Are You My Enemy?

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Olivia Greenpine-Wood’s blog, When Settles The Dust. It was originally published on July 17th, 2015.

Imagine that you are growing up in a culture that believes it is fighting a war. From infancy you are taught the dangers of the enemy. You are taught what you must look out for and what you must say. You are taught what you must be aware of and from a child you are taught to be a good soldier. You are taught to be brave and to fight the good fight. You are taught that if need be you should even be willing to die for your cause. You are taught that all outsiders are against your cause. That those who don’t believe as you do would seek to overthrow all you hold dear and do great harm to all of you. Your culture must be defended at all costs.

Time goes on and you grow older. You prepare yourself for battle and you dream of your first encounter. Oh, how you will vanquish your foes when you finally meet in glorious combat! Oh, the acclaim you will win for the cause! And finally you venture forth shakily brandishing your rhetoric only to find that no army awaits. You try to convince yourself that a few encounters with strangers were skirmishes but as time goes on you realize that the most hostile participant was yourself. You are stymied. You expected to find an army in grand array but instead you found a civilization of people. People who loved and laughed and cried and lived freely.

And after sometime you begin to accept that this is real. And you begin to wonder and hope. Maybe you, too, can live this free life. Maybe you can lay down your weapons. Maybe you can live without fear of attack. Your spirits lift. You begin to feel joy. You want to rush home and tell your family and friends and community the wonderful news. There is no war. You don’t have to fight. You can be free. But if you tell them suddenly you become everything they have prepared all their lives to defend themselves from. You become the outsider who would tear them down and who seeks to destroy them.

You become the enemy.

But all you wanted for them was freedom and the peace of knowing that they don’t have to fight.

Can you imagine this? If you can then maybe you can understand a little bit of what it is like to convert to atheism (or simply relax your views a bit more than is “acceptable”) after growing up in a conservative religious environment. Maybe you can understand the nausea and pain and fear of those who leave their faiths but cannot retain relationships with those they love and care about. Some persons who leave behind a deeply religious faith face actual physical danger. Others face only the opposition of attitude and perception but don’t underestimate the power of attitude.

It hurts to realize that you are now the nightmare about which people tell their children.

It hurts to realize that suddenly your point of view has become invalid because you disagree on theology. Suddenly you are a non-entity. Everything you do or say has become suspect. Your actions will be judged based on the new perception that you are enemy and no longer based on who you are.

It hurts.

If there were a Hell this is what it would feel like.

Ready for Real Life: Part Three, Are Your Children Ready?

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Ready for Real Life: Part Three, Are Your Children Ready?

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. Part Three of this series was originally published on October 6, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One, Botkins Launch Webinar | Part Two, Ready for What? | Part Three, Are Your Children Ready? | Part Four, Ready to Lead Culture | Part Five, Science and Medicine | Part Six, History and Law | Part Seven, Vocations | Part Eight, Q&A Session | Part Nine, Concluding Thoughts

*****

I am reviewing the “Ready for Real Life” talks, a webinar series on Christian homeschooling hosted by Geoffrey Botkins of the Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences. In the previous part, the Botkin family celebrated religious homeschooling as a means of exercising Christian dominion and resisting a supposedly sinful culture. In this part, “Are Your Children Ready for Real Life?”, Geoffrey Botkin and family laid out how Christian homeschoolers should approach the surrounding culture and establish Christianity as their foundation.

Botkins began the webinar with a prayer, thanking God for children and for the way God has designed their lives. He prayed for wisdom and joy in raising children, reminding listeners that they were raising offspring in a supposedly perilous time. “They’re being launched into a very difficult, trying, uncertain century, and we’re living in a country that’s no longer as steady and solid and righteous as it once was,” he said at the 1:17 mark.

Botkins stressed that the best way parents can teach their children to think is to begin with the science of the mind. All science is theological, he insisted, because all things are theological.

“True” scientists in past eras knew that they had to look to theology for a true understanding of reality, he claimed.

God created the mind and personally develops the minds of children, Botkin said. However, the same God can also inhibit the minds of people with poor attitudes and render them mentally slow. “God sharpens the ability to think … or he deliberately deranges the ability to think depending on the attitude of the child or the adult,” he told listeners at the 2:50 mark. At the 4:28 mark, he admonished parents to teach their children well, lest their children behave unrighteously and bring down the wrath of God on themselves.

“Parents, you need to realize that your children and all those children who suppress the truth in unrighteousness personally receive the wrath of God … You cannot let your children suppress the truth that you’re teaching them. You can’t suppress any part of it.”

God’s inflicts his wrath on unrighteous people by instilling them with “moral stupidity”, he claimed. In other words, God causes “moral rebels” to lose their minds, resulting in people who are both intellectually and morally stunted. “All sin makes people intellectually as well as morally stupid,” Botkin asserted, correlating moral clarity with mental clarity.

Botkin’s comment about God “deranging” people’s minds stunned me. Was his statement meant to instill fear in listeners? Believe and have a good attitude or God will scramble your brain! Or was he blaming learning impediments on impiety? If the latter, Botkin’s words essentially blame people for any learning challenges they might face. The idea that learning impediments or problems focusing could have emotional roots (depression, anxiety, trauma) or physiological roots (ADHD, dyslexia, nutritional deficiencies) seems to have escaped Botkin, who prefers to blame the sufferer.

In addition to being fanatical and brazen, Botkin’s comments were incorrect.

If Christian fundamentalism brings moral clarity, which in turn yields mental clarity, one would expect fundamentalist Christians to be brilliant and everyone else to be malfunctioning. However, intelligent people and slow people are to be found among Christians and non-Christians alike. How could Botkin ignore this simple, self-evident fact?

Botkin redefined the word “superstition” to refer to critical approaches to fundamentalism. He reminded parents that they need to correctly interpret the world for their children while in the midst of a “superstitious” culture. One of the most destructive “superstitions” in modern society is the belief that smart people have abandoned God’s covenantal ethics, Botkin claimed.

Parents must teach their children how to decipher our “broken, immoral culture” by using scripture as the standard for all thinking, Botkin insisted. A child’s moral foundation must rest on the ethical system of the Bible, he stressed. Botkin spent several minutes speaking warmly of raising children with God’s law.

At this point, Geoffrey Botkin’s son David chimed in. David Botkin emphasized to listeners that parents must teach children the word of God with great sincerity, and that the word of God must dominate children’s lives.

David spoke approvingly of his father’s influence in his life, such as his father’s emphasis on scripture as a tool for interpreting the world and his love of R.J. Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law. 

David stressed that the law of God applies to everyone, including the President, and to all matters. He claimed that while in Washington D.C., his father was included in a conference call regarding military action after Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded Kuwait. According to David’s account, Geoffrey Botkin advised the conference call participants to give a warning to Saddam Hussein before initiating military action, in keeping with Biblical teachings, and later felt ashamed when he could not recall the exact Biblical verses supporting this approach.

Geoffrey Botkin’s daughters, Anna Sophia and Elizabeth, chimed into the discussion as well. Anna Sophia Botkin discussed daily scripture reading in the Botkin family, sharing a quote from Cotton Mather on drawing lessons out of Bible verses. Elizabeth Botkin explored the question of whether it is beneficial to make children read the Bible if they don’t want to. She admitted that as a child, she did not always enjoy reading the Bible, but she was eventually saved over time by reading scripture. Only scripture can reform an “unregenerate heart”, she said, quoting a passage in Romans 10 that associated faith with hearing the word of God.

