How I Accidentally Swindled My Way Out of Conservative Christianity: Dallas’ Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

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

Once upon a time, I won awards for citing Ann Coulter and defending her viewpoints. I’ll get to all of that in a moment, but to fully appreciate this story, you first need some background about my homeschool upbringing.

Living as a teenage atheist in a home of pastors and devout Christian lifestyles is one of the strangest American experiences I can think of having — yet that was my reality. For most of my growing up, my father was heavily involved in church life, eventually becoming commissioned to be an ordained pastor around my ninth birthday. My mother was a stay-at-home mom who picked her battles, and my three younger siblings were and are all very active ‘Jesus Freaks.’

I was one of those myself as a small child, but I was quickly withdrawing from the church by the time I was 13. As church community was stripped away from me as my father’s church grew, then shrank, then reinvented, then rebuilt, my need for people was taken away as my parents felt dogma and religion was the most important elements of a “Christian Walk.”

Part of that “Christian Walk” at the age of 15 was being forced into participating in Impromptu Apologetics under the NCFCA umbrella.

(Background concluded, we now resume the buildup for why I defended Ann Coulter.)

Now, I was already a strong speech and debate kid by the time I was 15. I had already qualified for Nationals in Impromptu Speech, Extemp and Lincoln Douglas debate, and I served as a ‘Senior’ student in our local club. I was ready to try my hand at something in the interpretives, but my parents had a different idea in mind. By gosh, I was now the son of a pastor, and I needed to know how to defend my faith (despite the fact I was already well-weary of Christianity).

I protested. I fought. I cried. It didn’t matter. I was going to do Impromptu Apologetics, and that was the beginning of the grand swindle.

The next school year came up, and at first, Apologetics wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. I was given a lot of non-direct questions about Christianity, with questions like “Why does a society needs laws?” and “Is there such a thing as absolute truth?”

Sure, those questions asked for a slanted answer and biblical references, but I was able to use reason and historical examples to defend my points on a philosophical level. I was placing near the top at club mock tournaments, and I was feeling very comfortable during the events.

Then, the next semester came, and my fears came true: I started getting the weird questions which could only get dogma-based answers, and even worse, several questions were touching the subjects of Christianity and modern politics.

Unsurprisingly, I started getting low marks for not giving specific Southern-style, conservative Republican, Christian answers on gay marriage, abortion, the infallibleness of the Bible and the historical proofs of Jesus.

Although I was uncomfortable, I pretended it was all fine and good. I embraced my inner Lee Strobel and Frank Turek, giving the circular reasoning that the homeschool mothers who judged the club events were looking for. I didn’t like it, but it let me keep winning.

My faith declined and declined further as I gave arguments I didn’t believe in, but in February, my Lightbulb Moment hit.

In front of the club president and head coach (a deeply Southern Baptist Republican 50-something woman who was campaigning for Mike Huckabee while actively lobbying against civil unions in our state), I pulled out the first question I had zero answer to. As an adult, I still don’t know what it wanted.

The question was this: “How does the Book of Acts describe the moral code of the church similarly to the one seen in Genesis 2?”

I was in a deep panic. I was the ‘senior student’ who routinely knew his business. I was supposed to never flinch. I was supposed to answer the question and give a logical answer rooted in Christian belief. Stuck at my wit’s end as the timer told me my prep time was up, I was active in my Lightbulb Moment.

For the next seven minutes, I made up Bible verses, biblical characters and spat out fake philosophy that I credited to the 14th century theologian St. Saban.

Did Stephen the Martyr really command to obey the Lord fully like Adam as he was stoned to death? Did a prophet really foreshadow the church’s early movements in the book of Nehemiah? Did St. Saban, a man I made up based on the then-Miami Dolphins head football coach, actually exist?

I don’t know. Nor did I care. Because when I got my ballot back, not only had I won the round against nine other speakers, but I had the highest speaker praises including “Well-credentialed arguments and excellent research points”.

That was my Lightbulb Moment: If it sounded good, then that’s all that mattered for Christians and defending Christianity.

After reading that ballot, I decided to try an experiment. For every club event, for every practice and for every tournament, I was going to make it all up.

The 3rd-century Roman historian Nicholai was going to have lost works that explained the miracles of Christ. Verses like Matthew 17:48 and Exodus 49:11 were totally going to exist and be real. Hezeriah was going to be a part of the Old Testament of Biblical prophecy, as would be Surach and Baruch.

Surely, I thought, surely one of these deeply fervent homeschooling mothers, fathers or friends would call me out on it. Surely someone at the regional tournaments would smell something off, right?

I got my answer when I reached out round after out round, eventually finishing in second place in my region, qualifying for the NCFCA National Tournament.

As a 15-year-old who was learning how to bend the rules and get away with it, it didn’t take long to take my deceiving to other speech and debate fronts.

I’m embarrassed to say I was winning extemp rounds by saying Hillary Clinton told reporters at a campaign stop that she’d be willing to invade Israel. Likewise, I won Impromptu rounds by citing that Christianity was blackballing a Russian pop act from entering a recording studio.

What I’m most embarrassed about though is that I qualified for nationals in Team Policy by quoting an Ann Coulter column disguised as a “study by Yale University,” resulting in a standing ovation after that quarterfinal round debate.

I haven’t really forgiven myself for that one. Sorry Yale.

Regardless, there was my moment.

By faking everything, particularly conservative Christianity in culture, history and philosophy, I became an award-winning speaker and debater.

The epilogue is that I refused to go to the national tournament, selling my parents that the tournament was “old hat” and that I didn’t want to return to that competition. They saved the money they would have spent on that trip and we went on a family vacation to Arizona instead, where I happily played golf with my uncles and saw the Grand Canyon with my dad – experiences I’d take any day over bickering with teenagers about why I like AC/DC and why Obama isn’t a secret Muslim terrorist.


