Leave: Shade’s story

Editorial note: Shade Ardent blogs at The Unspared Rod. This story is reprinted with permission.

my car isn’t even full, it didn’t take that much time to pack my clothes. river stares from the window upstairs. she didn’t want to say goodbye. everyone else is busy with their lives.

no one looks up as i walk by.

‘Hurry up, Shade’.

i turn to go.

she is mouth thinned, eyes scraped against the sun. no more air escapes her, my chance to leave is now or never. her hands are tapping against car’s door.

it’s time.

road unfolds in front of me, she is letting me drive.

‘You want to go to college so badly, then you can drive there yourself.’

i’m not sure why she came.

10-20-30-40-50-65.

i find the speed limit, and hold its edge in my mind. i want nothing to stop me from leaving.

‘I can’t believe you are really leaving us. How could you do this to us?’

out of the corner of my eye, she is grim. hands move while she thinks of more words to say.

i keep watch on her ring, it glints in the light. i know its curve, its sharp edge. i hope that driving means she won’t do anything.

road keeps curling away.

sun splits away trees’ branches, stained glass splintered hopes, my dreams grow.

‘thank you for visiting [state]. please come again.’

each mile feels like points, adding up the amount of leaving i am doing. i count and count, they sift their tens and hundreds into skin’s knowing.

am i leaving-leaving-leaving?

‘You’re so selfish, Shade, to be leaving. Think of all the work I will have to do now that you’re not there to help me. Who will help me?’

words are stuck behind my tongue. its grasping for shape, for sound, but words never come.

i am selfish, i want to leave.

‘You’ve always been a difficult person, Shade. You will have no one to blame but yourself, when you have no friends.’

sun has splayed colors across horizon’s edge. we are westing into the coming night.

‘No one will ever love you like we love you, Shade. How can you leave us?’

sky is tattooed with stars.

i know it’s late, but i don’t want to stop. if we stop, she might find a way to take me back.

so i keep driving, leaving-leaving-leaving.

headlights slice up night’s darkness.

city from city, we flow on by. highway carries us past their normal lives. maybe i can have normal too. maybe college is where normal starts, and the great yawning darkness is forever killed.

i stop for gas, i stop for food, but not for sleep. the miles keep counting up and up.

she sleeps next to me, so i keep driving.

‘welcome to [state]’

she stirs.

‘You know he won’t arrange a courtship for you now. You’ve removed yourself from his umbrella of authority. You have only yourself to blame when you get hurt.’

i have sinned, i have disobeyed.

i don’t care, i am leaving-leaving-leaving.

words still pile up behind my teeth. they scatter into the growing light. sun’s promises echo from behind, east is gone, west is new.

dawn’s moon laces up between the branches, sky’s replete with hope.

‘You’re so proud, if you think you’re smart enough to go to college. Don’t come crying to us when you fail.’

we are side by side, still. little car, bigger mountains. it climbs and climbs. each mile, each peak, each pass, her anger grows.

air is stifled between us, she seems to have run out of words. they still hover in my mouth, bitter, broken shards of dreams.

will she be happy for me now? will she give me advice?

all the books i’ve read say that moms do this, they fuss and then they love. was she going to love me now, pat my hand and give me silly advice?

but she is silent.

we are here.

 

College Isn’t For Girls (And Other Lies My Parents Told Me)

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap.  It was originally published on December 4, 2015.

It occurred to me that while I’ve mentioned how my sex determined what I learned in school I haven’t really mentioned how that translated into college.

This is actually a little complicated because my parents waffled quite a bit before settling on their decision. When we first started homeschooling my mother’s plan (with no input from me) was for me to go to the local vocational school and double major in cosmetology and culinary arts. Neither of these were things I was interested in and actively tried to make that known, not that anyone cared.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned about my family it’s that my preferences don’t matter unless they line up with exactly what they want from me, their idea of who I should be trumps the truth of my existence every time – but that’s besides the point.

This was solidly the plan until I was about 8 or so (give or take because the concept of time is a blur). I think part of what they learned in the cult (or maybe it was the one ATI seminar they went to) was that it’s not appropriate for women to go to college. Some people think this but still send their daughters to college to get, I kid you not, an M.R.S. degree. The thought being, college will turn women into evil feminists who aren’t submissive and tell them things that are directly contrary to god’s plan (get married, have babies, homeschool)!

This goes right along with courtship, staying under the father’s head/umbrella/authority until married, and using the in-between highschool and marriage time to learn how to take care of your family. I’m not entirely sure where they got all this, but they did. Anyway, at some point they came to me and said that I wouldn’t be doing college, because god said it’s not good for girls to go to college – and college isn’t going to prepare you to be a helpmeet and mother anyway. This didn’t bother me because my cosmetology and culinary arts future looked bleak to my very young self who was neither into adding more cooking into their life or painting other people’s nails.

I think my family was surprised at how well I took it because they’d been building it up in their head. But anyway. College was out of the question for several years and I kept living my life free of the worry of having to cook and do makeup for college.

Then I discovered politics, speech and debate, and Patrick Henry College.

I wanted more than anything in the world to go to PHC, and since it was a homeschool college and very much daughters-under-their-father’s-authority operating school…I probably wouldn’t have to worry about turning into an evil feminist.

Whether or not I could go to PHC seemed like it changed by the day, but I was several years out so I figured they’d come around.

They almost did – after they decided to break Alex and I up (because courtship = parents control all the things) they encouraged me to apply to PHC, sort of as a bribe – like the money and car they offered. I jumped at the opportunity to go to the college I dreamed of and get out of my parents house. I filled out the application and went through all the steps, got my pastor to write a letter of recommendation and all I needed to do was have my parents sign the waiver.

They refused.

They said they changed their mind, they couldn’t support it, they didn’t want to be responsible for me financially (and my living at home not allowed or able to get a job was what? or right, indentured servitude), and most importantly, college isn’t for girls. I’m going to be a wife and mother after all, I don’t need any further education. My consumer math and ability to read, write, and recite their interpretation of scripture back to them was all I would need and college wasn’t going to help me be a better submissive wife.

And like that, it was over.

