Homeschool kids and alumni live in a strange time paradox.
As infants, we were “vipers in diapers.” Even though we couldn’t speak or walk, we were spanked because somehow we had the cognitive ability and will to rail against God, just like any other adult. Yet even though we had the power to determine our eternal destiny, we were nothing but property of our parents, void of any rights (other than the right to eternally damn ourselves, of course).
As children, we were raised under the banner of exceptionalism. We were always ready to defend our parents’ educational choices, always ready to proclaim the benefits of homeschooling, and always paraded around in little suits and dresses as if we were mini-senators and presidents-in-training. Those of us who participated in homeschool speech and debate had one Bible verse drilled into our heads over and over: 1 Timothy 4:12. “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”
We took this message to heart. We wrote it in our diaries; we typed it on our Xangas; we opened every speech and debate conference with it.
We lived our lives in such a way that our youth seemed meaningless. We took to State Capitols; we rallied for pro-life bills right alongside our parents and other adult peers; we have even testified on legislative floors. As long as we walked the paths our parents desired for us, our youth had no meaning. We were treated as adults, as fully human beings who understand the biblical worldview and had the power to proclaim it to all the nations.
But then we actually grew up. We become real adults. And we began to think for ourselves. We began to speak for ourselves. We began to disagree with those who raised us.
Then we, now actually adults, began to be treated as children.
Suddenly time reversed and we were told, “Wait until you’re older. Then you’ll agree with us again.”
So we waited. We became older. We still had disagreements. Then we were told, “Wait until you have children. Then you’ll agree with us again.”
So some of us waited. Some of us had children. We still had disagreements. Then those some of us were told, “Wait until your children reach school age. Then you’ll agree with us again.”
Some some of us waited. Some of us put our children in public school or private school or even homeschool. We still had disagreements. Then those some of us were once again told, “Wait until your children become teenagers. Then you’ll agree with us again.”
We are stuck in a perpetual state of childhood. Whereas we had to spend our actual childhood acting like adults and being paraded around as mature, we now spend our actual adulthood being rejected as immature children who are simply bitter at our parents.
It’s a lose-lose for us homeschool alumni.
We’re like Benjamin Buttons, starting our lives as mini-adults only to grow down into large children.
Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Alianne” is a pseudonym.
We’re both in our twenties now, but my brother and I were homeschooled from elementary school through high school graduation. To put it simply, the entire experience was an absolute nightmare. However, it didn’t appear that way to other people nor did it appear like that on the surface of the image our mother and father tried to present to everyone.
When I was a child, people would comment on my writing or math skills and would give credit to homeschooling or my parents who happily bragged about it. But the reality was that my mother taught me absolutely nothing. She wasn’t even remotely skilled in either math or essay writing. I taught myself how to be very skilled with math and writing techniques, without any help from my parents whatsoever.
In my older brother’s case, the “education” he received was also absolutely zero and he didn’t fare as well as I did. Our parents rarely tried to help him, and hardly mentioned him or any skills he had to anyone, let alone bragged.
Our mother and father epitomized the braggadocio of homeschool parenting:
Always mention the “good” side that’s beneficial to them, and lie and stretch the truth of anything negative that would prove the opposite of the image they’re trying to present to everyone as truth.
Now that we’re older and we’re more capable of understanding what our mother and father really did to us, we’ve both realized that many of the common phrases and rationalizations that homeschoolers use simply aren’t true. To keep it simple, I’ll only post the main three misconceptions we came to realize:
Homeschool parents will use the excuses that their children are socialized because they join groups, have many activities, even have friends from public school, etc. However, parents will often neglect to mention the fact that in many families these activities only happen occasionally or just a few times per week. Many children don’t have any real interaction on a daily basis with other children and are only allowed to interact at the parent’s convenience, not in the way what the children really need.
My main point aside from that, though, is that many children are not being socialized properly or learning how to deal with regular social situations, or aka the “real” world. For example, the majority of the people my brother and I grew up around (we lived in a middle class, nice neighborhood, not a terrible one) had addictions, and were dangerous people who had many issues (although neither of us really recognized that until we were in our teens). Being surrounded by dangerous and unsafe people all day isn’t what I would call a safe, healthy, or normal environment for a child to grow up in, let alone the “real” world. Public school may be bad in some instances, but at least the kids will be surrounded mostly by other children (and also, not all public schools are huge terrible places of bullying or drugs/alcohol/sex, now that I’ve heard the stories of people who actually went to public school, I understand that) and not grown adult men and women coming off drug and alcohol highs first thing in the morning.
