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

By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You cannot stop the abuse without exposing the advocates.

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Three

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Three

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Latebloomer” is a pseudonym. Latebloomer’s story was originally published on her blog Past Tense, Present Progressive. It is reprinted with her permission.

*****

In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven

*****

Part Three: Sexuality, the Elephant in the Room

"At Reb Bradley's church, my family found a culture of people who were also trying to ignore the elephant in the room."
“At Reb Bradley’s church, my family found a culture of people who were also trying to ignore the elephant in the room.”

My mom walked into my bedroom and handed me a heavy biology textbook. “Read chapter 13,” she told me, breathless and blushing. Then she rushed out. I opened to the appropriate chapter: “The Reproductive System”. That was my entire sex education; I was 17 years old.

I think we can all agree: sex education should probably be done by people who have said the word “sex” out loud at least once in their lives.

My parents’ denial of sexuality couldn’t stop puberty, and couldn’t stop our curiosity about sex. Instead, their attitude clearly showed us kids that we could never go to our parents with any questions or concerns that were related to our sexuality or genitals. For me, I found some answers around age 11 when I looked up “sex” and “puberty” in the encyclopedia. Later, a hidden copy of “What Solomon Says About Love, Sex, and Intimacy” in my parents’ closet provided hours of heart-throbbing reading.

Not every homeschooling family is so repressed about sex, but at Reb Bradley’s church, my family found a culture of people who were also trying to ignore the elephant in the room. A favorite theme of Reb Bradley was sexual purity and “Biblical courtship”. He was fond of referring to 1 Timothy 5:2, which says, “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” According to his interpretation, all young men were to treat all young women as sisters, absent of sexuality.

Paradoxically, Reb Bradley also taught that these single “siblings in Christ” should not be allowed to mingle freely with each other because of temptation…..wait, what? How are you supposed to treat someone as a brother or sister if you’re not allowed to spend time with them? I guess Reb really didn’t believe that platonic friendships were possible between the genders after all.  I think even Jesus himself would have gotten disapproving looks like the mingling teens in the back row if he came to Hope Chapel.  After all, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5)–if Jesus was close friends with single women even in ancient Jewish culture, then why was it forbidden at Hope Chapel?

So how could an honorable young man find himself a wife in this gender-segregated culture? Ideally, he had to notice a girl from across the room–for her godliness, mind you, not her body–and approach her dad to ask permission to court her. Without knowing much about her, he would have to prove to the dad that he was serious about a relationship with the daughter.

If the dad thought the young man was suitable, he would inform the young man of the physical boundaries of the relationship, such as when/if they could start to hold hands. The dad could also control the frequency of contact, monitor emails and phone calls, and require all interaction happen in the presence of other family members. It was encouraged but not Biblically necessary for the father to ask his daughter for her opinion of the young man, regardless of the age of the daughter.

I saw this courtship process attempted once in Reb Bradley’s own family. However, even with his courtship “expertise,” Reb’s involvement was not able to prevent a lot heartbreak, drama, and broken friendships when the courtship ended.  And even Reb’s involvement and teaching couldn’t prevent at least three of his six children from having premarital sex, including one unwed pregnancy. I am not saying this because I think his kids are bad people–they certainly are not. I’m only saying these things because Reb Bradley is still trying to sell himself as an expert on family relationships and courtship. His materials give other parents false expectations of the outcome; people who take his advice should not expect better results than the man himself has been able to achieve.

When I started college at age 22, I determined to give male friendship and dating a try.  It was very difficult at first.  Because I was paranoid about flirting or being attractive, I had trouble relaxing and just being myself.  However, I was encouraged to persevere because I could see the benefits right away.  Long conversations with guys helped me see the world differently and let me experience a different style of communication.  Once I could interact freely with guys, I stopped developing crushes on every boy I saw.  I started to gain confidence about myself, and I started to see what type of guys I got along with the best.

Compatibility, not just character and beliefs, is important to consider when selecting a spouse. This is something that the couple can only determine for themselves by spending lots of time together, not only in groups but also alone.  No wonder Reb Bradley tries to downplay compatibility; he wants to keep the father in charge and he wants the father to control the sexual aspect of the relationship as well. That’s why he teaches singles that they can make a marriage work with anyone, and it’s better for their sanctification to marry someone really different from themselves.

In case anyone cares, even though I dated a few different people in college, I was still a virgin when I married.  However, I was surprised to learn that my virginity wasn’t the “gift to my husband” that I was led to believe.  My amazing husband, himself a virgin at marriage, honestly didn’t care about whether or not I’d had sex before.  Additionally, we both found that physical closeness helped us maintain emotional closeness and openness with each other throughout our dating relationship.  The process of getting to know each other mentally and emotionally is gradual, so why should getting to know each other physically be so abrupt?  We were both very happy that we allowed some sexual progress in our dating relationship, and we both feel it has helped us to have a healthier sex life in our marriage.