Geoffrey Botkin emphasized that parents must teach their children critical thinking, given the importance of discernment in navigating a world steeped in “superstition and falsehood”. Christians cannot be carried away by every “wind of doctrine”, and thus Christian parents must teach their children to have strong convictions in their faith. Otherwise, a child’s faith can be “stolen” by another child who dares them to change their mind. When teaching his children discernment, Geoffrey Botkin instructed them to ask two questions about any issue: what is lawful, and under whose jurisdiction does the matter fall?

The Botkins talked at length about how parents must be gatekeepers over what information their children absorb.

Geoffrey’s son Isaac Botkin noted that his father taught him to look for “useful work by the ungodly”, that is, positive cultural contributions by non-Christians. Geoffrey Botkin expanded on this point at the 44:03 mark, arguing that Christians can learn from non-Christian writers while rejecting their supposedly fallacious conclusions. 

“We go to the ungodly sometimes to learn from them in matters of detail, while we differ wholly on matters of principle, and that’s what we teach. We teach our children principle. We say, ‘Look at this poor writer. He’s seeing everything that’s going on. He makes phenomenal observations, but conclusions are mixed up.’ Why? Because he does not understand Biblical principle.”

I found Botkin’s comments to be contradictory. Earlier in the webinar, Geoffrey Botkin argued that people with impious attitudes can be afflicted with both moral and intellectual stupidity. Later, however, Botkin admitted that non-Christians can make intelligent observations and offer cultural contributions of substance.

I remain puzzled on how Geoffrey Botkin reconciles these two assertions.

Geoffrey Botkin addressed a listener’s question on how soon to expose children to the internet and to writers that one disagrees with. In response, he argued that a child’s spiritual character, rather than their chronological age, determines when they are ready for such influences. At the 45:55 mark, he argued against giving internet access to a child who is “pining away” for “fellowship or companionship with the bad guys”, framing the outside world as a potentially corrupting enemy.

“If you’re a friend of the world, you’re at war with God, and because we’re training our children to be on the right side of the battle, the great antithesis of time, the battlefield that I spoke of earlier, they must stay on the right side … If I have a child who’s really pining away for the grass greener on the other side of the fence, on the other part of the battlefield where all the enemies are because he wants to have fellowship or companionship with the bad guys, I would not let him be on the internet or to be reading somebody’s book. He’s not ready, he’s not willing, he’s not able to absorb the truth and process it and then apply it to the battle in the right way. We could train some of our children to be skilled in many different things and turn them loose to fight for the wrong side if we’re not careful about what we give them and when we give them.”

Geoffrey Botkin’s words on the outside world were revealing. In Botkin’s worldview, the larger world is an ominous enemy “battlefield”, where Christians must fight for dominion. Non-fundamentalist ideas from “bad guys” serve as potentially corrupting influences that can contaminate unsuspecting minds.

Such an attitude is not conducive to critical thinking, open-mindedness, or a robust learning experience.

Victoria Botkin and several of the Botkin children spoke at length about effective writing and the importance of writing in a homeschool curriculum. The Botkin children spent the rest of the webinar discussing various topics around communication, such as effective speaking, the flaws of excessive reliance on “humanistic” rational argument, and struggles with social awkwardness.

Even this seemingly mundane subject drew revealing commentary from the Botkins. For instance, David Botkin argued that good writing must reflect unwavering dedication to some absolute truth. At the 1:06:10 mark, David claimed that “ideological heavyweights” among Christianity’s “enemies” were effective communicators because they tenaciously clung to their standpoints. 

“The word of God needs to be your standard for absolute truth in everything that you write … When we think about the ideological heavyweights of the last couple centuries, our enemies, people like Marx and Mao Zedong, these have all been people that resolutely clung to something as a source of absolute truth, and that’s what made them effective. If you don’t resolutely cling to something as a source of absolute truth, and I say it needs to be scripture, then what you write, your output, will be weak and affective.”

First, when I think of intellectual “heavyweights” from the past two centuries, ideologues such as Mao Zedong do not come to mind.

David Botkin could have chosen from hundreds of groundbreaking men and women whose ideas changed the world, but he chose Marx (a boogeyman of fundamentalists) and Mao Zedong (a communist dictator) instead. Second, effective writing rests on sound reasoning and solid evidence for one’s claims, not necessarily stubbornness. Many good thinkers are willing to evolve, adjusting their ideas as new evidence or new arguments become available. Confidence and sound arguments, not inflexibility, are the marks of a mature thinker.

At the end of the webinar, Geoffrey Botkin encouraged listeners to take in the next part of the webinar series, “Ready to Lead Culture”. At the 1:20:03 mark, he emphasized the importance of teaching children to carry out Christian dominion in the arts and media, which will be discussed in depth in the next webinar. 

“You must be getting your children ready not just to follow along and conform themselves to the culture that they’re in, but literally to analyze it and then lead it and realize what needs to be done, realize their place in the world. They have the authority to lead it. How to take dominion of the arts without the arts taking dominion of you. So, your children are exposed to all kinds of media and the arts every day. Is it taking control of them and taking dominion over them, or do they have wisdom to know how to take dominion over that, to either get rid of it, to change it, to jump in there and lead the way in music and in the visual arts, in media, in filmaking?”

In conclusion, this part of the “Ready for Real Life” webinar series featured the following themes:

  • Fundamentalist Christianity as the foundation of children’s lives. The Botkins argued for the centrality of the Bible — or rather, an inerrant interpretation of the Bible — in the moral and intellectual lives of children.
  • The outside world as an enemy and a corrupting influence. The Botkins repeatedly spoke of the outside world as “bad guys” and an “enemy”, describing Christian interaction with the larger world in terms of battle. The webinar repeatedly framed Christian interaction with society as a zero sum game; Christians could either exert dominion over the surrounding culture, or succumb to its contaminating influence. The idea that Christians could be part of an open marketplace of ideas, rather than exercise dominion or be dominated, was not considered.
  • Parental control over what children absorb. The Botkins stressed the importance of keeping children away from non-Christian cultural influences until their adherence to Christianity was solid. Non-Christian materials could be introduced to children’s curricula later, but the Botkins encouraged parents to point out ideas that did not reflect fundamentalism. (“Look at this poor writer. He’s seeing everything that’s going on. He makes phenomenal observations, but conclusions are mixed up. Why? Because he does not understand Biblical principle.”)
  • Christian faith equated with intelligence. Geoffrey Botkin made the profoundly flawed argument that Christian faith produces both moral and intellectual sharpness, and likewise, that impiety produces moral and intellectual “stupidity”.  However, in a seeming contradiction of this claim, the Botkins later assert that non-Christians could make sophisticated cultural contributions. While the Botkins acknowledged that non-Christian thinkers could offer useful information, they still viewed such thinkers as imperfect at best.

Stay tuned for commentary on the next part of the Botkin’s “Ready for Real Life” webinar!

*****

To be continued.

Falling from Family Dysfunction into Nightmares Realized — Another Story of Homeschool Abuse: Lana Martin’s Story, Part Two

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< Part One

My life during this time was bleak.