2. The parents know their children better than anyone:
No, many parents think they do, but they certainly don’t, and neither did our parents. I had anxiety issues and anxiety attacks all throughout my childhood, and was very shy until my late teens. In my brother’s case, although he was very social, he was bullied in elementary school, and had been a target for other children since the day he started. However, once we both reached late teens/adulthood, our issues went away for the most part. Why? Because we were away from our parents’ influence for longer periods of time than before, so their own anxiety and emotional issues no longer had any effect on us. We were both able to act normally for the first time in our lives.
So while our parents would have said that they knew we both had different issues and that’s why we had to stay at home, our issues came directly from being around them. So their decision to homeschool the two of us did absolutely nothing to benefit our lives. We honestly would have been far better off in public school and with two working parents.
In other words, forcing the child to become the main focus of the parents doesn’t necessarily help them to grow.
It may temporarily stop the problems and it may even help their education to an extent, but it won’t really help the child to deal with situations on their own terms. How can you have your own terms, when the belief system you have and everything surrounding you is dominated by your mother and father?
To be fair, I’m aware of the fact that public school can have the same negative effects on children. However, I’ve met plenty of people who went to public school and who aren’t monsters, drug/alcohol addicts or terrible people by default. Public school doesn’t force every child on the planet to have issues and problems. There are many kids who go to regular school and turn out perfectly fine, don’t have bullying issues, are extremely intelligent, very self-motivated, etc.
I realize people use those same justifications to homeschool, but what I’m trying to say is this: When a child goes off by themselves and isn’t surrounded by the parents’ influences all the time, they will be exposed to different points of view, not just their parents’ main dominating viewpoint. They’ll also have the opportunity to develop their own selves when they are away from their parents. Thus they have the opportunity to choose by themselves to not do dangerous and unhealthy things. By finally being away from our mother and father, my brother and I were able to make safe and healthy choices and set boundaries with other people by ourselves, finally, and for the first time in our entire lives.
Also, I’ve read horror stories online about children who want nothing more than to be homeschooled because the bullying is so severe. Some of their stories actually sounded very similar to what my brother went through. I’ve also seen firsthand the emotional and physical effects of what he endured from other kids. So I’m not naive regarding what can happen to children in public school systems, or dismissive of what happened to my brother in the slightest. However, I’ve also talked with him about it, and as a grown man in his twenties he completely agrees with me that the homeschooling was a horrible idea that helped neither of us. It was all for our parents’ emotional benefit.
Furthermore, as an adult he’s now perfectly able to stand up for himself and will tell people exactly how he feels about something, even if it’s rude, might incite people, etc. He’s able to do so because as he got older he handled people by himself, without our parents influencing everything 24/7 and learned how to deal with it. Our mother and father were both very weak people emotionally, and that definitely rubbed off on both me and my brother.
3. Homeschooled children are almost always better, more educated, and amazing awesome kids — especially compared to public school children:
No, that’s not even remotely true. There are sites and forums where you can read many of the stories from homeschooled kids who had miserable and dysfunctional childhoods. And to make it clear, I’m not just referring to the religious families. My family was semi-Christian and semi-New Age. My brother and I had never attended a church or sermon a day in our lives. My parents never forced religion on us in the slightest manner.
Also, most of the Homeschool/Unschool blogs you see on the internet are written and promoted by the parents. There aren’t very many positive blogs written by the children, because whether anyone wants to admit it or not, the majority of homeschooled kids aren’t happy or well adjusted in society, so they can’t write something that isn’t true. Yes, I have read stories from graduated homeschooled kids who say they were happy the entire time they were homeschooled. Yes, they might honestly have been.
However, to have the audacity to deny and pretend that there aren’t many, many homeschooled children living and interacting in dysfunctional families is absolutely ridiculous.