To this day, I cannot believe the dozens of Christians I somehow managed to dupe and I now play the “what if” game on what would have happened had I tried my strategy at the national tournament.

Stiff-Necked Legalism: By Chris Jeub

HA note, October 3, 2014:

In light of recent allegations by Cynthia Jeub (one of Chris Jeub’s daughters), the HARO board is uncomfortable with hosting Chris’s content. You can view the original post and comments as a PDF here.

Kevin Swanson Has Stumbled Upon a Very Real Truth

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on October 17, 2013 with the title, “Kevin Swanson on ‘Apostate Homeschoolers.'”

It seems Homeschoolers Anonymous has made an increasingly large splash in the homeschooling world.

Prominent Christian homeschool leader Kevin Swanson himself felt the need to address the group in a recent broadcast on his Generations with Vision radio show. He gave it the title “Apostate Homeschoolers.” If you click the link to listen, the section on Homeschoolers Anonymous starts at 5:00 and goes until 10:40, when Swanson moves on to the Boy Scouts.

What does Swanson blame for the growth of the “homeschool apostates” and their increased networking and online activism? NCFCA homeschool speech and debate. Oh yes. NCFCA was started by Christian homeschool leaders to equip a generation of homeschooled children to be culture warriors, fighting against the godless secularists and working to establish a Christian America. But apparently, according to Swanson, it’s gone awry, and too many of its homeschool participants have left God’s Truth for the faulty world of man’s intellect and reason.

In other words, Swanson has stumbled upon the very real truth that indoctrination fails when you teach children how to think instead of what to think.

But if ensuring that your young people retain your beliefs requires teaching them what to think without ever teaching them how to think, the problem is with your beliefs, not with the fact that certain of your young people figure out how to think and then walk away. That this is the response of the Christian homeschooling world—that perhaps teaching kids how to think was a bad idea—then what they have to offer is very sad indeed.

And just so we’re clear, this is what Kevin Swanson is now apparently afraid of:




Look how scary we are, with all of our researching and talking and thinking and socializing!

Life is Pain and Beauty and Truth: By Miriam

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Life is Pain and Beauty and Truth: By Miriam

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


Trigger warning: graphic descriptions of self-injury and suicidal attempts and thoughts.


“who does these things to you ?”

i do. i hate myself. and, i think i have lost the will to live. i’m tired of fighting to survive. i want to give up. i want to die.

the dark battle with the mental illness i still fight began with me.

i don’t remember a lot of my childhood. i have fragments of memories. but i’ve tried to forget the rest, the good along with the bad.

the bullying and the abuse began in junior high.

there were three adults. the first, a leader at a church. the second, an athletics coach. the third, an academics coach. they were all close friends with my parents. i trusted them. i looked up to them. i respected them. and i endured emotional abuse under each for a total of four years.

they taught me that i was worthless. that anything i tried to do was never good enough.

i can’t count the number of students that bullied me. but it came from everywhere: the church youth group, the debate team, the sports team. some were my friends. some were my role models. they were all tormentors in the end. i couldn’t escape being the victim, for four years of my life.

they taught me that i was fat, weak, gay, emo, worthless, stupid, dirty, and deserved to die.

i could only deal with so much. at age 13, i started fighting depression. it grew worse over the next two years.

at age 15, i was sad. i was tired of living. and i wanted more than anything to escape. to be happy again. i became an expert at pretending to be okay. fake smiles were second nature.

i wouldn’t let anyone close enough to let them hurt me. i couldn’t trust anyone. so no one knew. no one noticed how much it hurt.

i was alone.

may 25, 2012. i was home alone. the pain in my mind was unbearable. the heartache of the shame i felt was too heavy. i wanted to die. but i couldn’t kill myself. i wouldn’t let myself. i was too scared.

so i did the first thing that came to mind, to try and relieve the pain. i broke apart a plastic razor i found in the bathroom cabinet and i took the thin blade from it. i pressed it horizontally to my wrist. and i cut.

six small cuts. barely deep enough to break the skin, but still deep enough to bleed, to hurt. it brought relief like a flood in a way that i can’t explain with words.

i’ve tried to retrace my thoughts since then to figure out what ever gave me the idea of cutting myself in the first place. i’ve hit only dead ends.

but i had found an escape.

for the next month, i was okay. i knew i couldn’t cut my wrists because it was still summer and i couldn’t hide my arms easily. so i cut the skin across my thighs. every night. i got a little more courage. the cuts became a little deeper.

it hurt so good. no one noticed.

they taught in church that god is supposed to be the ultimate source of joy and peace.

i felt a deep shame. if god made christians joyful, why was i depressed. if god gave christians peace, why did i have to get relief from a blade.

i knew i was a bad christian. i knew that god must hate me.

they said that god loves the world and all the people in it. but he didn’t stop my bullies and abusers from hurting me.

i knew. god doesn’t love me. i stopped praying. i stopped reading the bible. i didn’t know why i should anymore. it wasn’t helping me get better. if god didn’t love me then i didn’t see why i should love him.

i didn’t love him anymore. i hated him. he made this happen to me. he made me hurt. he gave me life but then he made it so bad that i wanted to die.

i knew i was a bad christian. so i told my parents. they cried a lot. i promised i would get better and i would never cut myself again. i promised i would start loving god again. i said everything would be okay again.

i lied.

i tried hard to keep my promise. it only lasted a month. then i got worse. i broke down and starting cutting again. every night. deeper and deeper.

i wanted to die. maybe i could get enough courage to try and kill myself someday.

four months later. they found out. my parents took me to the doctor. he asked me a lot of questions and then gave me a bottle of pills to take. once a day. he said it would help me to feel better.

so they all pretended everything was okay now. i had pills. i should get better now.