I was almost completely isolated, subject to my mother’s personal drama on a daily basis. She lost control of her hoarding behavior, eventually lining the walls of our home with piles of dusty books, magazines, and papers which seemed dearer to her than family living space and respiratory health. She instigated disputes with her siblings and raged about perceived injustices. She spent time planning parties that never happened. Until the last few years, she refused to work outside the home, even though her supplemental income would have enabled me to enroll in music or foreign language lessons. When she finally began working part-time, she spent the income on a new car. She fretted about falling behind in educating me, while doing nothing to improve the situation.

She instructed me to lie about our daily routine.

Despite her awareness that this situation had become quite terrible, she still believed keeping me at home was preferable to exposing me to the horrors of public school. HSLDA purports homeschooling is all but necessary to preserve a child’s decency.  It was, no doubt, far easier for my mother to ignore the reality of the situation while consoled with this noble image.

Despite isolation, my mother continued to monitor my behavior, watching for signs of emergent “teenage behavior” and un-Godly beliefs which might have seeped into our household against her wishes. Laughing at the wrong joke in a movie, for example, might unleash a torrent of shaming rage. One day, wearing nail polish would be acceptable and “pretty” — another day, it would be shamefully worldly and warrant usage of the label “slut”. By the age of 16, I became severely depressed and had lost significant weight, but was not offered counseling or medical treatment.

My mother instead chastised me for exhibiting teenage rebelliousness.

For a while I was suicidal, high-risk given my secrecy and feasible plans. No adult in my life acknowledged that this stress and isolation might have negative effects on me. No one asked me if I felt I was being prepared to enter the adult world or to attend college. My father, despite living in the same house, never inquired about my education or wellbeing. Grandparents expressed concern and curiosity but were silenced by my mother’s convicted assertions. More distant family members inquired skeptically but were blown off with her combative resolve. I felt trapped and hopeless, unwanted and invisible.

*****

I did escape this situation at the age of 18.

My mother’s employment during the last few years enabled me to get out of the house more often and, in turn, my mental health improved. I earned my GED, began working in retail, attended community college, then moved to another city and supported myself through university. I somehow emerged with a strong sense of self and the ability to form healthy social relationships. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have always had my doubts about Christianity. Today I follow a self-constructed spirituality stemming from Buddhist philosophy, yoga, and meditation, with occasional dabbling in occult divination via cartomancy.

However, there is a dark side of myself that only a close few know.

For years I have struggled with PTSD symptoms, depression, social anxiety, and low self-esteem. Often I cannot identify with my peers as the experiences of my first 18 years were so atypical and potentially stigmatizing. I mourn the loss of my childhood and the absence of positive parental figures.

These days I can’t imagine away the pain of this long-term isolation and having been physically abused.

I was thrown under the bus to fulfill my parents’ fantasies of the perfect family.

Nor can I align myself with my parents’ perspective that children and teenagers are indentured servants. I can’t stop caring about how poorly they treated me, nor suppress the feelings of disgust and unease that arise when I see them or imagine visiting them.

I am currently no-contact with my parents. My mother flatters herself with historical revisions, presenting my acceptance to a prestigious graduate program as the success of her home education efforts. They have not acknowledged the truth of our shared history, and I do not know how to relate to them as anyone other than authority figures. I have no emotional attachment to them, and for now their presence in my life merely reminds me of the horrible things they did to me.

But, gradually, I am feeling less shame about what happened to me. I am starting to feel less embarrassed by it and more proud of how I overcame the situation. I am beginning to empathize with my past self, appreciating the things I did then to help me survive into the present. Lately I feel more “human” in some vague sense. Specifically, I feel more capable of relating to other people and knowing what I want and need. On that note, my therapist of five years is a total rock star.

*****

At its core, this is clearly a story about growing up in a dysfunctional family and with an abusive mother failing to manage her mental health issues. However, several aspects of the Christian subculture homeschooling movement stand out as fueling the existing fire of my misfortune, or creating the perfect storm of an abusive, neglectful homeschooling situation.

Regulations on homeschooling may have discouraged my mother from wanting to homeschool, or brought outside attention to my terrible situation. Currently, in many states, future homeschool students silently fade away behind a vague letter of withdrawal and intent. Registration with the local school district would require parents to face school officials and engage in dialogue about their rationale and preparations. Annual lesson plan approval and testing would encourage earnest academic investment and would identify on-going cases of neglect. It has become apparent lately that, upon legal emancipation, many homeschooled teenagers no longer desire to attend Bob Jones University or marry into a Quiverfull movement. Documenting grades and filing transcripts with the local school district would expand higher education opportunities for these children. Such regulations would have imposed reality on my mother’s mostly unchallenged fantasy world, one which placed me at a severe disadvantage.

HSLDA’s promoted image of homeschooling provided an ideal fantasy for my mother to latch onto.

She saw herself most importantly as a warrior for Christ, less so a dedicated teacher. HSLDA propaganda, in fact, less heavily emphasizes the importance of proving quality education and social opportunities for children. One can walk away from an HSLDA forum thinking, “the most important thing is that I remove my child from the evil public school environment.” Dispassionate, research-based information about the work needed for legitimate homeschooling would place the value of teaching above “fighting the culture war”. Availability of such information may have undermined my mother’s romanticized image of the homeschool-mom as an anything-goes hero-by-default. HSLDA’s insistence to avoid regulations and legitimate research on homeschooling does nothing to protect or improve home education, only to help obscure appalling cases such as mine.

It’s clear from my description of family dynamics that one may not expect me to have had a “good-enough” childhood regardless of how I was educated. Sometimes I ask myself, “how would public (or private) school have improved my situation?” My parents failed to educate me; it would have provided a baseline education that was, at least, better than nothing. My parents believed that children should not be allowed a voice; it would have provided access to adult mentors who might have listened to and respected me. My parents were socially isolated, lacking friendships; it would have provided opportunities to acquire developmentally-appropriate social skills rather than learning it all at once as a working college student. My parents did not provide extracurricular activities for me; it would have provided a means to expand myself with arts or athletics.

Finally, my parents did not offer a structured means by which I could assess my personal changes and growth. Formal schooling, no matter how angst-ridden it might be for many young people, at the very least grants the student a sense of autonomy in deciding whether they love or hate school, admire or despise authority figures, agree or disagree with society at large.

My parents robbed me of that experience by imposing their selfish whims on me, unchecked by the isolation.

Although I survived with a fair bit of myself intact, going through this experimental phase while an employee and student, alone in a new city, was both risky and terrifying.

*****

A question I continue to grapple with — and perhaps will, for a while — is: who do you turn to when your own mother is trying to destroy your metamorphosis into a healthy, functional adult? When your father ignores your plight?

What do you do?

No adult in my immediate or distant family intervened, nor were child protective services ever alerted to my condition. Family members cannot be depended on to identify and report educational neglect and abusive behavior. Turning a blind eye is easier for many than dealing with a difficult person or sacrificing the perfect family image for a child’s so-called “rights”.

Homeschooling is a dangerous plan when abuse, isolation, and dysfunction already exist within a family. Homeschooling is also a unique challenge when parents or children already struggle to maintain mental health. A first step toward preventing tragedies similar to my own would be access to dispassionate home education information and enactment of regulations that screen for high-risk families.

