An Average Homeschooler: Part Seven, Graduate School

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 12.38.16 PM

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Samantha Field’s blog, Defeating the Dragons. Part Seven of this series was originally published on December 16, 2013. Also by Samantha on HA: “We Had To Be So Much More Amazing”“The Supposed Myth of Teenaged Adolescence”“(Not) An Open Letter To The Pearls”,  “The Bikini and the Chocolate Cake”, and “Courting a Stranger.”

*****

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

*****

I’ve talked a bit before about some of my experiences at Liberty. Overall, because I was in the MA English program, my experience there was a good step forward for me. I wasn’t living on campus so I didn’t have to do things like shell out ten bucks for falling asleep in chapel and I could ignore controversies like “what do you mean we can break the rules on just Valentine’s Day?!” (something about being able to hug people for longer than 3 seconds? Kiss? I don’t really remember).

I was also encouraged to do things like practice deconstructionism on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and I did a post-structuralist analysis of Edgar Allan Poe’s Eureka. Academically, the program was rigorous and challenging. I can’t speak for anything else about Liberty, but the MA English program was good for me. Actually being able to take a class called “Advanced Literary Criticism” when my only exposure to literary theory was that it was entirely philosophically bankrupt was amazing. Sitting in on an undergrad grammar class where the professor talked about grammar in a global context and saw English as one language among many instead of it being presented as subtly better (it’s the language of Shakespeare! Milton! The Bible!) was incredible.

Being at Liberty forced me to grow in a lot of ways.

One of the more dramatic ways was actually existing in a semi-pluralistic environment for the first time in my life. I was in class discussions with Catholics, Protestants of all stripes, an agnostic theist, an intense Neo-Reformer, socialists, feminists, conservatives … of course, we were still at a Christian university so it wasn’t as diverse as it could have been, but it was still way more diverse than anything I’d heretofore experienced.

And it was hard.

I can’t really explain how hard it was. During my first semester, many of the encounters I had with my new peers were downright humiliating. Thinking about those incidents still makes me physically ill. Some of the things I did earned me a huge amount of animosity from a lot of the people I had to work with. I created problems for myself with some of these relationships that lasted for the entire time I was there. Even my boss noticed and commented on it– although she phrased it “I’ve noticed you’ve had problems making friends.” That was also during the conversation where I came within an inch of getting fired because of the difficulties I had adapting to a place that assumed being a gigantic ass isn’t ok.

I was still at a pretty conservative Christian college, but all of a sudden I was drowning after being thrown into the deep end of the pool, and it was time to sink or swim. My first year in graduate school was probably one of the hardest times in my life– and that includes that whole time I was in an abusive relationship.

I’m not exaggerating: adjusting to being at Liberty University, one of the most conservative places in America, was so difficult for me– emotionally, psychologically– that I can only really describe it in terms of trauma.

I have the same trigger-type reactions to thinking about some of my experiences during my first year there that I do when I run into something that reminds me of my abuser.

Part of that is undoubtedly my experience growing up in a fundamentalist cult. I have no problems placing most the blame for these problems on growing up holding a mentality where I was right and everyone who doesn’t exactly agree with everything I believe is going to hell. Thinking things like that are going to cause problems for you when you actually meet someone who disagrees with you.

However, many of the problems that I had at Liberty can be directly attributed to the fact that I was a conservative homeschooler. Three of my professors pointed this out to me, actually– usually in conversations centered on what it means to be a college student and what is appropriate and expected. I was so oblivious to many of the problems I was giving my professors that they had to pull a 23-year-old adult into their office for a chat.

Many of the skills that seem to come naturally to many (not all) of my publicly-educated peers were so far outside of my grasp I didn’t even understand these skills existed.Things like work/life balance, how to prioritize work, how to do an appropriate amount of work … I also had to have conversations with several professors where they taught me some of these things– some had to be quite blunt and warn me that I was going to kill myself if I kept going how I had been.

I spent hours upon hours in my professor’s offices over those two years because I had to play catch-up all the time.

My literary theory professor was incredibly gracious and met with me as much as I needed because he lovingly understood where I was coming from and that I needed that time and attention. My education professor responded to a ridiculous number of e-mails asking him for help for two years because I didn’t understand what it was like to be a student. My post-modernism professor was extraordinarily patient with me because it took me months to wrap my head around what post-modernism was (thank you, A Beka and Bob Jones, for nothing). People who weren’t ever my professors gave me permission to attend their classes because I didn’t have any concept of basic things like grammar.