Of course, you could say the same for public school, but at least in that situation the children can actually get away from their households. Contrary to popular belief, they aren’t always places where the families get along wonderfully well, or the children are always happy to be around them. Homeschooling may seem to work very well for a young child, but I’ve never in my life met a homeschooled teen who was happy. Some of them would put on a facade and pretend they were, but once I got to know them… Well, I’ll just say drugs/alcohol/having sex at a young age/depression isn’t only for public school kids, not even remotely.
The parents might not be aware, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
Many of the blogging parents will exaggerate how awesome the homeschooling is and leave out all of the negative effects, or how the children really feel about everything. In our case, my brother and I were miserable 24/7, but our mother and father never mentioned that to anyone. We didn’t mention it, because we were afraid at how angry our parents would have been if we told the truth about how we really felt. Also, we felt very isolated; we interacted with public school kids too, but for the most part we knew that anything we said would eventually get back to our parents. Having a close knit community, or living where your parents schedule everything doesn’t exactly give a good opportunity to be honest about anything. And for the record, our parents weren’t extremists who did the forms of abuse found in many of the stories on Homeschoolers Anonymous. For the most part, they acted fairly normally and mainly just had social anxiety issues.
Yet my brother and I weren’t more educated in the slightest. The only reason I was able to even graduate highschool was because I used an online school program. My brother wasn’t able to get past highschool level, and so he suffered a lot academically as well. One thing I can’t stand more than anything else I see parents write on the homeschooling blogs, is how homeschooling takes so much effort. That’s not true in every case, and it’s certainly not true by default of being a homeschooling parent.
Both of our parents didn’t put in much effort at all for our education. Our father put in absolutely zero of any kind of effort, and left everything to our mother. She stayed at home, and I can honestly say that she would spend 8-10 hrs of her day watching television, and taught us absolutely nothing. Also, there are many other homeschooled kids with similar stories, who suffered a lot academically due to being homeschooled/unschooled.
On the other hand, I have read stories of successful unschool graduates who made it through college. So, I’m not denying the fact that it can be done. However, my point is that if a child can survive being homeschooled/unschooled and still make out okay, and doesn’t have any severe issues to deal with, then public school would be effortless for them, and in my opinion that’s where they should stay.
Finally, I understand that public school doesn’t work for children with special needs, or who have more extreme issues to deal with. However, I absolutely believe that (aside from children in very complicated situations), homeschooling should only be used very temporarily, and not ever seen as a permanent solution. You can solve some issues with homeschooling, but that doesn’t mean you should just stick to it for the rest of the child’s life. Whatever issues the children have will need to be dealt with eventually.
Hiding them from the world and people for the rest of their childhood doesn’t solve or fix anything.
Public school may not be seen as the “right” environment, but it’s the main environment the majority of people grew up in. So if they haven’t dealt with their issues, when they finally reach the adult world people will still be acting and functioning the same way they were before, so trying to pretend that doesn’t have any impact later on isn’t realistic. Most importantly, it keeps the children away from other opportunities and situations that could have actually been good, and far better than the homeschooling.
My mother and I continued fighting over school– some weeks, on a daily basis. Part of this was due to the fact that I’ve always been ferociously independent. I’m what my husband calls a “dirty rotten little rule follower,” but part of what that means to me is that I like to be left alone. You can trust me to do what I’m supposed to be doing (most of the time), and I intensely dislike being monitored. That came to the forefront, and something my mother and I struggled with all through 7th grade was my insistence that I can do this by myself. She was also dealing with my younger sister hitting 4th grade, and this is when my homeschooling experience radically changed– and when, in my impression, many homeschoolers make the same transition.
Junior high or early high school is when homeschoolers start teaching themselves.
Granted, this is not always true, but in my experience, it almost always is. There are as many reasons for this as there are homeschoolers– some of us come from huge families, and it’s impossible for parents to give older children the attention they need. Sometimes it’s because of situations like mine, when we start feeling that we can handle it without our parents. I think my reaction is a natural part of child development– I was, after all, 13 in 7th grade. However, in homeschooling culture, rebellion is not permitted to exist, and the natural independence that children start exerting around 13 is conflated with rebellion. For many of us, our teenage years were incredibly stifling– although many of us didn’t recognize it at the time. I certainly didn’t. I was extraordinarily proud of how I wasn’t going to be “one ofthose teenagers” who “think they know better than their parents.”
The only way my “teenager” stage was allowed to come out was in this way– in taking over my education.