Until stories like mine cease to appear, influential organizations such as HSLDA owe such efforts to the wellbeing of these particularly vulnerable children.

Falling from Family Dysfunction into Nightmares Realized — Another Story of Homeschool Abuse: Lana Martin’s Story, Part One

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The HSLDA promotes a certain image of the average homeschool family, a cozy picture which convinces thousands of parents each year to withdraw their children from public school.

Parents in the conservative Christian subculture explicitly use homeschooling to shelter children from secular beliefs. Regardless of the degree of their sheltering, they often want to provide an emotionally and spiritually healthy educational environment for their child. While HSLDA propaganda acknowledges that homeschool parents experience a range of “ups and downs”, it neglects to provide critical, data-driven information on specific challenges. God will lead any willing parent to successfully homeschool, they say, avoiding the issue that some families could be considered high-risk for unsatisfactory, even abusive, homeschooling outcomes.

Instead, these promotional materials vaguely assert that God will use each parent’s strengths to provide a positive and effective home education environment. They assure potential homeschooling parents that, regardless of their educational background, any follower of Christ can give their child a better, safer intellectual and social development than formal schooling would.

*****

My experience as a neglected homeschool student growing up in an abusive, dysfunctional family is testimony that this scenario does not always unfold so neatly.

My mother was encouraged by HSLDA propaganda to homeschool me, and my parents were enabled by lack of regulatory oversight to proceed with little consideration for my needs.

*****

Over the past few years, the confusion and pain that has haunted me for over a decade has driven me to tease apart how my bizarre past came to be and how I managed to survive it. I grew up in a conservative, fundamentalist Southern Baptist family. True to form, my parents believed that children, relative to adults, lack basic rights of respect and agency. They bought into the Dobsonian authoritarian parenting philosophy that rose in popularity during the 1980s: parents are responsible for their children’s eternal salvation, a task best achieved by breaking the child’s willful inner core of sin through severe physical punishment and verbal shaming.

My mother, in particular, was extremely controlling and sheltering. As long as I can remember, I had to sit patiently and listen to her rants about “contemporary culture” and her demonization of public school, working moms, divorced couples, the existence of sexuality, almost all the music out there, and (of course) spaghetti-strap tank tops.

I later realized that her polarized perspective, especially her black-and-white thinking, relates to her poorly managed mental health issues, which most likely expand far beyond official diagnoses of major depression and anxiety disorder. She partially blamed these illnesses on energy lost in battling the devil — particularly in guarding her children against influences of the more liberal family members who were, in fact, instruments of the devil placed on earth to challenge her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, her personal friend and savior.

My mother’s parenting decisions were driven by fear and paranoia. She lacked empathy, a psychological freedom that allowed her to place ideology above a child’s needs.

My father’s choices were driven by his desire to pacify my mother. He wanted peace and quiet, a need I was happy to comply with, as I had been trained to do since birth.

Life in public school grades K-3 was no picnic. My mother frequently initiated conflict with teachers and administrators. She confronted teachers over which G-rated secular movies were shown in class; she became incensed when her VHS cassette of a cartoon Christian Easter Story was not allowed to be shown due to religious content. Appeal to follow the norms of mainstream society means nothing to someone who is convinced they have discovered the one right way to live.

As I faced my entrance into junior high school, my mother grew terrified of my impending exposure to a more rigorous secular education, jealous of the increased time I would spend away from her during extracurricular activities, and paranoid of “worldly influences” from the more complex peer relationships I might form. She expressed alarm when I began budding as an independent person. I recall her rebuking me for my change in personality, blaming my new attitudes and opinions on peer influence, and shaming me for “becoming a different person”. No developmental change could be attributed to my unique thoughts and emotions; her shame- and fear-based authoritarian parenting creed declares children do not (or should not) have their own. Her need to use her child as a mirror to understand herself prevented her from acknowledging my identity.

My mother’s behavior created intense chaos and embarrassment for me as a child. I became fearful of her near-constant scrutiny of my tone, expressions, and reactions. In his passivity, my father did little to mitigate the negative impacts my mother’s intrusive, unpredictable behavior had on me.

*****

My journey down the rabbit hole begins when I was placed in a Baptist private school, which I actually liked because the 4th grade classes were small and intimate. But half-way through the school year, my mother once again generated conflict with school officials.  The more “secular” aspects of an otherwise quite religious curriculum were questionable. She had taken a part-time job in the after school care program and developed irresolvable interpersonal problems with her co-workers. Suddenly everyone at this school was bad, dumb, not up to her standards. She abruptly moved us back to the local public school for the second half of the year.

I remember this mid-year move as a turning point in my childhood, when I first fully realized that my mother had serious problems which were not being addressed by other adults in my life. I realized that her selfish whims would be catered to at the expense of my needs. That I had to shut up and put up, as I would not be listened to nor respected. I silently grieved the departure, leaving friends I would likely never see again. My last few months in public school were disastrous. I struggled to cope with the change, was self-conscious of my mother’s erratic behavior, and developed behavioral problems. My grades fell from As to Cs. This shift strengthened my mother’s resolve to remove me from this “toxic environment” and teach me at home.

Around this time, my mother became attracted to HSLDA’s portrayal of the homeschool family. Through HSLDA, she learned that children did not need to learn how to be independent, mature teenagers because the concept of “teens” is a modern myth. She declared that dating would not be allowed, but she would supervise a parent-controlled courtship. Participation in athletics, the arts, or science labs would have to be carefully censored and restricted to prevent exposure to un-Godly influences. She learned that mainstream education, socialization and rampant acquaintance-making would be unnecessary for and harmful to my development.

As a homeschooled child I would, presumably, learn how to become an adult through observing and imitating my mother in the home. As an emancipated 18-year-old, I would then either attend a Christian Bible-based private university (Pensacola and Bob Jones were popular ideas) or marry some family-approved fellow I had successfully courted under her supervision.

This was the reality I faced as a 10-year-old girl.

This might have all been faintly reasonable had my family been functional and my mother a healthy, responsible adult. Rather, my mother was increasingly overwhelmed by self-gratifying fantasies and obsessions. She became easily bored with reality, distressed by responsibility. Clearly, between her crises and my family’s financial struggles, even courtship and extracurriculars would not happen. My father was surely aware of these weaknesses and would have had compelling reason to question her competency, but he did not intervene. Even as a young child, I could see that I would not be taken care of in this bizarre world. And I would not have the childhood or education that would prepare me for a successful, fulfilling life in the real world.

This nightmare was my reality.

And so, beginning with 5th grade, I was “homeschooled”. I bracket this term in quotes, because without doing so would be an insult to families who legitimately home educate. At first my mother kept me involved with the local Christian home educators group. We attended meetings, field trips, and play dates. My mother purchased a years’ stock of A Beka, Bob Jones, and Saxon Math textbooks. She planned out a few months of lessons and graded my work for a few weeks.

She voraciously consumed every hyperbolic HSLDA-issued line about using homeschooling to save children in the “culture war”.

At first this seemed better than being in school because I suffered less conflict and chaos. But, predictably, over time the people in our homeschool group became bad, dumb, not up to her standards. My mother withdrew herself socially, effectively withdrawing me from the outside world except for trips to the public library and grocery store, occasional visits with extended family.