i got worse again. it was winter now. i started cutting my wrists and worked my way all the way up to my shoulders. i could hide them under jackets and long sleeves. it didn’t matter anymore anyway.

the pills weren’t working. the doctor gave me higher doses of pills.

they took me to a psychologist. she seemed nice. she asked lots of questions. i told her about everything. she wanted to see my cuts. i showed her. she wanted me to talk to my parents. she wanted me to show them my cuts. she wanted me to promise to stop cutting.

i didn’t know what to do.

i said yes.

after it was over, i wore short sleeves again. people stared at the scars lining my arms. they asked me what happened. i told them a dog had scratched me.

i lied.

depression swallowed me again. the doctor gave me more pills. it was a different kind this time. he said they would help me not to feel tired.

but i was tired. i was tired of living. and i was sick. really sick.

i wanted to die. i thought i had enough courage to try.

it was 1:13AM. i couldn’t sleep. i didn’t want to live through the next day. i knew i could die now.

i thought about my knives. i got them and cut deeply into my wrist. i wanted to slice through a vein and bleed to death.

i failed. i was left with a mess of sticky blood. but i was too scared to cut deep enough to die.

i knew i would try again soon.

and i did. two weeks later. i tried reaching a vein again. i almost did it.

there was so much blood. my head hurt and i was dizzy. i couldn’t bring myself to keep cutting deeper. i was too weak and too tired.

i failed again.

i tried to keep living. i hoped that things would get better. maybe the pills would work now.

hope bred more misery.

i was brave enough to give it another shot. the knife couldn’t cut deep enough. i tried something different this time.

i found a large bottle of pills in the medicine cabinet. i swallowed a lot of them. i didn’t count how many. i drank a lot of water and tried to fall asleep.

my stomach hurt. i threw up all the pills.

i failed. for the third time. i used to think that the third time’s a charm.

i was too tired to try again. i cried and fell asleep.

a few weeks later, i tried again.

this time i got scared after i swallowed all the pills.

i called the only person i trusted.

he talked to me for an hour or two. i calmed down.

my stomach still hurt. my head was throbbing. i threw up all the pills.

i had failed. i was still alive, against my will.

i felt like god was laughing at me. i couldn’t stand to live but i couldn’t even get dying right. i was in limbo. in hell.

four attempts and still alive. i was sick. i hated myself. i wanted to die but i couldn’t.

the parts in between are a blur. i didn’t attempt again. i kept visiting the psychologist. i kept taking the antidepressants.

and i started talking to him more.

he asked me about my suicide attempts. we talked about my cutting. about my depression. about my self hate. about my shame. about the bullying and the abuse. about the hurt and the loneliness.

somewhere in all of that, i found myself. i realized that, amidst all the bullshit of life, there were some things that were worth living for. worth staying alive for. he was one of them.

i stopped cutting. i found an alternative. it made him really happy.

i started to talk to my psychologist more. it made him happy too.

i talked to him frequently. no one else cared about me.

the darkness started to clear.

i stopped practicing how to smile in the mirror. he made me smile spontaneously and for real.

i have never met a more beautiful person.

and that is why it hurt so much when he walked out of my life. without a clear explanation. without a spoken goodbye. just a phone call with a vague jumble of words put together that i couldn’t quite process through the shock i was feeling.

it hurt like hell.

and life does that. life is pain and beauty and truth. and i would rather have that than comfort and happiness.

i still have major depressive disorder. i still fight off anxiety attacks. suicidal thoughts dwell in my mind every day. i have constant flashbacks of the abuse.

there are things i’d rather not remember. and things still hurt.

but even though it hurt like hell when he abandoned me, losing my best friend taught me that the outstanding pain i felt from that was worth all that he had taught me when he loved me even though i hated myself.

he taught me how to love myself. to embrace brokenness. to turn shame into beauty. to turn lies into truth. to resist the urge to tear through my skin when i wanted to bleed. to appreciate life even when i felt like i would be better off dead.

through pain, i found myself. because of him.

and so, today, as i was thinking of how to write this, i remembered the first time i told him that i hated myself and wanted to die. when i told him about the abuse.

he asked me, “who does these things to you ?”

i didn’t have a clear answer.

i do now.

i know where i’ve been and what i’ve been through. i remember all the hate and the hurt. i remember all the shame and the sadness. i remember all the trauma and the tears.

and i know now that people like me who have mental illnesses never really do recover. after an experience like this, there is no way to reclaim the person i was before. there is no way i can recover who i once was.

and so, i have decided, to recreate myself. i will create a better life and a better world. there will be pain but there will be love. and i will learn to love myself as i live.

one of the hardest things i’ve ever done is share my story.

i’ve only told a few people. it scares me like hell. it’s tangled and it’s terrifying for me to relive some of the memories. but dragging shame out into the light drains it of its power. i share my story, not because it’s easy, but because it’s needed. because it’s real.

and to the reader: i don’t know what you’ve endured, how you’ve hurt, what you’ve done.

but i am glad that you are still alive.

I Didn’t Want to Be Broken, I Wanted to Be Whole: By Neriah

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I Didn’t Want to Be Broken, I Wanted to Be Whole: By Neriah

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

It’s with excitement that I’ve read all the articles posted on Homeschoolers Anonymous — yet I could never figure out which experience of my own to write about.

Until the mental health week.

I was anorexic from about age twelve to thirteen — honestly, the months are blurry and I can’t handle going back and reading my journals from that time to get a more precise number.

But, safe to say, for about a year I starved myself.

I dropped from around one hundred pounds down to seventy-nine; my body began to shut down. My hair and nails suffered, and my period stopped.  When I look at pictures from that time, I’m shocked — my body is gaunt, my bones protrude out, my face is ghostly. I was twelve and yet I could have passed for nine or ten years old.

Those are the biological details.