After we got married I started applying to a school that did distance learning and was marginally less conservative. It involved re-writing my transcript (which is still a mess) and being a private school hot for Dave Ramsey, financially it wasn’t feasible. I was accepted but it just didn’t happen. I was still trying to navigate what being a Wife looked like and panicking that having a summer job meant I would have an affair (because women in the workforce have affairs, that’s why they have to be keepers at home) – the lies my parents ingrained into me were still so very very strong.

This is why getting accepted to a community college and taking the catch-up/pre-college course is so huge to me.

I’m finally at a place where I can break that jar and decide what I want to do.

Image copyright 2014 Kierstyn King.
Image copyright 2014 Kierstyn King.

First Week of University to my Master’s in Education: Ellen Martin’s Story

In May of 2014, I graduated with my Bachelor of Honour’s Degree, with a major in Sociology. As I prepared to walk across the stage to receive my degree, I reflected on my experiences that had brought me here to this moment — from kindergarten through my final project in my fourth year of my undergraduate program. This was an accomplishment I never expected to achieve. Along my educational journey, I had family question the home education method, and occasionally I had even questioned it myself. The result of my home education was a success. As I walked across the stage to receive my Bachelor’s Degree, I realized that homeschooling did provide me with success. It provided me with the success I needed to succeed in post-secondary education. The following narrative will tell of my experiences and challenges that I had in order to get where I am now — currently completing my Masters of Education degree and beginning my career. After graduation, I hope to gain employment as a School Administrator or within the alternative learning spectrum. My ultimate goal is to eventually operate my own private alternative learning school to provide children with the individualized attention similar to that which I received during my education years. I hope to reach underprivileged students who do not have the resources or encouragement to be successful in school.

I was homeschooled from kindergarten through grade twelve. I never set foot in a public school classroom until I volunteered in one during my first year of university. Growing up, I was often asked “do you like being homeschooled?” I did not know how to answer, since I did not know anything other than homeschooling. I always answered “yes”, since I did love it and was not aware of anything else. I was a very self-disciplined child and completed the majority of my work independently.

My parents never pushed for me to attend college or university. My parents made it clear that it was my choice. Most of the pressure to attend stemmed from my extended family. I did not know what I was going to do after I graduated high school, so I applied. Obtaining acceptance to university was easier than I anticipated, although I did not know what to expect. I simply had to submit an essay and the transcripts my mom wrote that stated all of the high school courses I took. My dad was not entirely happy about me attending school, but grew to accept it once I was enrolled. My mom was happy I was going and dedicated much time to editing my essays.

My first week of university was extremely overwhelming. The feeling I felt when I walked into orientation is indescribable. Although it is a small school, there were still more people than I was used to. I found my seat amongst hundreds of other first year students in the gymnasium, and the program began. Orientation was very informative and I became less anxious and more excited as the day went on. The administrative aspect of university was explained along with what to expect in the classes. The following day was my first day of classes. Because I had spent some time exploring the campus on my own the previous day, I easily navigated my way to class. I enjoyed my classes and easily made friends with a few people. One friend in particular I made during my first week of university was in three of my five classes. I remember her frequently saying “I’m going to socialize you.” She did. She made the transition to university easier in that we quickly became good friends and provided me with companionship on a daily basis. At the end of my first week of classes, I felt extremely overwhelmed but confident that I would be successful.

My first semester was enjoyable, although burdensome. I learned how to be successful in university. One new experience university brought me was writing tests, as I did not write tests during my homeschooling years. I did poorly on the first two tests I wrote. After this, I researched different ways to study and figured out which methods worked best for me. Since this was a new experience to me, learning how to study for tests was one of the biggest challenges I faced. Being amongst several other students, up to 80 in some classes, was a huge change. After the first few weeks, it became normal. The adjustment was not as significant as people assumed it would be for me.

I feel that I was prepared for university because I was accustomed to learning and studying independently. Although homeschooling provided me with a sense of responsibility for my learning, part of my self-discipline comes from my personality. Throughout university, I knew what needed to be done by what date. I made efforts to complete the work in advance. My parents through home education helped to instill this into my character by encouraging me to set my own goals and routes to achieve them. Because of this, I became very self-disciplined from an early age. This transferred to my post-secondary studies in that I would become determined to complete the assigned work when it was given, rather than waiting until a later date. I did not feel as prepared as I should have been for the social aspect. I quickly adjusted to the many people in my classes, however.

I am currently completing my Master’s thesis before graduating with my Masters of Education. The transition to university from being homeschooled was very overwhelming. I adjusted more quickly than I anticipated. I felt that I was on par with my peers in terms of academics. Although my homeschooling experience was not entirely positive, it did provide me with the skills I needed to be successful in university.

Grad School After Homeschooling: Lana Hope’s Story

HA note: Lana Hope’s story was originally published on her blog Wide Open Ground on October 1, 2015. It is reprinted with her permission.

In my post College after Homeschooling, I explained why college was emotionally difficult on me. My main argument in that post was that I was not intellectually able to assent to what my professors were trying to demonstrate to me because I was close-minded. My world was such that if every word from the professors lips was not grounded and derived in the Bible, it was wrong, and I was extremely suspicious of all ideas. I noted that while I experienced deconstructing of my beliefs in college (the professors did impact me positively, over time), by the time I graduated, I had also consciously reconstructed my beliefs back to fit into the evangelical mold – albeit the mold was bigger than when I first began college.

Five years after undergrad, I enrolled in a masters program in Canada where I graduated this past May. The experience was overwhelmingly positive. In fact, graduating from that university and driving away was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done because that university (or rather the philosophy department at my uni) represents the safest environment I’ve ever been apart of. Today, I want to write about how grad school really rescued me from my negative attitude toward college and impacted me positively.

First of all, grad school taught me that even professors disagree with each other. One reason I was scared of truth as an undergrad is that I thought there was a liberal agenda out there, out to shallow my faith alive. While there is certainly a modern ideology that persists throughout the academy, by no means are professors able to tell students what to think when they overwhelmingly disagree with each other. I had some glimpse that professors disagreed in undergrad — say when two professors disagreed on the interpretation of a Biblical passage — but those were, for the most part, surface level disagreements, and I knew it. When I got to grad school, knowledge was presented to me quite differently. Professors admitted that history isn’t facts but interpretation, which opened my understanding to realizing that professors struggle, actually struggle, to interpret the world. In the same manner, some of my professors were unabashed empiricists, and some were not. Some professors loved premodern philosophy; some thought we should disregard all premodern thought and operate at a purely 21st century scientific level. I began to realize that not only are professors not telling us what to think, but they could never tell us what to think when they can’t even make up their minds themselves.

