To My Past — I Wouldn’t Be Who I Am Today Without You

Screen Shot 2013-08-13 at 4.10.13 PM

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Faith Beauchemin’s blog Roses and Revolutionaries. It was originally published on June 30, 2013.

I was raised in a home and a church with certain expectations.

Most of the people I grew up with have lived up to those expectations.  They’re all good Christians, remaining doctrinally pure and behaviorally righteous. Most of them are married and gearing up to raise the next generation of good Christians, in homes where the father is the leader and the mother is submissive.

My peers who have followed this path are the pride of their parents and the future of their church.

I have flouted all of these expectations. I quit attending fundamentalist churches years ago, and quit altogether around the time I graduated college.  Although my parents think it’s okay for a single woman to work, they also think a woman’s highest calling is wifehood and motherhood.  I’m nowhere near being a wife and I intend never to have children at all.  My politics are so far removed from those of my parents that we can barely discourse on the topic due to fundamentally different worldviews.  My behavior, as well, is far from the stringent moral standards held up by my former community, although somehow I think I’m still a pretty good person (mysteriously, drinking, going out to bars, and similar behaviors have not turned me into some kind of monster).

But it is clear to me that, however far removed I am from the outcome intended by the key players in my past (my parents and their church), my politics and anti-authoritarian worldview are a direct result of that past.

My parents made the mistake of teaching me to think for myself, to go against the mainstream, to be willing to believe what I know to be right.  They homeschooled me partially in order to keep me from conforming to ordinary culture.  Then they expected me to accept the exact same conclusions and ideas they themselves had accepted.

My church was, for a fundamentalist congregation, quite intellectual.  They taught us to look at textual and cultural context and to know (their version of) church history. They taught us to argue for our faith.  Then they expected that we would use each of these skills only to defend their particularly narrow viewpoint.   I attended a Christian college, where I took classes which taught me how to reason, how to gather evidence, how to think for myself and effectively communicate with others.

But that same Christian college naively assumed that its graduates would toe the party line. 

There were immense cultural pressures from my parents, their church, and my college to conform to a particular point of view, but all of them also gave me the tools to make my own way in the world, to reject conformity and with it the point of view they so desperately demanded I embrace.

At the same time as my parents, their church, and my college gave me the tools I needed to think for myself, they also taught me important lessons about fascism and forced conformity and loyalty to a particular ideology.  I saw and I experienced in my own life the terrible consequences of valuing ideology and power structures over people.

I learned that unquestioning acceptance of authority often leads to very negative outcomes. 

I learned that although those in authority demand implicit trust, I cannot implicitly trust them because they almost never truly have my best interests at heart.  As I have said before, fundamentalism is simply religious fascism.  It didn’t take long for my opposition to religious fascism to translate into the political arena as well.  Also, my past taught me the harm of a “we few vs. the rest of the world” mentality.  By its nature, conservative Christianity is elitist, claiming an inside track on knowledge and a superiority to unbelievers.

I am now utterly opposed to absolute power and I am wary of elitism in whatever form it takes.

So however critical I am of those in my past who attempted to control my life, I must also always be grateful to them. 

They gave me early experiences which formed my current worldview.  They gave me tools with which I was able to break out of the prisons they constructed around me and then build my own life, a life which looks nothing like they want it to but a life which I inhabit very happily.

Confessions of a Homeschooler: Iris Rosenthal’s Story, Part Two

Confessions of a Homeschooler: Iris Rosenthal’s Story, Part Two

Iris Rosenthal blogs at The Spiritual Llama. This story is reprinted with her permission.

< Part One

"I remember how hard it was for me to adjust to being outside of the homeschooling bubble and in some ways, eight years later I am still adjusting."
“I remember how hard it was for me to adjust to being outside of the homeschooling bubble and in some ways, eight years later I am still adjusting.”

