More Guest than Citizen: Jaelyn Bos’s Story

“Be in the world, but not of it.”

This statement summarizes how good Christians are to relate to non-evangelicals, or so I have been told. It also describes my relationship to my peers prior to college.

As a homeschooler (K-12), I was something of an anomaly. My parents are moderately left-leaning in both their politics and their theology, which in Homeschool World makes them flaming liberals.

I had friends prior to college (primarily from a homeschool co-op), but I was also far lonelier than I understood. I worked hard in school, stayed quiet though conversations about Ken Ham and Sarah Palin, and kept my interests to myself. Though in their world, I was definitely not of it. I actually had a great variety of experiences in high school, from volunteering regularly in inner city DC to visiting a development organization in Honduras. Yet, in all these places, I was more guest than citizen, in but not of.

Thankfully, my family expected me to go to college. They supported me completely when I chose to live on-campus at a diverse public university.

My first few weeks at college felt like walking through the wardrobe into Narnia.

I was a little dazed, sure, but mostly I was dazzled but the discovery of a huge new world of ideas and activities and people. I made a friend from Albania, and a friend who was Jewish, and a friend who was bisexual. I discovered terms, like intersectionality, and causes, like transgender rights, that I barely knew existed. I played cards with mixed-gender groups of friends past midnight and nobody cared.

My academic transition was easy thanks to community college classes in high school and parents who made sure I received rigorous, well-rounded education. Socially, I was friendly, but struggled to see myself as part of a group. I still remember my bizarre feeling of surprise when I realized that I was just as capable of gathering my friends for dinner as was anyone else.

As the semester wore on, I carefully practiced being honest about myself. I admitted to my ignorance of pre-2012 pop culture, doubts about my sexuality, and fascination with evolutionary biology, and learned that no quirks are unique to one person. I realized that in being truthful, I could actually affect the opinions of others, and my opinions could evolve as well. I felt heard.

I learned that I could not only be genuine in my community, but also change it.

Joining a service learning program exposed me to concept of civic engagement, and amazing administrators and professors showed me how to take my ideas and run with them. On a more personal level, I sought other students in need of community and tried to be there for them.

I am now beginning my third year of college, double majoring in two sciences and mostly still loving it. My community is not perfect, but it is mine. To all of the homeschoolers facing a transition to college, I would like to give the same advice I gave the freshmen for whom I TA: Try new things, find help when you need it, be kind.

For you in particular, I will add that it is not your job to defend homeschooling. It is your job to find people you trust, and then be honest. Tell the truth about where you’ve been, what you care about, and what you don’t understand. Then listen to the others’ truths and allow them to change you.

Homeschooling taught me adaptability, and critical thinking, though perhaps I would have gained those same traits elsewhere. I do not know what my life would be had I not been homeschooled. I do know this. I am woven tight into the fabric of my community here, and I am not just in it. I am making it.

The Dawning of Day: Gary’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

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

I like to think of my awakening as the sun rising rather than a light bulb being turned on.
I think of my awakening in this way for several reasons.

First, because it wasn’t one moment in time I can pick out that changed it all, no one event or interaction. It was instead a dawning, a slow realization spread out over the space of about 14 years.

Second, because it is not some small illumination that can be broken or switched off again, but rather an all-encompassing, earth warming, life giving blast furnace of truth that rises into the sky.

Third, because it starts small, from total darkness. I was stumbling, groping in the dark, blind, being tripped up by things I could not see.

Then comes the faintest of glows, far off, or, if you face away from the sunrise, you see first faint outlines of objects, the slightest differentiation of light from dark, form as different than the formless, the earth from the sky.

Little by little the light grows; the things I stumbled on in the darkness are shown to be small stones easily avoided…..now that I can see them for what they really are.

Did it start the day I realized, while reading my father’s old psychology textbook, that my father had been intentionally manipulating us children with Pavlov and Freud based tricks? That he KNEW what he was doing? That his bizarre behavior was not just him “being crazy” but was based off actual theories and practices he had studied in University?

That he was intentionally and with malice trying to make us children afraid of the outside world using psychological manipulation?

That when he spoke of how everyone but himself were “sheep” that could be so easily manipulated he was including myself and my siblings in that number?

Did it start when I realized at age 15 that I was the intellectual equal to my father? That I wasn’t an “idiot” or a “simpleton” as he so frequently told me but rather on par with him in every way? That he could not come up with a single form of manipulation, a single trick, that I did not see through like a pain of glass?

Was it at the age of 20, sitting in the seats of a prominent fundamentalist College and hearing raw hatred spewed from the pulpit day after day after day?

Hatred for Catholics, hatred for LGBTQ people, (thinly veiled) hatred for other races, and thinking…..”these people are crazy”….not just average crazy, but completely, 100%, to the very core, crazy. Dangerous crazy. Wild eyed, clenched teeth, foaming at the mouth NUTS, that they WANT the apocalypse to happen, desire it with a rabid hunger and dream about the end of the world like a little kid dreaming about going to Disney World.

Was it at the age of 21-22 when I started reading actual science textbooks and articles for the very first time and realized that there was no global conspiracy of scientists working to cover up the modern day existence of living dinosaurs left over from the flood?

That the Loch Ness monster wasn’t real? That even other Christians believed in evolution? That the “scientific truth” I had been taught was the collective fantasies of just a handful of complete crackpots who had absolutely zero credibility?

Was it at the age of 23, hearing Neil Young’s “Keep on Rocking In the Free World” on the radio, and hearing for the first time the lines: “…so she puts the kid away and she’s gone to get a hit, she hates her life and what she’s done to it, that’s one more kid who’ll never get to go to school, never get to fall in love, never get to be cool…” and realizing so very clearly that I was essentially that child?

That my parents’ addiction to the sense of superiority they got from radical fundamentalism was more important to them than my chance to have any semblance of a normal or happy childhood?

That they were juicing up with “hits” of radical ideology and paranoia as fervently and regularly as any addict? That all else, every other thing in the world, including the health and mental well-being of their children, would always come second to their need to feel superior?

I can’t pick a single instance when I woke up completely, but I can clearly see the end result.