Secondly, grad school taught me that there are no easy answers. In fundamentalism, the world is extremely simplistic. For example, the fundamentalist who wants to do the work of epistemology (the study of what composes knowledge and our ability to know) just needs to begin with fearing the Lord because, as I was taught, the Bible says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Or, the fundamentalist just needs to read Genesis 1 to do the work of science. Grad school complicated every issue and every discipline in a powerful way for me because I had to face the reality that the answers are not cut and dry.

Perhaps I should illustrate an issue that is contentious — how to stop violence, how we go about multiculturalism or affirming those from other countries, etc. Some contemporary philosophers, like Derrida and Levinas, argue that our relationships, both politically and otherwise, should begin with radical difference and that we have a duty to affirm others as different from us without reducing them to sameness. While Levinas and Derrida make a great point, other political philosophers like Badiou have pointed out that when we insist on someone being different than us, we actually ending up in inequality. This is because when we focus on “I have a duty towards person X because of Y,” we have already made X a victim and therefore put ourselves as the superior. In other words, we are saying, “I am X’s rescuer,” which is not equality. Badiou argues that radical difference can never end up in equality. He argues that we need to focus on universal truth that binds us and allows us to embrace the other as our equal. But if Badiou is correct, other problems emerge, namely if we are to adhere to universal truth, what happens when (a) we think we have the truth and we don’t, or (b) the wrong person decides to give everyone their truth. Need I dare point out that Pol Pot murdered 2 million people in order to give the people truth?

In other words, what grad school taught me is that the answer is never, ever simple, and that sometimes there is no easy answer.

Third, grad school taught me respect for others. Research complicates the truth; knowing the right answer isn’t always black and white. So I had to learn to respect people who disagreed with me. Ironically, in some sense I learned to respect people who made a good argument and good research even if I strongly disagreed.

Fourth, grad school made me aware of the extent that the university can be theist friendly. At least in my discipline, current research far from proves that there is no God. And most of my professors agree. In fact, in my graduate seminar last week, the professor commented that, “one of the great things about Kant is that he teaches us that reason is too limited to prove that God doesn’t exist.” Yes, I go to a public university, and yes, the professor does not believe in God. But the professor is still theist friendly.

Fifth, grad school taught me to encourage disagreement and wrestle with ideas. My undergrad also encouraged disagreement, but in grad school, disagreement is our fuel. Grad professors aren’t too keen on lecturing. They much prefer to let grad students argue among themselves. Additionally, no one could publish papers if we all agreed. It is precisely because ideas are contentious that papers can get published. Grad school taught me that disagreement is okay.

In conclusion, I love grad school. This is now my third year, and I still love it. I am not convinced I want to become a professor myself, namely because I want to travel and live in other countries. (Plus my life experiences has taught me that the greatest truth is usually hidden among the “least” of us.) But grad school has been good for me. It’s given me a safe place to brainstorm and wrestle with ideas. Grad school has been a far safer place for me to say, “hey, I think I might believe X” or “hey, I don’t know what I believe about Y” than the church has ever been for me. For that, I’m thankful.

So if I could offer any year 1 college student advice, I’d say this. Nobody is making you believe anything, but do let yourself be intellectually challenged.

 

P.S. You can expect a post soon on the radical difference topic. I’m going to be doing a term paper on this topic, so I’ll have a lot to say.

Finding Myself in the Ashes: Aisling’s Story

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

The heavy wooden door to my dorm room closed with a definitive click behind my parents. I exhaled the weight of eighteen years spent wrestling for control, for individuality, for personhood.

I was free.

I imagined this moment often, with ever-increasing fervor as the end of my homeschooling approached. Some people who grew up like me, children of conservative Christian homeschooled parents, were not allowed to go to college. But the proudly educated tradition of my family would not allow for depriving my sisters and I of higher learning. My mother was the first person in her family to go on to college after high school. It was expected.

It was my ticket out.

I chose a school not far from home, but far enough that my busy parents would be too busy to come visit often. I chose a big state school, with enough room for me to roam and spread out my roots and grow tall like the oak trees all over campus.

I imagined the freedom, the ability to do what I wanted without asking permission, to spend my days and nights as I pleased without being fussed at for staying up on my computer until 2:00 in the morning. I didn’t expect the overwhelming weight of overstimulation, social anxiety and drastic personal revelation that occurs when you spend every waking moment trying to suppress who you are and play a role.

I played the part of devoted Christian, loving and virtuous daughter, for so long. Once I had a chance to find out who was really hiding inside, I almost tore myself apart on my way out.

The last couple of years before high school “graduation,” I spent most of every day alone in my parents’ house. Dorm life, with my roommate’s near constant presence across our tiny room and shared hall bathrooms, was at once liberating and meltdown-inducing. I began quietly panicking inside as my daily hours spent in isolation suddenly gave way to never being alone. For someone who considered herself an extrovert, it was confusing. I had craved social contact but I got more than I bargained for, certainly more than I could handle.

I was also lost trying to keep up with academic pursuits far beyond anything I’d undertaken before, thanks to a barely-supervised home education that left me with no math skills to speak of and no idea of how to study successfully. My ADHD, which my mother called laziness and procrastination, made it even harder. I cried in secret frustration many times because everyone else knew things instinctively, like labeling every paper with your name and the date in two neat rows at the top left corner of the page.

From when I began homeschooling at age 6 right up until the speech at my makeshift graduation ceremony, adults told me I was the cream of the crop. Homeschoolers were supposed to be stellar academics, with fantastic test scores and great grades. Those grand speeches were little comfort to me as I struggled in a biology class I was failing because I never learned about genetics.

I hid the fact that I was homeschooled for as long as possible, only letting in a few people here and there. I was overwhelmingly met with, “I couldn’t tell! You’re so…normal.” It made me feel proud and also terrified: was I playing a part again? I definitely was very far behind on pop culture, videogames and “throwback” music, and I spent a lot of time faking it until I could catch up.