Since my original post I have come to the realization that I have just scratched the surface on everything that I have to tell about homeschooling. One of the problems I have with home education is that there is hardly any regulation. During the time I was homeschooled, K-12, I never once had to take the SAT or ACT or any other sort of evaluation test.

As long as it looked like I was studying I was pretty much left alone. The only subjects my mother was constantly involved in were; math, spelling and english. Occasionally she would check my work in the other subjects, but for the most part I was left to fend for myself and once I reached the age of 15 any involvement from her pretty much came to a stop.

I often hear the argument that not all parents homeschool are like this and that my mom was doing it wrong. While that may be the case, I don’t think that this should be lightly brushed off. We are talking about the education of children here! It is my belief that whichever route you choose, it’s very important that your children receive the best possible education. Be involved, be a part of their lives, listen, be aware of what they are learning about and learn with them!

With the lax requirements in place for homeschooling it only flings open the door for cases such as mine to happen. So much for homeschooling being better than public school (for those who don’t know me, that was sarcasm)!

I know my story is not the only one, my brother & sister and close friends have also experienced the same lack of education and preparedness to function in the real world because of being homeschooled. However, I’m not here to tell their story for them, I’m here to tell mine.

My first full time job experience happened when I was 21 at a call center. Yes I’d had jobs previously, but they were just odd jobs and the people I worked for I already knew from either homeschool group, church or 4-H. So I was always within that bubble my mother had me living in.

While working at the call center I got to know people who *gasp* went to public school, it was then that I started to realize that there were holes in my education. I didn’t know any math beyond the basic add and subtract. I could barely multiply or divide. Forget fractions and algebra.

I also realized that I was spelling a lot more words wrong than what I originally thought I was. It’s pretty bad (not to mention embarrassing) when your manager brings back your vacation time off request (written in clear handwriting) and asks you to tell what words you meant to put down. I found myself sticking out a lot in all the wrong ways, and my judgmental attitude towards people who were different than me didn’t help with that at all!

I had never been around so many people from so many different backgrounds before, it was quite an eye opener and culture shock for me! I still remember the first time I heard someone swear. If I didn’t agree with something someone said or did I made sure to let them know that it offended me. If I knew someone was a Christian and I heard them say something that I didn’t believe a Christian should say I made sure to let them know how wrong they were.

Looking back, I was quite obnoxious and judgmental towards my coworkers at that job. It is no small wonder that barely any of them talk to me anymore and I can’t say that I blame them!

I am so thankful that I have learned since then and now at my current job I am known among my coworkers for being helpful and a team player. I no longer allow my homeschooling experience to define me, in fact I hardly ever bring it up. I don’t feel as though I should have to defend my education (or lack thereof) to anyone.

It is my desire that people know and define me by who I really am, and not as some “failed product of home education.”

I hope that by sharing my experiences I can somehow prevent them from happening to someone else. I remember how hard it was for me to adjust to being outside of the homeschooling bubble and in some ways, eight years later I am still adjusting.

If anyone is reading this and is going through that rough transition period from the bubble to the real world, just know that you aren’t the only one who has traveled that path. It may be rough now, but in the end you will be stronger and wiser for it!

TeenPacters Speak Up: Part Eight, TeenPact and Mixed Emotions

TeenPacters Speak Up: A Series by Between Black and White

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Between Black and White. Part Eight was originally published on May 23, 2013.


Part Eight: TeenPact and Mixed Emotions, by Deborah

For me, thinking about TeenPact is a painful experience of very mixed emotions. While I was involved, I loved my experience. TeenPact offers homeschoolers who are often without significant social opportunities a country-wide network of friends. My TeenPact friends spanned the country from Maine to Virginia to Hawaii and New Mexico and I loved it. I was very socially gregarious and TeenPact gave me a place to channel my energies. I got to travel all over the country, at first attending different events as a student and later as a traveling staff member.

But most of all, I craved and cherished the sense of shared purpose. We called it fellowshipping, and that’s what it was – we shared a cause, but more than that, we shared a fundamental belief system – beliefs about what God was like, what people were like, what we were like – and there was comfort in that. There was security.