A stronger, more educated, clear headed, less fearful human being.
A person no longer groping in the darkness.
A person striding ahead into future, the path ahead finally illuminated, not by light bulbs, not by candles, but by the all-encompassing light of day.

An Average Homeschooler: Part Five, High School Textbooks

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HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Samantha Field’s blog, Defeating the Dragons. Part Five of this series was originally published on December 12, 2013. Also by Samantha on HA: “We Had To Be So Much More Amazing”“The Supposed Myth of Teenaged Adolescence”“(Not) An Open Letter To The Pearls”,  “The Bikini and the Chocolate Cake”, and “Courting a Stranger.”

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

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Elementary school and junior high were marked by a lot of experimentation with curriculum.

My mother got a homeschool catalog in the mail, and she’d sit down and go through it, highlighting anything she thought was interesting, and I’d pick out a few things that I thought were cool, and that’s what we’d end up doing for electives. However, once we hit high school, I was focusing pretty intently on my piano, as well as my writing, so I wasn’t very interested in electives besides those two. We stuck with the core high school curriculum, and for the most part only used A Beka and BJUPress.

I have very clear memories of my high school experience. I remember the way all the books looked, I remember specific passages and illustrations. I remember quizzes and homework problems.

10th grade was A Beka biology, grammar, and history, BJUPress geometry and literature.

The biology was absolutely ridiculous, in retrospect. They argued a few things about evolutionary missing links that when I did research years later were either exaggerations or misrepresentations. They spent a lot of time presenting their version of evolutionary theory, and what they did was give me nothing more than a straw man. They made assertions about what evolutionists think that make evolutionists look patently ridiculous– the problem is, modern evolutionists haven’t thought or expressed any of those ideas in over a century in some cases. The textbook spends an inordinate amount of time building a case for philosophical Modernism– it doesn’t really have much to do with science, but it has everything to do with conservative and fundamentalist religion.

The grammar and vocabulary books were fine, for the most part, except that A Beka has a very particular agenda to push when it comes to grammar. All of their books explicitly teach prescriptive grammar, and condemns all dictionaries past Webster’s 3rd as absolutely corrupt. The BJUPress literature book taught the same attitude, haranguing almost any author past the 18th century for their amorality and relativism. In fact, the only author I read that could at all be described as post-modern would be T.S. Elliot, and he barely qualifies. I also don’t remember much — if anything — written by someone who wasn’t a white man. So, while most of my peers read books like To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye or 1984, I didn’t read any of them until I got to graduate school.

Both the A Beka biology book and the BJUPress geometry book made it absolutely clear that the only way a scientist can discover anything is if God allows it.

Aside from it painting a dubious picture of God as well as leaving the impression that scientists are bumbling idiots stumbling around in the dark and God occasionally allows them to bump into something (a la endless lists of scientific discoveries that were made “by accident”), these books make it clear that the only possible way of finding truth is if you’re a Christian. Newton discovered his theory of gravity because he was a Christian (which, are you sure you want to claim this guy, A Beka?). There’s a whole chapter dedicated to “real Christian scientists” that is placed in direct opposition to their chapter of “evolutionist hacks.” I’m particularly bothered by this claim, because it’s feeding into Christian privilege and demeaning the hard work and abilities of most scientists.

And the history… well, calling A Beka textbooks “history” is almost laughable. I heard many of my professors and educators complain about “revisionist” history, but knowing what I know now about the material contained inside these textbooks just makes me shake my head. The Civil War is the “War Between the States” or “War of Northern Aggression,” and almost any discussion of the brutalizing horrors of chattel slavery is dismissed. They explain the concept of “Indian Giving” and paint the French-Indian War as something completely unprovoked by any of the English settlers. American history is completely white-washed. The chapter title for Africa in the World History book is un-ironically “The Dark Continent,” and the white-and-Western-centric point of view is hailed as the only truth and manifest destiny is praised. There are entire sections devoted to the evils of pluralism and multi-culturalism, and they call modern India “backwards.”

In short, the only real purpose of their textbooks is indoctrination.

11th grade was more of the same, except I tried both Algebra I and chemistry. I read the chemistry textbook, but it was largely useless outside of the labs and experiments, and we couldn’t do any of those. I ended up basically reading the textbook for the first week and then not having anything else to do. This is the year when I spent most of my time reading books written by young earth creationists– I’ve always been fascinated by science, and this was the year that my frustration with school shot through the roof. As I’d gotten older, I’d gone through whole periods of wanting to be a veterinarian, a vulcanologist, a marine botanist, a cancer researcher, an astrophysicist.

But this was the point when I started to realize that I couldn’t do any of that.

This was the year I realized that my dreams of becoming a scientist were absolutely futile. And I knew it, because I was never going to have the science or math education to survive college.

There were a few factors playing into this– one of them being that I was being told by friends, by family, by my church, by the books I read, that women are not just limited to homemaking by the Bible, we’re limited to homemaking because we’re incapable of being anything else. I couldn’t be a scientist because women are bad at science and math.

Throw that into the pot of not being able to teach myself chemistry and algebra, and you’ve got a problem.

I struggled through algebra every day, hiding in my room so I could cry in frustration because I didn’t understand anything the book was trying to teach me. I tried to ask my mother, but that turned out to be largely futile– my mother had to try to re-teach herself algebra from her foggy memories of high school every single time I asked her to help me, and she was incapable of teaching algebra to me in any other way except how she understood it. She didn’t understand algebra well enough to explain it to me in a way that I could understand.

She didn’t know how to teach math.

This isn’t a reflection on my mother. My mother is brilliant. The problem is my mother was constantly fed the lie that you don’t have to know anything about teaching in order to teach your children. She didn’t know any different, and when we realized that I’d already met the math requirements under the umbrella school to graduate, we both gave up. I accepted my place as a woman and started preparing for a music degree instead of the science I’d always wanted, and my mother accepted what it seemed like I suddenly “wanted.”

