Not a Nice Story

Image copyright 2016, Darcy.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on February 19, 2016.

From babyhood they said “You are a dirty sinner, there is nothing good in you, you are destined for hell because of your nature.”

So we, small humans, awoke to a world where toddlers need the sin and foolishness beaten out of them with switches and wooden spoons and belts.

They said “Only with Jesus are you worth anything.”

So as small children we begged Jesus to come into our hearts and make the dirty clean.

They said “Because of your sin, God cannot look at you, Jesus had to die. You killed him.”

So we mourned that we were so sinful that God couldn’t look at us without someone else standing in our place.

They said “You are human, a sinner, you cannot help it, only Jesus can make you worth anything.”

So we felt that we were worthless, that no matter how hard we try, we will never be good enough, while some kept trying anyway and some completely gave up.

They said “If you fall in love with a boy, you are committing emotional fornication.”

So we guarded our hearts lest sin defile us with merely a thought, and when our hearts betrayed us and we fell in love with a boy, we hated ourselves and knew we were worth less than before, we had lost a piece of our hearts we would never get back.

They said “Your body needs to be hidden because it is dangerous and if a man lusts after you because of your clothing or movements, it is your fault”.

So we covered our bodies from head to toe, swathed our femininity in fabric hoping no one would notice the curves, and spent years of our life worrying that we may cause a man to stumble and thus defile our own hearts and his.

They said “Boys only want one thing, so be sure you don’t do anything that makes them think they can take it from you. They can’t help it, this is how God made them, we must help them.”

So we lived in fear of men who God made pigs then placed the responsibility for their pig-ness on us.

They said “If you kiss a boy, you’re like a lolly-pop that’s been licked, a paper heart that’s been torn, you are worth less than before, and you’ve given away a part of you that you can never get back.”

So we spent our days afraid, terrified we would lose our worth and have nothing to give a future spouse.

They said “Virginity and purity give you value, don’t give that away.”

So whether virginity was taken forcefully or given lovingly, we were left worthless, used goods, and told no godly man would want us now.

They said “You cannot hear God for yourself, you must obey your authorities. They know what is best for you.”

So we submitted to things that no human being deserves to suffer, because otherwise God would be angry and not bless our lives. Submitting to unjust treatment was what Jesus did, after all.

They said “You are rebellious. Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.”

So we begged God’s forgiveness for the ways we wanted something different than they wanted.

They said “You are a woman, emotional, incapable of leading, easily deceived. You must stay in your place, submit, and only then God will bless you.”

So we felt loathing for our womanhood, wondering why God would make us inferior, and feeling guilty that we dare question the Almighty’s plan, that we are not happy with his decree.

And now…..now we are told “Why are you depressed? Why do you have anxiety? Why the addictions, the anger, the rage, the self-loathing? Why can’t you just be happy and normal?”

As if no one can connect the dots. As if their actions did not have consequences. As if a child can be raised to hate themselves in the Name of God and suddenly grow into an adult that is healthy. As if a lifetime of emotional trauma and spiritual abuse suddenly vanishes because a person changes their mind about who they are and their place in the world.

That’s not how it works. That is only the beginning of a journey that could take the rest of our lives. A journey we are told not to speak of because it makes people uncomfortable, because they’d rather call us names like “bitter” and “unforgiving” than to look deep into the darkness of our hearts and hear tales of pain and see the rawness of souls taught to hate themselves. Because those stories aren’t nice ones. But we will not change them in order to make others comfortable.

Do not tell us to “forgive”. Forgiveness has nothing to do with it. Do not tell us to “get over it”. One does not “get over” years of trauma and brainwashing and brain-wiring from babyhood just by making a single choice. We do not choose the nightmares. We do not choose the triggers and the gut-level reactions and the panic attacks. We had 18+ years of being taught that we are worthless, that God cannot stand to look at us, that we killed Jesus, that our worth is in our virginity or how well we obey our parents, that who we are is dirty and sinful. Give us at least 18+ years to re-wire our brains and heal those festering wounds and to learn to love ourselves where before there was only self-loathing. Some wounds cannot be healed. They can only be lived with. And scars do not disappear on a whim. But they can tell our stories and make us strong.

And tell our stories we will, and get stronger for the telling. We heal a little more every time we speak out loud what was hidden and decide that we are worth loving and our stories worth the telling.

Love Jesus, All Else Be Damned: Sophia’s Story

Homeschoolers U

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Sophia” is a pseudonym specifically chosen by the author.

My parents are very well meaning people.

They didn’t go to college, and they didn’t grow up religious. Just before they started a family together, they came to Christianity. For them, it meant safety. It was a formula for doing things correctly and for protecting their children from the hurt that they experienced in their own lives, hurt for which Christianity offered an explanation (sin). They homeschooled us to “protect us from the world.”

Growing up, though, I didn’t feel protected.

Instead, the most vivid memories I have from my childhood are of fear and loneliness. Fear that, at any moment, I was transgressing one of my parent’s constantly changing rules. Loneliness that came from sitting at home most days, with nothing to keep me company but my family and my books. Patrick Henry College seemed like a perfect escape. It was on the other side of the country, their rules seemed lenient to the sheltered 16-year-old filling out her college application, and best of all, I would constantly be around other people my age.

In reality, attending Patrick Henry College (PHC) was an extension of all the worst parts of my childhood. Again, I stepped into an atmosphere full of suffocating rules. All of our time was spent in rigidly structured and overbearingly supervised social interactions. When there was no rule in place, the college administration (really, disciplinary watchdogs), would remind us that we should abide by the “spirit,” not just the “letter” of the law.

If no rule existed, you weren’t safe. Instead, you needed to invent one. 

We had mandatory chapel where we (or at least, I, doubting my faith even as a freshman) had to feign enthusiasm while singing worship songs.  After that, we would listen to various speakers tell us of the evils of liberalism and homosexuality, or perhaps give a lengthy digression on some portion of the Bible. We spent the rest of our time in classes all day, then studying at night, all while conforming to a rigid dress code and rigid conduct rules (and many informal social sanctions). My four years at PHC were filled with incredible loneliness.

Within a few weeks, the excitement of leaving home faded, and the nature of my new prison became increasingly clear. I came to PHC the semester after the “schism.” My friends were all people who had been deeply affected by the ousting of multiple professors, and were generally “anti-administration.” At PHC, a school filled with students who’d spent their lives trying to understand reality in an us-versus-them (conservatives-versus-liberals, Christians-versus-nonbelievers, etc.) framework, it seemed natural to view the student body of PHC (a, mind you, very conservative school) with a liberal-versus-conservative, bad Christian-versus-good-Christian rubric.

My friends were the “liberals”, and by associating with them, dressing somewhat normally, and having career aspirations as a female, I too was branded as a liberal. Once, after attending a concert in DC with some older students, two members of the administration called me in to question me (probably thinking they could scare me, a freshman, more easily than they could an older student) about the purported use of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs by students at the concert. I managed to say something about how I thought gossip was a sin, and they let me go. It was clear, though, that I had been branded, and was being watched.

College, a place where I was supposed to finally have friends, became a place where I felt lonelier than ever.

I didn’t know whom to trust. I felt that anyone around me was possibly watching for me to transgress a rule so they could report me to the administration. And if not that, anyone around me was probably judging me:

“You’re eating that much food?”

“You’re wearing that dress?”

“Your attitude toward that boy seemed flirtatious.”

“That comment was too assertive.”

Of course, coming from where I came from, I didn’t think this was wrong, or a problem with the college. I thought that there was something wrong with me. I simply wasn’t trying hard enough to be godly or pure enough.