TeenPact made me feel good about myself. I was energetic, passionate (but not too passionate), mature for my age, and funny – a combination that turned out to be what TeenPact values in staff members. My year of being a travelling staffer was my senior year of highschool, and at the end of that year one of the interns came to me and asked me to put off my first year of college to stay in the program as an intern for the upcoming year. I was legitimately torn, but ultimately decided that I couldn’t give up my spot in an honors program at the college I had been accepted to. Looking back on that decision, I am so glad that I did what I did.

TeenPact gave me security. It gave me a place in the world and a sense of self. It validated many true things about myself – that I’m good with people, that I’m a natural leader, that I can help mediate and resolve conflicts. And all these things are why I’m so conflicted over my time in TeenPact. TeenPact was good to me – I have no right to be so disillusioned. Right?

But ultimately, I can’t help but be disillusioned. We were 15, 16, 17 and 18-year-olds in positions of power over our peers. There were obvious in-crowds and out-crowds. At the beginning of each class, the staffers almost immediately established who were the “good kids” and the “problem kids” and treated them as such throughout the program. Some of these judgment calls were valid, but often they were based on appearance (the kids who looked too “homeschooled” were out), personality (too energetic? Talk too much? Awkward? Out), and religious affiliation (Catholic? Good luck). There was a huge sense of superiority that none of us recognized at the time but that, looking back, I recognize in myself as spiritual pride. We were the best. Why else were we staffers? There was a culture of judgment that was accepted and disguised as “discernment,” but we were highschoolers judging other highschoolers based on trivial things. Those of us that were able to appear most spiritual, mature and “discerning” were able to rise.

I am personally ashamed of some of the things I did as a staffer. I wish I had never had to ask girls to change their “inappropriate” clothes. I can’t forget the look on one girl’s face as I handed her a pair of “appropriate” jeans and asked her to change. The humiliation, obvious confusion and embarrassment she felt makes me feel sick when I remember it.

I’m ashamed of my spiritual posturing. I really meant all the prayers I prayed, all the “wise” bits of advice I gave out to the girls I was leading, all the devotionals I wrote, all the worship services I helped lead. I really meant them, but to convince everyone else I really meant them I cultivated a very spiritual appearance. My Bible was highlighted everywhere. My prayers were long and effusive (and very public – we prayed in prayer circles outside senate chambers and offices of high officials at every capitol building). During worship I “lost myself” in the music, swaying and raising my hands. This was partly the style of worship I was raised with, but I judged those who I did not consider similarly moved, and I made sure to align my worship and prayer styles with what the interns were doing. These were not conscious decisions – I was trying to fit in with a program that valued obvious and public Christianity.

I’m ashamed that I was so quick to judge others, and that I couldn’t see that that’s what I was doing. I judged based on trivial things – appearances and differences in personality.

I used to be very angry about my experiences in TeenPact. I blamed TeenPact for teaching me negative beliefs about myself as a woman, about others who didn’t qualify as godly enough, about non-Christians who were trying to steal our government. But since then I’ve become less angry. My anger has changed into a confusing mixture of sadness and shame right alongside memories of the truly good times, and a strange ennui for the assurance that I knew exactly who I was and where I fit. I realize that the assurance that I felt was the assurance of childhood – I did not understand the world or even myself, though I was convinced that I understood it better than most adults.

That assurance passed with time and education. That was perhaps the problem with 16-year-olds as staffers – we were really only a little older than children.

I actually have a lot of hope for TeenPact. The upper staff has recently changed, and the new leadership is actively seeking to change some of the more negative aspects of the program. Management has reached out to former TeenPacters, asking for their thoughts and suggestions on how to change the program for the better. I am so hopeful that TeenPact is on a healing journey.

The ultimate results of the changes remain to be seen, but I am confident that it is people like us – who spoke out about the damage that we experienced during our time in TeenPact – that have set this process of change in motion.

To be continued.