I started doing all of the work by myself and occasionally going to my mother with questions. This is enough of a pattern in homeschooling that some of the major homeschooling curricula distributors have created entire programs around it.
In 8th grade, we started using the A Beka Video school, although we chose not to use them for accreditation. It was insanely expensive and my parents could barely afford it, but it seemed to suit what I needed, and it had an incredibly good reputation among homeschoolers. At first it was amazing, and I ate the whole thing up. Toward the end of the year, though, the program was brutal and exhausting. The videos are not set up for homeschooling the way we were doing it. In order to really make the videos work, a teacher needed to be there with you– doing the reviews, checking homework, administering quizzes– or you’re just going to be sitting in front of a TV for six hours.
Eventually, I grew incredibly bored with the videos.
When I started fast-forwarding through all of the homework checks and the quiz grading on the tapes as well as the classroom work sessions, I realized that there was rarely anything on the tapes that was actually teaching me anything.
I stopped watching any of the videos for English and math, preferring to do the work on my own, and only watched the lecture portions of history and Bible (which, anyone remember Mr. McBride’s history classes? The day I met him I told him that I would save the best lessons and watch them during sleep overs. Seriously. We did that.). In short, by the spring quarter, the videos turned out to be a gigantic waste of money for us.
It also convinced me that I would absolutely hate school– that, along with taking the 7th grade standardized test, which I got extremely good marks on. My reading ability tested out of the park, and everything else was well above average. Those, combined, fed into what I believed about homeschooling compared to public schooling– homeschoolers are smarter, better educated, and more free-thinking than public school students. Public education can only result in stifling a child’s creativity, destroy their intellect beyond repair, and give them nothing more than socialist indoctrination.
So, we turned to Alpha Omega Switched on Schoolhouse for 9th grade. That turned out to be a disaster. The science for that year was physical science of some stripe, and they were trying to teach me how to convert units– except the units in the homework problems frequently weren’t measuring the same things– seriously, you can’t convert a unit of force into a unit of volume. I was so confused I asked my mother to look at it– she rolled her eyes and we stopped using the program in the middle of the year. My mother purchased other textbooks and I spent the rest of 9th grade playing catch-up.
Every single time I left the house I had to be ready to mount a defense for homeschooling.
All of that convinced me more than it convinced anyone else. It wasn’t that homeschooling and public education have different strengths, different weaknesses. Homeschooling had to be better in every conceivable way.
I was fourteen when I was introduced to CFC/NCFCA. The mother of another large home schooling family approached my mom with the “great opportunity” to provide all of the meals for a CFC conference she was coordinating. “If you make all of the meals the conference fees are waived for your family and I thought of you, since you have so many children.”
The conference was terrible. There were very clear expectations of what each attendee should look like and how they should act. The conference was full of bright, happy, perfect home schoolers with impeccable manners. They all looked like they had stepped out of a Lands’ End catalog. (Lands’ End: the modest J. Crew) I was embarrassed to have to re-wear the only two skirts I owned for a full week. I was ashamed to be a “scholarship” kid. I inwardly raged at the attitude that you were a bad Christian if you were not a good speaker. Naturally shy and introverted, I balked at the idea of ending the week by giving a short public speech.
It was very clear to me that I was an outsider. But by the end of the conference my mother was sold: her kids needed to do this NCFCA thing. And by the end of the conference I was hesitantly intrigued by debate: my mother would support me verbally fighting with people? Awesome.
Looking back at the few years I spent in NCFCA, I am struck by the contrast I experienced. On one hand, every organized experience (both in and out-of-state conferences, CFC, and Masters) were terrible. On the other hand, I met people who saved my life.
The first year I partnered will my unenthusiastic older brother. Wisconsin was very new to NCFCA and there was only one in-state tournament. We were warned ahead of time that all of the “community” judges were biased towards the hosting debate club. We were assured that if we lost every single round it was not an indication of our debating ability. We went 2-4 and I was devastated. I saved every ballot and poured over them incessantly, trying to find the key to my failure. For a league that touted Communicating for Christ there was very little grace for the losers.
