By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
“Generation Joshua wants America to be a perpetual city on a hill, a beacon of biblical hope to the world around us. We seek to inspire every one of our members with faith in God and a hope of what America can become as we equip Christian citizens and leaders to impact our nation for Christ and for His glory.”
~ William A. Estrada, Esq., Director of Generation Joshua
The story that follows is a cautionary tale.
It is the story of a generation, overwhelmed and frightened by the 1960’s and 70’s, that wanted to create an isolated bubble in which to raise kids untouched by the chaos and depravity of the American world. It is the story of a generation that partied so hard that, ashamed of its doings, wanted its progeny to not do the things it did. It is a story of how you can so easily throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water — or, put another way, how babies always grow up and have to make their own decisions, no matter how hard their parents try to avoid that day.
This story is not meant to antagonize people, though it will surely antagonize many. It is not meant to attack anyone, but it will involve some serious disagreements. This story is first and foremost a personal statement of my personal experience — my experience of the conservative, Christian, homeschooling subculture in which I grew up.
I didn’t just grow up in the subculture. I was one of its most outspoken advocates and champions. I wasn’t merely a conservative, Christian homeschooler. I was raised and groomed to be a model for its tenets, an inspiration for my peers, and someone who trained my peers to also be advocates and champions.
I have struggled most of my life with sorting through everything I experienced as a homeschooler. Not the education, mind you — I can read, think, write, speak, and debate. But as I have been increasingly dealing with major depression, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, and all sorts of other problems, I have been reflecting on my childhood. And I realize that the pressures put on me by the conservative, Christian homeschooling subculture have contributed significantly to my problems today.
It’s not the conservatism or the Christianity or the homeschooling, per se. It’s not my family. But it’s the combination of everything and especially my years in the homeschool speech and debate league that made me who I am. And lately I’ve been talking to other people who went through the same things. And I am starting to see patterns. I am starting to hear stories. Stories of pressure, control, self-hating, self-harming, and even abuse — emotional, physical, and sexual.
I am starting to hear that I am not alone in my problems.
Everyone, of course, has a different experience, even those who were homeschooled. Some of us were in the Home School Legal Defense Association. Some of us did speech and debate, while others did Teen Pact or Teen Mania. Some of us did Creation Science seminars; others did not. Some of us grew up in Quiverfull homes, or homes dedicated to Josh Harris’ model of courtship, or even betrothal homes. Some of us were allowed to date. We all have different experiences. Some of us are atheists now, or agnostics, or Buddhists, or still Christians. Some of us are liberal; others are conservative.
But there is a pattern emerging. And that pattern has a story that needs to be told.
What you might not know about conservative, Christian homeschoolers is that we are actually a smart bunch. Unlike the completely ridiculous cultural stereotype, many of us received more than adequate socialization. We had park days, sports teams, missions trips, and political rallies. We had drama clubs and the Bible verse memorization club AWANA — but more than that, many of us were in speech and debate leagues, moot court, summer camps dedicated to worldview training, and all sorts of other activities meant to make us articulate defenders and proponents of our beliefs.
We were, in fact, probably able to school our secular peers in argumentation and public speaking. And that was no coincidence. There is a vast, well-organized machine that yearly churns out advocates of the conservative, Christian, homeschooling viewpoint. We were part of the so-called “Generation Joshua,” the new generation meant to reclaim America for the glory of the Christian god.
To my subculture, Generation Joshua means two things. First, it is a Christian youth organization founded in 2003 by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), created to train children to be activists for conservative candidates who support pro-life and otherwise socially conservative platforms. But more importantly, Generation Joshua is a metaphor. It is a rallying cry based on a jumbled amalgam of biblical stories with the purpose of inspiring conservative parents and their kids.
In the Old Testament, the Egyptians held the Israelites in captivity. The Hebrew God chose Moses to lead the Israelites out of captivity and into the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. But the Israelites and Moses disobeyed God on numerous occasions, so God made them wander in the wilderness for forty years, banning them from ever entering the Promised Land. But God had compassion on them, and chose a member of the next generation, Joshua, to lead the Israelites’ children into that land of milk and honey.
