If You Weren’t Homeschooled, Don’t Make Homeschooling Your Punchline

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By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

I was dismayed the other day to read Amanda Marcotte’s piece “Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham: It’s not about science versus faith. It’s about public education.” I was dismayed for a number of reasons, but I want to focus on the reasons related to Marcotte quoting me in her piece.

First (and least importantly), Marcotte — while trying to make the case that fundamentalists are stupid — failed to spell my last name correctly. And my last name isn’t hard to spell. Second, she took the words I said in Kathryn Joyce’s amazing piece on homeschooling for the American Prospect completely out of context and haphazardly slapped them onto her piece as if they had something to do with her own point. Which they don’t.

Third, and most importantly, Marcotte’s whole piece drips with condescension towards those “stupid fundamentalists.” “They may not be the smartest bunch,” she says — qualifying that by saying they “aren’t that stupid.” Implying that, well, they’re still pretty damn stupid.

Yes, there are some truly fascinating individuals out there with some truly remarkable ideas. There is a wealth of material for stand-up comedians.

But to Marcotte as well as atheists and progressive Christians who like to rubberneck when observing fundamentalists:

Please don’t appropriate my life and my words and the lives and words of other homeschool alumni for your hit pieces against fundamentalism. We have zero interest in being your meme.

Homeschool alumni are not telling our stories for your entertainment.

We’re not telling our stories so that you can call our culture or parents stupid. If you do that, then honestly, you’re no better than our culture or parents.

We’re done with being pawns on the culture war chessboard. We’re not pawns for Christians and we’re not pawns for atheists. We are neither cautionary tales nor anti-Christian fodder.

We have spent our entire lives overcoming stereotypes. Our parents pushed us to the point of breaking because they wanted us to prove those stereotypes wrong; we forced ourselves into all sorts of predicaments to break free from those stereotypes. We are now shouting as loud as we can that some of those stereotypes have truth to them and they need to be taken seriously.

But here all the bystanders come, sweeping in and trotting out the stereotypes all over again, just to get a laugh or content for another asinine Buzzfeed article.

That’s not cool.

We are more than the stereotypes foisted upon us by our parents and by people who think our parents are “not the sharpest bunch.”

Many of the stories we share are painful, so painful, just to think about — even more painful to write. But we summon the courage to share our stories because we want to help each other as well as kids being raised just like we were. We want to reach out to them and show them a path away from fundamentalism. But when you stereotype and mock, you are making our job that much harder.

Pointing and laughing is not helping. Instead, it adds fuel for those who grow increasingly hostile and terrified of “the world” because people like you — the “evil atheists” and “liberal Christians” — say the things you do. In turn, the fundamentalists feel more pressure to isolate their children — from people like you, but also from people like us.

If you actually care about people like us, about the homeschool kids and alumni out there who have been impacted by fundamentalism, then help us. Tell our stories.

Treat our stories as more than anti-fundie click bait.

Otherwise, let us do our work in peace.

Ham on Nye

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap.  It was originally published on February 6, 2014.

I actually didn’t plan on writing anything about the Ham on Nye debate Tuesday night.

I planned on drinking and eating popcorn and watching  everything implode in a talk-past-each-other kind of way. My mouth hurt (still does, I have even better numbing stuff now, but it makes my lips stick together), we ended up getting milkshakes because Ham is more triggering and milkshakes are more comforting.

The debate went as I suspected it would – more cathartic for me and those of us who have left the Young Earth Creationist camp we were raised with. Ham had all the same material, I’d heard everything he’d said before at VBS, in DVD’s, and his theology permeated my “science” books even though they weren’t exclusively AIG. I knew all his answers, I’d seen all of his graphics, he said absolutely nothing new, at all, I remembered everything verbatim from my previous encounters with AIG as a child. To Nye, this idea is so unfathomable that he had trouble grasping and understanding his audience and I don’t know that he knew what he was getting into. To the people in that room, YEC is more than a science…theory(?), it is, in a very real way, a (the) foundation of their religion.  Believing in a Young Earth is somehow, essential to this brand of christianity, my whole family, I think, is Young Earth, my immediate definitely, if not my grandparents too.

None of the arguments made in the debate were really going to change anyone’s minds I don’t think. I don’t know how many people were listening to it like a presidential debate, being really on the fence about religiously-intoxicated creationism and mainstream science, but who knows.

During the Q&A session though, Nye said one thing, one groundbreaking thing, and I don’t know if he even realized it.

He said “I don’t know“.

What he probably didn’t know (or maybe did) when he walked into a room and an audience loaded with people who have been raised or told all of their lives and all of their childhood that they have to know all the answers to everything all the time and that “I don’t know” is not an answer and if you don’t know, something is wrong – saying “I don’t know” in a way that did not have defeatist or negative connotations is something that people raised in this sheltered and toxic environment have probably never heard. Their parents may have, but have denied themselves and their children that option, they’ve rejected the idea of not knowing for the burden of having to always know and have thrust that upon their children at very young ages.

Fellow homeschoolers have written about having to know the answers to all questions – even questions about the legality of homeschooling from the time they were like 6. This is true and this is devastating and this is too much, no one, let alone any child should be required to know the answer to everything. Yet this is what fundamentalists do – they require themselves and everyone they gather into their brand of religion (or non-religion) to have all of the answers to everything. They must always be able to back up a question with a pre-scripted answer that allows for no nuance. I don’t know is invalid.

People asked him the questions creationists are scripted to ask evolutionists (because they don’t know the answer but we do! HA!) and he answered, happily, excitedly, unashamed, and like he had been waiting to say it all night because it’s such a beautiful answer: I don’t know.

Ken Ham, and every entrenched creationist in the audience I’m sure scoffed at Nye’s reply. But what he said, in those three words, is something more powerful than he can know.

Because to the people who were watching who are tired of having to know everything because they realize they don’t know, who are maybe doubting, who are maybe thinking, who are maybe just trying to keep their head down to get by but secretly (even so secretly they may not realize it yet) want to taste something different, something not straight out of the book, Bill Nye just introduced the concept of freedom.

Because the freedom to not know (and that be an okay, even good thing) after coming from an environment where you must know is so so powerful. But one of those things, where you only realize it’s power once you’ve come to terms with the idea that it’s okay to not have the answers.

Bill Nye just introduced hundreds or thousands of people to the idea that “I don’t know” is valid, and okay, and not wrong.

That is the most important thing (I think) that happened in the debate, that’s what I haven’t been able to get out of my head. I don’t know. And it’s beautiful.