My mother’s mental health declined severely as my eight years spent “homeschooling” progressed. For much of this time, my mother slept all day in a depressive state while I cooked, cleaned, watched television, and read library books. My mother continued to purchase textbooks on an annual basis, but most remained uncracked until boredom drove me to fill out and “grade” workbooks on my own. Aside from the secular math curriculum, information I gleaned from the homeschool curricula was uselessly biased toward a fundamentalist Christian worldview.

Somehow I was aware of this and, when a particular subject interested me, I filled in gaps using the latest technological innovation we had acquired: the Internet.

Part Two >

When you try to raise an army

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog Lana Hobbs the Brave. It was originally published on April 12, 2013.

*****

Be careful

if you plan to raise an army

from birth

whip them into shape and drill them

Issue uniforms

Issue thoughts

Until they run like a machine

Yes drill sergeant

No drill sergeant

You may raise soldiers

cleverskilled in battle,

brave in the face of fear

and full of fire in their hearts

But there’s a chance, if you want to raise an army

That you will not keep the soldiers

Because these clever, brave soldiers

will one day make their own decisions

And choose their battles

They must answer the call of the fire

Burning hot in their souls

So be careful when you raise an army

The soldiers may not stay.

When I Rejected Dominionism

Screen Shot 2013-08-05 at 1.43.10 PM

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on August 4, 2013.

By now most people have probably heard of the dominionism in homeschooling and conservative evangelical circles — the idea that homeschoolers will change the world by their involvement in absolutely everything, from science to the high arts to politics. Oddly even after I rejected patriarchalism (and courtship and purity), I still saw myself as a huge warrior and herione. I’ll tell you what changed that for me. But first thought I’ll give you a couple quotes of this in homeschool circles.

First here’s what we learn from the Botkins over at Ladies Against Feminism.

Will your children know how to handle business and finance in a down economy? Defend their faith to militant antagonists? Stand firm against a defiling culture? Fight for their freedoms? Take advantage of technological innovations? And see opportunity amid the chaos?

More importantly, what kind of salt and light are they prepared to be? They may be able to name every country in the world, but do they know how to disciple the nations? They may know about the Battle of Waterloo, but do they know how to fight the battles of today – to win? Homeschoolers have proven they can beat the world at geography and spelling. But can we lead in the arts? Can we lead in the gates? Do we know how to take dominion of science and technology?

Notice the idea that we should be the leaders in science and art, and basically everything. We are cultural warriors, we learn here.

Now here’s a second quote over at The Old School House from Gene Edward Veith over at Patrick Henry College.

Christians fight the culture wars. Some persons put their hope in politics, but that doesn’t seem to do much, even if you elect Christians. A lot of Christians are doing things with the arts and film, and I salute all those efforts. But the effort that is the most dramatically successful is what Christians are doing in education. And the homeschoolers are really leading the way in that.

If Christians become more educated than non-Christians, if they become the people who can use their minds and develop their talents, who can write, read, and have knowledge … if those are the Christians, while the non-Christians in many cases are functionally illiterate, who’s going to be the leaders and the culture makers of the next generation? Homeschool kids give me great hope for the future, that we may come back to where Christians are the influential culture makers once again.

Notice that while Dr. Veith appears to steer away from dominionism in politics, he ends back up in the same place.

If we breed the bright homeschoolers enough, and educate them enough, then homeschoolers can shift the culture. As the nature of Patrick Henry College students, this certainly includes law and politics.

With that, it’s no wonder that when I moved to SE Asia, I thought of myself in big leader terms. To be clear, I grew up in a family with a salary (at least at that time) of the working class, so I was shielded from much of the dominion attitude; we never dreamed big enough for speech, debate, law and politics. We could not afford worldview camps and debate. In fact, my family even slacked to an extent in academics. But I was still taught that motherhood was how I could change the world. I was still taught that Christians would change the world — Christians were that awesome. I was still taught that I was. somebody. special.

Then the bomb fell. I arrived in SE Asia, and I was not anybody special. In fact, I remember telling a friend over skype one day, “people think missionaries pull up to villages, and everyone loves them, and the kid’s kiss them. Yea right.” My work was mostly dominated by kids who either tried to steal from us, or who would yell at me. I was also the worst kind of soldier, and would often fight back. In all the day outreaches I did, the kids and people came running, but what they really meant was, “give me treats and goods.” I still loved those days, but it felt superficial enough that I almost preferred the drama of our kids at home.

That is when I finally began to realize that I am not the hero of my own story. I’m not. I did not come here to win over the world. I came here to serve. I came here to love because they need love, and they need to experience the human dignity that was never afforded to them. The kids do not owe me anything, and I was there to love them, change or no change. In fact, this is what the Bible has to say (I wish I had been taught this in a context other than serving a man).

...whoever wants to be great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the willing slave of all–like the Son of Man; He did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give up his life as a ransom for many

If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.

And then there is the example of Jesus, who humbled himself to the point of death, even death on the cross (Phil. 2).

My response to Dr. Veith: I do not think the hope of the world is to breed upper middle class Christians with the best education in the world.

Education should never be used as a weapon tool. It’s not a trophy. Instead of focusing on breeding babies and breeding the middle class, we need to focus on all lives. Education is a gift we can give to the entire world, most especially those who have never been afforded one.

I still want to change the world. I hope I’m never too apathetic that my desire to see change dies with me. However, we need to remember that we are first and foremost here to be a servant and to love.

The story is not about us. It’s about other people.

Sailboats And The Spirit: Finn’s Thoughts, Part Two

Sailboats And The Spirit: Finn’s Thoughts, Part Two

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

< Part One

The other half involves an openness to new ideas.

I can remember people commenting on a quotation I used in one of my policy debate cases. The quotation dealt with some random technical aspect of immigration policy — the content of which wasn’t an issue. The issue was that the card was from someone who worked at the Ayn Rand Institute, and Ayn Rand was an atheist. Therefore (these people said), I needed to be careful about using this card. I remember being concerned by these comments at the time, but now I see no foundation for them. Instead, I see a byproduct of the somewhat insular community which Christian speech and debate creates.

Because the community is distinctly conservative and distinctly Christian, and because the community is centered around the ability to communicate a message, some of the most popular messages are those that create a group mentality (Jonathan Haidt has some important research about the importance group loyalty plays in conservative groups; give his works a read if you’re interested). In other words, the messages that get to the top are those that create an us vs. them mentality: Christians in a culture war, liberals trying to destroy the Constitution, America becoming increasingly immoral, etc. Regardless of whether or not you believe these messages are true, it should be clear that the combination of these narratives with the homogenous nature of the speech and debate community creates a very real possibility for students to develop a fear of outside ideas.

I can remember the first time I met an openly gay person. I can remember watching his hands to make sure he didn’t have a knife.

I listened carefully as we were talking, lest some underhanded message corrupt me. I did my best to stay polite, yet slightly gruff and on my guard (I was 14 with a somewhat squeaky voice – a funny picture, no doubt). I was confused for a while after he left. I didn’t see any attempts to undermine my faith (we talked mostly about the weather), and he was phenomenally well-spoken. This reaction wasn’t just because I thought “gay” was bad – it was because I had created an “us vs. them” narrative in my head and begun to fear people along with the idea. I had prevented myself from engaging with a human person because of a narrative I had created as a result of my fear of an idea.

But there’s a deeper reason why a fear of ideas is bad. To illustrate it, I need to introduce the concept of Hegel’s dialectic.