The next year my brother went to public school. I was partner-less in a rural area with no club. I turned to everyone’s favorite online phorum to find a partner and debate coaching. It was extremely intimidating: apparently I was the only one who had not spent every waking moment since I was 12 obsessed about debate. I began spending upwards of six hours a day researching (I’ll admit, now, often without a clue about what I was looking for.) I found an out-of-state partner and began pushing my parents to let me attend more tournaments. This meant expensive out of state travel; something my mother had not planned on. My birthday present that year was attending a practice tournament in Indiana.
The comments on my ballots that year were evenly split between admonishments of “have more confidence! =)” and “you are too intimidating and forceful, try to be more lady-like.” The capstone was at that year’s aforementioned state tournament. In a semi-final round my partner and I were debating against the tournament coordinator’s son. Before the round began when we all filed into the room to introduce ourselves to the [impartial] judges and shake their hands, one of them leaned over the table to give this guy a hug and mentioned something that happened at church last Sunday. I shook it off; I knew this team relied on smooth talking for the win, but nobody could ignore my heavy box of evidence. They were affirmative and the case was weak. I jumped out of my chair to cross examine him after the 1A. There was a huge hole in the case and I dived right in. He talked around the question. I asked it again. He changed the subject. I rephrased and asked the same question. It got heated.
I doubt I even have to tell you that we lost the round because I was “rude.” The kicker? The timekeeper was the guy’s younger sister. My father was in the room watching the round and said afterward that when it was clear that I “had him,” the girl stopped the clock and called time.
Losing that round prevented me from going to nationals. Knowing my season was finished, I decided to focus on the friendships I had built through the online phorum instead. The phorum became a huge outlet for me. Thinking about this is still hard, and it’s hard to put into words. Looking back, the largest flaw I see in the home school debate world was the propensity to radiate perfection in everything. Because, obviously, if we’re Christians, we’re perfect.
I was envious of those “perfect” debators, and the more popular and perfect they were, the more I hated them, knowing I could never be them. I was fifteen the first time I typed over AIM that I was depressed. It took a long time to type those words because it took a long time to realize them. My closest friend, the one I had chosen to tell, responded by saying he didn’t think depression was a real thing. As my reputation grew on the phorum, I was increasingly known as the crazy girl, the rebel, the one who took things too far. Outwardly I embraced it. Inwardly I was embarrassed and ashamed. That reputation had a bright side, however. Asking questions like “Why do you believe in God?” sparked deep friendships with the girl from a single-parent home, the boy who was bipolar. These were the friends who supported me when I very shockingly announced I would no longer be a part of NCFCA because I was going to public school.
I was assailed with comments like, “you’re going to the dark side!” People were genuinely appalled; some genuinely thought this was a clear indication that I was no longer a Christian. The truth was that being home schooled in a heavily patriarchal home with an abusive father had led to suicidal depression.
The very fact that Homeschoolers Anonymous exists is a testament to the emotional trauma endured by many, and it’s very important that we have an open dialogue to ask why. Home schooling and debate are entwined worlds for many, and the individual answers will vary.
I rarely think back to my years in the NCFCA. For the most part I prefer to forget it ever happened. When I do think back, I regret that façade of perfection we all felt pressured to adopt. Time has taught me that’s all it is: a façade. I wish that teaching us to change the world with our radical communication skills was not NCFCA’s sole focus: there was no space given to teach us to be human.
I don’t know Tim Tebow, never met the guy, though from what I’ve heard from people who knew him at UF, he’s a genuinely good guy. He’s definitely someone I’d rather have representing the University of Florida than some of the other famous alumni. What I can say for certain though, is that Tim Tebow is no saint.
Wait, wait, before you get the angry mob with pitchforks and torches to come after me, hear me out. Tim Tebow is no saint because nobody is. We’re all flawed human beings trying to figure out how to live our lives, and nobody is perfect. Nobody can be perfect. Even if Tebow is the nicest guy to ever walk the planet other than Jesus himself, he’s still not perfect. Perfection is impossible. Not only that, but we don’t all agree on what “perfect” even is. No one can possibly keep everyone happy.
I’ve alluded from time to time about the pressure that comes from being put on a pedestal in the homeschool world. Being a homeschool poster child who everyone in your homeschool community looks up to as an example isn’t exactly what I would call fun. It’s something I hated as a kid, and something that I couldn’t figure out how to escape. I eventually managed to gracefully get down off the pedestal by going away to college and drifting away from the homeschooling world.