My last year in high school my focus switched almost absolutely to practicing piano. I was enrolled with an incredibly demanding teacher and entering competitions like crazy, so school just sort of… fell apart. I whipped through all my English and history classes, half-assed my way through physics (we got the A Beka video tapes, but I didn’t do any of the homework and crammed for all the tests and did very badly– giving up my most recent goal of becoming an astrophysicist hurt a little too much to deal with it), took a “consumer math” course, and got accepted to a fundamentalist college.

I realize that this is more of a literature review than anything else, but I decided to talk about this facet of my high school experience today because both A Beka and BJUPress are still some of the largest distributors for homeschool textbooks, even today. Other curriculum, like Sonlight, are becoming popular, as are people just using the same textbooks as their local public school.

But for the still-dominant religious homeschooling culture, A Beka and BJUPress are still popular.

To be continued.

Ready for Real Life: Part Five, Science and Medicine

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Ready for Real Life: Part Five, Science and Medicine

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. Part Five of this series was originally published on October 26, 2013.

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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

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In this part of the “Ready for Real Life” webinar, the Botkin family discusses the roles that science, nature, and medicine play in Christian homeschooling. While the Botkins spoke warmly of these fields, their words betrayed a distrust of evidence and scientific communities at odds with their beliefs.

Geoffrey Botkins encouraged parents to share things that delight them about science and nature with their children, such as a close-up of an owl’s eye that he saw in National Geographic.

Children must not be afraid of studying science, he said, celebrating parents who encourage children to think about science.

He cited a prayer attributed David in Psalm 28:3-5, which condemns those who “have no regard for the deeds of the Lord and what his hands have done”. The passage warns that God “will tear them down and never build them up again” as punishment for their “wicked” ways. Geoffrey warned that God will similarly punish those who are indifferent to creation at the 3:18 mark.

“If you’ve noticed people in this culture that we live in in the United States who literally have decided that they will not trouble themselves to think about the works of the Lord, including themselves, they don’t want to admit that they’ve been created by the Creator, and so they don’t want to think about the implications of the works of the Lord all around them being of the Lord, nor the deeds of his hands. And what we see here from scripture is that the intimate Lord God almighty does deal with people on a very personal basis. He will tear them down and not build them up.”

As with his previous webinar, Botkin threatened impious people with divine wrath. For all his warm words about learning, his ideology is firmly rooted in fear of divine retribution. A fear-based ideology is unlikely to produce critical thinking skills or genuine wonder, which makes Botkin’s words all the more ironic.

As with previous webinars, Geoffrey Botkin began the talk with a prayer. He beseeched God to help them recognize God as the creator and humans as the created, to avoid worshiping the creation over the creator, to understand the truths in creation, and to comprehend God’s will so that humans can take dominion.

I paused when I heard Geoffrey pray that people avoid worshiping the creation over the creator. An inaccurate fundamentalist myth about environmentalists is that they allegedly worship Earth and neglect God.

Was Geoffrey taking a veiled jab at environmentalism?

Studying the sciences gave the Botkin children mental agility and breadth, Geoffrey proudly told listeners. Study of the sciences equips children with tools for life, including honed powers of observation and mental acuity, he said.

Noah Botkin, one of Geoffrey and Victoria’s sons, stressed that the sciences are a tool to aid humans in obeying God and exercising dominion. At the 8:16 mark, Noah disparaged scientists who allegedly see their craft as a means of glorifying the human mind.

“You read a lot of secular sources … you’re forced to read a lot of papers by men who aren’t Christians, and a lot of these scientists believe that the study of science is simply an exercise in glorifying the human mind. The attitude of them is just, ‘let us see how far we can go to exercise our own intelligence and see just how good we are.’ And that’s wrong. Christians need to understand science as a tool. It needs to be thought of as a tool. The purpose of science is to assist us in obeying God’s commandments, and the study of science is an avenue that we can take in order to learn about the glory of God’s systems, the systems that he’s designed. The world is a system that he’s created and designed. And so, the application of this scientific study augments our ability to obey God’s commandments, to fulfill the dominion mandate and the great commission.”

Geoffrey Botkin emphasized that Jesus exerts dominion over all things, so humans should learn about their creator by studying everything he has created. Parents are to remind children that they will not take dominion someday for themselves, but for Jesus, Geoffrey reminded his audience.

Christians are to take dominion in Jesus’ name so as “to bring order to the world the way he wants it to be ordered,” he said.

Geoffrey waxed poetic about cells as miniature galaxies unto themselves, and about the movement of nutrients from the soil into plants into humans and back to the soil. The world is a harmonious global ecosystem created by God, he explained, not a hostile setting that humans must struggle against.

Doesn’t he mean a harmonious global biosphere, the sum total of Earth’s ecosystems? I thought. As for Earth not being hostile, a few million survivors of hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, floods, volcanic eruptions, epidemics, and famines would disagree!

Geoffrey’s wife, Victoria Botkin, caricatured public school science classes as meaningless courses that depict the universe as random and meaningless. At the 15:57 mark, she painted an ugly picture of public school science courses.

“Those of us who went to public school often have a hard time knowing how to think about science because to us, it’s a school subject, right? It’s like band and gym class, science class. Well, most kids in public school hated science class, and that’s because in public school, we learned that science was bunch of facts about stuff that happened at random and for no reason. And we public school kids may have not been very smart, but we were sure smart enough to realize that stuff that happened at random and for no reason was meaningless and therefore boring and a waste of our time. We could see, maybe, that there were patterns in nature that were amazing, and maybe we could see things under a microscope that were beautiful and astonishing, but if we could see this, it was really frustrating because it didn’t mean anything.” 

This was emphatically not my experience of sciences classes in public school.

I look back on my high school chemistry and Earth sciences classes with fondness, because the teachers made science both fun and relevant. For example, my Earth science course did not present the natural world as a pandemonium of random occurrences, but an intricate web of cause, effect, and interconnection. To boot, students learned about the real-world consequences of environmental policies, fossil fuel use, overpopulation, and shrinking resources, so our class content was anything but meaningless. Victoria Botkin may have drudged through class because of a poor science teacher, an inadequate science curriculum, or her own indifference, but her experiences are not representative of all public school students!