Hegel, a German philosopher who lived between 1770 and 1831, taught that knowledge was achieved through a threefold process: the thesis, the antithesis, and the synthesis. Essentially, you begin with one idea, contradict it with another idea, and then get a result (the synthesis) which is closer to the actual truth than either of the originals. In other words: every set of ideas has something to teach us.

Action items:

1. Students: you’re in high school. You have barely completed a fifth of your average life. You haven’t figured things out; you don’t have a perfect conception of God. That’s not a bad thing as long as your conception of God changes. If your faith and beliefs are not changing and developing, look carefully at speech and debate to ensure the insular community is not inhibiting the process described above.

2. For judges and parents: recognize that your kids are growing up. They’re going to be evaluating ideologies that you’re not comfortable with regardless of how much your try to shelter them. Competitors may advocate for ideas in debates that are contradictory to your own. That’s perfectly fine. Debate (particularly in the NCFCA and Stoa) is a safe environment. Your decision in a debate is feedback about the comparison between the two teams — not implementing a real philosophy or policy: occasionally you may vote for teams that you disagree with personally. Again, that’s fine.

In fact, one of the worst things you can do is to take a competitor aside in one of the infamous hallway conversations and tell them that the ideas are “dangerous” or discourage further interest in them. If you really believe that what you believe is true, then you should be comfortable with people exploring the arguments in a safe environment. Be their partner in discovery, not someone that holds them back from developing a broader understanding. Otherwise you may be surprised at what was suppressed when you are no longer there to restrain their intellects.

My time in the NCFCA was incredibly positive. I learned to speak professionally. I learned to analyze topics and arguments with an acuity that I couldn’t have achieved through any other method. I’m still involved in the homeschool debate scene because I want other people to experience this tremendous growth and development and get the maximal amount of benefit from it.

End of series.

The Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute: NCFCA and Growing Up in a Conservative Bubble — Libby Anne’s Thoughts

The Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute: NCFCA and Growing Up in a Conservative Bubble — Libby Anne’s Thoughts

Libby Anne blogs at Love Joy Feminism on Patheos.

As I prepared my debate briefs, scouring the internet for evidence, there were two places I always looked first—the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. A good quote or two that could be applied in argument against a given plan was generally sufficient for my purposes. I filed my briefs carefully in my box and prepared for competition.

I honestly think my participation in NCFCA, known colloquially as “homeschool debate,” was the best thing about my high school years. I participated for four full years, attending debate competitions across my region. I loved it—the buzz of people, the feeling of purpose, and the heady rush I got when stepping up to speak.

Homeschool debate was one of the social highlights of my high school career. At the time, my main socialization events were church, AWANA (bible club), and a weekly arts and music co-op. Homeschool debate gave me one more weekly opportunity to see friends (or at least, the ones who were also in our local debate club) and, wonder of wonders, an opportunity to meet people outside of our local social circle. Debate tournaments were amazing—they served as the gathering points of dozens or even hundreds of homeschooled teens just like me, comprising the largest gathering of young people I found myself in outside of our annual homeschool convention.

And here is where we come back to the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. Homeschool debate was an approved activity for me and many other teens like me because our parents considered it safe. Homeschool debate was founded by Christy Shipe, the daughter of Michael Farris, founder of HSLDA. The goal of homeschool debate was to train up a generation of young people for public speaking and political involvement in an effort to restore America to its Christian foundation. We were those young people.

NCFCA was unabashedly Christian. To participate in homeschool debate, we had to sign a statement of faith. This meant that the teens filling the halls of a given debate tournament were, like me, growing up in Christian homeschooling families. They were there because they shared the mission and vision of NCFCA. They too were being trained to be culture changers—they too were being brought up to embrace their parents’ vision for the restoration of a Christian nation.

As I’m sitting here, all my memories from homeschool debate are pouring over me. There were the long car trips in which we carpooled with others in our club and spent hours singing, talking, and playing games. There were the hotel stays where we congregated with the other debaters late into the night, sipping hot chocolate in the hotel lobby and swapping stories about tournaments and life. There were the times when we stayed with host families and made new friends in the process. There were the tournaments where disaster struck—a car problem, an illness—and memories were made. There were the times I stood up without a shred of actual evidence and used simple logic to overturn the other team’s carefully laid plan, basking in the heady rush I felt as I did so. The conferences, the tournaments, it all comes rushing back, along with the time spent on the homeschool debate forum cracking homeschool jokes with other debaters (When can the principle kiss the teacher without facing a harassment lawsuit? When you’re homeschooled, because your father is the principle and your mother is the teacher!).

And once again I’ve lost track of where I started this essay—with the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute. My parents and the parents of the other students in homeschool debate thought they were preparing us to go out and take on the world, but they had a curious way of doing so. Namely, homeschool debate was like having pro-lifers debate each other about whether abortion should be legal. One year the topic was protectorates, and my partner and I created a plan to get rid of the D.C. gun ban. Watching the other team when we got up and presented our plan was always amusing. After all, how could they argue against the second amendment? They couldn’t! Not only would it be hard for them to argue against their principles, but also the judges were generally chosen from among homeschool parents and their church friends, meaning that the audience was one-sided as well. Generally, the other team would get up and argue that because of a case currently working its way through the courts, our plan was not inherent—in other words, the problem was real but was already being solved.

And beyond just this, we all knew that the best sources to use came from the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute. If you quoted one of them to back up a point you were making, you were golden. In college, I learned something I hadn’t known before—that those centers leaned right and were generally taken with a large grain of salt. In homeschool debate, no one was going to argue that. In homeschool debate, no one knew that. We accepted the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute as fair and balanced and objective—and our coaches weren’t about to challenge that. The same was true of just about everything about homeschool debate.

Homeschool debate took place in a bubble. Within that bubble, it was great—I learned a lot about rhetoric, logic, and argumentation—but it was still in a bubble. You can’t raise a group completely outside of a culture and then send them out into it expecting them to change that culture without even accurate knowledge about that culture. Individuals raised in a bubble like we were are simply not equipped to do that—and indeed, our understanding and perspective was limited because we were never encouraged to really question and think outside of the box.

It’s funny, I actually think homeschool debate is what started me thinking my way out of the entire belief system. The introduction to argumentation and logic that I received during my participation served me well once I got outside of the bubble and subjected it to questioning. It was that very foundation in argumentation and logic that kept me going, somehow naively unafraid of what I might find or where my questions might take me. I suppose I might say that homeschool debate gave me the tools I needed to think myself out of the bubble, but that I had to recognize the existence of the bubble before I could do that. But of course, none of this is what my parents intended when they involved me in homeschool debate, eager to train me as conservative culture warrior.

A Tool In Someone Else’s Culture War: Philosophical Perspectives’s Story, Part Two

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “PhilosophicalPerspectives” is the author’s chosen pseudonym.

*****

In this series: Part One — We Need Advocates | Part Two — A Tool In Someone Else’s Culture War

***** 

The stories shared so far on HA are rough.  Whenever another story pops up on my blogroll, I take a deep breath before reading – and sometimes I have to cut myself off.  There’s only so much trauma I can read in a day, especially when so much of it triggers my own.