Once I began eating normally again (as in, being able to eat a bag of skittles without freaking completely out), the next six years were all about recovering mentally: shifting through feelings, engaging my family, etc. I was constantly depressed and unable to participate normally in social situations. My mind was upheaval—until I was twenty, I spent many, many days in a guilt-and-shame induced nausea.

I had no formal counseling. In fact, when I wrote a speech about my battle with anorexia for an NCFCA speech season, my mom read it and asked, “but did you ever struggled with anorexia?”

It was at that point that I realized I was on my own to sort through the mess in my mind.

Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about cause. While finding the origin of anything is tricky and often impossible, a significant factor has emerged in the past twelve years that I believe contributed my anorexia and concurrent mental issues: my religious background. In hindsight, my family’s constant emphasis on the Bible, for me, lead to drastic jumps in logic that reinforced my depression, shame and guilt.

Here are few logical fallacies (what I now realize are fallacies) that I’ve mulled over these past fifteen years:

1. If my body was my temple, I had intentionally ruined it by starving myself. I was therefore disrespecting God as the creator of my body. This all equaled shame and guilt—and fear.

2. I had always been a very strong-willed child—my mother commented that she had read James Dobson’s Strong Willed Child and she had a few chapters to add. Furthermore, my mother did not often deal with my passionate, argumentative nature well. Often, in the heat of frustration, she would lob Bible verses at me to convince me to change my behavior. Common ones include the following:

Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.”

Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”

She never quoted the following verse at me, but I had read the obscure (and more interesting parts!) of the Old Testament, so I remembered this one that terrified me:

Deuteronomy 21:18, “If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:  Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.”

As a result of these verses, I began to believe that my anorexia was a punishment from God intended to turn me toward him and my parents.

It was my “pride” and “haughtiness” and my “lack of honor” that caused me to come into such problems. Thus, if I listened to what God was trying to teach me, the hardships and pain of anorexia would be instrumental in my walk with God— and my depression and guilt and shame would go away.

3. Once I saw the cause of my anorexia (namely, my sin and pride), I would be better. I tried to repent.

I would go forward at church, confessing my sins…..and I’d still feel crippling guilt.

I would read the Bible with discipline and focus…..yet I would still feel horrible depression that made it nearly impossible to get out of bed.

I would simply assume there was a hidden sin somewhere in my life causing me shame—something I hadn’t confessed yet. I searched my soul— wracked my brain. Prayed and prayed, and yet I still felt the urge to work nearly 50-60 per hours a week one summer because I simply could not handle being in a room alone with my racing mind.

I felt I could never repent enough to make the depression go away permanently.

Plus, with all the talk in Christianity about the benefits of “being broken” and how one must be broken in order to be used by God, etc, etc, etc—- I began to feel an impasse with my faith.

Hell, I didn’t want to be broken; I wanted to be whole.

It was at that point that I realized that Christianity and my religious background were not helping me overcome anything— instead, it provided the framework, the worldview to perpetuate these overwhelming waves of depression.

Thus, for me, I left Christianity behind. I believe in God, and yet I find the organized interpretations and literal approach to the Bible not only shallow, but dangerous. My depression and feelings and of guilt and shame have been helped with actual counseling, new “worldly” friends, and a fuller awareness of myself resulting from exposure to ideas in undergraduate and graduate studies.

The very places and people my church tried to save me from instead became my mental health salvation.

It’s Not Always Rainbows and Roses Now, But: Eloah’s Story


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

I promised a long time ago that I would write something for Homeschoolers Anonymous, but it has been hard to put these feelings to words to pixels.

I wanted so badly to contribute something positive, constructive, maybe even hopeful, to what I feared could well turn into a chaotic frenzy of confessions and self-justifications.

But I also wanted to tell the truth. Honesty, if I learned nothing else from my mistakes, is I believe the paramount virtue. I value it above—well, practically all else.

Honesty is what has brought miraculous healing to some very broken relationships, including those with my parents.

Relationships that were broken as a result of the culture fostered in the homeschooling circle I grew up in.

You see: My parents raised me to know good from bad, right from wrong, and to see things in black and white. And if there was ever confusion about which was which, the adults surrounding me had strong opinions about it that they forcefully fed to their young.

At a very early age, I learned to parrot what I heard, even if I didn’t understand or agree with it. I could passionately espouse a strong opinion in public that was either ill-formed with virtually little thought, or precisely the opposite of what I really felt.

Because I sensed that there was no room for error, I quickly became an expert liar. Even now looking back, I don’t think I realized I was doing it. My outward expressions I believe were genuine attempts to force myself to “be good” and to meet the judgmental approval of my friends’ parents and my parents’ friends.

I thought maybe if I said something long enough, and adopted a self-righteous attitude about it, I could come to believe it, accept it and maybe even agree with it.

Never, ever underestimate a child’s need for approval from adults, especially her parents.

Why would I strive so hard for approval from people who gossiped hours on end about others, their mistakes and their “sins”? (If you can call listening to rock music, going on dates with boys, wearing pants and going to college as a female “sins.”)

Because I knew they would eat me alive if I didn’t meet their expectations—in a figurative sense, of course. But the last thing I wanted was to be a topic of hypocritical and self-righteous conversation. I dreaded the punishments—the intense, oppressive groundings that were meant to treat the aforementioned sins.

This is why it’s remarkable that I did what I did, at that Master’s Conference in 2003. It was in Birmingham, my hometown, and a boy I flirted with sometimes was on guest staff with Communicators for Christ, which puts on the communications conference/tournament.

I was almost 18. I kissed him in a stairwell between rounds one day. Or he kissed me. Who ever knows? It was my first kiss, and I was giddy and excited and happy and all of those emotions that come with your first.

Except somebody saw or found out, as they inevitably do in those circles, and it got back to my parents. And before I knew it, the family staying with us that week had learned of it. And the mother called me a slut, in front of my family and hers, and said she would not trust me alone with her son (who happened to be quite a few years younger than I).