Victoria claimed that mothers who attended public schools are often ill-equipped to teach their children science. At the 17:42 mark, she discouraged mothers from using mainstream textbooks, lest they “infect” their children with the same “faulty” thinking.

“Moms who went to public school have a hard time understanding how to teach science, and in fact, we have a hard time even understanding what science is. And so, if our state’s laws say that we’re supposed to do a unit of science this semester, we think, ‘well, okay, now what?’, and we buy a science textbook, and if we do that, we’re going to infect our children with the same faulty way of thinking.”

Victoria defined science at the study of the created world, how it works, and how the creatures therein interaction. Deuteronomy 6 commands parents to teach their children to love God and honor his ways, she argued, and that command should be at the core of everything homeschooling parents teach, including science.

The Bible states that teaching science can help children love God, she insisted. Victoria quoted Deuteronomy 30:19, in which heaven and earth counsel humans to honor God, as well as Psalm 19:1-6, in which the skies reveal knowledge in the form of astronomy. The fact that the books of the Bible were composed centuries before the advent of modern science, and thus do not embody scientific principles, seemed to have escaped her.

At the 21:32 mark, Victoria lambasted non-fundamentalist scientists as “enemies of God” because they are allegedly trying to disprove God’s existence.

She gave no examples of scientists who are allegedly trying to do so, however, condemning them en masse as warriors in the “war for men’s minds and hearts”.

“I guess it should come as no surprise to us — since we know that there is a war of ideas on, a war for men’s minds and hearts — that scientists have taken that which testifies that God is, and that he is good, and they have twisted it to try to prove that there is no God, and in a way this makes sense that the enemies of God would do this because the study of God’s creation, which is what science is, is one of our best tools and one of our best allies for teaching our children to love and revere God.”

Geoffrey Botkin addressed a listener question about teaching science on a budget. He replied that he’d known families who realized that public school wasn’t an option, and who strove to give their children a better education than what “government schools” could offer. Libraries, access to books, and talking with children about science were vital in those families, Geoffrey explained.

Isaac Botkin, one of Geoffrey and Victoria’s sons, discussed Christian homeschooler’s reticence around evolution, stressing the need for Christians to fight evolution through science. What fundamentalists were supposed to do if science supported evolution was not explored.

Considering that scientific evidence supports evolution, good luck with that, I thought.If fundamentalists cite the pseudoscience they’ve relied on so far, I’m not worried.

In true fundamentalist form, Isaac trotted out tired stereotypes about evolution, eugenics, and racism at the 28:40 mark.

“There is a lot of skepticism in the homeschoolers’ approach to science in a lot of ways, and I think a lot of that is reactionism. It’s fear of studying books or resources that mention evolution, and this is a really good fear to have, because the evolutionary thought, the concept of Darwinism is itself incredibly destructive, and it’s something that we need to fight by studying science well. You can’t fight bad ideas with no ideas. You can’t fight bad information with ignorance. And it’s incredibly important that children understand that they can see God’s hand in God’s creation by studying science, but it’s also important that they understand that they need to be able to refute the enemies of Gods who will deny God’s work in creation, and there’s dozens of reasons for this. There are reasons in scripture that describe that, but there’s also the practical reason that evolutionary thought is incredibly destructive. It’s one of the many driving forces between the eugenics movement. It’s something that supports racism, that supports social Darwinism, that supports socialism.”

Geoffrey Botkin elaborated on his son’s statement, encouraging listeners to take a “bold stand” against “false science and pseudoscience”. He mocked Charles Darwin as “not a real naturalist, he was a a fantasy naturalist, really, and came up with fantasy theories for his own personal theology that was just readily received by everyone.”

Elizabeth Botkin spoke at length about science education for girls, arguing that both sexes are responsible for dominion and thus require a science background. At the 31:33 mark, she claimed that girls and women can help men exercise dominion.  

“It’s very easy to think that these are guy things … and to think that our role will never require us to know any of these things. That’s because often, we girls have actually assigned ourselves a role as women that’s a lot smaller than the role the Bible gives us, and we think, ‘Oh, well we’ll never have to be involved in invention or engineering or exploration, because our job is to do the dishes and the sewing’, and we let ourselves off easy. And it’s because, I believe, we’ve forgotten the dominion mandate, which involves invention, exploration, classification, cultivation, and discovery, was assigned to the man and the woman, and the great commission of discipling all the nations was assigned to men and women, and though there are very definitely differences between the Biblical role of man and the Biblical role of women, the lines between those roles are not drawn so much by activity as they are by jurisdiction and hierarchy. And so, yes, there are certain roles and jobs that are off-limits to women, the Bible says very clearly, but when it comes to what we’re allowed to help our men do, the field is really as wide as the earth itself.”

Elizabeth elaborated at the 33:57 mark, arguing that girls need science education to help men and teach children.

“If we never have to do more than wear modest clothes, cook good meals, keep the house clean and decorated, then it’s true. That doesn’t require a super-vigorous education. But if a girl is going to grow up to help a man make disciples of the nations and teach her children to do the same, and be a highly skilled and productive Proverbs 31 woman, she needs a very vigorous education, including in all the sciences.”

I was stunned. The Christian Patriarchy Movement restricts women to confined roles, but Elizabeth accuses girls and women of assigning themselves a small role. Furthermore, as much as Elizabeth tries to obscure it, she cannot avoid the fact that her subculture denies women career opportunities in the sciences. The best a woman can hope for is being “allowed” to help her men with scientific pursuits (between cooking, cleaning, homeschooling a huge brood of children, and recuperating from repeated pregnancies, of course). That’s assuming that the men in her life have any interest in science. The idea that a woman could be more than a subordinate helper to her father or husband, that a woman could be a science leader in her own right, did not occur to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth should learn more about female scientists in recent history.

The world has made great strides thanks to the efforts of women like Rachel CarsonJane GoodallWangari MaathaiVandana ShivaGrace Hopper, Françoise Barré-SinoussiGertrude B. ElionNancy RomanVera RubinRosalind FranklinChristiane Nusslein-Volhard, and Elizabeth Blackburn, just for starters. These women changed the world by breaking barriers, striving for excellence, and working alongside their male colleagues as equals. Had these scientists been content to be men’s subordinate helpers, the world would have never benefited from their genius.