For me, what I’ve learned is that there is no use in denying that we are sexual beings, and no benefit to fearing it or trying to hide it.  Accept yourself, take responsibility for yourself, and make your own choices.  You’ll find that sexuality is not such a scary and powerful monster when you stop treating it like one.

*****

To be continued.

Why The Rebelution’s Modesty Survey Was A Bad Idea: Shaney Irene’s Story

HA note: Shaney Irene’s story was originally published on March 13, 2013, on her site ShaneyIrene.com. She was homeschooled and was a former moderator on the Rebelution forum and now describes herself as a “thinker, reader, and writer” who is “passionate about adoption, youth ministry, and ending sexual abuse.” This story is reprinted with her permission.

On Valentine’s Day 2007, The Rebelution unveiled the Modesty Survey. Girls submitted questions, and guys responded. As a moderator of the Rebelution forum, I was really excited about the project. I posted it on Facebook, forwarded it to my youth pastor, and talked about it with anyone who would listen.

Six years later, if you ask me what I think of the Survey, I’ll tell you I regret having been a part of it, and I wish the project didn’t exist.

What happened? Well, basically I realized there are a lot of problems with modesty as taught in American Christianity, and the Survey hands a megaphone to some of the worst of those problems.

Perhaps the biggest and most disturbing problem is that we gave a platform to guys just because, well, they were guys.

We had no way of knowing whether the respondents had a healthy understanding of their own sexuality, knew the difference between attraction and lust, truly respected women, etc. We gave legitimacy to the idea that they had a right to speak about women’s clothing choices simply because they were male. 

Just because a person is male doesn’t mean their opinions on modesty are legitimate. And, quite frankly, it was inappropriate for us to promote the idea that men should teach women what clothing choices are appropriate. It reinforces the false idea that modesty is something that women do for men, an idea never found in the Bible and fraught with its own set of problems.

In offering a platform to over 1600 guys, many of whom shouldn’t have been given it, we lent legitimacy to some very dangerous ideas.

Many guys admitted to losing respect for girls who didn’t live up to their ideas of modesty, feeling “disgusted” or “angered” by these same girls, and even going so far as to say, “…she loses her right to ask guys to stop looking at her like something to be had…you are asking to have guys stare at you.” The word “cause” in relation to guys’ lust also made a frequent appearance.

This is the same attitude that says victims of sexual assault and harassment who wear “immodest” clothing are “asking for it.” This is the attitude that allows pastors to think that “What were you wearing?” is a legitimate question to ask when a woman reports being sexually harassed or assaulted. It’s the attitude that allows stories like this to happen.

We gave this attitude a platform.

(Ironically, all of the guys were asked to sign a petition in which they admitted that their lust was entirely their own fault. We missed the contradiction we were presenting.)

We also promoted the idea that modesty is primarily expressed through clothing choices.

While modesty as an attitude of the heart was given a lot of lip service, you simply can’t get past the fact that the vast majority of the 148 questions were about clothes.

The idea of modesty was inherently connected to the idea of not being a “stumbling block” for men, instead of being connected to the ideas of humility and self-respect. Modesty in Scripture is about not flaunting oneself. When Paul tells women to dress modestly, he’s basically saying, “Hey, let your beauty be about a beautiful heart, not about dressing extravagantly to impress others!”

But when modesty is about not “causing men to stumble,” it becomes about someone else’s reaction, not the state of one’s heart.

The survey allowed little to no room for the idea that, “Hey, maybe just because the majority of guys think a girl is being immodest, doesn’t mean she actually is.”

This is further reinforced by many responses from guys that made a direct correlation between a girl’s clothing choices and the state of her heart. Multiple guys made comments such as, “It changes everything about what I think of her,” “I feel sorry for them, because they must value their looks a lot, and esteem themselves a lot in their body, rather than in their relationship with the Lord,” and “…my opinion of her character lowers quite a bit.” In making these statements, the guys are making assumptions based solely on one factor: clothing.

You can’t say modesty is a heart issue, then make assumptions about a person’s heart based on their clothing choices. That’s backwards.

The last problem I’ll mention is that the Survey did nothing to differentiate between healthy, normal biological attraction, and lust.

Unfortunately, there are lots of guys who are led to believe they are the same thing. So when they find themselves physically attracted to a girl, they feel guilty. By asking guys to go through a list of questions about clothes and think about their reactions, we unintentionally reinforced unnecessary shame for those guys who didn’t understand that their biological reactions are not the same as lust.

(For further reading on the problems that modesty teachings present for guys, I recommend these posts by Preston and Dianna.)

When these concerns were brought up when the Survey first launched, we justified its existence through disclaimers and clarifications. Not once did someone say, “You know what, disclaimers don’t exempt you from the problems with the Survey.” Six years later, after hearing many stories on how modesty teachings have hurt people, I’ve realized it’s true: good intentions don’t erase problems.

So while I still think that modesty is important, the Survey approached the topic from the wrong angle, used incredibly problematic methods, and ultimately does more harm than good.