If I had committed murder, I might have met more sympathy.

I resigned from the Master’s worship team, not because I was forced to but because I knew I was expected to.

The emotional roller coaster after all of that doesn’t even need describing. You can imagine for yourselves.

On the one hand I felt liberated at last – “the adults” knew me for what I was: an imperfect human being. No need to go on pretending anymore. But on the other hand, I felt more trapped than ever. I remember one other girl—one considered among homeschoolers as “notorious,” if you know what I mean—reaching out to offer me sympathy and support. “We bad girls need to stick together,” she said.

I was horrified, because I realized I was now a “bad girl.”

I had been branded with the Scarlet A, and there was no living it down. Decent parents would never allow their sons and daughters around me again.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized she probably wasn’t all that bad. She probably wore a short skirt once, or talked back at a condescending parent. Or kissed a boy.

I can’t tell this story without sharing the redemption. Yes, it was ugly for many years, yes my relationships (romantic and otherwise) got progressively dysfunctional. I became a liar about everything—things that didn’t even matter. I hurt people just to hurt them. I rebelled just to rebel. I felt. Trapped.

Until I started speaking up about it.

Until I started talking to my parents, and sharing with them my feelings. Yes, we had many a loud argument with slamming of doors. Yes, they kicked me out, numerous times, but always let me come back. Yes, we disagreed, and there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth, but you know what?

We were hashing things out. We were challenging each other, and learning from one another. And eventually I realized they weren’t wrong about everything, they didn’t hate me and they genuinely did not realize the pressure their behaviors had put on me.

Because I never told them.

And I think maybe they realized that not everyone was formed from the same mold, and that regardless, people are entitled to learn from their own mistakes. And that maybe self-righteousness, judgment, hypocrisy and gossip are also sins.

It’s not always rainbows and roses now, but what I so love and appreciate about my parents (and I think many others from that circle have come to this place now, too) is that they love, respect and see me as a person now – not a parrot. I appreciate that they have been humble, teachable and eager to change their ways so as not to repeat the mistakes with my little brothers. There is a closeness we have now that we never experienced when I was simply walked through life agreeing with them on the outside but confused and trapped on the inside.

And who knows if we ever would have come to this place if I had not spoken up?

I only hope this story gives others the courage to speak up now, if they haven’t already.

Ninja Training: Chloe Anderson’s Story


Ninja Training: Chloe Anderson’s Story

My best memories from high school involve dressing up in suits, sorting through philosophy books and shopping for office supplies for the next speech tournament.  It was a dignified, serious existence.

This will be explained later.
This will be explained later.

And then there’s this photo — which I will get to.

A lot of this post may seem like it focuses on my parents more than homeschooling per se.  However, from what I have seen the homeschooling experience is made or broken by the parents doing the homeschooling.  Homeschooling was a lifestyle for our family.  Everything — every experience, every family friend, every activity we did and book we read was all centered around my parents work homeschooling us.   And they did that work with passion and care.

A Little Bit of Backstory

My homeschooling experience had its ups and downs.  I loved the ups: Choir tours (all by my-middle school-self!) with my co-op friends; Highschool trips to Europe to visit the historical sights I’d studied for years;  Family weekends at the Scottish Festival; Learning beekeeping… The ups were largely thanks to an amazing peer group that I adored and a good relationship with my parents and siblings.

The downs were mostly usual issues; teen angst, and the occasional tousle with my parents.  I never felt like I really fit in with the more conservative majority of our social/church circle.  My parents were alright with that.  They never really fit in with them either.  My parents were reformed, but they rejected heavy handed theology that sidelined women or centralized church authority to squash dissent and learning.  Because of this we found ourselves moving often from church to church, even though my parents desire was to be active, participating members of a stable church community.

My family wasn’t perfect.  A couple members of my extended family vehemently, sometimes explosively, disagreed with my father’s relatively liberal interpretation of “biblical patriarchy”.  My mother, an educator and a passionate advocate of higher education for girls, was sidelined more than once from homeschool conventions for that perspective.  My relationship with my father was sometimes rocky, but he has been more than willing to invest time in working through those issues with me.

Today, I value our relationship more than ever. 

When my parents’ marriage ended three years ago, I was confronted with a mountain of baggage that was compounded last summer when my mother suddenly passed away to cancer.  Now I’m left picking up pieces while building a life for myself in California, and I’m struck by the rich silver lining to all my drama.

My family wasn’t perfect.

But for all its imperfections I think that they got a lot of things right.

My parents home schooled me K-12, not because they thought they had discovered the perfect formula for parenting, but because they loved me and my brother and sister, and wanted to give us the very best of everything.  And in the process they gave me, a lot of tools I treasure now that I’m on my own.

And that brings me to explaining the picture at the beginning.

I was a speaker/debater for all of highschool and I loved it.  My biggest challenges, and best friends growing up were found there.  One of the debate camps I helped coach had a ninja debater theme.  Needless to say it was awesome.  I believe that this is a carefully staged photo illustrating the mesmerizing power of effective criteria.  Through homeschooling my parents inadvertently passed along a plethora of moments like this filled with possibility, wonder and hope, which I have only just begun to mine.

They have helped me sort the other wounds that I have received in the normal course of life.

School in your PJ’s?

Similar to many of you reading this, my education was largely custom built.  Both of my parents were college educated, lifetime scholars with a passion for knowledge.  My mother worked to bring education to life for us on a daily basis early on so we’d catch the passion too.  History lessons about Egypt tied into real-life biology lessons as we dissected and mummified a frog – which we then placed for display in the handmade sarcophagi we’d done in the art lesson that day.

What kid wouldn’t like that?