Anna Sophia Botkin praised female scientists of the past such as Ada Byron and Marie Curie, describing how they worked alongside their fathers, husbands, and male friends. At the 35:30 mark, she wondered why more homeschooled girls don’t pour themselves into science and technology.

Because your subculture grinds their self-esteem into dust? I thought.

“You’ve got to wonder why is it that homeschool girls today are not doing any of these things. We see a lot of girls who are pursuing small handcrafts but not these bigger, dominion-oriented things. But there’s really no reason why they couldn’t be using their gifts for design and fine detail processing, for example, to do web design or graphic design instead of scrapbooking and kitting. There’s nothing in the Bible that says that we have to use a sewing machine and not a skill saw. There’s nothing that says that you have to make hand-knitted tea cozies and not furniture or robotic arms. There’s nothing that says that the woman’s job is to clean the house but not to build it.”

Anna Sophia’s comments troubled me, and not just because of her mirthless chuckles sprinkled throughout.

Anna and Elizabeth seem to believe that females in their subculture deliberately limit themselves to lesser roles, ignoring how Christian Patriarchy suppresses females through sexism. They also seem to think that girls and women have boundless time and energy for scientific pursuits, ignoring ways that endless household chores, child care, homeschooling, and health problems from repeated pregnancies can constrain girls and women in their subculture. In the Christian Patriarchy Movement, females can’t win.

Geoffrey Botkin offered advice to families with sons looking into careers in medicine. (The idea that daughters might do so was not considered.) He warned that modern medicine is a broken system, having been hijacked by “special interests”. For example, Sen. Ted Kennedy advocated for “nationalized medicine schemes” in the 1970s, he lamented, with Hillary Clinton and President Obama continuing those efforts in the decades after. “Doctors are now agents of the security state system,” Geoffrey claimed, in keeping with his prior statements about alleged “statism”. Society need doctors, but it also need to reform the medical system, and thus sons may need to work outside the system as reformers or independent professionals. Geoffrey encouraged an independent, self-policing medical system with its own private licensing, private insurance options, and private medical education.

All this struck me as problematic. Self-policing isn’t a reliable way of keeping organizations accountable. To address and prevent wrongdoing, policing needs to come from without as well as within an institution. Furthermore, if Geoffrey Botkin believes that the mainstream medical establishment is corrupt, how would an alternative medical establishment avoid the alleged pitfalls of its predecessor?

The Botkins’ disdain for the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) was evident.

Geoffrey took delight in new technology and its potential for helping people detach from the Obamacare system. His son Isaac blasted Obamacare as well, claiming that it would give patients fewer opportunities for care. In such a world, people need to be informed about medical care, requiring scientific knowledge.

Finally, I was confused by Geoffrey Botkin’s contradictory advice on how to approach the science community. At the 1:08:47 mark, he urged listeners to “engage this century” by being leaders in science.

“We have to engage our generation. We have to engage this century. We need some students who really go far in these sciences so that they can be leaders, and they can understand the science. They don’t have to be followers. They can be leaders.”

On the other hand, he disparaged higher education as a “setback” for homeschooled students. At the 1:09:05 mark, he warned that college could alleged set students back, and that higher science professions could “compromise” or “enslave” them.

“You have to be so careful about throwing your children into a university environment to get certain qualifications that literally could trap them. For most people who go to university for other non-scientific, non-engineering pursuits, college is a real setback. You don’t really want to be training your children or getting your children ready for that. It will truly set them back for the 21st century. But what about these more precise, heavy science obligations that we’re facing? The students need to be extremely careful not to compromise themselves to be enslaved to any of these higher professions — bioscience, in medicine, in medical research. They have to be very careful.”

The contrast between the two statements baffled me. He encouraged young people to become leaders in their fields, then warned them against university educations and high-powered science professions.

Did Geoffrey Botkin want young professionals to engage the world of science or not?

*****

Despite their ostensible respect for science, nature, and medicine, the Botkins’ ideology prevents them from fully engaging with those fields. (This meme comes to mind…) Part IV of the “Ready for Real Life” webinar contained themes of poor science, sexism, and disdain for the scientific community at large.

  • Flawed approach to science: The Botkins assume that their inerrant interpretation of scripture is true, using science to justify those faith-based assumptions. Evidence that could undermine their beliefs is ignored or scorned. This is a mockery of legitimate science, which tests hypotheses against observed evidence, rejecting or modifying hypotheses not supported by evidence.
  • Science and medicine careers as male domains: In the Botkin’s eyes, leadership roles in science and medicine are reserved for men. Geoffrey Botkin spoke of sons (but not daughters) seeking our medical careers. Elizabeth Botkin relegated females to subordinate roles as men’s helpers. In doing so, the Botkins discouraging females from becoming leaders in science and medicine.
  • Distrust and disengagement from the scientific community: For all his talk of engaging the 21st century world, Geoffrey Botkins advocated for disengagement from higher learning and the science community. Geoffrey Botkin discouraged students from attending universities, calling university education a “setback”. Furthermore, he encouraged Christians to work outside the mainstream medical establishment, ignoring the cutting edge research and promising careers it offers (for all its flaws).The Botkins also mocked and caricatured non-fundamentalist science professionals. For instance, Victoria Botkin derided non-fundamentalist scientists as “enemies of God” for allegedly trying to disprove God’s existence. Noah Botkin also dismissed non-Christian scientists for “glorifying the human mind”. Geoffrey Botkin sneered at Charles Darwin, attacking him as a “fantasy naturalist”.

Stay tuned for the next part of the “Ready for Real Life” webinar series!

*****

To be continued.