Even after having been away from that community for as long as I was though, one of the nagging things in the back of my head as I was mentally preparing myself to come out was the knowledge that there was a non-zero chance that as the story made its way through the homeschool grapevine, people would talk about me in hushed tones and wonder what went wrong. It’s why I’ve referred to myself as a cautionary tale to the homeschool subculture (and also one of the reasons why I said I could never figure out a way to even rebel). All I know is that despite being small potatoes in the homeschool world, the pressure of the pedestal that others placed me on isn’t something I’d wish on others.
So what does this have to do with Tim Tebow? Easy. Tim Tebow is, by orders of magnitude, by far the most famous homeschooler on the planet. He’s been put on a bigger pedestal than any of us ever have been, all because he’s pretty decent at the game of football.
Maybe he likes being on the pedestal, perhaps he sees it as an opportunity to be a witness for God. That’s certainly what any good little evangelical missionary kid homeschooler has heard all of their life. Whatever the case may be though, staying perched on a pedestal as high as the one he’s on for as long as he’s been on it is not something that’s easy to keep up. One misstep and you come crashing down. And as much as the cynical sports and entertainment media love to tear a person down, the church world is even more brutal.
I cringe when I see how the homeschooling and conservative Christian world talk about Tebow. With the way they’ve built him up, he really can’t win. I don’t know how he can possibly be himself when the hopes of every homeschooler, or at least every religious homeschooler, are riding on his shoulders.
Can we please have a moratorium on homeschoolers and Christian culture treating Tim Tebow as a living saint? Let the guy just be another football player for once. Stop treating him as the homeschool poster boy and let him be an actual, real person, flaws and all.
Kathryn blogged [a few weeks ago] about homeschool children who are asked to defend homeschooling to strangers who want to know if they’re well educated and well-adjusted. What does it look and feel like when our parents and homeschooling community expect us to be apologists for homeschooling?
This kind of upbringing can lead to 2 results:
1. You grow haughty about your own superiority and stand at a distance from your peers
2. You don’t learn to be self-reflective, and you end up a crippled version of yourself because you don’t change the things you need to change to become a fully developed adult and.
I know this, because I’ve both seen it in others and lived it myself. As a homeschool student from K-12, I too was asked by many strangers and friends to defend my experience as a homeschooler. But the same expectation existed within my own community.
My homeschooling experience started in the early days of the homeschooling movement. I was often asked by my parents to describe the benefits of my homeschooling experience because they were proud of me, but also because homeschooling still required defense in a lot of circles. At my graduation, the unwritten expectation of my homeschool community was that I would speak about how my experience was superior to that of my peers.
This expectation exists for most homeschool graduations I’ve been to—parents expect their children to stand as apologists for their homeschool experience. I once attended a graduation where the two speakers talked about the superiority of their educational upbringing—they were confident, articulate, and very convincing. Except that I’ve known one of the two speakers since she’s a baby, and I can say quite confidently that she is poorly prepared for the world and hasn’t been given a foundation of independence or critical thinking about her experience or the experiences of other 18 year olds preparing to step into the world.
I went on to college, completed a master’s program, and am a successful young professional. However, it was only when I was able to objectively look at my homeschool experience and see the good and the bad of it that I was able to grow into a mature adult and shake off the fears of others that kept me from growing into the most complete version of myself.
The problem with those 2 results of being a homeschool apologist?
1. When you’re haughty about the superiority of your homeschool education, you hold all others at arm’s length and rich relationships are impossible.
2. When you continue to insist on the perfection of your own experiences, you are blind to your imperfections and you stay in a static state.
No person is perfect, but inflexibility and a closed view of those who aren’t like you are often a byproduct of becoming a haughty homeschool apologist. The opposite characteristics – flexibility and openness – are two characteristics that make good friends. If you can’t be open and flexible in your understanding of the experiences of others, you won’t be a good friend.
Any parent who homeschools their children should give them the freedom to live within their homeschool experience without having to be a homeschool booster. If you tell people that your children are intelligent and capable of having intelligent discussions, allow them to be a part of the dialogue about the educational choice you’ve made. Let the discussion be real, and let them tell you why the homeschooling is or isn’t working for them.
If your children really do love and buy into the homeschooling choice – then – they will be the best booster.