If you are a girl who has felt pressure from the Survey, I’m so sorry. If others have used it to control you, devalue you, or question your discernment, I’m sorry. You are free to ignore the Survey and to make decisions based on the Holy Spirit’s leading and input from friends and family that YOU trust.

Sex™ (and the lies I was told about it)

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap It was originally published on April 2, 2013.

(”Sex™” for this post refers to traditional (procreative/penetrative) intercourse.)

Sex™ is hard – and I don’t mean it in the cute double-entandra way. I mean it’s difficult.

It’s hard being newly married with an unhealthy body image, unhealthy (and untrue) understanding of what Sex™ is and means. Becoming quickly disillusioned by false promises perpetuated by parents and theologians and feeling horribly ashamed – and mostly? mostly angry. Because the lies of my childhood permeated every fiber of my being and made intimacy scary.

Imagine being told that you’re damaged goods and no one in their right mind would love you if you had sex before you were married. Imagine being compared to murky water in a glass, a scratch on a sports car, a chip on fine china if you were to be impure (which is so loaded that it could even mean something as simple as having a crush on someone. I know I felt guilty and apologized for having a crush once – thinking that made me undesirable). Imagine being scrutinized for kissing, or so much as holding hands while dating. Because that leads to Sex™ you know? And there’s no such thing as self control.

But then also being told, as a young girl, that when you’re married – you have to have A LOT of Sex™. Whenever your husband wants it, and you have to have unprotected, unsafe Sex™, too, because otherwise you’re ruining god’s design. Being told that essentially your job, once married is to be a baby and sex machine – because otherwise your husband would probably leave you (don’t get me started).

To make this worth it? To make not having sex before you’re married worth it, they tell you that you will have The Best Sex Ever™ just because you’re the purest of them all.

The Best Sex Ever™ is supposed to happen with absolutely no knowledge of your body, learning only abstinence, and being told your entire life that Sex™ is evil, bad, and ungodly outside marriage, but that as soon as the pastor announces you, it’s the most best thing ever and you suddenly know all about your anatomy and how your bodies work together?

It’s about time someone called bullshit.

Purity teachings, abstinence only education, and guilt/fear/shame tactics about my sexuality have been hard to get rid of. They permeate, they collect, they stay, they tell me I can’t talk about the fact that I did not, indeed, have The Best Sex Ever™ because I waited and proceeded to be ignorant about my body. My ignorance has cost me much, personally. Largely in embarrassment, but also in identifying physical problems, and forming a healthy relationship with myself and my own sexuality.

Those feelings of failure persisted for a while, failure because purity teachings required us to be ignorant. Our parents subscribed to “if you tell them nothing, they won’t do it or know how”. The ignorance that was required, the lies I was told – the fact that value as humans were dependent on first: whether or not sex was had before marriage, and second: on how many kids you’ll have after – anger me to no end.

The philosophy of, women must be 1) horribly self-conscious and paranoid about other women their husband see and 2) must be gods in bed because that’s what’s keeping their husband there, strikes me as demented and generally makes me want to strangle whoever is spreading that lie around.

I often feel strange when I’m around people who live this way. Because I don’t feel self conscious or paranoid, I don’t care, and I trust my partner. Our relationship is based on so much more than that.

“Purity” teaches you that appearances and sex are everything, but also that you should in no way think about or know about your body, sex, or have any healthy relationship regarding your sexuality or your future partner’s.

“Purity” taught me that ignorance is safe, wanted, necessary and it lead to me feeling like a failure, guilty, ashamed, confused, and disillusioned.

I was homeschooled,  I bought the lie, I believed ignorance was best, and I was told I’d be rewarded. I know countless others have suffered at the hands of purity teachings, and abstinence only education, of not being allowed to know about our own anatomy. I was ashamed because I didn’t know basic things (like, about my hymen).

I wish that I had been taught a healthy outlook of my body, of my sexuality, of my existence; instead of one that degraded not just women, but all of humanity into raging sex beasts.  Even so, if there is one thing I learned the hard way (ha), the one thing that I learned that made dealing with the shame and guilt easier (if not almost completely go away)? Is that sex is what you and your partner make of it. Sex is about enjoyment, it’s about each other, it’s about what makes both people involved feel good and is not about procreation.

Sex Miseducation

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on July 18, 2011.

Children who go to public school receive sex education. Some sex education programs are better than others, some are more comprehensive, others less so, but at least children attending public schools get sex education. I didn’t. My parents never told me about sex, never had “the talk” with me, nothing. My parents taught me that sex within marriage was the most wonderful thing ever but that sex before marriage was the most sinful thing ever, but they never actually explained what sex was. They just told us that it was a “special way of loving.” Weird? Yes. In an ideal world children will learn both about sex and to hold a healthy view of sexuality from their parents. Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world.

Now of course, I was curious: just what was this “special way of loving?” What was this thing at once so dangerous and so wonderful? And why was it so taboo, kept hidden from me like a secret? I pieced this secret together here and there from various sources over the course of six or eight years using a variety of sources:

A Biology Textbook: When I was in middle school I found a description of sex in a biology textbook. The two or so sentences of clinical explanation horrified me, and I quickly closed the book and put it away, more confused, terrified, and ashamed than enlightened.