That was just the tip of the iceberg. I now teach college students at a much more prestigious research institution, and I know that even at major Universities, freshmen confront some of the biggest blows to their egos of their lives. Students who were at the top of their class at prep school find themselves grade-grubbing at their TA’s office hours when they receive their first B- (or worse) on an essay. At PHC, we were learning how to write and think like all college students, and that involved many ego-bruisings. But there were also a few more nefarious subtexts.

We had to excel, because this was our Christian duty. Failure was somehow sinful. But in exceling, we couldn’t be too prideful. Especially as a female, this attitude could be seen as inappropriate. In one instance, after a particularly contentious student senate meeting where I’d spoken against the “conservative” wing of the senate, a fellow student senator (a “mature Christian” male) came to me and said:

“You know, everyone hates you. You’re too assertive, and it’s not a godly or womanly attitude.”

What really broke me, though, was something that happened freshman year. I was on the college debate team, which was one of PHC’s main selling points (“See, we have this activity where our students sometimes do ok against people at normal schools! We’re awesome!”). I’d won my first tournament. At my second tournament, my partner and I won enough rounds to advance as first seed, which meant we had the best performance in preliminary rounds. Our coach (another student), thinking that I needed to learn humility, held us back from advancing, and sent another team ahead of us. I couldn’t understand it. I thought I’d done everything I needed to do, but somehow there was this deeper logic of being ambiguously “Christian enough” that I was failing to follow.  After that, part of me stopped trying. I didn’t know where the lines were anymore. I just knew that I was somehow spiritually inadequate, and I didn’t know how to fix it.

I started to go deeper and deeper inside myself in the quest to be good enough. Like so many perfectionist girls, even in less restrictive environments, I decided I needed more rigid self-discipline. So I stopped eating, both because this felt like some form of success or control, and because I felt that I needed punishment for my inadequacies. As my eating disorder continued to develop, I continued to withdraw. The only way to stay safe from the onslaught of judgment was not to let anyone in, ever. One by one, my friends started to slip away from me. I still don’t really blame them. As an 18, 19, or 20 year old, dealing with your 18 year old friend’s anorexia is a pretty tall order, especially if you think it’s a sin (which she can just stop committing) instead of a disease (for which she might need professional help). I never got that help. The campus administration, who cared so deeply about whether our skirts were 2 or 3 inches above our knees (the latter was a serious infraction) or whether we imbibed alcohol (for which you could be expelled), didn’t seem to care at all about the fact that I (and many other students) developed life threatening self-harm disorders.

At the worst of the eating disorder, when I could hardly walk and just wanted to die and make it all go away, many people questioned my “walk with the Lord,” but not a single person asked me if I was ok.

This, to me, is what PHC stood for. Love Jesus, all else be damned.

Every time someone told me they “just couldn’t deal with me anymore,” or I  “needed to get right with the Lord,” I dealt with it by closing up a little bit inside, and eating a little bit less (650 calories today, only 600 tomorrow, oh, I didn’t deserve that salad, I should throw it up, etc). When an older classmate, someone I trusted, took advantage of that trust to force himself on me, I didn’t really resist. I was just a worthless shell, after all. Who was I to say no? It didn’t even seem worth reporting.

After all, it was (as I was later told by another male student) probably because my skirts were a “stumbling block”.

My parents, of course, didn’t know what to do.

They knew something was wrong when I came home for Christmas break my freshman year, 30 pounds underweight, withdrawn, and sad. I didn’t have the words to articulate what was happening to me, or how things were going at PHC, which they interpreted as standoffish. Even if I had articulated a cry for help, their backgrounds and religion didn’t provide them with the tools to help me. They tried various tactics, including denial, anger, and threats. But eventually it was them, in a fumbling but heartfelt attempt, as well as the kind attention of a wonderful professor, that finally tipped the balance.

After my freshman year, when I was exhausted, waif-like, and contemplating giving up on it all, my mom called me. She didn’t tell me I was sinning. She didn’t yell. She didn’t judge.

She just told me how she loved me.

How when she was pregnant they told her I might not make it, and how she cried and prayed and hoped every day that I would, and how it felt to hold me for the first time, and how all she’d ever tried for in life was to protect me in pain, and how she felt like she failed, and please, please not to give up.

Her words were filled with love, and in that love was a kind of freedom. It was also the freedom I found in the classes of one particularly gifted professor, who transported us away from the rigid confines of religious rules to questions about existence, knowledge, and politics.

These glimpses of freedom helped me make it through. Eventually, I recovered from anorexia (without any professional help, which is a different story). I made it through the rest of the PHC (not happily, but again, that’s another story), and I made it out to go to graduate school in a big city with no one to answer to but myself. Now, many years later, I still get nauseous anytime I get near Purcellville, Virginia. Sometimes I’m still bitter and angry, but mostly I’m grateful for my freedom.

Last year, I came back for homecoming to speak on an alumni roundtable about graduate school. The students expressed concerns about what it would be like to be surrounded by “non-believers”, who might keep them from vocalizing a “Christian worldview” in the classroom. I’m afraid that my attempts to explain the glories of academic freedom or the wonders of objective scholarship fell on deaf ears.

What I was trying to tell them was something I wish someone had told me:

Outside of that overly stylized colonial campus, there are places where you have the freedom to say what you think, and no one’s going to report you for it.

The Reluctant Rebel: Gemma’s Story, Part Four

Homeschoolers U

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Gemma” is a pseudonym specifically chosen by the author.

< Part Three

Part Four: Junior Year

I started my junior year with a panic attack as my mom and I drove back onto campus.

Of course, I had no idea what I was experiencing at the time—the overwhelming sense of dread or drowning, my heart beating wildly, fighting the sudden urge to flee the car, the campus, the world… By the time we parked, I had composed myself enough to articulate something like “I don’t want to be here anymore” to my concerned mother. Terrified and on the verge of tears, I gritted my teeth, got out of the car, and resumed life as usual.

It was the worst semester yet.

Dean Wilson and the Office of Student Life had retaliated to the loosening of certain rules the previous year by revising the rule book, especially the dress code and the music and movies standards.

The dress code at PHC had always been two-pronged. During normal business hours, students were required to dress in “business casual” outside of their dorms. One purpose of the dress code was to describe the rules for this professional dress code. The other purpose of the dress code was to maintain modesty standards. The burden of this second prong of the dress code fell primarily upon the women (though men sometimes got in trouble for “rebellious” hair styles and such).

This particular edition of the rulebook had revised the dress code for women on both counts. It clarified certain aspects of the professional, business-casual standards in such a way as to exclude certain modest, but patently unprofessional looks, like denim jumpers. It also re-worded the modesty code in a rather confusing way. There was outrage from the students on both counts. Apparently, some of the more conservative students were upset because they literally did not have enough clothes left to dress themselves according to the professional standard. (I happened to be in favor of the professionalization of the women’s dress code.) This half of the new rules was almost immediately rescinded.

The backlash over the modesty rules, however, prompted a women’s-only chapel to explain and clarify. In this chapel, the female students were informed that the modesty standards were worded in such a way as to give a positive impression to outside inquirers and prospective students. We current students, however, should understand that we needed to hold ourselves to a “higher standard.” This higher standard, apparently, was a little too “high” to codify in the actual rulebook, lest outsiders or prospective students think us too restrictive. Their solution to this dilemma was to install a volunteer “dean of women,” the wife of a member of the college’s Board of Trustees, who could help us with our wardrobes and decide for us what was appropriate, and what was not.

I do not mean this story in any way to besmirch this woman or her family. She was a kind, fair, and well-intentioned person. Most of us women were happy to have a sympathetic female authority figure on campus to talk to, and not just about our wardrobes.

But I want to emphasize the absurdity of a dress code written so vaguely and arcanely that this kind, patient woman had to come to our dorm rooms and endure hours of “fashion show” by exasperated and cynical female students, and to decide (often to our disappointment) which items of our clothing passed her test and which did not.