Or in highschool we volunteered at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for their new space exhibit, getting cutting edge lectures from NASA/NOAA scientists and then running cool experiments on a daily basis for the museum patrons.  School was a wonderful time for me and my parents did a good job of teaching me not only tons of information, but how to find it and how to love the search for knowledge.

My mother was the primary teacher, but as we got into highschool years my dad took over languages and History.  A Russian linguist for many years, he taught me Russian for high school language studies.  Now I have a degree in Russian and endless cocktail conversation about my semester abroad in Russia to accompany it.

We also were not limited to classes taught by my parents. 

From very early on me and my siblings were involved in classes taught by outside tutors whether it was in a co-op setting early on, or a community college setting later in our schooling career.  All three of us graduated highschool with at least a full year worth of credits from the local community college. Those classes were especially helpful for areas that my parent’s weren’t so prepared to teach like upper level math or chemistry.

 Silver Screen Dreams

While many of my peers were limited in their consumption of media, my parents encouraged an active dialogue on just about any topic.  I remember the awe in my friend’s eyes (and the horror in her mother’s) as 12-year-old me happily announced at lunch one day that I had seen The Matrix the other night.

Granted, my parents watched it with us and they had remote-edited a couple of scenes they didn’t think were totally appropriate.

But the fact remained that I was raised in a really rich creative environment.  Movies were a part of my life from early on (I literally can’t remember I time I didn’t have all of the original Star Wars movies memorized).  Natural next steps for me were interests in living out these movies somehow.

What started as imagination and play acting turned into a real passion for acting, writing and producing for both film and theater.  My parents were delighted with my creative talents and encouraged my theatrical tendencies wherever they could, even though I know my mother in particular was a little worried about what might happen to me were I ever to pursue them professionally. As I grew however, she was willing to work through those concerns as I demonstrated that I was thoughtfully investing in my God given talents.

She knew she had to let her girl fly and she was willing to make that sacrifice even if it meant that she was a little uncomfortable.

That willingness on her part, to let me try things that scared her, was key in building a relationship that allowed me to actually grow up — not just get older under her watch.  T

hanks to her encouragement early on I’ve had the tools and the courage to step out on my own now and go beyond just being a productive member of society.  I’m chasing dreams out here in California and hopefully you’ll be reading my name in the credits of your favorite summer flick someday soon.

Learning to Speak My Mind

My parents also encouraged debate.  But long before the competitive bug bit me, I remember my parents hosting “Soirees” at our house after church; potluck food, and a grab bag of topics to discuss ranging from literature to politics to science.   I loved them and felt so grown up when I was included at 11 years old in the adult discussions.  We’d invite the most interesting people we could find.  My Dad often would actually seek out people with odd views just to have them over so we could have an interesting discussion. “All opinions are welcome here.  If you have a problem with that, you can leave.”  That was his rule.

Looking back, the group was mostly varying shades of conservative and the occasional communist friend of Daddy’s from the Tattered Cover Bookstore where he worked.  (They liked us because we were all a little bit different.  He liked them because they knew about Russia — his deepest passion in life.)

But while the opinions weren’t that diverse, those afternoons ingrained in me early on that everyone deserves a voice.  Even if you think you don’t agree with them.

That attitude served me well as I emerged from the homeschooling community into a liberal college where I encountered people with actual differences in opinion.  They weren’t scary to me.  They were just different people – with opinions of their own.  And since I knew how to listen, it didn’t take me long to figure out that “the world,” as many christian worldview apologists like to call it, is just made up of people like me;  People who have passions, who have loved ones, who have been hurt, who have dreams.

And when the debate is over and the ideas are put to bed, you should still be able to sit down with them over a lovely meal and ask them how their kids are doing.

One of the Boys


Oh, boys! 

I was kind of odd in our circle of girls, because I never got the romantic fascination with marriage and boys and Mr. Darcy.  Frankly, if you ask me even now he’d have made a really boring husband.

But, that meant that after about 9 years old, a giant chunk of my good friends growing up were boys.  Even in college they were often the most interesting (drama-free) people around.  I’m sure that there were mothers who thought that was odd or inappropriate, but my parents were fine with it. They were great guys and I’m proud to say that I’m still good friends with many of them even after almost a decade in some cases and marriage in others.

I love them like brothers — totally inappropriate brothers who would let me rough house with them, who would play stupid games with me, who would match my banter word for word, who would take me swing dancing and who would talk theology, politics, video games and movies with me till dawn. I am deeply grateful for those guys in my life because I truly believe that without them I might not have been able to process the Daddy issues which are inevitable for any girl whose parents divorce.

In those friendships my parents gave me a piece of the external security net that has kept me grounded as I begin to live life as an independent adult.

Learning to Say, “No”

My parents’ marriage was far from perfect.

But, with all their issues, they were a rock of help for several families struggling with abuse.  They worked so hard to provide a harbor in the storm.  My dad partnered with other men to help mentor a few of the fathers who were struggling.  My mother hosted bible studies and invited single moms over to learn how to make jams or study child development.  They even included us kids in a limited fashion, asking us (never forcing us) to watch the young toddlers while my parents had coffee or dinner with one or both parents.

I was never really privy to details and for that I am grateful.

But in light of the little I did know, my mother made sure that my sister and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that we never had to stand for abuse whether it was verbal, physical or emotional.  It was an especially important lesson to her because of the systematic abuse we observed all around us which was justified under the label of “biblical patriarchal theology.”  When seeking help from many churches for their own marriage issues the constant refrain aimed at my mother seemed to be, “If you would just submit better to your husband, your marriage would be fixed.”

With this useless advice ringing in her ears, within our conservative circle there was no one able to help until it was too late.

When my brother was a senior in high school, my sister was finishing her last year of college and I was doing my first year of internships post-college, my parents finally ended their marriage.  They had sacrificed much to try to make a home that was healthy for me and my siblings.  And when they finally ended their marriage I was witness to another step they were taking, at least in part, for us kids; they had the courage — even in the face of the social stigma in the church against divorces — to walk away from the marriage so that they themselves could heal.  Many people would see this result as a total failure.  But as I watched both of my parents wrestle through that time, I saw two people emerge with an even greater capacity for grace and forgiveness than ever before.