Deconversion: Vanessa’s Story, Part One

conversion

HA note: Vanessa blogs at Fiery Skull Diaries. She “recently uprooted [herself] from kentucky to florida,” where she enjoys “fresh springs, the magical fragrance of orange groves, and copious amounts of sunblock daily.” Vanessa considers herself “an exchristian, atheist, and antitheist, unapologetically.” This post was originally published on July 16, 2013 and is reprinted with her permission.

this process is difficult for me to write about because there’s so much to it. i’ve been putting it off for too long, feeling overwhelmed.

no more excuses. i need to write this story for my sake and the sake of others. i will be doing it in small, to-be-continued pieces until i get it all out. no more waiting. no more feeling like i have to write the entire thing before i can share any of it.

let’s get started.

my parents both grew up pretty poor in the same town in western kentucky their parents had grown up in, and their parents before that. neither was raised very religiously.

at the age of sixteen years and six days, my mom left her abusive childhood home to join in holy matrimony with my abusive father, age eighteen and six months. i was born twelve years later. i am the eldest of two girls; my sister is almost to the day two and a half years younger than me.

for reasons still unknown to me, my parents became fairly religious between the time they got married and the time i was born.

for my mother, i think it was about finding comfort. for my father, it was about appearing to be a stand-up guy in the community and getting to look at teenage girls in the youth groups, in which he somehow was always heavily, though superficially, involved.

most of my earliest memories are from the church we went to until i was three. after i turned three, we moved to a house outside of town and started attending a different church closer to our new home. like the one before, this was also a southern baptist church. we were there every sunday morning, sunday night, and wednesday night. i went to preschool at this church. my mom painted and wallpapered the bathrooms and several sunday school rooms in the church. my dad was on the volleyball and softball teams (i learned to rollerskate on my own in the church gym at age four by going with him to “bolleyball” practice on tuesday nights), and, of course, he was involved in the church youth group.

one sunday afternoon, when i had reached the age of reason at seven years old, my mom helped me pray the sinner’s prayer in our bathroom before she even got off the pot.

yes, you read that right. she could not bear to make the soul of her tearful, distraught seven year old, who had realized her sinfulness and eternal destiny, wait a second longer to accept jesus. so, sitting there on my mom’s lap, who was sitting on the toilet, i asked jesus to forgive me and come into my heart.

much to my extended family’s never-ending dismay, my mom decided to homeschool my sister and me when it was time for me to start kindergarten at the age of five. part of that decision was that she couldn’t stand the thought of putting her smaller-than-average five year old on a big, scary school bus at six in the morning.

the other part of that decision was to shield me from mean kids and unbiblical secularisms (*ahem*…EVOLUTION) taught in public school. (“public school” was a bad word in my vocabulary for my entire childhood.)

in other words, though she did not realize it, my mother chose, in part, to homeschool me to ensure my indoctrination.

*****

Part Two >

Starship Captains and Dinosaurs: Faith Beauchemin’s Thoughts

Starship Captains and Dinosaurs: Faith Beauchemin’s Thoughts

The following piece was originally published by Faith Beauchemin on her blog Roses and Revolutionaries. It is reprinted with her permission. Also by Faith Beauchemin on HA: “The Importance Of Telling Your Own Story.”

A fundamentalist Christian family is a hard place for a woman to grow up.

I was taught by my parents (and, more urgently, by all the books available to me) that a woman’s place is in the home.  A woman’s highest calling is marriage and child-rearing.  All of my talents and abilities and dreams could be met and fulfilled in building a happy home for my family.  If (god forbid) I were to end up single, I could be a nurse, like Florence Nightingale, or a missionary, or maybe a teacher.  I didn’t know anyone with a career, as far as I knew.  There actually were some women at church who had jobs, but they were either single or else I didn’t know that they had jobs.  It was just assumed by everyone that the normal pattern was for a woman to marry and give up her job as soon as she had kids, to dedicate herself full-time to taking care of them and, most likely, homeschooling them.  After all, Paul wanted women “to be keepers at home.”  And what someone wanted for women two thousand years ago is obviously the best thing possible for all women throughout time.

But two women slipped through the cracks and crept into my early image of successful womanhood.  Of course later, as my view of the world widened, there would be others, but these two I knew from early on in my childhood, and each holds a place in my heart.

When you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I (not feeling that motherhood right away would be my path) would respond either teacher or nurse, and singer.  Singer?  What a random career option.  This is because we had some old records by Amy Grant, which my mom had recorded onto tapes, which I listened to constantly.  She inspired me to enjoy singing, and I wanted so badly to be like her, singing such beautiful songs for a living. I imagined being on a stage, people clapping for me.  The dream was squashed by two things.  First, when Amy Grant got a divorce, I felt terribly betrayed.  I was too young to understand the reasons why it was actually a good thing for her to get out of that marriage, and I had been taught that divorce is a horrible sin.  I wouldn’t listen to her music for months afterward.  The second dream-squasher was being taught that everything needs to be done for god, not for oneself.  This led me to believe that performance was in some way wrong, perhaps not for other people but for a selfish, prideful person like me, it certainly would be.

My other early female inspiration was Captain Kathryn Janeway, from Star Trek: Voyager.  The series ran from the time I was five years old until I was eleven, and oh, how I wanted to be Captain Janeway.  I recall in particular one birthday party, I couldn’t have been older than six, where we went to a park and played on one of those big playground structures.  I ignored all the other kids at the party and ran around the playground structure pretending to be Captain Janeway commanding the starship Voyager.  I sucked in my stomach because I thought that made it look like I was a grown-up woman with boobs, lending me more credibility in the character of female spaceship captain.

I have literally no clue how I continued to want to be Captain Janeway alongside being taught harmful patriarchal bullshit about having to be a totally submissive wife and mother with no career or dreams or goals of her own except serving her family.  I don’t know how Janeway survived my upbringing, how she remained enshrined in my heart as a totally badass role model, but she did.