The movie standards had been updated in response to the advent of laptop computers with DVD players in them. When the college began in 2000, students mostly watched movies in communal lounges, on college-provided televisions equipped with censoring devices for bad language. There may have been explicit standards for movie content—I don’t remember—but the fact that movies had to be watched in public, and that random people routinely walked through the lounges at any time of day or night, meant that most people self-censored effectively.

But once students could watch movies on their laptops in the privacy of their own dorm room, the administration saw a need for explicit rules governing content. I don’t remember the details, but I do remember they were strict enough to exclude Braveheart, and indeed, Braveheart was even mentioned specifically as an example of a movie that failed to meet the content standards.

I will leave you to ponder the irony of a campus full of homeschool graduates forbidden from watching Braveheart.

I don’t remember the details of the music rules either, but it was around this time that iTunes introduced the ability to share music libraries across a shared network. The entire campus was a single network, so suddenly we all had access to each other’s music libraries. This was fantastic for those of us who were audiophiles. Apparently, it was also a great opportunity for pharisaical students to go spying. Most people with potentially offensive music had the good sense either to hide their libraries from the network or, at least, to give them anonymous names. This didn’t stop the pharisees from sending out pompous all-student emails expressing their shock and horror over, for instance, the vaudevillian gruesomeness of Decemberist songs they had stumbled upon over the network. Would Jesus listen to music like this?? As with most other things, the message—explicitly or implicitly—was that those of us who enjoyed such music were insufficiently Christian.

This all took place in the first couple of weeks or so.

The rest of the semester went by in a blur of exhaustion, depression, emotional breakdowns, and 6-8 hours a day translating Greek. I was also taking two courses from a psychopathological Sovietologist who dressed (and thought and taught) like it was still 1985. She trimmed her nails into little triangles, like bird claws, and tapped them ominously on the table during class. On the first day of class, she described how she once woke a student sleeping in her class by slamming a heavy textbook onto the table next to his head.   She held her classes at 8am on purpose, because she knew we were all exhausted and she wanted to… I’m not sure what she wanted, actually.

But she seemed to enjoy torturing her students.

She deliberately withheld information from me that thwarted my ability to make good grades in her class, and then blamed me for not knowing what she decided not to tell me. She called me into her office on various pretexts, only to berate me to the point of tears over my grades. Then, after ruining my chances in her classes, she refused to sign off on my application for a study-abroad opportunity, telling me that, as far as she was concerned, I “had no future in academia.”

I decided to transfer. Up until this point, at least the wonderful professors and classes had been worth enduring all the BS from student life. Now, I had nothing going for me. My panic attacks and emotional breakdowns continued with growing intensity. I couldn’t take it anymore.

But I wanted to transfer to another private, liberal arts school nearby, so I could stay in touch with my friends. My parents didn’t want to pay for that out of pocket, and there was very little scholarship money available for transferees from non-accredited institutions. My only other choices were to attend a state school back home, or find a way to make PHC work.

It was a choice that just didn’t feel like much of a choice. I stayed.

I switched majors to get away from the Soviet psychopath, and moved off campus to get away from the culture and give myself some space to breathe. These changes made life tolerable, for a while.

I don’t want to imply that we never had a good time at school. My friends and I enjoyed some amazing times together and grew so close I couldn’t imagine life without them (a decade later, I still can’t). It’s just that most of the things we enjoyed doing, even if they weren’t technically against the rules, would have been “disapproved” of by the campus monitors.

For example, we all loved music and movies. It was hard to take the new campus media rules as anything but a personal attack. So we took our activities off campus. We watched forbidden movies in various students’ off-campus housing. We went to indie rock shows at the Black Cat and other clubs in the city, losing ourselves in the anonymity of the crowd, away from the eyes of the watchers, pretending to be normal for an hour or two. We wore our hand-stamps to class the next day like a secret sign.

The media was more than just illicit entertainment; it helped us process our experiences and emotions. The lyrics of longing, loss, and defiance by bands like the Mountain Goats and Neutral Milk Hotel became our mantras.

I am gonna make it through this year

If it kills me.

                        – The Mountain Goats

Now we must pack up every piece

Of the life we used to love

Just to keep ourselves

At least enough to carry on

                        – Neutral Milk Hotel

Needless to say, all of us still professed Christianity—a requirement for our continued enrollment, at the least. But the legalism, religious bullying, and anti-intellectualism we encountered at PHC had pushed us away from the evangelicalism of our youth and sent us in search of other expressions of our faith. Most of us found our way into liturgical traditions. Near the end of my junior year, a younger journalism major approached me and a group of my friends about a story he wanted to write. He had noticed a correlation between students like us, who had a deep academic interest in philosophy, history, or literature, and attendance at liturgical churches. He asked us our opinion about that connection, and why we chose to attend Episcopal or Presbyterian churches rather than the evangelical churches that most PHC students went to. He assured us that his story was only for a class assignment, not for publication. We believed him and answered candidly.

His story was published in the campus newspaper. The administration went ballistic.

We were scolded, mocked, accused from on high with the same old charges: snobbery, intellectual elitism, and the unsubtle implication that we were deficient Christians at best, and more likely wolves in sheep’s clothing. The local Presbyterian pastor and Episcopal priest were temporarily banned from campus. Fellow students began making snide comments about “popery” and “vain tradition” in the lunchroom or in class. The author of the article tried to defend himself, and us, and the whole thing blew over by the next fall, but it was one more nail in the coffin. No matter how I tried, I would never be good enough for these people.

Most of my friends graduated that year. Being the “intellectual elitists” that we were, they scattered to various graduate programs across the country. Only a couple remained in DC. But we all stayed in touch, emailing or chatting weekly if not daily.

That summer, I stayed in DC and interned for the federal government. At this point, the physical symptoms of the pressure I was under became undeniable and troublesome. I was exhausted. I would commute to and from work with my boss, and despite my best efforts, I would fall asleep in the car. Sometimes I would fall asleep while he was talking to me. Sometimes I would fall asleep at my desk. Most days, I would get home from work, eat something, and go straight to bed. I was always cold and could never seem to get warm. My hair fell out in handfuls. Everything felt like it was spinning out of control. I stopped doing things I enjoyed in my free time because I didn’t feel strong enough, or energetic enough, or happy enough to enjoy them.

That drowning, panicking feeling was with me daily now.

I turned 21 that summer and celebrated like most 21-year-olds would. But it was hard to enjoy it. Technically, because I was in the DC area and my internship was for credit, I was still subject to the PHC rulebook. My birthday celebration was definitely against the rules. And it’s hard to enjoy normal things like that when there’s always the possibility, no matter how remote, that some talebearer might have gotten lost in Adam’s Morgan that night and seen you walk out of a bar.

Part Five >

I Was Not Supposed to Happen

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on July 13, 2014.

My most popular post ever, the one on courtship and emotional purity, is making the rounds again, as it does every few months. And with it come the loads of ridiculous assumptions, explaining, excuses, and outright dismissal of everything from my character to my experience to my beliefs. This isn’t anything new. It’s been happening since I started telling my story. It happens to all of my friends from Homeschool Land who also tell their stories. It’s woefully predictable.

“She wasn’t really raised Biblically.”

“He isn’t a good example of proper homeschooling.”

She’s bitter.” (Because obviously being bitter means you’re making stuff up. Or something.)

“His parents obviously didn’t do it right.”

“She’s not indicative of all homeschoolers.”

“He obviously courted in a legalistic way, but that’s not the right way, the way we will do it.”

“The experience she writes about is extremism and not the Godly way of raising kids/homeschooling/courtship/whatever.”

And after every dismissal, an explanation of why they’re different, they’re doing it right, they know better. Their kids will turn out as promised. They have it all planned.