An Art Book: Around the same time, I found a book full of pictures of statues in a stack of art books my mother had gotten from the library. The statues were nude. I stared, fascinated, looking at the pictures in an effort to learn more about human anatomy. I then felt incredibly dirty and put the book away quickly before my mother could notice that I had seen it.

A Book Store: When I was around fifteen, I was at Barnes and Nobles and ran across a book on how to tell your child about sex. I hid behind the shelves of books and listened anxiously for footsteps. I skimmed the pages furtively, hungry for whatever information I could find, information that would help explain this confusing thing to me. Given that I was terrified of being found and that the time I had was limited, the only thing I remember learning was about masturbation, which I had never heard of before. I felt extremely guilty and dirty afterward.

A Christian Sex Guide: At some point during high school, I found a Christian guide to improving your sex life in my parents’ bedroom. Closing the door and extremely nervous I might be discovered, I leafed through the book, slightly concerned that my parents might be having marriage problems and very frightened of being caught looking at the book but more curious than anything else. After a few minutes, I returned the book to where I had found it, feeling guilty and dirty, but slightly wiser.

The Internet: When I left for college I could use the Internet without being afraid that my parents would check the computer’s history. Finally I could solve questions that had been puzzling me, like just what “oral sex” was – I had heard the term somewhere several years back and had been curious ever since, but had been unable to find the term in a dictionary. Finally my questions could have answers. I clicked through pages of Christian sex advice websites, always afraid that my search terms might bring up porn sites. I justified what I was doing by reminding myself that I was now an adult and besides I was only looking things up on Christian websites.

A Mirror: I realized during my first year of college that I had no idea what parts I had down there. My parents’ emphasis on purity had made me feel that my private area was somehow dirty and unclean, and I had therefore never paid any attention to it. I didn’t even know where my vagina was, just that it was down there somewhere. Curious, I looked up anatomy images on the Internet and then then stood naked in the bathroom using a hand-held mirror to explore body parts I had not even known I had. I was both fascinated and horrified by what I learned.

Romance Novels: After I had been in college for some time, I held the hand of the man who is now my husband for the first time. This made me feel warm and wet in certain places that I had not known could be warm and wet. I was completely baffled. I had no idea what was happening to my body. I might now know the basic mechanics of sex, but I knew nothing about how it actually worked in practice, or what it meant for the body to be “aroused.” What was this? And so, I turned to the lurid romance novels one of my friends kept in her dorm room, reading the sex scenes in depth to try to find out what sex was actually like.

And that, reader, is how I learned about sex. Is it any wonder that I wish I had had a sex education class? Some years later, after I left my parents’ home and was married, a fifteen-year-old girl in a youth group I helped out with started asking me questions about sex. I answered her questions, every one of them, with the openness and honesty I wish my parents had had with me. I didn’t want her to have to learn about sex by sneaking her mother’s Christian sex book or reading romance novels. I didn’t want her to be nineteen or twenty and completely ignorant of her own anatomy. I didn’t want her to be like me.

I’ll never understand how my parents could on the one hand teach me that sex was something beautiful and sacred and at the same time leave me in ignorance about it and make me feel like it was something dirty and unclean. It was the most wonderful thing ever…but it was completely taboo as a topic. It was a sacred bond between husband and wife…but please don’t mention it or think about it. The contradictory messages I received gave me a very warped view of sex. I both looked forward to the sacred bond of sex with my future husband and felt dirty any time I thought about it. Learning about sex piecemeal here and there didn’t give me a very accurate view of sex either, even discounting the sense of guilt I felt about doing so.

When I finally got to the point of actually having sex, I was disappointed to find that it neither felt sacred nor lived up to the descriptions in the romance novels I had read. Picking up knowledge of sex in bits and pieces here and there while awash in guilt does not lead to a comprehensive understanding of sex or a healthy sexuality. I had no idea that sex took practice or effort, or that sometimes one partner wouldn’t feel like it and the other would, or that it could be sweaty and gross. It has taken me years to iron all this out and to come to a healthy view of sex. I wish that instead of focusing on keeping me ignorant of it, my parents had informed me about sex and focused on giving me a healthy view of sexuality. But then, their beliefs about sex would not allow them to do that.

What I would have given a sex education class, a safe place where I could have found the basic information and asked questions! Sure, it wouldn’t have been perfect, but it would have been something.

Fundamentalist Homeschooling Is A Poison: Isaiah’s Story

Fundamentalist Homeschooling Is A Poison: Isaiah’s Story

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

"Fundamentalist homeschooling is a poison. I say this from experience. It spreads like a virus, and not just among the conservative Christians who form its natural hosts."
“Fundamentalist homeschooling is a poison. I say this from experience. It spreads like a virus, and not just among the conservative Christians who form its natural hosts.”