Maybe it’s like the way I believed in both evolution and creation at the same time.  My Grandpa gave us books about dinosaurs and fossils and I devoured them (as I devoured all books), and somehow held separate in my mind two alternate timelines for the universe.  The first timeline was illustrated by the pictures in my bible story books, god creating everything from nothing, the luscious garden scenes, the temptation and fall of mankind, the flood, and then it appeared that everybody lived in the desert for a long time, with camels and stuff.  The second timeline was illustrated by the dinosaur books and a couple other books that managed to slip through the cracks.  There were volcanoes and organisms crawling out of the water, sea monsters and dinosaurs and cave men.  There were magical words like “Jurassic” and “Cretaceous” and “trilobite.”  The evolutionary timeline seemed more like a fantasy than the biblical timeline, just because it wasn’t continuously reinforced during every waking moment.  But the evolutionary timeline was so taboo I got an almost sexual thrill from thinking about it, reading about it, looking at those strange landscapes and animals, and I thought that it, too, along with the bible taken in a strictly literal sense, was true.  There’s no way to reconcile how I was taught the bible with the evolutionary theory, but yet those beliefs coexisted in my mind.  In the same way, there’s no way to reconcile the patriarchy I was brought up in with an admiration of Captain Janeway, but I held on to both anyway.

Maybe it’s because, deep down, I liked a world where dinosaurs roamed exotic forests and then millions of years later a woman could captain a starship better than a world that had been around for brief few thousand years of history in which women were always morally obligated to be subjected to men and never aspire further than the home.  And maybe it’s because, deep down, I knew as soon as I encountered it what I actually believed, no matter how strenuously I tried to make myself believe what I was being taught.

I Feel Like I’m Getting Crap From Both Ends: Amy Mitchell’s Thoughts

I Feel Like I’m Getting Crap From Both Ends: Amy Mitchell’s Thoughts

HA note: The following post by Amy Mitchell was originally published on April 25, 2013 as “About that homeschooling thing” on her blog Unchained Faith. She describes herself on her blog as a “family woman, feminist, LGBT ally, reader, writer, and nerd. Progressive Christian skewering church and culture one blog post at a time.” This post is reprinted with her permission.

"The fact that a web site like Homeschoolers Anonymous even exists–out of necessity–cuts me deeply."
“The fact that a web site like Homeschoolers Anonymous even exists–out of necessity–cuts me deeply.”

I don’t talk about homeschooling very often.  Part of the reason is my kids–I prefer not to discuss them without their permission.  Since homeschooling is, by nature, about my daughter, I tend not to write much.  When something general comes up, however, I find myself wanting to respond.

The latest is a series of posts written by former homescholars.  I don’t begrudge them needing their space to talk about the frightening world from which they came; I believe safe space is vital.  My problem is not with Homeschoolers Anonymous, or even with some of what they’ve written.  My problem is with the response it has generated.

Before I begin, let me go on the record saying that as a homeschooling parent, I do not feel like an oppressed minority.  I may be in the actual minority, but that doesn’t make me oppressed.  We love our school district (our son is a public school student, and our daughter will likely be one eventually).  We have a great working relationship with them.  We’ve borrowed materials, including text books, and the teachers are always more than willing to give us suggestions.  Later this morning, I will be dropping off my daughter’s third quarter report and staying a few minutes to chat with the security guard who accepts it for transit to the office.  I can’t stress enough how much we appreciate what they’ve done for us.  Keeping that relationship good is what enables us to enjoy homeschooling our daughter.

That said, it makes me angry when I feel like I’m getting crap from both ends.  Many of my fellow homeschooling parents have been critical of the fact that we are working so closely with the district–they believe we’ve somehow given up our “rights.”  Others find it distasteful that we don’t use a specific, prepackaged curriculum.  A few even turn up their noses at our lack of “faith-based” instruction.  And among those who don’t care about any of those things, we’ve taken heat for not living a more “organic” lifestyle to go along with our homeschooling.  It hurts, but as a result, we’ve never found a homeschool group that felt like home.  We’ve stuck with individual friendships (I’m so beyond blessed that one of my best friends also homeschools her daughter) and have enrolled our daughter in other activities.  She’s a Girl Scout, takes two dance classes, and participates in other activities as we find time.

On the flip side, there are the Angry Ex-Homescholars.  Again, I don’t want to take away from their very real pain.  But comments about how people can “spot a homeschooled kid a mile away” and rants about how it’s “damaging” to the kids make me unbelievably angry.  What makes me angry is not so much that people think those things but that a certain subset of the population has given them reason to think them.

When I hear about the way the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (the legal activists) have put pressure on families to refuse to comply with social workers or the way that some parents have used homeschooling as a tool of abuse, I want to scream.  I want to cry when I hear from adults who were homeschooled that they never learned proper math or that their parents, for religious reasons, refused to teach them about human sexuality.  I want to punch something when I see some of the crap that passes for science in “Christian” homeschool materials.  The fact that a web site like Homeschoolers Anonymous even exists–out of necessity–cuts me deeply.

When we began our journey more than five years ago, we had a purpose in mind.  Our son, who came out of the womb with the energy of a lightning storm, was reading at a third grade level at age four and a half.  The combination, we knew, would be lethal in a classroom.  The original plan was to keep him home until middle school.  When first grade rolled around, we had already discovered that he didn’t fit in well with other homeschooled kids (he was bullied, believe it or not, for being a dancer).  As a family, we’re pretty different from most.  On top of that, he needed to be around other people almost constantly–he’s the definition of an extrovert.  So we sent him off to a great public school, where he has continued to thrive.

We offer our daughter the option every year.  So far, she has chosen to remain at home.  I have maintained my drive to ensure that she develops high-level skill in reading and math (so far, so good) and that she finds ways to pursue her passions.  I refuse to use Christian materials, because they are long on religion and short on actual science.  I have a girl who is interested in keeping our natural world and our animal friends safe–if I want to draw her back to her faith, what better way to do it than to help her understand that God made all these beautiful things?  We don’t need Bob Jones or A Bekka to help us do that.

We can’t afford private school full-time, and the only schools offering a la carte classes are the Christian schools–which for us is a big no.  I won’t allow my daughter to be taught science by a teacher who denies evolution, believes in a literal 6-day creation, and insists that humans and dinosaurs must have co-existed.  So if my daughter decides to stay home longer than middle school, we will be searching for ways to supplement what I can do so that she isn’t behind in any way come graduation.