But I also found real friends. One of my first close friends was a staunch atheist, and she patiently listened to me as I parroted all the Right Words You Say To Atheists per evangelical Christianity. Through her and others like her, I began to reconsider everything I knew and formulate my own ideas about what I believed.

I made many mistakes due to ignorance. I abused alcohol, lubricating my existential crisis with cheap booze to forget the realization that everything I told myself was true might actually be wrong. But as the fog lifted, I realized there was a freedom for me to be the bold, fearless woman I’d tried to hide in fear of the countless reprimands for being too forward and opinionated.

Without the restraints of the beliefs I was taught, I was afraid I wouldn’t have any kind of moral compass. From the ashes of the beliefs I’d clung to out of fear and ignorance, I was able to rise into a person I could live with, a person I actually wanted to be.

My experience has taught me a few important things: children need freedom. Children need a safe place to make mistakes. They need to be adequately prepared for life outside the bubble of home and church. Children need socialization and adequate education. They don’t just need these things, they deserve them and have a right to them.

To the homeschooled graduates heading to college: if you are struggling personally or academically unprepared, don’t be afraid to take care of your mental health and seek extra help. Be prepared to question everything you think and know. Relish it and embrace it, because the only things worth believing will withstand the test. Don’t be afraid to burn it all down and start over if you have to, because you’ll find someone to be proud of in the ashes.

Awkward But Determined: Darcy’s Story

 

At my homeschool graduation ceremony, I received around a thousand dollars in gifts from friends and family. I decided right then and there that I would spend it on the first month of classes at the community college in the city. I didn’t have a plan, I only knew I had to do something, had to get out of our house, had to fill my time while my boyfriend and I tried to talk my parents into letting us court and marry. (You can read that story here.) I had an idea that I would take all music classes so I could be better educated to teach my piano students. I didn’t know anything about how to fulfill certain credits, or what credits were, how to get a degree, how to plan your college years.

I was completely ignorant about how it worked. But that didn’t stop me. I’ve always been stubborn like that. 

I walked onto campus the first day of school and sat down with an advisor. He was a little baffled about what my plan was and why I’d waited until the first day, but said it wasn’t too late. I handed him my GED and SAT scores (I had taken the COMPASS test just for kicks a few months before). He determined I wanted to be a music major (I didn’t know what that meant but I figured he knew what he was talking about), and signed me up for Theory 101 and several other classes, including some general education classes and an art class that fit an elective credit. I was euphoric. I was going to college!

The next day, I drove the 1 hour drive from our home in the mountains to the college campus in town. I was nervous as hell. A real classroom?! But I put on my confidence face and walked into my first class, an art class. I was amazed at the diversity of people there, and a little scared of them, but determined to be friendly and make friends. I still remember that I was wearing a very long, full blue skirt with a large, collared button-up blouse that was 3 sizes too big. With my long hair in braids, bangs curled to perfection, I was the perfect model of a stereotypical homeschooled girl. And everyone knew it but me.

The teacher was not excited to have a new student that started a day late, and had no supplies. I didn’t know I needed supplies. She gave me a list and I was appalled to find out how much they would cost. But I had a couple hundred left over from paying tuition so I knew I’d be OK. Until I discovered with each class that I’d need textbooks and that textbooks are outrageously expensive. I will never forget standing in the campus bookstore, totally lost, and handing my list to a helpful volunteer who found everything for me. Between the books and my art supplies, my leftover cash was wiped out. I knew my parents could never afford to pay for me, I didn’t know what financial aid was, and I would never be allowed to get a real job to pay for myself. But I was determined to have one great semester and not think too far ahead, just figure it out as I went.

There are so many stories I could tell about those two years.

I could fill pages with memories, some funny, some cringe-worthy, all that point to a spirited young woman who had determination and resilience, but who was thoroughly unprepared to be an adult.

Who didn’t even know what she didn’t know. Who gradually went from a skirted conservative homeschooler full of trepidation and fear of the world, to a person in her own right.

I could tell about how when my art teacher asked what our favorite artists were, everyone said various contemporary artists whom I had never heard of. I blurted out “Thomas Kinkaid”, much to the amusement of several students and the outright disdain of the teacher. Apparently Kinkaid was not considered a real artist in real art circles.

Or the time I finally found out what “gay” and “homosexual” meant after someone told me one of my friends at school was gay and I had to look that up in the dictionary. At 19 years old. I was fascinated and figured he was a cool person so it didn’t matter. He didn’t seem like more of an evil sinner than any other evil sinner. He was an educational friend to have for a girl who had never heard the word “penis” before and had no sex-education. He treated me with friendliness and thought my ignorance was hilarious and endearing.

Then there was the time I explained to one of my instructors that I couldn’t get the scholarship he was offering because I didn’t have a social security number. His reaction told me that this was so far from normal and it was the first time ever that I questioned the weirdness of not having identity. I credit him with helping me go through the grueling process to finally get one.

I cringe at all the times I was asked out on a date but didn’t really know what was happening.

Then there was that logic class that pretty much was the beginning of the end for many of my Fundy homeschool beliefs. Now I know why they say college and education corrupt good Christian kids. Because the majority of everything I learned from the likes of Bill Gothard and Joshua Harris and Ken Ham and our Abeka history books didn’t stand a chance against critical thinking and logic.

Explaining why I had a secret boyfriend but didn’t go on dates was another awkward memory I’d rather forget. Also explaining why he was secret and why I was so worried about my parents when I was an adult, not a child.

I cringe thinking about the clothes I wore that were ill-fitting and “modest” and frumpy. When friends took me shopping and I tried on real clothes that fit me right, I realized I was attractive and an adult and maybe I didn’t have to dress like my parents wanted me to all the time. I bought shorter, more fitted skirts and tall boots and tights and tops that were cute and fit me well. I even bought my first pair of jeans and sometimes changed into them in the car before going in to school because I didn’t want to deal with my parents freaking out over my clothing. I wanted so badly to have some freedom and independence but was still so afraid of what my parents would say, even to the point that I was worried someone who knew them would see me and tell them I was dressing immodestly at school. Eventually I got over that, with much fighting and “rebelling” and standing up for myself. You don’t get over having “obey your parents” drilled into you from birth overnight.