I have mixed feelings about homeschooling, to say the least. While I find many, if not most, of the common criticisms of homeschooling to have some kind of validity, I still feel myself cringe when homeschoolers are caricatured as deranged fundamentalists since I know from experience that there is more to the story. My experience with homeschooling consists of extremely varied highs and lows — the highs of a dedicated and capable parent as a teacher, an education that fit with my self-motivated personality, and freedom from rigid schedules; and the lows of religious indoctrination and the personal struggles caused by living in an insular environment. If the good side of my homeschooling experience was very good — and it was — the bad side was very bad, and I still feel its effects to this day.

I was homeschooled for my entire lower-level education — kindergarten through high school — and in that time I knew homeschoolers from all sides of the social spectrum. I knew unschoolers, conservative Christians, liberal Christians, vaguely religious people, non-religious people, and even a Wiccan at one point (though I didn’t know what “Wiccan” meant until some time later). I knew people — or more accurately, the children of people — with a fairly wide range of beliefs and philosophies which had led them to homeschool, rather than just the evangelical families so well-represented in cultural tropes about homeschoolers.

But in spite of the diversity I was exposed to, my experiences have led me to be very suspicious of homeschooling in general, for a simple reason: in the homeschooling movement, the most extreme voices are the majority. There is a reason why the archetype of homeschoolers as fanatical morons is so popular. For every parent who chooses to homeschool for health reasons, extenuating circumstances, or educational philosophy (ie, that of unschooling), it seems like there are ten who homeschool because they are part of the fundamentalist or Quiverfull movements. Knowing what I know now about the history of homeschooling, this makes sense. After all, the Quiverfull movement openly says its goal is to produce large broods of future homeschoolers who will repeat the process over and over until they outnumber everyone else, and while the majority of Christian homeschoolers tend to be less brazen, they often only believe in milder versions of the same philosophies touted by Michael Farris and the other leaders of the Fundamentalist/Quiverfull movement.

Fundamentalist homeschooling is a poison. I say this from experience. It spreads like a virus, and not just among the conservative Christians who form its natural hosts. There are people of milder faith who get progressively sucked into more and more conservative elements of the homeschooling movement. Sometimes, through ignorance of fundamentalism’s real motives and philisophical underpinnings, a person can be lulled to sleep by the superficially attractive images of evangelical rhetoric and never notice the bigotry and delusion lurking right below the surface. I’ve seen it happen to people, and my mother was one of them.

As is probably typical for non-fundamentalists, many things contributed to my mother’s decision to homeschool me. Essentially, she believed — not without reason — that the public schools I would go to were dirty, violent, overcrowded, had poor curricula and bad funding. We couldn’t afford a private school, so she as a stay-at-home parent began to consider homeschooling.

By the time I had reached four my mother decided not to enroll me in preschool or kindergarten, and for the next three years did a wonderful job both educating me and socializing me with other children and adults. Even though I was an only child, I had a healthy and very normal social life, and was able to be educated above my age group, starting grade one at five years old. These were some of the best years of my childhood, and I still believe to this day that with sufficiently intelligent, caring and involved parents, early life education does not require formal schooling of any kind (although I see nothing wrong a with a good formal early education either).

After this successful start, when I had turned about seven, we decided to continue homeschooling through grade school. This marked the beginning of our brush with the conservative homeschooling movement. The HSLDA, which previously had been only an abstract form of social insurance to us, began to be a resource for our studies, and its sister organizations were used to help choose my formal curriculum. We spent a while before the start of my third grade school year deliberating on what system offered the best education, and ultimately decided on a hybrid approach. Other than the notoriously dry Saxon math textbooks, we chose a fundamentalist Christian curriculum called LIFEPAC and its digital equivalent, Switched-On Schoolhouse. This might seem incongruous, since we weren’t fundamentalists, but my mother was a religious conservative in the sense that she had a very hard time criticizing anyone who claimed to represent Christianity, and always gave religious individuals and organizations a great deal of respect even when her values were utterly opposed to their beliefs.  She never looked beyond the very thin religiously moderate veneers that the HSLDA and other conservative Christian organizations put up, and so she assumed the curriculum was merely a good Christian education, and nothing more.

If the thought had ever crossed her mind that the curriculum I used for ten years would progressively harm me intellectually, psychologically and spritually, she would have thrown it back on the shelf in an instant. But as it turned out, this curriculum would prove to be the central destructive influence of homeschooling on my life. It was from these textbooks and lessons that I was poisoned by fundamentalism, and they are largely responsible for the part of my homeschooling experience which stunted my development and left me struggling with extreme self-doubt, self-hatred and depression as years went by.

The lesson plan started off innocuously — even with a bible study textbook as one of the main subjects (right next to science, history, and English), the first few grades were of decent quality and generally avoided controversial material. Thanks to excellent teaching I excelled consistently in my studies and everything seemed to be going well. But as the years went by, little oddities started to present themselves when I studied my textbooks or took lessons on the family computer. Starting around the sixth grade — once biology and astronomy became serious subjects — science seemed to take a strange path, and as grades progressed upwards the tone of the text became more and more defensive, with the writers eventually resorting to actually mocking biology and astronomy (evolution and the big bang were the biggest targets) rather than merely promoting creationism. The extreme immaturity of using mockery in a textbook apparently never occured to the writers of the lesson plan.