Part of growing up in the homeschool community in the 80’s and 90’s was living defensively.  Our parents felt like they were culture warriors, and everyone and everything in the world was against them and their choice to homeschool. We, their children, were the proof they offered to the world (and each other) that they weren’t screwing up. Not only was it vital that we act like little adults on all occasions, but we had to be well-spoken, articulate, and ourselves advocates for homeschooling. I remember many conversations with my mother at the age of 8, where I agreed with her disapproval of *that* family whose children just couldn’t sit still and be quiet, or walk through a museum and respectful read all the placards. We, on the other hand, were excellent at it – and this meant that we were “good children”.

We visited well-respected leaders in government and business, we politely and persuasively argued the case for our political agenda, all while going through puberty. We were nowhere near normal, but that’s why we appealed to powerful people. Who has ever heard of a 15 year old who argues persuasively in front of the state legislature, instead of hanging out at the mall with her friends? No one.

Except homeschoolers. We sure churn out a lot of teenage spokespeople.

I always cringe when I hear stories like Sarah Merkle’s, because I was one of the kids who spoke before legislatures and guest-lectured in local high schools. I was a tool in someone else’s culture war. I was remarkable for my non-normalcy, and I was praised for it.

My reality check came later. I don’t know Sarah, but when I was in her shoes, I didn’t actually have my own, well researched, well-formed and nuanced thoughts on gun control or any other topic – I had my parents’ thoughts, or my pastor’s thoughts, or the thoughts of another influential adult who told me what the “good arguments” were on the topic in question. I was smart, so I didn’t just take talking points from my handlers – I accumulated a lot of other people’s ideas, and even a couple of dissenting opinions, and synthesized them all so that I could speak from “my own” perspective. The thing is, it didn’t require me to seriously wrestle with dissent, or the complications of policy ideas, it just required me to adopt, reformulate, and regurgitate what I’d heard. What’s worse – I was never really allowed to ask questions about the assumptions that were passed on to me. It wasn’t until I got to college that I was actually free to think and ponder and explore, intellectually as well as personally.

I didn’t have my own thoughts at 15 – they weren’t allowed. As others have noted here, debate is seen as a vital skill for homeschooled offspring – after all, “God’s Harvard” prides itself on the quality of their moot court team (as well as, apparently, soccer…). Debate is important, not because it teaches kids to think, but because it gives us the skill to package propaganda in a convenient, Bill O’Reilly-friendly segment, and makes us appealing politicians and lawyers, ready to be the next generation of culture warriors.

For all our debating, dissent wasn’t allowed. I remember losing debate rounds because an argument that I made sounded something remotely like it could be related to a philosophical principle advocated by Marx. I’m not kidding.

Wait, let me rephrase. Dissent was fine, within a prescribed sphere.

The following topics were open for discussion:

• Infant vs. Adult Baptism

• Predestination vs. Free Will

• The moral weight of a vote for a republican (compared, of course, to a vote for the constitution party)

• The US Farm Bill.

• The failings of other religions and how to prove Christianity was right

• Whether or not it’s morally acceptable to wear a sleeveless dress on your wedding day (the answer: no)

• And, my favorite — the real reasons for the Civil War (slavery or states’ rights?!)

Anyway, the real point — we’ve been parroting a Republican platform and the great things about homeschooling since we were toddlers. Any negative or critical commentary was marked as “rebellious”, and unacceptable, especially when it was directed at homeschooling itself. The options were, repent, or get out. I carried my parents’ defensiveness about the homeschooling movement with me into college, where I had many conversations that started off, “yes, there are some downsides to homeschooling, but…”

It’s taken me a long time away from the homeschooling movement to detox, and come to terms with the pain it inflicted. After eight years away from the movement, I started realizing that I wasn’t just a disobedient, sinful, and rebellious teen. I began naming the things I suffered, and the perpetrators who inflicted them.

I felt totally alone.

None of my non-homeschooled friends had any categories to begin to understand what I was talking about. I was lucky if they’d ever even heard of Josh Harris, and they’d certainly never had personal interaction with his family. They had no concept of a world where it was acceptable for a father to deny a daughter her driver’s license, because her husband might not want her to have that freedom (a position I heard advocated at a young age, at a homeschool conference in my home state). Any time I began a conversation about my own experiences, I ended up answering the same questions. “Did you, like, have a desk in your living room?” “Did you go to school in your pajamas?” “Did you get to sleep in until 10?” Sometimes, we’d get to the real crap, but they were so shocked by the extremes of the movement that they didn’t believe they were real, or that something so blatantly ridiculous had actually impacted my life. I never got to process the things that really changed me.  I never had space to talk about how the patriarchal narrative that reigns uncontested within the homeschooling movement affected my identity as a woman, or how purity and courtship teachings twisted my view of cross-gender relationships, whether platonic or romantic. Two examples spring to mind.

1. I remember telling a prominent female homeschooling leader during my senior year of high school how excited I was to go to the prestigious college to which I’d been accepted. She responded with concern, asking me “whether or not I was planning to pursue a career.”  I think I told her that I didn’t really know, but I was looking forward to all the new opportunities to learn.  The next time I saw her, she gave me a graduation present with a note reading, “with prayers that God will reveal his word and will clearly to you that you might joyfully embrace His ways.” For those not adept at reading between homeschooler lines – my pursuit of a secular education, and potentially a career, she was telling me, was at best based on ignorance of the Word of God, and at worst, on disobedience and rebellion.

With a few swift words and a terrible present, she not only undermined my accomplishments, skills, and personality (I was too ‘leaderly’ for a woman), she questioned my obedience to the God I claimed to follow. I’ve noticed that the thoughts that this woman reinforced (they’d been planted much earlier) have haunted me as I’ve applied for fellowships, talked to recruiters, and pursued career paths.  Despite my (objectively) impressive resume, I find myself wrestling with a toxic combination of shame, insecurity, and guilt whenever I pursue or am offered a prestigious position or set an ambitious goal. Mental accusations of pride, selfishness, or narcissism rush to the forefront. I’m just now learning how to fend them off.

2. I recently came across an Instant Message conversation with the guy I sort of dated in high school (culture notes, for the uninitiated – AIM was a primary source of social interaction for many of us.  I say “sort of dated” because the attraction we felt was taboo, and therefore secret).  It was the conversation where we decided that we “had romantic feelings for each other”.  I was 18 at the time. The exchange went something like this:

Me – “I need to pray about what to tell my parents.”

Him – “What kind of commitment do we have to each other?”

Me – “well, we’re not dating… we can’t”

Him – “just because we haven’t verbalized it doesn’t mean we don’t have one.  I think our commitment should be to prayerfully and cautiously court nine months from now, when you go to college.”

Me – “That sounds great.”

Him – “Shall we state our commitment?”

Me – “I commit to begin a relationship with you for the purpose of exploring a deeper commitment, while bathed in prayer”

Him – “I commit to prayerfully begin a relationship for the purpose of exploring the possibility of a more permanent and concrete commitment, to begin approximately nine months from now.  I intend to ask your father’s blessing when we begin the next phase”.