I ended up getting a job as a live-in nanny for the remainder of the two years I was in community college. I moved out of my parent’s home under much protest from them, but determined to find my own way and finish school. Caring for kids was something I knew and did well, and we were happy, my charges, their mom, and I. I paid my way through the next two years of school by nannying. I started buying my own clothing and got a stylish haircut at a salon, and realized I needed car insurance. My employer gave me a cell phone and I was able to talk to my boyfriend whenever I wanted to, which was heavenly.

In those two years, I grew up a little bit. I grew a backbone. I discovered the world was so much bigger and better than I’d ever imagined. 

As my relationship with my parents got worse, I became more confident in who I was and what I wanted in life. It would be another decade before I really broke free from all the crap that was my past, but those two years were a good start.

I look back, and I cringe. About everything. I was so unprepared for the world, for being an adult. I had to figure it all out by myself and it was overwhelming. I understand now the funny looks I would get from my instructors and friends. I knew nothing about financial management, banks, insurance, medical services, dating, sex, rent, bills, taxes or anything else that suddenly I was responsible for. I made a lot of mistakes and didn’t know it til years later. My parents were neither supportive nor a hindrance. I think they thought this was just something I got in my head to do and they didn’t really care. They gave me gas money to get to school until I moved out. They wouldn’t sign the FAFSA so I couldn’t get financial aid once I figured out what that was. They didn’t like me “out from under the umbrella” of their authority where they couldn’t see what I was doing and who I was with. I never really talked about my life in the city with them. I hid much of my self and my new, blossoming thoughts and changing beliefs We fought a lot when I went home on weekends. Our relationship continued to get worse until I got married the end of my 2nd year in school.

They had no idea how to prepare a child to be a functioning adult outside their homeschool bubble, and no idea how to have a relationship with an adult child.

I had no idea that I could be an adult, or what that meant, that I had a right to make my own decisions and plan my own life. It was a gradual dawning and a painful process.

Due to a number of reasons, not the least of which was my ignorance on how degrees worked, I ended those 2 years with 70 credits and no degree. I got married, started having babies, and my husband and I went through a lot in the first 10 years of our marriage. I am now 31 years old, and at 29 with four small children, I made the decision to go back to school. I’ve been taking classes online to finish my BA and have plans to go on to grad school when my youngest starts Kindergarten. I’m now a senior at a state university. I know the ropes this time. I’m doing well. Still pulling great grades and enjoying the learning experience.  I’m planning a career and that makes me happy and gives me hope for the future. I wish I had known more and finished my Bachelor’s before having children, before life got more complicated, but here I am. Hind-sight can’t help me now. There is only the future and it’s a bright one.

My kids like to say fondly that I’m not a real grown-up because I’m still in school. They have no idea the irony of that. Someday, maybe I’ll tell them.

A Creeping Sense of Distance: Nastia’s Story

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

I knew from a very young age what I wanted to do with my life. “I want to be on obstetrician,” I would tell anyone who would listen. At three years old, it was baffling to me that at least half the adults I met had no idea what that was. “It’s a doctor who delivers babies!” I would tell them, “Like Daddy!” The profession runs in my family. My grandfather and great-grandfather were both OB/GYNs, and my great-grandmother was a midwife. And yet, I have never felt pressured by others to take up the “family business.” It is purely my decision to pursue this path.

I had a rather unusual upbringing in this way. I come from a conservative evangelical family, but my parents are well-educated and open-minded, and they wanted nothing more than for me to be happy and successful.

While for many, “homeschooling” has an emphasis on the “home,” my parents put the emphasis on “school.”

That I was going to college was not up for debate; every step we took was made with the goal of stretching my mind, teaching me how to reason, preparing me for a lifetime of learning and a professional career. At the same time, they pushed me to pursue my own passions and dreams. I had a say in my own curriculum and was allowed to explore any subject I found interesting. While this may sound like an undisciplined teaching style, it kept me at least two grades ahead of my age in every subject and taught me to be self-motivated and proactive about my education.

That mindset was the best thing that I could have learned in preparation for higher education. At age sixteen, I entered community college through an early-entrance program in my state. This program allows students to complete their junior and senior years of high school through the college for free. My parents were hugely relieved that I would be able to earn my high school diploma and get real transcripts before applying to university.

I loved college. My transition was the easiest it could possibly have been. I excelled in my classes and quickly accumulated a diverse and quirky group of friends. Sure, college was a lot of work. I was taking twenty-one credits every quarter in order to finish all the pre-med requirements and earn an Associate’s Degree in Chemistry. There were ups and downs, sleepless nights, and failed experiments. But I had expected that, and my time management skills, self-discipline, and eagerness to learn benefited me enormously. Through diligence, the entire endeavor was highly successful. My confidence and enthusiasm soared.

But I soon found that going to school wasn’t the hardest part.

That came when I had to deal with the backlash of my (and my parents’) academic choices from a variety of different people.

The first came from my aunt, with whom I’ve never gotten along. A vehement socialist (and incidentally, a community college English teacher), she is viciously anti-homeschool, and it was clear from the beginning that she wanted me to fail in college to prove a point to my parents. When it was obvious that I was succeeding, she tried to tear me down emotionally, telling me that I was going to get sick because I was working too hard, that I had a mental disorder causing me to be a workaholic, and that success in school wasn’t worth my time because there was no way I could be successful in the real world.

That hurt, but as my relationship with her had always been a bit antagonistic, I turned it into a motivating factor. My goal became proving her wrong.

The pushback I received from homeschooled families in my church was much less motivating and much more painful. This didn’t really start until I applied and was accepted into a highly-ranked university, directly into the competitive Bio-engineering program.

In the view of many mothers especially, that was the point where I sold out, where I gave up my soul.

Going to community college, where I was living at home and going to school in a smaller, more job-like environment was acceptable. Entering university, where I would be in a co-ed dormitory with non-Christian students and exposing my mind to science and philosophy, was the equivalent of surrendering the battle for my soul. And it was difficult and depressing to deal with that because I was and still am very much a Christian.