History not only consisted of the standard American whitewashing, which strains a person’s grip on historical facts badly enough, but also a Biblically literalist whitewashing, an almost colonial view of non-Europeans, and to top it off, no acknowledgement that anything over six thousand years old could exist at all. It is not an exagerration to say that everything I actually know about history I learned outside of that curriculum, and that beyond certain parts about Rome, colonial Britain and early America, I have had to erase and relearn much of what I was taught to get an accurate picture of the world. As with the science curriculum, history lessons progressed in their deviance from standard textbooks over time, in this case by including slightly more biblical content in each grade level, marked as “history” right next to the founding of Rome or the pyramids of Egypt. Bible study, needless to say, was extremely focused on inculcating the “right” beliefs into students as quickly as possible and didn’t pull its ideological punches as much as the other subjects did. Although it did review the whole Bible (starting at about the 6th grade) it only did so in a literalist context, progressing in nastiness and pushiness by grade. All this time I had continued to use Saxon’s math textbooks — which I loathed, but did seem to work — and occasionally found myself welcoming their dry dullness near the end of the school day.

Saxon didn’t preach — it merely made you fall asleep.

The curriculum as a whole struck very softly with indoctrination, couching it in well-written and produced textbooks as well as computer applications that included media and games. The packaging was, as a whole, fairly slick, and if you weren’t looking it was easy to miss the poison that peppered the whole thing.

In addition to the other beliefs I described, all the subjects I studied promoted complementarian sexism, sexual abstinence, chastity, Edwardian/Victorian style gender roles, human exceptionalism, and of course Biblical Literalism, though they all did so in different ways. What strikes me now is how subtle some of this propaganda could be — it was even present in English class, not only in the books on the required reading list but occasionally written bluntly between otherwise unrelated text in the middle of a lesson. Now and then harsh Bible quotes would appear beside inspiring ones, as if in warning, and heaven, hell, angels and satan were all real characters in the context of the textbooks.

Before I make this look too bad, though, I have to say that I didn’t even notice much of this until the last years of my education, although I always noticed, ignored and then tried to forget all kinds of little doubts I had about what I was learning.  I read voraciously, including many science and history books that contradicted what I was taught, but until I became an older teenager I never really paid much attention to the contradictions, and through some kind of doublethink held that both ideas could be true. My mother remained an excellent teacher, I continued to hold a healthy social life, and I was otherwise quite whole as a person. Because fundamentalism only came from one part of my life and it was not promoted — though it was also never criticized — by my family, I had a lot more intellectual freedom than do most of the children who use this kind of curriculum. While some problems were simmering within me, my middle school life was overall a good experience even with my inane curriculum.

Personal issues during my high school years finally drove me to look back on, question and eventually discard the philosophy I was taught. A move to a faraway state had left my social life in tatters and it never recovered for the rest of my teenage years, I was forced to realize my own sexuality (both the existence of a sexual instinct itself, and that I was bisexual), I learned enough about real science and history to know that my education had not given me the whole truth, and I began to realize the terrible cruelty and undesirability of the world that fundamentalism sets out before people. All the little doubts and moral outrages I had repressed over the years came flooding back piece by piece, and after a long and hard struggle that included four years of constant depression I left both the fundamentalist part of my education and religion in general, becoming a happier and better person for it.

Only a couple of years after that last break from fundamentalism, my feelings on homeschooling remain mixed because my experience was mixed, and while the high points were great, the low points could be awful and intolerable. My mother’s dedication and inherently tolerant and empathetic nature gave me not only a good basic education, but a diverse and varied social life, ethical feelings I could seperate easily from religion, and intellectual freedoms that most homeschooled children never enjoy. But my curriculum, much of the media I watched or listened to, and the culture I grew up in contained no voices arguing actively against fundamentalism. Because of this, I became a host to the virus of religious paranoia and self-hatred, which I only recently managed to shake off enough to do things like write this essay. I was taught a much more warped perspective of history than even the average American middle-schooler, and my knowledge of useful science was very small until I studied real science for enough time to fix what my curriculum had broken. My relative intellectual freedom as a young child had left me well-prepared for this and I have managed to “catch up” without much fuss, but not everyone gets that opportunity.

Ultimately, I can’t say what my views are on what should or shouldn’t be legal in homeschooling. No matter what, I believe that there must be a strict basic code of regulations on homeschooling to prevent indoctrination and abuse, but I also understand the position of Germany and Scandanavia when they choose to simply ban it outright except in exceptional circumstances. I have met a few secular homeschoolers, unschoolers and other non-fundamentalist homeschoolers who have done well with their children’s education and have nothing to do with religion, let alone religious indoctrination. But the poison of religious fundamentalism is very potent, and the potential for even non-religious abuse within homeschooling is still high, regulated or not. I was a very loved and nurtured child in a relatively liberal household, and yet I suffered at least some of what children in deeply authoritarian Christian homes do.

