start into my cycle of fear.
At the age of ten, my mother decided that we had surpassed her ability to teach us. This and the strain of my older brothers autism led to the decision to put us in the local public school. I also believe, though I cannot verify this, that we were put in school because we did very poorly on the Iowa Test of Basics Skills that the state had forced my parents to take us to.
I was very excited about the prospect of school. I was going to be around kids of my own age for the first time. I would get to have friends.
Then the first day of school started and I was completely out of my element.
Imagine, if you will, that you are doing an experiment with monkeys. The test is to see how quickly the monkey can adapt and learn. So, you take this test monkey and you put it in the driver’s seat of a running vehicle heading straight for a wall. The purpose is to see if the monkey, having no prior experience with cars, can stop the car before it crashes into the wall and dies.