But what these people that comment on our blogs fail to understand is that my parents had it all planned too. They did everything “right”. They read the right books and followed the right teachings that explained how to raise their kids in such a way as to ensure they will grow up to be Godly offspring. People who are the exemptions. People who are whole and full of light and unstained by the world. The next generation of movers and shakers. People who are super Christians.

Had these people who so easily dismiss us met my family 15 years ago, they would’ve wanted to BE us. We were the perfect family. We dressed right, acted right, said all the right things. People used to ask my parents to help their family look like ours; to help them make their kids as good as we were. They called us “godly”, “a refreshment”, “a good example”, and so much more. These people who now turn up their noses in disbelief at me now would’ve been our best friends back in the day.

I think that these people, who are overwhelmingly current homeschooling parents, have to have some way of making sense of the phenomenon of the so-called Homeschooled Apostates. They have to find some reason why what they follow and believe to be “God’s Plan” didn’t work. They encounter people like me and have no idea what to do with us.

Because I was not supposed to happen.

We were not supposed to happen. Every last one of us who was raised in a culture that promised abundant life and Godly children and have now since rejected all or part of our upbringings were not supposed to happen. Sites like Homeschoolers Anonymous, with it’s stories of horrific abuse, neglect, and everyday pain were not supposed to happen. We shouldn’t exist and our stories weren’t supposed to sound the way they do. Not according to all the promises made to our parents, made by our leaders and the authors of the books and the speakers at the homeschool conventions. Yet, here we are.

We who have grown up, evaluated, rejected, and chosen a different path for us and our children….we are threats. Our very existence is a threat to the happy little paradigm that is the conservative homeschool movement. We are realities that threaten to unravel the idealistic fabric of their worldview. They have no idea what to do with us.

So they dismiss us. They make excuses.

They say “well your parents did it wrong, but we’re doing it right!” as we watch them practice the exact same things that damaged and hurt and broke us. We’re desperately waving red warning flags only to be completely disregarded, blamed, and even attacked. Our lives and real stories are no match for the rosy promises of the perfect life, couched in beautiful scripture and Christian idealism. Instead of critically thinking through anything we have to say, evaluating and considering the experiences of countless numbers of people, instead of re-evaluating their own choices and philosophies, against all reason and logic they dismiss us. Pretend we aren’t how we say we are. Convince themselves and others that we and our parents aren’t like them; we did it all wrong and the formula isn’t broken, we’re the ones who are broken.  Even after the formula keeps producing the same result, they cannot let go of it.

But we aren’t going away. We happened, we exist, we aren’t abnormalities…..we’re just people. People who all lived similar lives in a movement our parents all followed for very similar reasons. Every day there are voices added to ours. When I first started blogging, there were very few people telling the story of the homeschool alumni. We had only begun to grow up and process our lives and many of us thought we were alone in this. In the last 5 years, that number has grown exponentially and I predict will continue to do so.

Homeschooling parents today have two choices: ignore the now thousands of warning voices of experience, or carefully listen, reconsider and change direction. I often wonder how many children of the people who dismiss us will end up on our blogs or with blogs of their own that are just like mine. Parents, don’t fool yourselves. You aren’t “doing it right” any more than our parents were “doing it right” when you’re doing the exact same things they did and following the exact same teachings. Your children are not more special than we were.

They are people with free will who will grow up to make their own choices, either because of you or in spite of you.

I Remember ATIA: Lana Hope’s Thoughts, Part Two

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on January 25, 2013.

< Part One

I remember ATIA: Advance Training Institute of America  — now called ATI, or Advance Training Institute.

I remember our first taste of the legalism.

We went to a local IBLP (Institute of Basic Life Principles) conference that had a Children’s Institute program. I, age 6, and my younger sister, age 5, showed up in pants. That was the last night we showed up in pants.

Soon after we applied to join their homeschool program called ATI ran by Bill Gothard. We learned that we could not watch TV to be in the program. One of our friends was blunt that they did watch TV, and they were not accepted.

The next summer when I was 7, we went to our first ATI conference in Knoxville, Tennessee. This movement was not small. And it attempted to brainwash an entire generation. We sang songs such as The Umbrella Song that you can listen to on youtube. It’s a cute little song about staying underneath our umbrella of authority. The song seems harmless (after all, kids need to obey their parents, right?), but keep in mind, that was the watered down children’s version of authoritarian headship that was stressed over and over in the Christiany Patriarchy movement. See Gothard’s personal webpage on the umbrella.

At the ATI conference, we had to wear blue skirts and white shirts; my little sister was so skinny and so tiny at age 6, that the blue jean skirt would actually fall off at times. Also, in the summer heat, the churchy white shirts made for a lot of sweat.

We would line up in alphabetical order each morning, and then were taken off in school buses (of all irony) to our appropriate groups. Girls went to one building, and did girl crafts and had girl lessons. Boys went to a different building and did cool activities like rock climb.

My friend and I were both tomboys and wanted badly to rock climb. So my friend suggested that we all put a pair of pants into our bags (not tell our parents about it) and ask our leaders if we could join up with the boys. That backfired. Our cell group leader reported our request, and a man took us all outside on a bench and told us we were not boys, and we needed to be thankful that they were teaching us to sew. Then he said if we even mentioned what the boys were doing, or even looked at the boys, he would call our fathers.

A piece of me died that day.

And the now famous Duggar family was at that conference. I remember meeting them.

One night at a local Children’s Institute we studied attentiveness, learned the attentive song, listened attentive stories, and then at the end had to promise that we would always be attentive. There were 100 kids or more there, and we were supposed to put our right hand in the air and promise. I knew I was dingy, I knew I would fail.

My elementary education was not normal to say the least. We went through what we called wisdom booklets, an all encompassing one-age fits all homeschool curriculum. I studied the Bible, memorized character traits and Matthew 5-7, studied Greek and law, and read missionary stories.

Weird, I know.

When my family left ATI when I was in 10th grade, I had lost a whole year of high school credits because I had never studied select courses other than math and grammar. (I don’t think this was a huge problem because my family was naturally curious and read a lot, but it would have been a problem if we had not.)

At home, Bill Gothard gave us rules to set ourselves apart though not all families listened. No TV. No pork. No rock or even contemporary Christian music. (We were told a beat would bring in demonic influence.) No pants for girls.No going to the movie theater (might ruin our witness, all about the outside).

I remember when my friend threw away Rebecca Saint James CD she received for her birthday because any drum beat is evil.

Adults had rules too. My mother was forbidden to work outside the home, and if she had a home business, she had to submit her schedule to ATI (my mom runs a business today). Sexual intercourse on the Sabbath, during a woman’s cycle, and 40 days after giving birth was strictly warned against.

Bill Gothard told parents that Cabbage Patch dolls could bring demons into the house, and trolls were evil. For my 7th birthday, I had a troll party. I loved them that much, and my sister’s doll was her life. But our dolls and trolls went in the garbage, a regret my father will probably take to his death bed.

We had local ATI get togethers, which were mostly Quiverfull families. We wore weird swimsuits (see mine below), played games, mostly fun times.

And then there was the teen programs at different places, called EXCEL for girls. We went to a mini EXCEL camp, were told to put our heads down when the boys went by, etc. The girls didn’t listen, but smiled and pretended like they did when the adults were around. I hated the hypocrisy. My mother mentioned to our group leader that her daughters had come home upset. Then the leader met with us (when she was in our area) and quizzed us about what happened. My gut literally hurt over the whole thing, and I still don’t know why she cared a hoot.

ATI is a legalistic program that encourages people to fake it on the outside.

Thankfully my family got out. And I did get a college education that Gothard warned against.

So that, my friends, is my memory of the homeschool world of ATI. Fun?