I can’t imagine what I would be right now if I had grown up in a family of true fundamentalists, Quiverfull members, or right-wing evangelicals.

I can only say I’m glad that I didn’t.

Ticking Time Bombs of Atomic Hormones: Abel’s Story

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

Growing up in my homeschool world, I heard constantly from everyone around me about the importance of modesty and purity. Women were supposed to dress up like Victorian-aged puritans because men are so susceptible to lust and we just can’t control ourselves. I never understood this. But I accepted it because everyone else around me seemed to and I never felt I had the right to question it. If I tried to question it, wouldn’t that just be the sexual freak inside me trying to fight God?

Oh. Yeah. I kinda got ahead of myself.

There’s a sexual freak inside of me. Or, well, there’s a sexual freak inside of every male. According to my culture, all males are sexual freaks waiting to happen.

We’re like ticking time bombs of atomic hormones.

You don’t want to let those time bombs out until marriage. And it’s really easy to let them out. That’s why women should all dress so carefully. If a man happens to see a woman readjusting her bra strap, all hell could break loose and men could turn into savage beasts. There is a rapist inside of all men, including me.

I never thought there was a rapist inside of me. I never felt a desire to force myself onto a woman when I accidentally saw a bra strap peaking out of a woman’s denim jumper. But I still felt sick to my stomach when I caught myself looking one second too long at that bra strap. I felt that indicated my inherent dirtiness. I felt nothing but pure disgust for my body. I felt God staring at me from that bra strap, as if he was about to turn me into a pillar of salt, just like he turned Lot’s wife into salt for looking back at Sodom.

I’d stay awake at night, begging God to forgive me.

I’m surprised there’s not a whole generation of homeschooled males that have fetishes about bra straps.

But really, what I took to heart from all this talk about how obsessed men were with sex was not just that there was a rapist inside of me. It was that apparently I had a broken rapist inside of me. Because, honestly, I never felt so overwhelmed by semi-exposed skin that I couldn’t control myself. I spent years thinking there was something wrong with me. Men were supposed to “stumble” when they saw a midriff, or a shoulder, or too much leg. But I never “stumbled” like that — meaning, I never saw a midriff and went home and masturbated about it.

So I decided when I was sixteen that I must be gay.

In retrospect, that only made me feel worse.

Because men never made me “stumble,” either.

Because I’m not gay.

I was actually straight. And as far as straight people go, I was actually normal, too. Apparently normal people — straight or gay or whatever you are — don’t obsess about sex as much as homeschooling parents do.

I was conditioned by all these myths that pervade homeschooling that males are so overwhelmed by sex that they can’t exercise any semblance of self-control. But you know what? We can. And we’re not only hurting women by saying that women are responsible for mens’ thoughts. We’re also hurting men by making us all out to be monsters with uncontrollable sexual urges.

Rape is a horrible thing that should be opposed by everyone. Normal human sexuality is completely different. And I am sad that I grew up in a world that saw no problems with blurring the lines between the two.

It took me years to figure that out. What I used to think was me being gay eventually became me wondering if I just had a really low libido. But then I went to the doctor and found out, no, my libido is fine, too.

Apparently my problem was that I’m not a stereotype manufactured out of thin air by the I Kissed Dating Goodbye courtship cult.

But after everything I’ve gone through, that’s a problem I am ok living with.

Be Perfect as Your Heavenly Father is Perfect: Charity’s Story

true_love_waits_ii_by_oriel94

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

I’ve been following HA from the beginning. I knew from the first moment I saw the Facebook page that I would write my story, even though I do not think there is anything surprising about my life. I was raised in a conservative Christian home, was homeschooled through graduation, and in graduate school dropped Christianity for feminism. That transition, while difficult, felt natural for me. Feminism gave me a language for the discrepancies I could see and feel, but could not name. To this day my parents are dismayed and my brother is bemused about my ideological transformation.

I don’t know what parts of my life are important to tell, which parts are most salient. I just know that along the way I learned to hate myself. Because even though I know that I am smart and beautiful, I also know that I should be better. The only yardstick I have is absolute perfection for whatever it is that is on my plate in the moment. And if I can’t be perfect, then I need to just complete whatever the project is and move on to something else. There is so little joy in that way of living. There is no self-acceptance. Nothing can just be what it is in the moment; the striving is both constant and tortuous. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me explain.

I was raised to be a good Christian girl who did the best she could. It just so happens that, aside from math, I’m good at most things I have tried. All of my life I’ve been told that everything I touch turns to gold. There is a shit-ton of pressure in that statement and that pressure is the center of my story.

Until college, my social circle consisted mostly of other homeschoolers and families from church. Basically my life was “all Jesus all the time.” I learned from a very early age that both God and Jesus were perfect and that perfection was the goal. Of course, my parents would deny that they ever taught me that explicitly, because of course perfection is impossible. But try telling that to a child who grows up hearing about how the perfect love of God covers all her sins! I am a typical first-born, Type-A overachiever. Combine that with the teaching that God made it possible for me to be perfect through the perfection of Christ and his sacrifice on the cross, and BOOM. I am a walking shitfest of a mess.