When I wrote my post The One Thing You Should Never Ask a Homeschool Kid a few weeks ago, it didn’t cross my mind that it might generate controversy. It was basically just a rant about something that’s bugged me since I was really little, and since most homeschoolers I know have complained about random people quizzing them about homeschooling, I didn’t think it would be a big deal. “Don’t put homeschool kids on the spot to defend their education,” pretty simple, right? I figured that maybe a few people would see it and think twice before quizzing the homeschool kids they come across and some kids could be spared the general weird awkwardness of those encounters.
So yeah, turns out that I’m a bad judge of what’s controversial.
[The next] Tuesday my little rant was crossposted to Homeschoolers Anonymous. I assumed that the most it would get was a few former homeschoolers commiserating about how much we were annoyed by the questions while we were growing up. That’s the response I got when I posted my original blog post to my personal Facebook.
It seems, however, that some homeschool parents just really aren’t a fan of people saying anything negative about homeschooling—not even if parents are only mentioned in one line of a post that’s mostly about bad behavior by non-homeschooling adults. In my estimation, there should be nothing about saying that no six year old should be expected to explain homeschooling laws, history, and philosophy to adults that could cause defensiveness on the part of parents.
This leads me to ask the following question:
If I, someone who has repeatedly said that I had an overwhelmingly positive homeschooling experience, cannot talk about a negative that is more pet peeve than anything without getting push back from parents, when are homeschoolers ever going to be given the space to be honest about their childhoods? I wasn’t criticizing my parents with that post, I wasn’t criticizing other homeschool parents, I was criticizing the elements of the non-homeschooling public who lack appropriate boundaries in interacting with kids.
Are we only allowed to speak about our experiences if they are positive?
I can tell the positive stories.
I could talk about how when I was diagnosed with ADD as an adult, my doctor told me that homeschooling was probably the best thing for me because the smart quiet kid who stares out the window for hours yet still gets good grades usually falls through the cracks. Or I could write about the research that shows that it’s experiences in middle and high school that scare girls away from computer science and engineering, but that I never had anyone to tell me I wasn’t supposed to be good with computers until I’d gotten to college and already knew my capabilities. It would all be true, but it wouldn’t be the whole truth, and deliberately leaving out important information that would allow people to make informed decisions is an awful lot like lying.
The truth is that for as many good things as I can relate, defending homeschooling to strangers before I even lost all my baby teeth was not fun. Neither was spending a good chunk of my childhood and college years trying to make sure that no one would think I was one of those “weird homeschoolers.” Ditto for the pressure of knowing that people thought I was the model homeschool child (it’s impossible to even rebel when your options seem limited to finding some counter culture and possibly being seen as “weird”—what you’ve been trying to avoid, or else becoming the cliche of the goody two shoes who goes wild).
Do those negatives outweigh the positive for me? No.If I had to do my life over again and was given the choice of being homeschooled I’d probably go for it. That doesn’t mean those experiences and feelings weren’t very real and aren’t the reason why I’ve been reluctant for years to discuss anything one way or another about homeschooling.
When homeschooling parents discount the experiences of those of us who actually lived it and have found our way through to the other side as adults, they’re saying to us that we don’t matter. That it’s irrelevant that we were the guinea pigs, and because the results of the little experiment didn’t come out quite like they wanted they’d rather we just disappear.
If I can’t tell my story without generating controversy and flack from parents who don’t want to hear anything negative, then how are the people who had genuinely bad experiences going to be heard?
So again I ask, are we only allowed to speak if we tell you what you want to hear?
The local paper does stories on all of the high school graduations, and where the stories for the other school graduations follow the same formula—mention something from the speaker, go with a few quotes from graduates about going out into the world, the homeschool support group graduation story includes quotes from kids talking up homeschooling as a concept.
Don’t ask that question of kids. Seriously, just don’t. No kid should be put in the position of defending and explaining their education to adults.
Aside from the fact that in 2013 it’s not like homeschooling is something nobody’s heard of, that’s just not something you should put on a kid. It’s too much pressure and it makes the kid feel even more like an outsider, an “other,” and not part of mainstream culture. Even if a kid had an absolutely wonderful experience, homeschool apologetic isn’t something a kid should be expected to do.
Parents, don’t ask this of your kids.