The strange thing about it was that the criticism was never overt – it was a vague sum of micro-agressions, a creeping feeling of distance and disapproval that built up over time and poisoned my (albeit not-close) friendships with many homeschoolers in my church. I have a hard time pointing to clear examples, because the gradual alienation was caused by attitudes more than words or actions. I’m not even sure why I felt so hurt by it; I had never felt like I was a part of the “Christian Homeschool Culture.” My closest friends were actually homeschooled kids I met through music, not through my church. I never went to co-ops or conventions, never used A Beka or Bob Jones; I was always an outsider looking in on a culture that was as foreign to me as was the culture of public school. All the same, I had never felt so isolated as I did when I went to university.

I guess I had expected those I had always considered “my people” to be more accepting of me, even proud of me. That was the myth I had told myself growing up – that the homeschooling families in my church were “my people,” even though I was always outside their cliques, and that the reason I was always ahead of them academically was because I was simply smarter or my parents were better teachers. I was naïve; I thought we had similar lifestyles and values. And now here I was, succeeding in the world, spreading my light in the darkness. Isn’t that what those same families had taught me in Sunday School? That I didn’t even have to necessarily talk about Christ all the time – I just had to let my actions speak for themselves? I thought my honest and hard-won success, my healthy friendships, and my clean lifestyle made me a godly example. Instead, I was dismissed. People didn’t talk to me, or would abruptly end conversations when they heard what university I was at or what I was studying.

Previously-friendly parents would look at me critically and tell me things like, “Well, that’s not what God has in store for my daughter.”

That I was in STEM made it even worse, it seemed.

My parents were not immune to this stigma, and I think one of the most telling instances was when my mother was asked to speak at a monthly “Homeschool Moms’ Night,” when the subject of discussion was “Homeschooling Through High School and What Comes Next.” It was run by a sweet lady who has a very different homeschooling approach than my family does. Still, she wanted to showcase the range of options available to parents of younger kids.

Each of five women gave a speech, and then other moms were told to strike up a conversation with whoever seemed to match their own philosophy. Out of forty people, my mom had one person who wanted to talk to her, a woman from Hong Kong who didn’t like the state of American schools and was relieved that homeschooling could provide a more rigorous and comprehensive path. The other moms completely ignored her. I remember the rejection in her voice as she recounted the story to me. These were people she considered friends, but they completely dismissed her when she spoke passionately about helping her children make the most of their talents and aspirations.

After this, a small piece of a baffling puzzle fell into place for me.

Maybe my mother’s goal was not shared by others the way I had always assumed. Maybe the reason that nearly all the homeschooled girls my age were not going to college was something more than the fact that they just weren’t “ready” or weren’t “book-smart people.” Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that the few who were pursuing higher education were going to community colleges or the tiny local Christian university aligned with our denomination; nobody was going to a secular university or anywhere out of state. It wasn’t an isolated instance that a girl decided to take up babysitting instead of going to college – it was widespread. It became normal to see friends drop out of college before taking a single class, or decide to live at home rather than stay in the dormitory; “she’s scared,” was always the chuckled explanation. It was commonplace to hear about another girl whose main goal of going to a barely-accredited Christian school was to find a husband and become a homeschooling mother.

This is an institutional problem, I realized.

It is still not clear to me whether parents are actively discouraging college for their daughters in particular, or whether the daughters are internalizing the idea that education would corrupt their hearts and minds and distract them from their duty of being wives and mothers. It had never occurred to me that this type of pressuring was occurring, as this is not the mindset of the majority of (non-homeschooling) people in my church. It is certainly not the doctrine that my well-educated and highly-rational pastor holds to. Yet, as I learn more about fundamentalism and about the situations of particular families, I am starting to put the pieces together. Talking with my mom now, there’s a reason that I was never put into co-ops and never used typical homeschooling resources. She realized what this sect was about long ago and tried to shield me from it.

For this reason – strangely – going to university broadened my perspective in yet another way; by putting me firmly on the outside, it gave me a clearer picture of the culture that surrounded me growing up, and an appreciation for how masterfully my parents handled my education. I will be eternally grateful for the unique opportunity they created for me and the generous support they constantly offered (and still offer) in continuing my education.

As for improving the cultural environment for college-bound homeschoolers, I’m not entirely sure what needs to be done, nor what one individual can possibly do. I realize that not everyone is cut out for higher education, and respect the right of families to pursue their own homeschooling path. However, the fact that I am an anomaly in my engineering school (because I was homeschooled) and an anomaly in my homeschool cohort (because I am an engineer) is very telling about the dichotomy that has grown between the academic and Christian communities.

It’s not a healthy divide, as the mistrust between the two groups makes understanding and progress extraordinarily difficult.

I’ve also grown to see that despite the opinions of many in the Christian homeschooling community, gender equality has not been achieved.

“Equal but different” is not good enough; there is still much work that needs to be done in providing the same education and career opportunities to women as are provided to men.

This by nature cannot be a policy issue, but a cultural reform. Parents must be honest with themselves when examining their daughters’ goals, and provide the necessary mental and emotional support for whatever path they are drawn to. It’s not logical to assume that a woman’s only contribution should be in the home, nor is it Biblical.

I’m not sure yet what it will take to bridge that chasm between Christians and academia, or the division between girls’ aspirations and their parents’ ideals. I’m not sure yet what it will take to change homeschoolers’ minds about science, higher education, and a woman’s place in both.

However, as a problem-solver by nature, rest assured that I will be trying, and I hope that some of you may join me.

College After Homeschooling

CC image courtesy of Flickr, BiblioArchives. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, BiblioArchives. Image links to source.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on April 28, 2015.

Most of my readers know that the last four semester I have been in graduate school. I am graduating with my masters degree next month, and so I have been reflecting on the experience lately. Grad school has been surprisingly positive for me. To understand why, we should zoom back ten years ago.

In Fall 2005, I started college at the university that awarded me my honours BA. The experience was overall more negative than positive, so much so that I regretted that I attended college even after I finished my degree with highest honors.

I think there were several reasons undergrad did not resonate well with my spirit.

First, I literally was not prepared to handle relationships. I did not understand that it is okay if I do not get along with some people, so I tried to force people to be my friends. I had almost never in my entire life been alone with any one friend at a time, and I do not mean alone with a guy. I mean alone with anyone. As a kid, we always hanged in small groups of sibling friends. In addition, I dressed weird. I had never had sex education, so did not know basic, basic sex terms and could not follow conversations in the cafeteria. I was using google every, single night to catch up on what was going on. Further, I had been taught that homosexuality was deeply sinful, and that people who had premarital sex were wicked. When I met people who were gay or who had sex, I had no idea how to react.