The divorce was not a failure.

It was the first step towards healing and restoration. 

 Hindsight, Always 20/20

The area that I look back on with the most pause is just how much I held my parents up as perfect — especially my mother. They were responsible for introducing me to the most fascinating ideas, the most wonderful people and for sheltering me from as much of the junk theology as they could.  So their opinion of me, their blessing, their respect was something that I not only wanted, but it was something that I needed on a deep and very unhealthy level.

This was something I didn’t fully register until recent years.

As I hit the later years of high school and throughout my college years I found my opinions shifting as I experienced the world without parental filters.  I knew the filters they had applied had been applied in love, but they were filters never the less.  My experiences began to show me that perhaps my parents aren’t infallible after all.  Especially spending as much time as I did with the theater department at my school my perspective on LGBT issues, sex, drugs, alcohol, democrats, republicans, “world view”…. all of it was shifting in light of my new experiences —

And the thing that tore me up was that I felt I had no tools for telling anyone from my family. 

At school I was one person, and at home I became expert at active listening, passive questions, sidestepping issues, or sometimes just lying to avoid telling my parents I’d come to a different conclusion than they had.

The internal dissonance didn’t really come to a head until I met the love of my life.  His name is Dylan.  We met in Stage Combat learning to sword fight.  It was awesome.  And really quickly we became fast friends.  He was the adventure I’d always hoped for in the moments when I dropped my usual “one-of-the-guys” act.  He was kind and smart, better read than anyone I knew, a professional athlete, on a full ride scholarship for acting and passionate about making a positive impact through politics.

But he was also a Democrat, a former player with the ladies, and I had no idea where he really stood on the spectrum of religion but I knew it wasn’t nearly “christian” enough.

I was terrified to bring him home. 

I didn’t even tell my family I was dating him for about a month.  I knew in my heart that our relationship was healthy, that I was growing and that I trusted him with my life even with our differences.  The fact that our friendship was based on a choice to be invested in each other rather than a checklist of intellectual compatibility was freeing.  But my parents didn’t know how to handle him. They were shocked by my choice because for about 7 years I’d been hiding behind my silent nods.

They didn’t know me anymore because I had stopped letting them in for fear of losing them. 

I had to learn to speak again.

And this is the juncture at which I find myself today.  My mother passed away last summer, so I never got to finish letting her back in. But my father and I are watching our relationship slowly heal.  I still have the need for approval of people I respect — but I think that’s more me than any homeschooling-bred need for perfection.  And I’ve finally been able to be honest about my choices — choices that I make on a daily basis using so many of the tools that my homeschooling experience gave me.  I would never give back that experience.  The glue that held it all together and kept my parents from being dysfunctional task masters, or chronic busy bodies with a messiah complex was that they loved us kids and wanted the world for us.  And they sought every day to live out a faith that convicted them to serve, love and empower.

That is perhaps the greatest example that they left me. 

And while I now no longer really identify as a conservative as they did, I carry that passion of theirs with me.  And I carry a faith that I have inherited but have also grown to own as mine.  In many ways I’m still the crazy kid in the photograph: Obviously not totally put together, but self possessed enough to fake it till I make it — and wise enough to love the journey along the way.

For that, I have my parents and my time homeschooling to thank.

Why I Am Proud of Myself: Philosophical Perspective’s Thoughts

Why I Am Proud of Myself: Philosophical Perspective’s Thoughts

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

This is why I’m proud of myself.

This is not an article with arguments or nuanced thoughts, this is a declaration, for those of us who have survived.

I’m 27 years old, and I am so proud of myself.

My mom taught me to read when I was 5, and after that, I was mostly on my own.  Yes, she sought out volunteer experiences and free homeschool clubs for academic enrichment, but I had no formal education until college.

I grew up in a home where neglect was the norm.  My dad left for work in the morning, and my mom didn’t get out of bed until noon. As the oldest of three, it was my job to cook and clean, and make sure my siblings were “doing their school.”  What ability an eight year old has to make a 2 and 5 year old sit down and plow through math textbooks, I’ll never know.

My youngest sibling’s only memory of learning anything in his childhood was me, age 10, teaching him to read.

So, I’m proud of myself, because I was a voracious reader with a huge imagination and an incredible thirst for knowledge. I taught myself history, language arts, math, and science by sitting down and reading text books.

I was my own guidance counselor. As high school loomed, I knew I wanted to go to a “good college”.  So I read all of the rankings, and I figured out what I needed to learn to get where I wanted to go. I mapped out my four years of high school, asking my parents to enroll me in extension programs, community college, and co-ops. I figured out how homework worked, how to take tests, and how to build relationships with teachers so they would write me letters of recommendation.  I made sure I took math and science, because I couldn’t get those at home or through debate. I wrote tons of essays, so that I could write good applications for college. I worked 10 hours a week running a piano studio, so I could have my own spending money. I competed in the NCFCA, and won.  A lot.

I’m proud of myself, because I worked my ass off in high school, doing so much more than any of my peers. I had to figure out the system on my own, with no guidance or advice.

I’m proud of myself, because I had the drive and forethought and organization at seventeen, to call every university I wanted to apply to and ask their admissions counselors what extra information they would want, because I was homeschooled (and remember, this was 10 years ago, before homeschoolers in college was commonplace). I put together compelling and interesting application essays.  I figured out how to communicate the value of my education, by writing my own transcript and calculating my own GPA.  I had something like 10,000 volunteer hours by the time I graduated (for which I give my mom much credit). I applied for a won extremely prestigious scholarships, landing me in the top .01% of graduating high school seniors in the country, and beating out peers from prep schools who had parents, teachers, principals, and advisors prepping and nurturing them. I only had myself.