Bread, Stones, and Bad Fruit: Jeri Lofland’s Story

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Jeri Lofland blogs at Heresy in the Heartland. Also by Jeri on HA: “Generational Observations”, “Of Isolation and Community”“His Quiver Full of Them”“David Noebel, Summit Ministries, and the Evil of Rock”“The Political Reach of Bill Gothard”, and “Bill Gothard on Education”, and “Ken Ham: The Evolution of a Bully“, “In Which the Pieces Come Together”, and “Jim Logan: The Stephen King of Fundamentalism.”

*****

“So I tell you, ask, and God will give to you. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will open for you. Yes, everyone who asks will receive. The one who searches will find. And everyone who knocks will have the door opened. If your children ask fora fish, which of you would give them a snake instead? Or, if your children ask for an egg, would you give them a scorpion?  Even though you are bad, you know how to give good things to your children.” 

Luke 11:9-13a (NCV)

 *****

My parents had only been married five years when they attended their first Youth Conflicts seminar: 40 hours of lectures over six days. Living in a new city with three preschoolers but few friends, they were lonely, stressed, and probably sleep-deprived. They were eager to be “real” Christians, to differentiate from the mainstream Protestantism of their parents, to keep their marriage intact, and to raise the best family possible. They went searching for truth, and Bill Gothard and his Institute offered them an ideal, peppered with scripture references. Surely this was bread indeed!

They became avid Gothard fans, my parents. Not into sports or other strong alliances, their allegiance was to God and the Bible. Where an extreme sports fan might display the mascot or colors of their favorite team, we had an enormous sign over our garage proclaiming “Jesus is Lord” in hand-painted crimson letters on a white ground. And they were always eager to invite people to attend IBLP seminars.

It is difficult to tease apart the teachings my parents first heard from Gothard from those they picked up elsewhere.

Suffice it to say, Bill reinforced much that they had already accepted and added plenty more of his own. When they decided to enroll in ATIA in 1987, I was not enthusiastic. I had had enough of Bill Gothard’s anecdotes and teachings, which Dad often reenacted with our Fisher-Price people, from his notes.

I knew Gothard was behind Dad throwing a rock through the face of our television. And making me wear dresses instead of jeans and my favorite pink shorts. And not letting us eat sausage anymore. And our sleepy pre-breakfast attempts to hunt for “nuggets of wisdom” while reading Psalms and Proverbs aloud to each other. And selling our big, new house with four bathrooms because having a mortgage was unbiblical. Instead, we moved to a rented farmhouse with its very own cattle lot and temperamental plumbing. The good things my parents wanted us to have were intangible: good character, the blessing of God, spiritual protection, true wisdom, eternal life. Everything else was worthless when compared with these.

I had already adapted to homeschooling, using workbooks we ordered from conservative religious publishers. Mom had her hands full with potty-training, breastfeeding, checking papers, feeding five kids, and teaching my little brothers to read. I was largely on my own. My subject assignments were written on cards for each day of the week, and once they were completed I had the rest of the day to do what I liked. It was far different from my two years in public school, but I didn’t mind.

Now, everything changed.

For at least an hour every morning, month after month for years, my poor mother tried to study the Sermon on the Mount with us via the Wisdom Booklets sent from ATI Headquarters. We reacted to the questions—which seemed designed to manipulate or to trip us up—and even more to the answers that made no sense. We knew the Bible well, and trusted it; this “material” coming from Gothard was something else entirely. Thus began endless debates and arguments. Mom identified personally with the ATI program and felt her authority was being challenged when we criticized Bill Gothard’s [mis]interpretation of scripture and the “educational” projects we were required to complete together: learning to judge other people based on appearances and reading sermons about what wretched sinners we were (Charles Finney), what a monster God was (Jonathan Edwards), and how puny our minds were compared to his (A.W. Tozer).

With the exception of grammar, school wasn’t a lot of fun after that.

It didn’t feel like “school”, with every aspect of my life (social life, entertainment, exposure to music & literature, transportation & shopping, academic grades, political bent, bedtime, menu & meal portions, time in the shower, chore list, sex education, and religious guidance) all in the hands of the same two people who had been entrusted with my soul by God himself. I argued with Mom a lot, and she called me a scorner and I got plenty of spankings and I blamed Bill Gothard for making all of us miserable. I hit puberty and had new questions, new interests, new desires, and new guilt. I was desperately lonely and looked forward to summer when I could spend more time with other girls my age.

After two years of protesting and challenging, I was tired of feeling like an outsider in my own home. I really did want to be on God’s side, whatever that was. My parents noticed that my resistance was crumbling. They decided it was time for me to attend my first Seminar. I sat beside my very pregnant mother and dutifully raced to fill in all the blanks in my workbook. When we closed our eyes and Gothard asked us to raise our hands for each of his Seventeen Basic Commitments, I was keenly aware of my mom’s presence. Would it be possible for her not to know if I had raised my hand or kept it in my lap?

I didn’t follow everything Gothard said—some of his euphemisms went over my head—but I made a lot of commitments. I gave God my right to have friends. And I was brought many degrees nearer to the inner circle of the Institute in Basic Life Principles cult.

I was looking for a fish, but had unknowingly grasped a snake.

Over the next two years, I was thoroughly assimilated. Pressured by guilt within and parents without, I gave up my own interests and desires and adopted the cult mentality. I accepted, until I truly believed, that my parents were God’s voice to me. I dressed in navy skirts and white blouses whenever I could (the dress code for Mr. Gothard’s staff), grew my hair according to the style Gothard recommended, and listened to cassettes from IBLP headquarters while I did my chores. I now tolerated the Wisdom Booklets, though the inconsistencies and poor writing still bothered me. And, to keep my Walkman, I even agreed to follow Gothard’s rules about avoiding rock music, though I still puzzled over how my favorite Christian tunes could be tools of Satan.

We attended several ATI conferences in Knoxville, TN—pep rallies where we dressed in navy suits despite the July heat and heard about the latest nations begging for instruction in good character. Knoxville conferences were exciting for teens because there were thousands of others who also did Wisdom Booklets and wore long dresses and had umpteen siblings and knew what their motivational gift was.

With a grueling schedule and impossible logistics, the week was an effective brainwashing tool.

There was a choir for students who wanted (or were forced) to participate, an orchestra, and special music performances on pianos, strings, handbells, and more. Families in matching clothes sang harmony together, dozens of “reversal babies” were put on display, and the ALERT team made emotional mothers cry by rappelling from the ceiling in their uniforms unfurling an enormous American flag.

One year we all clapped when a speaker announced that Clarence Thomas had been nominated to the Supreme Court. He was young and conservative, we were told, so we rejoiced. In another session, a pastor with three grown daughters outlined a model daily breastfeeding schedule while we all took notes. A woman with no children of her own offered a hypothetical schedule for homeschooling a brood of five. Jim Logan made us shiver with tales of his encounters with talking demons. David Barton fired rapid-fire historical quotes at us to convince us that we could take America back for God.

In the separate meetings for students (where 12- to 28 -year-olds sat segregated by gender), we listened to Gothard tell stories about his girlfriends in high school and college. We raised our hands to commit not to marry a divorced man, and to postpone dating so we could serve the Lord longer instead. Gorgeous young men and women gave “testimonies” about quitting college to come home and learn with their families, about submitting to parents and not keeping secrets from them, about getting along with their siblings, and about putting off marriage in favor of ministry. Gothard showed us film clips about England’s Civil War, warning the girls to close their eyes if the violence was too much. “Fellas, drink it in,” he said.

It wasn’t long until I was teaching Gothard’s materials myself–to children in Russia and in the United States. I memorized Bible passages by the chapter. I completed my Journal of Faith and started working on my Journal of Virtue, an introspective study of Gothard’s 49 character qualities, with examples of how I had demonstrated (or failed) each one. I read the ATI newsletters carefully and studied the photos of the girls held up as godly examples. I prayed and waited and wondered when I would be called upon to teach character to the nations, or assist government leaders with changing the world.