For the first two years of college, I lived in a fog, with no idea how to integrate myself or handle relationships of any kind.

Things did change, relationship wise, but that change brought a whole new world for me to sort. At some point in college, I decided that I was over the purity culture and courtship culture. But no matter how much I tried, I could never put it past me. I felt guilty for every romance movie my roommate and I watched. Literally, I was on my guilt bed for watching My Fat Greek Wedding because the couple had sex, probably, and because the dresses were so immodest. Also, I felt guilty for watching movies period because basically I never watched any movies as a kid other than Sound of Music and Anne of Green Gables. Further, I felt that I had to hide relationships because only courtship was allowed. By the time I graduated, I was an emotional wreck because I did not know what I believed anymore, and was guilty that I had had a life. I actually went through a period where I would cry myself to sleep because I thought I was wicked, all the while I was cursing courtship and I kissed-kissing-goodbye under my breath. I lived a contradictory life, and it wore down my soul.

Speaking of not knowing what I believed, I spent most of undergrad closed minded and could not listen to what my professors were seeking to show me. It started my freshman year when I took freshman literature and New Testament. We read “A Rose for Emily.” When I mentioned this to my mother, she told another homeschool mom, who then told mom to tell me that I was compromising my faith by reading this literature. At that time, I was a music major, like all good homeschool girls, and I went through weeks being torn asunder because I wanted to change my major to literature but everything in me knew that I would be exposed to so many evil stories (my family did not read literature other than Jane Austin, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien). New Testament was worse. My professor told us that the Bible has errors, he did not believe Moses crossed the red sea, and told me that Job was not a real man.

Looking back, I did not understand that even professors disagree with each other, and that disagreements are okay. One of my professors was a socialist and had us read Marxist philosophy for an entire month of our critical theory course. I complained and was annoyed because I saw her as seeking to make us socialists when in reality she was exposing us to different opinions. Back to the New Testament professor, I was not just closed minded to the idea that the Bible has errors.

I thought that everyone had to agree with me.

There was also a significant amount of deconstructing that occurred throughout my undergrad as slowly the more progressive ideas began to sink in, which again always left me torn. I have mentioned before that one of my professors, who I had nearly every semester for a literature class, quit his tenure job the year that his wife finished her PhD and got her a professorship at a state university in another state.  I was unbelievably impressed. My Greek professor, who I had for four semesters of Koine and Ancient Greek, fully embraced egalitarianism and disagreed with the complementarian interpretations of the Bible. He walked us through several of the chapters in the Bible that are used to hurt women and showed us why they have been misinterpreted or why the manuscripts are unclear and missing words. Further, my undergrad thesis supervisor, who worked closely with me for four semesters as I wrote my thesis, was married to a man who stayed home with their small children while she focused on her career. These kind of encounters may seem minor in the scope of things, but this is what my undergrad was like, being constantly pulled from that little sheltered world of homeschooling and being oriented to a world completely different.

Yet in all this, I did not appreciate college because it was thoroughly ingrained in me that college is stupid, dumbed-down, and a waste of time. A week before I graduated, I told my thesis supervisor that I had learned nothing — and I was in tears over this. Even recently when I was complaining about my undergrad to my grad mate, my friend stopped me and said, “geez, you must have learned something.” When I graduated, I did not want to walk the stage– I only walked because I was getting a special award for my honors thesis and it would be disrespectful to my examiners. And when I graduated, I wanted to burn the thesis because I was ashamed that I had written a liberal  paper. (When I presented my paper in front of interested faculty and students, I even had a disclaimer in there about the content– my professor must have been cringing.)

I should have graduated a feminist and progressive, but I just could not. The guilt overcame whatever freedom I had gained, and my academic knowledge felt such in vain, that the progressive ideas went to the wayside. To be sure, I know that it did my heart good, that it stretched me, and helped me later become who I am today. Still, I could have received it much better.

I say all this because homeschoolers frequently point to public schoolers and say, “See, public schoolers do not want to learn.” I think that statement should be challenged, but even if it were true, I, a homeschool grad, did not want to learn, either. I may have produced the grades, but it was motion for me. I could not receive what I was learning. I did not respect the professors’s knowledge — I was always thinking, “he is a liberal, don’t listen to him.” It took moving overseas and having my entire worldview uprooted before I was ever able to listen and receive contrary ideas.

I see the world differently now, as I will explain in my next post about grad school.

If You Meet a Homeschoooler

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on December 3, 2012.

If you meet a homeschooler, be patient. If you meet a homeschooler, be a trusted friend. Help her. Don’t gossip.

I remember, when I was in college, a homeschool graduate girl was taking a human sexuality class. She  asked her  roommate what “ejaculation” meant.  The roommate told one friend about the conversation, who told another friend, who told another friend until the whole campus knew. (Small college.) The gossip? “Sheltered girl doesn’t know anything about sex.”

When the gossip reached me, it hurt me at a personal level because I had been clueless about human sexuality when I first started college, too. But as an introvert, I just educated myself privately. When friends brought up stuff I had no clue about, I withdrew inwardly and would go home and look it up online and feel like screaming.

And I hid the fact that I had been homeschooled. Because I didn’t want that kind of gossip against me.

I speak of patience, not sex education. Of course, some homeschoolers were given a sex education. (Though on a forum for homeschool graduates, the overwhelming majority of females had the same experience as me.) But if we take  “sex education” and replace it with any number of things a homeschooler might not know, well, then have a good idea of what I mean when I say be patient, and don’t gossip.

Homeschooling is a sub-culture. If you’ve never been homeschooled yourself (that includes homeschool parents who weren’t homeschooled themselves), it’s difficult to understand what it’s like to step into the world, and have no clue about American pop culture or all kinds of jokes and American-isms. In fact, it’s so hard for some homeschoolers to ever belong in the “real world” that some just stay at home until they get married because doing the whole college — working in the real world as I did — sucked.

Listen, it sucked.

Because no one ever understood.