As a teenager I tried to do everything right. I signed the True Love Waits pledge card, and took it one step further: no kissing until marriage. I taught abstinence-only sex education to 7th graders at a local Catholic school. And as if that wasn’t enough, I happily boarded the Joshua Harris I Kissed Dating Goodbye train. I am still baffled as to how I believed that I could do so much talking about sexsexsex, whether it was blatant or veiled, and not want to even think about doing it! I was encouraged and applauded by every adult I met for my amazing character, commitment, and chastity. But what I remember most was feeling shame about every inch of my body and what it wanted, how good it felt when I touched myself, and the simple desire of wanting a boy to like me. How could I be perfect if I wanted to have sex?

Growing up I lacked imperfect role models…people who were successful, but weren’t afraid to genuinely admit their imperfection.

For the next decade, that was my frame of mind. Any little imperfection ate away at my self-worth. I really bought into Matthew whatever-whatever, ‘be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.’ Instead of seeing my life as an opportunity to nourish my soul through learning what my mind and body could accomplish, every endeavor became yet another way to measure my failure. How can I be the perfect student if I don’t have a 4.0 (finally got it on my third degree!)? How can I be the perfect yoga instructor if I can’t touch my toes? How can I be the perfect partner if what I want is to leave the man I married? How can I be perfect if one of the few places I find both joy and solace is in a bottle of rum? Growing up in the Christian homeschooling subculture taught to view life from the negative. I want to believe this was unintentional. My flair for the dramatic aside, my biggest regret is that I wasn’t taught to enjoy and love my body or my life. I was taught that both my body and my life were things to be disciplined, controlled, and held in check.

I bought into the belief that not being perfect meant I was a failure.

A different truth is that if I ever achieved perfection, there would be nothing left for which to live.

I took a three-day break after writing that last sentence. I needed time to process. Yesterday morning I was having breakfast with a friend of mine and I told him about this essay. He asked me what my story had to do with being homeschooled, since it sounded to him like a story about being raised super-Christian. Good question. My answer? Being homeschooled meant that I only ever came in contact with other people of the same persuasion, religious/belief system, hell!, life system, as the one in which I was living. Being homeschooled for me was being surrounded by people who were also supposed to be perfect because we were all ‘covered by the blood of Jesus.’ I didn’t know that imperfection was an option. I didn’t know that I could make choices outside of the Bible and still be a good person, that I would still like myself, that people would still like me, that God would still like me. Not that I really believe in God anymore, but that’s for a different essay. It wasn’t until graduate school that I finally came out of my shell—out of my parents house—and realized that there was an entire world in which my identity didn’t hinge on if I was a virgin or read my Bible or went to church or dressed modestly or all the other things my childhood and adolescence was hyper-focused on—because of course, for a woman, those things equal perfection.

Hang on. I’ll be back in another couple of days.

After rereading and thinking and editing, I’ve decided that this is not something I want to come back to. This isn’t really the story I want to tell. So let me start again.

I was homeschooled. I was sheltered. I was raised in a very conservative, Christian home. But I got out. I don’t have any major regrets from high school; I am lucky. I have worked exceptionally hard to get to know myself, to be honest with the people in my life, and to make choices that are good for me. Being homeschooled taught me to hold myself accountable and that at the end of the day, the only person who was responsible for what was or was not accomplished was me. My parents taught me an amazing work ethic that I couldn’t shake even if I tried. Sure, that has led to me being a perfectionist workaholic who sucks at relaxing, but the yoga and rum are helping with that.

My parents and I no longer talk politics or religion, but I know that they love me and have my back. Being homeschooled meant that I had a lot to overcome in terms of finding a footing in the world outside of my parents house; I think it took me a lot longer than average to figure out who I wanted to be because the people I came in contact with were so homogenous—I didn’t have options to pick from until I was in my 20s. But, being homeschooled also taught me to be content with myself because quite often I was left alone to my own devices.

So, all that to say being homeschooled was definitely a curse; in that sheltered, Christian environment I learned some pretty shitty ways of thinking about myself. But being homeschooled also taught me how to look out for myself. Perhaps that part of the equation paved the way for me to become the feminist I am today? My mother would die if she read that. But even so, without both those pieces of the puzzle, I doubt I’d be writing this today.

Feminist philosopher Margaret Urban Walker writes that,

In any case, I think that feminist thinkers are entitled to the excitement and intellectual challenge of forging and intensively testing visionary paradigms, of inaugurating their own discursive communities as sites of solidarity and creative communication in their own terms, and of self-consciously exploring confrontational rhetorics as some instruments, among others, for initiating wholesale intellectual change in their favor. (“Further Notes” 154)

Writing this piece has been a process of “feminist thinking” for me; becoming a part of the HA community has forced me to (re)consider so much about myself. I am grateful for the opportunity to add my voice in solidarity.