I got into a top five university, from which I earned a BA and MA in four years, and graduated with honors. I paid my way through college with no financial support from my parents. I now work for a nationally recognized organization, and am leading in their cross-cultural outreach.

I am so damn proud of myself.

Because, despite what the news articles would have you believe, I have not been successful because of my (lack of) education. I am thriving despite my homeschool experience. I have been successful because I have overcome every obstacle thrown in my path. I been smarter and worked harder than the vast majority of my non-homeschooled peers. I am tough, I am resilient, and I have already accomplished so much.

So yes, as I read and write and recall all of the bullshit I’ve lived through and coped with, I need to remember every once in awhile that I am overcoming it, and that is amazing.

I am not a homeschool success story.  I’m my own success story.


Also by Philosophical Perspectives on HA:

How NCFCA Taught Me to Fight Sexism

Of Love and Office Supplies

A Tool In Someone Else’s Culture War

We Need Advocates

Brainwashed Shock Troops

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on July 17, 2013.

Michael Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association and probably the most visible Christian homeschool leader, is fond of calling his generation the Moses Generation and my generation the Joshua Generation. Christian homeschooling parents, he says, removed their children from the perils of Egypt (aka the public school system) and educated them in the wilderness (aka homeschooling them) in order to send them forth to conquer Canaan (aka take America back for Christ). This really is the entire point of Christian homeschooling (as opposed to homeschooling done by those who may or may not happen to be Christian but do not have religious motivations for homeschooling). This is also why Farris’s daughter started NCFCA—to train Christian homeschool youth in argumentation and debate in an effort to prepare them for their assault on “the world.” In that light, I recently saw an interesting comment left on a Homeschoolers Anonymous post:

The idea that someone thinks that they can find really bright young people, teach them exceptional skills of debate and argument, and then unleash them upon the world as adults while still controlling their thoughts and attitudes is nothing short of insane. Young people have been growing up into adults who reject the authoritarian views imposed upon them for literally centuries. Why does this group of fundamental Christians – who often behave abusively to that self-same group of bright young people – think that they are exempt from the questioning and breaking away process that all young adults do as they grown into independence?

Because they believe they have completely brainwashed their young people into absolute loyalty to The Party as part of their training/indoctrination. Like the Uruk-Hai coming from the spawning pits below Isengard, they were raised and indoctrinated to be living weapons and nothing more.

Why do they think they are exempt from their best and brightest living weapons breaking away? Divine Right, of course.

My father spoke at my graduation. It was a homeschool graduation held at a local church, of course, and each father presented his son or daughter and gave a short speech. I was preparing to begin university the following fall. In his speech, my father said that many people had questioned his wisdom in sending me off to a secular university, asking whether I was ready for that. His response, he said, was that the real question was not whether I was ready to attend that university, but rather whether that university was ready for me. His confidence in my performance disappeared over the following years as I did indeed become “corrupted” by my time at university, and halfway through college my father launched into a tirade against me in which he brought up his remarks at my graduation and told me, his voice full of emotion, that those who had warned him against sending me off to a secular university had been right, and that he wished he could go back and undo that.

What happened?

Put simply, the commenter quoted above is right.

It is completely unreasonable for Christian homeschool parents to think that they can train up ideological clones whom they can train in debate and argument and then unleash upon the world without at least some of them going rogue or asking questions they shouldn’t. If these parents limit their children’s interaction with the world outside of their religious communities and avoid teaching their children critical thinking skills, creating ideological clones is simpler. But if you’re going to train them in argumentation and debate and then send them out into the world to wage ideological war on your foes, well, that’s more complicated. My parents equipped me with the very tools that ultimately led me to think my way out of their mindset, and meeting and getting to know people in “the world” meant that I realized the portrayal of “the world” my parents had given me growing up was wrong and extremely backwards. The system my parents constructed around me, in other words, was built with an internal weakness.

Why, then, did my parents have so much confidence? The commenter quoted above does have a point when referring to divine right—my parents believed that they were right, that their ideology was sound and true and demonstrably so. They therefore assumed that if they equipped me with Truth, that would be enough.

That I might grow up to disagree with them on what is true and what is not wasn’t really a concern, because they believed that the truth of their beliefs was completely obvious to anyone with eyes. When they would talk about people who “left the faith,” they would always attribute it to some sin—the person just wanted to have premarital sex, or to be able to be selfish and not care about others, or what have you. In their conception, it was never a disagreement about fact that led people once saved astray, but rather fleshly desires—because the truth of their beliefs, they were certain, was manifestly obvious to anyone and everyone.

There was something else, too, something more related to Christian homeschooling. My parents believed they had hit upon the perfect formula for raising children who would never fall astray. They believed this because this is what they were told by the books, magazines, and speakers of the Christian homeschool world. And they had done everything on the list from keeping me from friends who might be bad influences to teaching me with curriculum that approached each issue from a Christian perspective. This, quite simply, is what I consider the number one reason my father said what he did at my graduation. He was convinced that he had produced a culture warrior, following the proper formula and all of the proper advice, and that I was, in a sense, infallible—that I couldn’t possible go wrong.

But what was I, really?

I was chock full of apologetics arguments and conservative talking points, but utterly without lived experience or any real understanding of the arguments against the ideas my parents had taught me. After all, I’d never really interacted with people with different ideas or beliefs and my parents provided me only with straw man versions of opposing arguments in order to then knock them down. I’d grown up in an echo chamber and was happy contributing to that echo chamber, but I had no experience stepping outside of it.

I wasn’t a culture warrior. I was a teenage girl who thought she knew everything and wanted very much to please her parents.

The Space To Be Human: Jayni’s Story

The Space To Be Human: Jayni’s Story

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.