While this story is considered by academics and exegetes to be a straightforward historical narrative, conservative Christians have transformed it into a metaphor for the United States. In this metaphor, the Israelites are U.S. citizens. The U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, but the forces of secularism have held us in captivity as the U.S. progressed. So God — now the God of Republican, conservative Christians — chose homeschooling parents to lead the U.S. away from its godlessness and back to its Christian roots. But the parents were once part of that secularism, so God will not allow them to see the fruits of their labor. God has nonetheless shown compassion towards their efforts, so the parents’ children are the new Joshuas. These children are to be trained in God’s original plan for the U.S. to be a Christian nation, and they will grow up to invade all levels of the U.S. government and society and reclaim the U.S. for Republican, conservative Christianity.
To this end, all aspects of a homeschooled child’s life are to be tailored to this vision. Every effort is made to ensure that the children become full-fledged advocates of this viewpoint. You see, many conservatives fear one thing almost more than everything else, including Bill Clinton and abortion: that their kids will grow up and disagree with them. There is an enormous apparatus in place to prevent that calamity. There are books, videos, seminars, and camps dedicated to keep kids in line with their parents’ ideology. One of the most talked about and feared statistics every year is how many kids gave up on their parents’ beliefs once they go off to college. This statistic will go viral everywhere. It will terrify parents, reinforce their mission, and inspire them to push and brainwash harder, faster, stronger. You don’t want to be that parent — the parent with the bad seed, the apostate.
It can be a major embarrassment and shame or alienate parents or families out of their long-trusted circles. “The family that has the atheist kid?” Or, “The family that has that girl who got pregnant?” “Surely they raised their kid wrong. Let’s not associate with them anymore.”
It kills relationships.
To be clear, there are many kind, sincere, and well-meaning members of this subculture. There are parents who believe and know they can offer their children a better education than public schools; or who withdraw their kids due to personal handicaps, bullying, or other real and serious complications; or who are capable of teaching their kids to think for themselves instead of merely indoctrinating them.
That I am even writing this is itself a testament to both homeschooling as well as the power of human experience to triumph over human doctrine. I can read, write, reflect, and self-reflect. Much of that is due to a good education.
Much more, however, is due to the continual wrestling my mind had to do with everything in homeschooling that is not education — the attitudes, culture, worldview, and underlying biases that often are more important to homeschooling than the education itself. If homeschooling in a conservative, Christian environment was merely a parent rather than a publicly licensed stranger teaching me 1+1=2, I would not be writing this. But I am writing this, and that is because, where I grew up, 1+1=2 because God is a protestant Christian deity who wants us to reclaim a fallen United States of America for His glory.
As I slowly and painfully extricated myself from this world in which I grew up, I felt very alone. But the more I broke free and was willing to not just admit to others my differences in opinion but admit to myself I was changing (often the harder task, as I still fear that maybe I am wrong and thereby will be burned alive for eternity in God’s hell fire), I found that I was not alone. I would hear from increasingly large numbers of my peers, my former students, and even my former teachers that they, too, had or are trying to break free.
I had always been a rabble-rouser in homeschooling circles, but one from within being self-critical. So I am not unfamiliar with making waves and being chastised. So to take a significant, real break from this community is terrifying. But once I finally took a stand, I realized — sometimes, someone just needs to have the courage to say what others have been hoping to hear.
I think, for a lot of us, we are afraid to say what we feel, to say that we have changed. A lot of our subculture’s message to us was to shut up and get in line. That makes us, even as adults, fearful of a former community’s backlash. We have stuffed our questions and our seeds of discontent for so long that remaining silent has become a habit. Even as adults, we have that inner child who is terrified of saying, “Hey, I’m don’t want to be like that. I want to grow up. I want to have my own beliefs. I want to be my own human being.”
The fact is — I am my own human being. And I always was. I just was raised to not think that way. And I have witnessed with my own eyes, ears, body, and heart so much pain that comes from not acknowledging I am my own person. And I have heard of so many others’ pain. So I cannot keep silent any longer. I will no longer keep my mouth shut and I will no longer play the games of this strange world. While I do not oppose homeschooling in theory, how I have seen it practiced in many ways demands a reckoning.
From the Quiverfull movement to the betrothal/courtship mentality to Generation Joshua and the dominionist attitudes of HSLDA, there are many survivors who — like myself — are trying to put their selves’ pieces back together. We are slowly but surely standing together to make our voices heard. I want the world to hear our stories and I want to give hope to those who are still immersed in this subculture. There is a way to break free and reclaim your self.
So here I am today, deciding to take the leap and be honest about what I experienced and how I have changed.
I, Ryan Lee Stollar, long ago left Generation Joshua, and I think you should, too.