College was strongly discouraged as a place where youth rebelled against authority, yielded to lust, and lost their faith but I did spend a year and a half enrolled in ATI’s unaccredited and spanking new correspondence law school. The stress of three weeks at an IBLP training center landed me sick in bed for weeks with headaches that lingered for months. A few months later my mother had a postpartum mental health crisis. For a week, while studying for a state exam, I was left in charge of a house full of younger siblings so my parents could seek “counsel” from staff at an ATI training center in Indiana. Though my grades were good, I found solitary “homeschool college” to be incredibly stressful. I wearied of fighting anxiety and boredom simultaneously and eventually gave up on getting a degree.

At age twenty-two, I was finally invited to volunteer my services for IBLP.

By the time I attained my dream and landed a job at Mr. Gothard’s headquarters, I was jaded and disillusioned. Gothard was a salesman who was not strictly honest, and was a poor judge of character. He cared little about the credibility of his sources, which he rarely documented. He was quick to discharge staff who expressed alternative points of view. He overworked employees and made it difficult for them to participate in local churches. Gothard was embroiled in legal battles with partners in ministry as well as with the neighborhoods where the Institute operated. He disdained government authority, only following the rules (construction permits, building codes, employment regulations) when pressured. Employees were encouraged not to report overtime. Despite the “non-optional principles” that were supposed to ensure loving family relationships, Gothard was estranged from some of his siblings.

Gothard was controlling of his staff to the point of criticizing the hue of a female employee’s fingernails, (while coloring his own hair a noticeably unnatural shade of burgundy). Gothard surrounded himself with willowy, long-haired, very young women. Appearance mattered a lot to him. One young woman who had been invited to join the ATI staff in Russia got a fresh and cute haircut right before her trip. When she reached Chicago, she was pulled from the group and hidden away at a small campus in Indiana until her hair grew out to an acceptable length. I was appalled by her story, but she blamed herself for not considering her hairstyle more carefully.

I could look past many disheartening inconsistencies because I had been trained to believe that God himself spoke through men with power.

I was doing God’s work at IBLP, God had sent me there at last. And in spite of the overbearing rules and constant meetings and curfews and dress codes, in many ways I still had a lot more autonomy than I had ever tasted at home. So it was a blow when Gothard fired me late one night—by calling my parents hundreds of miles away instead of speaking to me, though I slept just yards from his office. Gothard found me the next day, after I’d packed up my belongings from my room and emptied my new desk. My parents wanted me to come home, he said, though they’d told me Gothard wanted me gone. I felt rejected and lied to.

Since “bitterness” was a great sin to be feared, I tried to absorb the blow and see God’s hand in it. But I cried myself to sleep for weeks afterward. It was years before my husband (whom I met while working for IBLP) and I could admit we had given years of our lives to a cult. Years of unlearning the guilt, of trying to push away the rubble of legalism to find out if our faith still survived, of accepting our humanity instead of trying to live as spiritual beings, of rejecting abuse in the name of love, of discovering that women have as much right to autonomy as do men and that children are not possessions, or extensions, of their parents.

The “Bread” we had asked for turned out to be nothing but rocks, dead weight we carried for too long. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned his followers to be “fruit inspectors”. And, more clearly as time passed, we could see that the fruit of Gothard’s teaching, even when followed with the best of intentions, was of terrible quality. Humbling as it was to realize, we had been raised in a religious cult that drew in our parents and then absorbed our youthful energy, feeding on our desires to please both God and our parents.

I no longer identify as a follower of Jesus, but I am still a fruit inspector.

*****

 You will know these people by what they do. Grapes don’t come from thornbushes, and figs don’t come from thorny weeds. In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit.   

Matthew 7:16-18 (NCV)

Thoughts From a Regretful But Healing ATI Mom

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HA note: The following contributor has asked to remain anonymous.

I’ve thought about writing ever since I stumbled upon this site.

I am going to be short, although I could share my thoughts and reflections for hours. I am a college educated  capable mom of 58 who has seen my life, and the life of my children, turned upside down as a result of, at least in part, our years in ATI.  My husband and I stumbled upon the pilot project of ATIA (as it was known in the early years) during our attendance at an Advanced IBLP Seminar. At the time, we were both somewhat disillusioned with the church world and the way that there seemed to be no real commitment to “walking the talk” among Christians.

Looking back, I can see where we were unconsciously looking for a “formula” that would help us be successful with our precious 2 kids.

Fast forward 20 some odd years… just within the last 5 years have we become aware of how we caused much harm in the lives of our oldest 2 children, especially. They were given a view of God that was so legalistic and formulaic that the whole concept of a God who loves and forgives became problematic for them. We are still working through the damage caused by those many years in ATI. I cannot speak for other families.

But I know that I, at least, have come to really grieve over what happened to our family as a result of our years in ATI.

Lovingly,

“A Regretful But Healing Mom”

Love Misapplied: A Response to Chris Jeub

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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 November 9, 2013 as a response to Chris Jeub’s article for HA, “Stiff-Necked Legalism.” We extended to Chris the opportunity to write a follow-up post, but he decided to respond directly on Libby Anne’s original post. You can view his response here.

I grew up hearing about Chris Jeub.

He was a big name in NCFCA homeschool debate circles, and while I never met him I did use the evidence briefs he put out. The Jeubs had 16 kids and were deep into the patriarchal and controlling ideas at the heart of the most conservative strains of the Christian homeschooling movement. In fact, they kicked their daughter Alicia out of the family and shunned her completely when she became “rebellious.” However, Chris says that he and his family have since left that whole legalistic mess.

In fact, Chris is, I think, the only current Christian homeschooling leader who has written a post for Homeschoolers Anonymous.

All of the Jeubs’ book titles have the word “love” in them. Even their blog title has the word. Their move away from legalism involved embracing love. Then why, I have to ask myself, does their approach make me so very uncomfortable? Oh right! Because the problem I had with my parents was not that they didn’t love me. They did.

The problem I had with my parents was that they didn’t accept me.

I would feel a whole lot more comfortable if instead of Love in The House and Love Another Child, the Jeubs titled their books Acceptance in This House and Accept Another Child.

I just read Chris Jeub’s recent blog post Pattern of the Fallen. Here’s an excerpt:

I consider it tragic when people walk away from God. Sometimes they leave in a huff, sometimes they’ve intellectually wrestled, sometimes they dive into crazy sin and blow up their lives. Whatever the story, they are no longer walking with God, and that’s sad.

I’ve seen a pattern, though. This may give you hope. Wendy and I see this time and time again. Any separation between man and God can be attributed to a lack of love.

. . .

One is of a former student of mine who, on the surface, is angry with God. He and I have had rich conversations, but he’s struggling with some genuine relational hurdles that he finds bothersome. Here’s what I find encouraging: this young adult has a deep heart of compassion and love for people. He’s justifiably ticked at people who treat others wrong. His doubts about God stem from the lack of love from the so-called Christians in his life. Funny, I believe God is love (1 John 4:8), so though he is denying God’s love, he’s still running with God whether he believes it or not.. . .

There is a pattern here, don’t you see it? You probably see it in your family. For me, every single squabble or fight we have (sibling vs sibling, parent vs parent, parent vs child) can be attributed to a lack of love. Wendy and I have found that when we focus on love, solutions to the fights work their way out. A quick read and application of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 solves a lot of problems in our household.

Remember: LOVE is the most excellent way (1 Corinthians 12:31). This reality slaps us up now and then. The trials, heartbreaks, disillusions, confusion, and turmoil in life can often be whittled down to a lack of love in our lives. Someone along the way failed to love, it is as simple as that.

No. Just, no.

Do you know, I would rather be accepted than loved.