If a homeschooler doesn’t know the name of a popular TV show, popular movie, or the works of evolution or a joke or anything else under the sun? Answer the question, and then keep it to yourself.

You don’t need to tell anyone. It’s not going to help.

An Average Homeschooler: Part Six, College

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HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Samantha Field’s blog, Defeating the Dragons. Part Six of this series was originally published on December 13, 2013. Also by Samantha on HA: “We Had To Be So Much More Amazing”“The Supposed Myth of Teenaged Adolescence”“(Not) An Open Letter To The Pearls”,  “The Bikini and the Chocolate Cake”, and “Courting a Stranger.”

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Also in this series: Part One, Introduction | Part Two, The Beginning | Part Three, Middle School | Part Four, Junior High | Part Five, High School Textbooks | Part Six, College

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The night before I left for college, I was a gigantic mess. I was all packed, all ready to go, when I about had a meltdown and my mother stayed up with me late that night trying to talk me out of my tree. I was panicking– absolutely positive that college was going to be nightmarish, that I was going to fail every class, and that I would never be able to adjust to a classroom environment.

Turns out, most of that worrying was for nothing. I did well in the general education courses– although I strongly suspect that it was almost entirely due to the fact that the 101 classes at this college used the exact same textbooks as what I’d used for 12th grade, so we were literally going over the same exact material. When all the review questions from the textbook are the same, turns out the tests and quizzes are largely the same, too. Also, because I was at a fundamentalist college, the classroom environment is completely unlike what you’d see at most other colleges.

I believe, looking back, that if I’d tried to enroll in a private or state school, I would have floundered.

I might have been able to keep my head above water, but it would have been a struggle every day.

At this school, all seats are assigned– from freshman level all the way through graduate courses. I never experienced a class discussion the entire time I was there. Almost every class was lecture-based, with a few exceptions for “lab” classes that were essentially nothing more than homework review. Given that the environment was this structured, rule-following me actually fit in quite well. I didn’t have to guess at anything, or figure anything out. As far as class was concerned, there wasn’t any protocol that wasn’t explicitly stated.

Socially, my experience was . . . interesting. My freshman year, all of the friends I made were fundamentalist homeschoolers (well, one of them attended an ACE church school). However, even though we were all from similar backgrounds, shared similar beliefs, and were all at this college for pretty much the same reason, we discovered that interacting with other people our age independent of adult supervision is freaking difficult.

There was constant bickering and in-fighting, and none of us knew anything about conflict resolution, which led to me abandoning them because I couldn’t stand having a relationship like that anymore.

I thought these particular people were just “drama-filled,” but it really wasn’t that. They were struggling just as much as I was, and we didn’t know anything about how to form friendships that weren’t inside the homeschool paradigm. There was certainly fun times– there were reasons we tried to be friends– but in the end, it became too difficult to keep ourselves together. We splintered off, and kept touch with each other, but having a relationship failed.

We also didn’t know basic human realities like it’s impossible for some people to be friends, or that basing a relationship on “iron sharpeneth iron” would probably ruin it. There is some interplay happening between fundamentalism and homeschooling– I won’t deny that– but our homeschooling background was a contributing factor in our relationship difficulties; I would argue that being homeschooled exacerbated problems we were already guaranteed to have from our fundamentalist upbringing.

In conservative religious homeschooling (which, like the rest of homeschooling, is certainly not monolithic, but, again, there are over-arching patterns and commonalities), even for homeschoolers involved in co-ops and groups, socialization doesn’t just mean “interacting with people.”  It doesn’t mean “have friends.” In an incredibly basic sense, “socialization” is the process of learning how to act in your culture. If I’m operating inside a fundamentalist religious culture, then I am incredibly well socialized. I know exactly how I’m expected to behave, what role I’m supposed to fill, what “language” to use, and what the societal expectations are. When it comes to interacting with American culture, though . . . I’m lost. And it’s not just that pop culture references fly over my head, that I’ve never seen an episode of The Simpsons and that I’m just now learning about things like hip-hop and Andy Warhol. It’s that I’m still struggling to understand what pluralism means, that Truth is largely  inaccessible, that freedom of religion and freedom from religion are just as important..

I also don’t understand how to behave around my peers. I don’t know what constitutes “dominating a conversation” verses merely participating in it, and what the regular give-and-take of conversation looks like. I, like Sheldon Cooper, have no idea what the social protocol is for many situations. Conflict resolution? No idea. I don’t know how to establish and maintain healthy boundaries.

And, on top of that, I spent almost all of my life interacting with people who agreed with me about everything. I did not have the experience of having a conversation with a real-life person where we disagreed about anything significant until I was 23 years old. I was not exposed to people who had substantively different life experiences, who had different understandings of the Christian religion– let alone anyone who wasn’t a Christian. I didn’t meet an out gay person until I was 21. I still haven’t actually met someone who I knew was an atheist or agnostic in real life. I’ve yet to have a conversation with someone, in person, who doesn’t believe in some form of biblical creation. The most dynamic experience I’ve ever had was having a conversation with someone who is Neo-Reformed. After we joined the church-cult, I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t white, and nearly everyone around me was horrifically racist and Islamaphobic.

That’s what we’re talking about when we say that socialization should be a concern for homeschoolers.

It’s not that homeschoolers are completely isolated (which they absolutely can be), it’s that socializing your homeschooler has to be intentional, and it is not easy or automatic. Going to church is not enough. Going to a co-op that’s basically the same environment as church is not enough. You have to go out of your way, parents, to make sure that your children are being exposed to ideas–political, philosophical, religious ideas– that aren’t the ones you believe in. You children need to grow up knowing Democrats if you’re Republican, and vice versa. They need to know someone who isn’t a member of your denomination.

They need to understand pluralism from first-hand experience.

Because, the second they’re not a homeschooler anymore, the second that they’re struggling to survive in a world filled with multi-culturalism and reasonable arguments for virtually every idea conceivable, they might not be able to deal with it. They could give up on everything they were taught to believe. For many homeschoolers, that typically means Christianity and conservatism.

For many conservative religious homeschoolers, one of the primary reasons to homeschool is to isolate their children, to make sure that they’re not exposed to ideas that the parents find unhealthy or dangerous. You can’t try to do that and make sure that your children are well-socialized, too.

They don’t go together.

To be continued.