When I found this conversation, I couldn’t help but laugh. Such contractual language was the model we had for beginning a mature, and godly relationship – and it gave us both the warm fuzzies (I’ll spare you the rest of the conversation). All of this, mind you, was undertaken under much secrecy, because our parents would have objected in a million unimaginable ways.  This doesn’t even begin to cover the number of problematic things about that relationship – but it strikes me how deep courtship culture influenced me.  I saw myself as an object to be negotiated for, between me, my “beau” (as my mom always calls them), my father, and God.  I was “progressive” in that I was willing to strike a deal on my own, at least in the short term.  Thus, this dry, non-salacious exchange between people who were legally adults, via computer, across thousands of miles, was considered both the height of “romance” (because of the bargain we struck) and the height of rebellion (because my dad wasn’t at the negotiating table).

To get back to the point. As I look back at experiences like these, which are far less intense than many others shared on this blog, I realize that I have never had a chance to actually dig into the underlying values I imbibed, and process the pain, anger, and embarrassment that I experienced. I need space to write, and to read, and to be reassured I’m not crazy or alone when I tell stories like mine.

That’s why Homeschoolers Anonymous is so important. We’ve been isolated from each other from a long time. We’ve never had anywhere to share our stories with each other and the world. This is a space for recounting the past and healing from the damage it has done. Trust me, we know the good bits of homeschooling, and we know the ways it’s benefitted us – we’ve been talking about it since we could talk.  What we need now is space to voice the bad.

To be continued.

Why I Blame Homeschooling, Not Just My Parents: Reflections by Nicholas Ducote

By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator

Author edit to clarify my call for more oversight: I recommended intra-community policing in my post. State action should be a last resort. Those that care to preserve their parental rights to homeschool need to hold other parents accountable. Unfortunately, fundamentalist homeschooling communities are often isolated from anyone who would question the parents. I don’t have a solution, but I know we can’t just assume the status quo will fix things. Hopefully, projects like this will scare other parents enough to make them confront other parents. But let’s be honest, do you see that happening in these sort of communities? Most of these people laugh at the idea of children having rights and would never support anything that encroaches on their ability to teach their children whatever they want. If you suspect child abuse or neglect in a family you know, please report them to Child Protective Services. 

Homeschooling, as a method of instruction, is not intrinsically bad, dangerous, or damaging. I saw many children raised in homeschooling who were not abused by religious fundamentalism – even if they were Christians. However, as a society, we have to realize that the current state of homeschooling gives parents unique power over their children. Yes, many homeschooled children are a part of co-ops, interact with neighbors, and have relatively normal social interactions. But other homeschoolers are isolated in rural areas, with no contact with neighbors, or the outside world. Abuse develops in these environments because there is no oversight from outside the parents and, if criticism if lodged, the parents are defensive. To many homeschooling parents, homeschooling (the method) is part of a larger worldview that involves rejections of secularism, science, and academic institutions.

I developed claustrophobia, a generalized anxiety disorder, and panic attacks in high school. At the time, I assumed my panic attacks were the result of the Holy Spirit convicting me of my sins. The most common trigger for my panic was sexuality. As a teenager, I would often shake uncontrollably after masturbating. Homeschooling can make children feel trapped because they are literally never away from their parents. When I was quasi-dating girls in high school, behind my parents’ back because they wanted me to court, I would have a mini-panic attack when the phone rang – scared that my parents would find out. When I got in trouble it meant a few hours with mom and dad, crying and arguing about what God told them to do, ending in me feeling completely trapped. When I woke up the next day, I had no choice but to bottle up my anger, shame, and humiliation and go “do” homeschooling. In ATI, many leaders preached about how listening to rock music would literally result in demonic possession. This is abusive to teach to children. To this day, I struggle with anxiety before I fall asleep.  I was taught, by my parents and by ATI’s leaders, that demons were very real and they could possess rebellious Christians. Many in the homeschooling movement conceptualized the “culture war” as spiritual warfare — the secular humanists were literally portrayed as the minions of Satan.

Spiritual abuse is a difficult term for many people to wrap their heads around. It may seem like we are trying to say that raising children in a religious tradition is abusive, which we are not. However, I can say that when homeschooling is mixed with religious fundamentalism, abuse almost always occurs.

There is a distinction between religious fundamentalism and mainstream religions. I once told my mom, “I would have been fine if you stayed Baptist. It’s when you drifted into fundamentalism that hurt me.”  What many people fail to realize is that most parents don’t wake up one day and decide they need to start controlling their childrens’ lives and prepare them for the culture wars. Yes, my parents are to blame for subscribing to fundamentalism, but the homeschooling community and movement are also to blame.

In many states in the 1990s and 2000s, homeschooling parents received most of the curriculum, instruction, and indoctrination at state, regional, or national conferences. There are a myriad of institutions and groups that formed the movement, so it is impossible to point to a single root cause of the abuse in homeschooling. But I know abuse doesn’t just happen because of bad parenting. The bad parenting that people indict was being advocated on stage before thousands of people. There is a reason why so many homeschooling alumni share stories and experiences. Tens of thousands of homeschoolers attended state Christian Home Educator Fellowship (CHEF) conferences, where they were exposed to

  • The Harris family and their beliefs about Biblical courtship
  • David Barton and Little Bear Wheeler’s revisionist history
  • Evangelical leaders that scared everyone about the evils of secular humanism
  • Michael and Debi Pearl’s harsh ideas on corporal punishment and misogynistic ideas of gender roles
  • Huge book sales populated mostly by Christian fundamentalist textbooks — advocating creationism, teaching math based around the Gospel message, or other “educational tools.”

All of these ideas circulated around the homeschooling communities and trickled down to local CHEF chapters.

Parents’ responses have been mixed, but many of them see our blog as a tool to take control of their children away from them. Parents emphasize their rights to raise their children however they want. But, as a society, we have already decided that parental rights end where abuse begins. Thus, one of the main issue in this debate becomes whether or not a homeschooling environment is emotionally or spiritually abusive.

You might think this is only a problem of the past decades — that now, in this new zenith of modernity, fundamentalist homeschoolers that spiritually abuse their children are dying out. You would be wrong. Yes, there is growing momentum behind secular homeschooling, but there is no hard social science about homeschooling.  At this point, observational data is almost all that exists about homeschooling and its demographics. We know very generally how many people homeschool and for what reasons. But ten states do not even require the parents to inform them of their childrens’ “enrollment” in homeschooling.

This is the start of an important conversation about homeschooling. I am opposed to religious fundamentalism in all forms and I believe that the abuse that occurs when fundamentalism is allowed to dominate homeschooling has no place in the modern world. I’ve heard so many Evangelicals and homeschooling parents mock the Islamic madrasas for their religious instruction, but fundamentalist homeschooling isn’t different by much.

To those homeschoolers who are afraid of this exposure, it’s time to own up. These abuses happened, the community’s leaders encouraged it, and the community does not regulate itself. If the homeschooling community is not willing to regulate itself – lest a parent tell another parent their methods and ideologies are abusive! – then someone else will.

I am tired of sitting around hoping that the abusive fundamentalist culture within homeschooling will die out.  I don’t want it to die out, I want to trample it out so that no other children face the sort of abuse I, and many other, went through. Part of the means telling the honest, visceral truth about what happens in many homeschooling homes. Yes, abuse is ultimately the fault of the perpetrators, but why does everyone leave the homeschooling community blameless for how it brainwashed my parents?

The issue of abuse in homeschooling is an issue of the distortion of parental rights and the reality of systemic indoctrination.

You cannot stop the abuse without exposing the advocates.