Want to know why? Because my parents loved me until it hurt so much that I thought the inside of my chest was going to implode—and not in a good way. I have spent hours curled into a ball sobbing because of how much my parents loved me. I have been ripped apart, shredded, and mangled by their love. Through all of this, I honestly didn’t want my parents to love me. I just wanted them to accept me.

Before you say that love includes acceptance, I’ll point out that for Chris Jeub it clearly doesn’t. Chris very clearly can’t accept the former student he mentioned. Instead, he has to spent an entire paragraph saying that his former student is an atheist because he is angry at God, and that this former student is actually really following God or he wouldn’t have a heart to help those in pain. That is not acceptance. That is so not acceptance. Speaking from personal experience, that kind of thing can feel like a slap in the face to the person on the receiving side of it.

I grew up in a family that had a lot of love. I honestly don’t think I even for a moment questioned whether I was loved. My parents told us frequently that they loved us, and they were always physically affectionate toward us. Mom read us books, baked cookies with us, did crafts with us and sewed clothes for our dolls. Dad showed us how to plant a garden, built us playground equipment, read aloud to us on winter evenings, played board games with us, and took us swimming. My parents centered their lives around us, and we always felt incredibly loved.

And in the end, that is why it hurt so much.

When I was in college, I began to form my own beliefs and to disagree with my parents. Sex? Drugs? Alcohol? No. It was things like just how God went about creating the world, whether or not God required unmarried adult daughters to obey their fathers, and whether I needed my parents’ permission to go out with a guy. But while my parents had buckets of love, they had not a drop of acceptance. They didn’t stop loving me, and in many ways that’s what hurt so much. It hurt that these people who loved me so profoundly could stand in front of me in tears and tell me how much my actions and beliefs hurt them. It hurt so much my insides shriveled. And don’t say they didn’t actually love me. They did. If they hadn’t, that period wouldn’t have been nearly so painful.

Love is a very slippery thing.

Anyone can claim to have it, and people can claim it means anything they want.

For example, I am willing to bet that most abusive parents would claim that they are acting out of love for their children. And are you really going to argue that legalistic parents don’t love their children? Really? Indeed, I’ve heard it argued that the most loving thing a parent of a gay teen can do is to refuse to accept that child’s homosexuality. Telling that child that they are accepted, it is argued, only validates that child’s sin and keeps them from coming to wholeness in Jesus. I grew up hearing from religious leaders who told parents that if they truly loved their children, they must require them to submit to parental control and punish them with the rod when they are disobedient. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the religious leaders I grew up hearing from preyed on parents’ love for their children.

So when Chris Jeub goes on and on about how the solution to dysfunctional Christian homeschooling is love, I can’t help but say no. No, it most certainly is not. If I had experienced a lack of love, my life would have been a whole lot simpler and a whole lot less painful.

The problem isn’t a lack of love. The problem is a lack of acceptance.

The problem is love misapplied.

The Positive Side of My Homeschool Years: Lana Hope

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The Positive Side of My Homeschool Years: Lana Hope

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on February 17, 2013.

Several blog readers have asked if I think homeschooling had any positive effects on me. That’s a great question. I’ve written a lot about my academics (that was censored) and socialization (that was almost non-existent outside our conservative circle).

Did I grow up and find that some things I learned as a kid enriched me as an adult? Of course.

Here’s some of them.

1. The entrepreneur spirit.

There are many entrepreneurs in the homeschool world. It’s one way for mothers to bring in a second income from home, a way for stay at home adult daughters to still make some money, and  a way for fathers to employ the children in the family business. For whatever reasons, you will meet a lot of entrepreneur home school families, and my mother owns a business today.

For me, this was a very positive experience. In middle school and high school, I had a business teaching art lessons and art camps, I made custom made calendars and sold them, did typing work for the neighbors, and regularly babysit. Even through college, I quickly realized my entrepreneur jobs paid more than the student worker jobs, so I continued with a side business and have until this present day.

Without these, I would have never traveled 22 countries and supported myself overseas for 2 years. 

Could I have learned these skills in a school setting? Definitely. But the fact that I didn’t have a bunch of activities or go to school in high school meant I had more time to brainstorm and put into my projects.

2. Servant Initiative.

As a kid I had a long chore list both indoors and outdoors. In the summer months I had to wake up early and work in the garden, and peel, freeze and help can into the afternoon. I washed the dishes every meal pretty much from the time I could reach the sink. The chores were constant and exhausting. Not for a minute in my adult life have I regretted this. I go to people’s houses today and “accidentally” start washing their dishes because its so engrained in me.

One of my friends called me the “asset” of the outreaches we do because I’m always working while other people lounge around.

I’m thankful to my mother for this.

3. Academic Motivation.

I have a motivation to learn and study. I always loved to learn. The first topic I heavily research was eschatology – the study of the end times – when I was in 8th grade. I read books on postmillennialism, amillennialism, and the different end times perspectives. It’s a funny thing for an 8th grader to study, but I am very grateful that my parents never said, “Sorry, but state history is what other kids study your age.” I am so grateful for the freedom I had to research so many topics in high school. In my later years of high school, I studied theology four hours a day. There was no bell that rang and said I had to put the books down. Yes, there are gaps in my education, particularly science, from those days, but because I maintained my love for research and learning, I’m slowly making up for those gaps.

On my graduate school application, one of my undergraduate professors commented that I was a voracious reader who constantly read the books from her office.  In my English classes I would read literary journals and literary critics of each text I studied just for fun, and in philosophy I would try to read more than one work by the philosopher rather than study one small portion of a text covered in class/on the tests. I did not like general education classes, or the inevitable time where classes ended, and I had to switch gears to a new subject of little interest. I just wanted to study what I wanted, and learn it well. I missed being homeschooled because that’s what I did in my afternoons.

I studied whatever I wanted, in far as depth as I wanted, and never had to feel guilty about it.

Would I still have this love for research if I’d gone to public school? I’m sure, but when I’m perked up on a side of a waterfall in Asia reading Hegel and motivating myself to keep up with my personal philosophy reading goals (which I have to make myself read when patheos blogs are at my fingertips), I always grin that the homeschooling days of not relying on a teacher paid off.

4. Independent Streak.

I was trained to stand alone.

It was just life. And while I have hated not fitting in with my peers, its helped me transition to other culture. I landed in an airport all by myself, got a taxi all by myself, struggled, didn’t belong, learned to ride a motorcycle and drove it across the  city all in the same day, and people would comment, “How do you not get lonely? how can you stand to go alone?” Of course, I got lonely, but what they didn’t realize was that I also got lonely in the US.

I was always the odd duck out in the US, so I did not have that much to miss. And so I was not more lonely in Asia, and over time, I found that in many ways, I fit more in with the Asian culture than the American one. I consider much of this to be a down side to my homeschooling experience, but when it has come to surviving long backpacking trips alone, living overseas, and taking care of teenagers, my survival mentality has come in extra handy.

5. Missions Passion.

My homeschool curriculum was obsessed with missionary stories. It’s a little excessive because these stories took the place of normal kid books. But on the bright note, they planted in me this desire to go far, meet these children hiding in places like Burma, and live a life of adventure.

I’m thankful.

6.  Free Spirit.

I grew up without a TV and video games. We did not have internet until I was 17, and I didn’t get a cell phone until college. Instead I grew up playing in the woods and creeks for hours in the afternoon, writing stories, playing dolls, and doing crafts. Even today, even though my lack of TV knowledge has distanced me from the culture, I can say I’m so thankful I did not grow up with a TV.

While I do social media and blogging like the rest of the world, deep inside I’m partial to the past.

Life was good that way. And maybe that’s the reason I still love to sleep in a tent and love the outdoors. It’s the one place away from technology. And maybe that’s why I love Asia. Asians still eat outdoors, and most can’t afford luxury like iPhones.

So in summary:

Christian patriarchy and women’s roles hurt me.

Legalism hurt me.

The fundamental church burned me out.