Random strangers, don’t put a kid on the spot and start asking questions. It’s not fair to the kid.
I had to put up with random strangers asking me questions about homeschooling since I was six.
Let that sink in for a second.
How in the world would anyone think that’s remotely something that you should put on a six year old? I can’t even count how many times I was wandering around the public library minding my own business looking for interesting books when I’d be stopped by a stranger asking me, “why aren’t you in school?” Now, granted, back in the ’80s, homeschooling was a novelty, but still. It would have been one thing if it had ended with me responding, “I’m homeschooled,” but nope, the next question was, “Is it legal?” Seriously, people would ask a little elementary schooler to explain the legality of their education. No six year old should ever have to cite statutes for any reason, but I spent a good chunk of my early school years explaining the legal status of homeschooling to adults who wouldn’t stop asking questions.
It took me a few years after I finished college before I could begin to look at homeschooling objectively because so many adults spent so many years putting me on the spot, asking me to defend it to them. I still don’t understand why an adult would ask that of a child, especially a very young child, but that’s what happened to me and my siblings. It would make me feel like I was some kind of performing freak show to them.
So next time you encounter a homeschool kid and feel tempted to ask them about homeschooling, resist the urge. No kid should be put on the spot to defend their entire system of education,
News that Christian publisher Thomas Nelson had decided to pull David Barton’s latest book, The Jefferson Lies, catapulted another major figure of the religious right into the public consciousness. Like Dan Cathy, Barton has been known to evangelical Christians for years. Think of him as the Ken Ham of US history: an apologist for an alternative reality that enshrines American exceptionalism as the manifestation of God’s work on earth. In Barton’s version of history, Thomas Jefferson professed orthodox Christianity, never raped his slaves, and mandated Christian worship services in the US Capitol. It is a version of history so far removed from fact that it has come under attack from other conservative Christian historians.
Yet Barton’s influence in the evangelical world clearly dwarfs whatever power these genuine historians wield. He is a prolific writer and the history he tells is exactly the sort of mythology necessary to sustain the existence of America’s religious. For this reason, Time has named him one of America’s 25 most influential evangelicals, and he enjoys his own personal webpage at the Southern Poverty Law Center, where he is listed as one of the leading figures of the contemporary radical right.
Barton’s credentials as a historian have been repeatedly shredded. It’s common knowledge that he holds only a bachelor’s degree in Christian Education from conservative Oral Roberts University, and therefore possesses no training whatsoever as a professional historian. But this lack of credentials appeals to a right wing movement that associates intellectualism with secularism and leftist bias. That is exactly why universities like Oral Roberts (and my own alma mater) exist. They’re ostensibly a sanctuary from secularist brainwashing. It’s also why the homeschool movement is dominated by evangelical families that rely on books published by institutions like Bob Jones University and Pensacola Christian College.
The version of history taught in these books mimics Barton’s work: America is a Christian nation, and liberalism has perverted it. The fact that this a minority view, considered discredited by mainstream historians, only bolsters evangelical support for it. Barton is a prophet, crying out in America’s liberal wilderness.
You can consider Barton and his organization, Wallbuilders, directly analogous to Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis. Neither actually possesses any credentials in their fields and both enjoy positions of respect because they act as the public faces of the religious right’s alternative to academia. They legitimize the evangelical movement and promote it in the political sphere. Barton has been active with the Texas GOP, and acted as an “expert consultant” to the Texas School Board. That same school board voted to approve changes to the state social studies curriculum that included the claim that the Founding Fathers were Christians.
Despite the controversy over the Jefferson Lies, the religious right will not abandon David Barton. It needs him to legitimize itself. It does not matter how times his books are debunked, any more than it has ever mattered that Ken Ham’s version of biology can be torn apart by anyone with a high school diploma. These controversies merely reinforce the right’s perception that it is a martyred movement, ordained to struggle because of its adherence to “traditional values.” These are the roots of Chik-fil-A “Appreciation Day” and statements like this. It’s why, as a veteran of homeschooling and private Christian education, I had to reteach myself history. It’s how I made it to graduate school without ever sitting through a basic lesson in evolutionary theory.
If that disturbs you, I urge you to educate yourself about Barton and his version of America, because education is the best defense against the movement he represents.
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.
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.
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.