There are several things I need people to understand about homeschooling:

1. We are not all families that believe a woman’s place is barefoot and pregnant.
2. We are not all like the HSLDA folks.
3. Not all of us weave religion into every aspect of our day.
4. Many of us want our kids–especially our girls, who may or may not experience this even in public school–to study math and science.
5. Our children are not all easily recognizable as homeschooled kids.  People are constantly surprised to learn that my daughter is homeschooled.  I guess they don’t expect her to be socially or academically competent, or perhaps they think she doesn’t fit their stereotype of “weird.”
6. Not all of us think education is one size fits all.  Being a half-n-half family works well for us; it’s different for other families.
7. When anti-homeschooling people and HSLDA members alike fight over this, it hurts everyone.  Many of us don’t want to be civilian casualties in your war; please don’t use us as pawns.

I write often on my blog about how we need to get to know the people we are judging.  Please don’t make assumptions about me or my family without knowing us.  When you make sweeping statements about what homeschooling families are like (or about what public schooling families are like), you are causing pain to those who don’t share that view.  Work to make it safer for all kids; work to get legislation in place so that abuse can’t be covered (including among public- and private-schooled kids).  But don’t do it by saying nasty things about what you think we’re up to in our household.  Chances are, you will be wrong.

I Have to Live My Life: Eve’s Story

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

My homeschooling experience in and of itself was not particularly awful. It started out harmlessly enough. My older brother was very ahead of his public school class in first grade and was bored so he asked my mom to homeschool him. (Or so the story goes, I’ve never actually bothered to ask if that was actually the case). I do know that there was a very strong homeschooling movement in our church and we immediately joined that group. For the most part I enjoyed school growing up. My older brother and I were very inquisitive and my mom did her best of fulfill our desire for knowledge. Unfortunately for me, much of my interest centered on biology. I was provided with plenty of Creationist curriculum, but very little that explained any actual science.

Church was a different matter for me. I was rarely happy at church. I did not understand many things and I had a lot of questions throughout high school. My questions were always met with the same types of answers, “We know best. Just trust us we’ll get to your answers eventually but for now just focus on the stuff we’re teaching you. You’re still young and the Bible says that when we are babies we need milk.” It was an empty reply and it always left me even more unhappy. When I tried to start a study group with some of the other girls my age so that we could find some answers for ourselves, we were immediately shut down. Even though we were meeting off church property we were told that in order to have a bible study we had to have one of the women from the church oversee us. Again I was left in the dark. All I ever wanted was for someone to sit with me and be honest. I needed someone to either tell me that they didn’t have the answers I wanted or to help me find them. No one would because asking questions was against the rules in my church.

I tried very very hard to have faith. Everyone around me believed so fervently in God and Creation. I went to Bible Camps, Summit, raised money and went on mission trips, joined Bible studies and read so many study books I’ve lost count, but I never had faith. I don’t know that I’ve ever truly experienced faith. This was a terrifying realization to come to. The thought that everything I was taught growing up, everything that my parents so fervently believed was not what I believed shook me to my core. I am terrified of disappointing my parents. I always have been and I think I might always be. All of my life up until college revolved around making my parents happy. I was the good kid.

Then, of course, my family became heavily involved with the NCFCA. I hated it. I  have never liked speaking in front of people. I willingly participated for one tournament and that was it. After that I supported my older brother. I had much more fun when all I had to do was help him research and then during tournaments I could run around doing whatever and helping my mom do Judge’s Hospitality. I never really made friends in the NCFCA. Most everyone loved my older brother so most everyone knew me (if only as his little sister), but I never found my own group of people. To be honest I was fine with that. I didn’t really like most of the NCFCA so I was fine just doing my own thing and living in my brother’s shadow.

Debate did, however, open me up to the world of the internet. I was suddenly immersed in research for debate, but also in everything else. All of the ideas on the internet fascinated me. I made friends with a very outspoken atheist who constantly questioned my beliefs. He never did it in a rude or antagonistic way. He could tell I wasn’t entirely convinced about my faith, but it was so deeply ingrained in me that I would never have admitted that to him. So instead he just persistently asked me why I believed what I believed. I never did have an answer for him.

In college I moved rapidly away from my parents’ beliefs. I majored in biology and was fascinated with everything I learned. When I took a class on evolution I had so many questions that I spent a large amount of time in my professor’s office. He was very understanding and very, very helpful. I stopped going to church when I moved to college and focused instead on answering all of those questions I’d had growing up. Unlike the elders in my church, my professors wanted to do nothing more than give me answers. I thrived in college. I made friends for the first time and was social. All the while, my relationship with my parents started showing signs of wear. Practically every time I went home we had a conversation that ended with my crying and feeling like I was nothing but a disappointment. All I wanted to do was figure out for myself what I believed, but because it was looking like I wasn’t going to believe what they did, they were very unhappy.

After graduating I got the hell out of my state and moved to the East Coast. I had some friends in the area but it was still a terrifying transition. I went from living near/with my family to living 18 hours away in the middle of a big city. Thankfully with the support of my friends I adjusted quickly. My parents were sure I’d be back to my home state after 3 months. I’ve now lived up here for almost 3 years and I’ve never been happier. Soon after I moved I met a guy and we started dating. He was the first guy I ever actually dated. Even when our relationship became serious, my parents never really made any effort to get to know him. He is not a conservative Christian so they don’t care to. I brought him home with me once for Thanksgiving and within 30 minutes of him being in my house my dad was trying to convert him. They  have still never actually invited him to come to their house for the holidays with me.

These days my relationship with my parents is superficial at best. I no longer feel comfortable sharing things about my life with them and they never ask anyway. Occasionally we talk on the phone to catch up a little but it’s always small talk. I do hope that one day they will begin to come around and accept that I just don’t believe what they do. I hope that they’ll realize that I still very much want to have a good relationship with them but that I can’t keep living my life just to make them happy. I will always be afraid of disappointing them and it will always profoundly hurt when they tell me that I have done so, but I have to live my life with the goal of achieving my dreams and desires, not theirs.

Currently, I no longer consider myself religious at all. I do not have any sort of faith. I would not go so far as to call myself an atheist. Agnostic would probably be the best if you have to term it.