My mis-socialization bothered me, and still bothers me. My mis-education meant I had to relearn a lot of history and science.

But I feel as if homeschooling still implanted in me a lot of valuable life desires and goals. Whether or not I could have learned these same skills in public school is irrelevant to the fact that for me, homeschooling is how I learned it. I’m grateful that while other kids were sitting at a desk, I was sitting on my bed with a pile full of books learning to think.

It was that foundation that eventually led me out of fundamentalism and Christian Patriachalism altogether.

Relationships, A Series: Part Eleven — Conclusion, Don’t Brush Off the Next Generation

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HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Caleigh Royer’s blog, Profligate Truth. Part Eleven of this series was originally published on June 18, 2013.

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Also in this series: Part One: What Is Courtship? | Part Two: We Were Best Friends | Part Three: The Calm Before The Storm | Part Four: To Lose One’s Best Friend | Part Five: To My Darling Clementine | Part Six: The Storm Starts Brewing | Part Seven: The Five-Year Relationship Plan | Part Eight: The Means To An End | Part Nine: We Made It | Part Ten: I Am A Phoenix | Part Eleven: Conclusion, Don’t Brush Off the Next Generation

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Part Eleven — Conclusion, Don’t Brush Off the Next Generation

For the past two weeks, and more, I have been working through Phil’s and my story.

I’ve gotten very interesting feedback. A lot of positive feedback and that seriously has meant a lot. I have felt more sure of myself, our story, and of what Phil and I have especially as I worked through the entire story. Unveiling our story, working out the hardest parts, and writing about the things that went wrong has only further solidified my feelings of why I don’t believe in parent-driven, parent-controlled relationships.

(NOTE: I think what I have to say could make some of you parents who read my blog feeling discouraged or angry. Please know that I am not writing to push anyone’s buttons, point the finger to say you did wrong. I am simply writing what I have observed, what my thoughts are on the topic and where my husband and I sit with this. I know I don’t have kids yet, so maybe my perspective will change, but for right now, I am writing as the child who experienced these things.)

First, I want to give a little background to why Phil and I have reached this point.

One of the biggest difficulties in our relationship prior to marriage was the lack of being taken seriously. Yes, we were and still are young, but we were completely serious and were not taking our relationship or our goals lightly. We both felt very strongly that God had given us each other, and we were 100% committed to getting married.

What was heartbreaking for us was feeling like our parents laughed at us, called us too young.

In my case, my dad brushed everything off and made me feel like I literally was crazy when he in fact didn’t know my own mind or heart. I have heard multiple people call some of my generation and the generations under my generation as the generation that is fading away, that can’t make responsible decisions, or make wise choices.

While I agree that I do not have the perspective of many, many years of life, or the “wisdom from experiences” right now in my life, that does not mean that I am incapable of making good, informed decisions that are wise and exactly what I’m supposed to do right now for me.

While I am not someone who has lived for over 50 years, been through many, many things, and has (hopefully) wisdom from experience, I am someone who has already lived 22 years, I have been through a lot, and my perspective right now is important. I think my perspective is especially important right now because I have not been faced with total cynicism yet, I have not lost the dreams and imagination that makes me me and that comes with youth. I have a fresh perspective that I think as an adult I will lose the older I get unless I keep using imagination, continuing to stretch my mind in creating new ideas.

I have a problem with parents who brush off their children’s dreams, ideas, and experiences.

It creates this idea that children are stupid and can’t think for themselves. The more parents brush off their children, the more that idea gets reinforced.

Am I suggesting that it’s the parents’ fault that young adults can’t seem to make good decisions, be responsible, or even dream? Yes, maybe I am. See, I have a unique perspective. I just went through the child’s side of a relationship, I have been on the other side of parenting. And I expect to be taken seriously because I know that my perspective is not any less important than the parents.

Frankly, I think getting a child’s perspective and not just the parents is important in getting the full picture.

There are at least two sides to every story, so why not go right to the people (and yes, children are people) who are being directly influenced by parenting ideas like parent-driven relationships? Can you see what I’m getting at yet? If a parenting style is shutting down your child (at any age), teaching them that their opinions are unimportant, insignificant, and that mom and dad’s opinions are the only thing that counts, that’s dangerous and has a lot of potential to damage the child’s capability to grow up with a healthy self-worth and a confidence in their own opinions.

Growing up, I learned/taught myself how to read at a very young age. By the time I was ten, I was reading college level books, and understanding them. I worked on stretching my mind, my understanding of my surroundings without really realizing that I was doing that. As I got closer to graduating high school, becoming of age (turning 18) and the potential of being in relationship, I fully and wholeheartedly bought into my dad ruling and controlling who, when, and where I got married.

I bought into this because that was all I knew.

I had no reason to think anything other than that could or even would work.  I had no problem letting my dad be my decision-maker, letting him be my heart, mind, and my opinions.

I didn’t realize that letting my parents control an entire relationship from start to finish left no room at all for my own opinions, feelings, or decisions.

It is the equivalent of treating me like a child, a toddler incapable of really making a complicated decision. But even toddlers have opinions and likes and dislikes.

Phil and I will not treat our children and their love interests how we were treated. We believe in letting our children have their own opinions and taking them seriously. We want to be able to raise our children to be fully function adults able to make their own decisions, confident in their own opinions, and able to trust us to help them if they need help.

I know what it feels like to not be taken seriously or to not be heard.

I want to make sure that I document those feelings so I can look back when I have children my age now and remember what it felt like to be their age. I don’t want to forget the perspective I have now. One day, I will most likely have a child who will tell me that I don’t understand and I want to be able to look back and remember.

Parent-Driven Relationships

You will find “Parent-Driven Relationships” most often among Quiverfull and Patriarchy cultures. Especially the homeschooling culture that is tied into these two.

I need to make a specific distinction here.

The usual circumstances for this set-up is when a daughter gets into a relationship, “dad” is especially controlling and protective. Daughters are special property to dads in these cultures, and thus it is usually the father of the daughter who is driving the relationship.  It all stems back to the idea that “dad” is “God” in the home.

“Dad” is the ultimate authority, he is the final say on everything, including his adult daughter’s choice of hairstyles (not kidding).

Add in daughters who are unusually, unhealthily complacent and content to stay at home until they are 30+, willing and happily ready to give “dad” total control of their lives and you get a living nightmare of control, abuse, manipulation, and brainwashing.  When “dad” drives the relationship, controls everything from which boy/man gets accepted into the precious family fold, to how much time the girl and guy get to talk, spend together, including assigning one or more of the girl’s multiple siblings to play “chaperon” — individual personalities and individual hearts get lost.

This idea for relationships is not only not Biblical, it is not an accurate interpretation of the Biblical ideas it’s supposed to be based on. The Old Testament structure of parent-driven relationships is based on daughters literally being property that is sold and traded for goods, money, and social standings.

Not only are we not in that era anymore, women are not property.

We are whole beings with hearts, minds, and souls, very capable of making wise decisions and holding good, strong opinions.

Now, here is what I think a parents’ role in their children’s relationships should look like. I think it should look like parents respecting their children’s opinions, decisions, hearts, and being there to help, share advice when asked, and to be a trusted person.

I think it’s great that some parents have a relationship with their children that automatically puts them in this situation. But that’s not all parents, all children, all situations. I believe that as a child becomes a young adult, and they start reaching the age of marriageability, and they look for a relationship, only they will know who is the right person for them.  A healthy adult will know who is right for them. Phil and I felt frustrated more times than I’d care to recount with older parents, friends, not taking us seriously, not believing how strongly we felt about getting married.

We alienated ourselves from a lot of those people because we couldn’t be ourselves around them.

We felt put down.

I applaud the parents who have healthy, strong relationships with their growing children, and it makes me very happy when I see healthy relationships as the result.

That is good.

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End of series.