Eventually I did figure some things out. I consider my grad school experience a success- mostly. I still cringe at the lot of stupid and idiotic things I did and said while I was there. I still flinch at some of the memories. I still hurt because of some of the things that happened. I wish I didn’t have to struggle so mightily in every class, that I wasn’t handicapped by my borderline pathetic education (although, by grad school that was just as much my college experience as it was homeschooling).

Talking about these experiences is complicated, because not everything, obviously, can be chalked up to “welp, I was homeschooled”– and that hasn’t been the argument I’ve been trying to make. However, being homeschooled the way I was (and the way that many children still are) gave me certain weaknesses that I’ve tried to expose here, by telling my story. Like all stories, mine is messy, and nuanced, and there isn’t any one thing to point fingers at. However, homeschooling was a part of my experience. It is one of the reasons why adulthood is still a struggle for me.

My conservative religious homeschooling experience was not entirely awful, and hopefully that’s been apparent all through this series.

But, if homeschooling hadn’t been a part of my fundamentalist experience, I can’t imagine how different my life would have been. If I’d had friends who were different than me. If I’d read great books written by women. If I’d had teachers who could have encouraged and developed my passion for science. If I’d heard of ideas from the people that believed in them instead of just the straw man versions.

I can’t help thinking it would have been better.

To be continued.

TeenPacters Speak Up: Part Seven, It’s All About Standards

TeenPacters Speak Up: A Series by Between Black and White

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Between Black and White. Part Seven was originally published on May 23, 2013.

*****

Part Seven: It’s All About Standards, by Alessandra

As a national organisation, TeenPact felt it necessary to maintain certain public standards. Whether their slogan was “Turning Students Into Statesmen” or “Changing Lives to Change the World,” one of the end goals of these standards was to set TeenPacters apart from the rest of the world. What they failed to grasp, however, was the concept of equality in standards across the board.

In addition to their routine at the statehouse, TeenPact turned its attention toward the courtroom with its alumni class, TeenPact Judicial. Associated previously with Regent University and Alliance Defense Fund, it now opens its doors at Liberty University. I attended the program – geared toward educating teens about the legal system in a “law school boot camp” style – twice, whilst it was divided into East and West. I first attended TPJ East at Regent, and the following year I attended TPJ West with the ADF.

The concept of “TPA” prevailed at each, but also brought with it new and different standards, with no clear explanations. Take the dress code: professional dress was required for the state classes, and pants or slacks, even as part of a suit, were expressly prohibited for the ladies. At Judicial, however, pantsuits and dress slacks were considered perfectly acceptable attire. I even asked a staffer about this during my first Judicial experience, and was told that “[T]hese were the rules.” No further explanation was offered, and when I attempted to press the issue, I was rewarded with the cold shoulder.

The response provoked questions and doubts as I attended my state class afterward, and had to give up the pants in the name of professional dress.  Even at fifteen, I could not grasp how TeenPact reconciled itself between one standard and another. With the answers I received to my questions, I doubted whether TeenPact knew how to reconcile the differences. Curiosity begs the questions of how and why such a discrepancy occurred, and was allowed to continue. Even so, the dress code was not the only area claiming a double standard.

My second trip to TeenPact Judicial, this time in Arizona, proved more difficult. TeenPact itself almost didn’t let me attend that class, as the boy I was courting at the time was also going to attend. TeenPact was fond of talking about how they loved SR’s – Special Relationships (what they called courtship or dating) – but how they did not want or allow “purple” at events. Pink and blue – girls and boys – were acceptable, but could not mix. To ensure that all acted in accordance with TPA standards, guys and girls had to be in groups in order to associate with one another. I found this problematic at every event I attended, simply because I got along better with the men.

Certain people at events such as National Convention were able to get away with breaking those rules, at least to the untrained eye. Those of us on a lower totem in the TeenPact hierarchy were required to ensure that we had at least three or four people in our group, and never an even split of guys and girls. One did not need to be in a relationship – or even heading in that direction – to risk the scrutiny of the TeenPact staff. As for anyone who was in a relationship, TeenPact always knew about it, and increased their observation of the couple in question whilst at events.

In my case, it took several conversations with a variety of staff members, including a couple we already knew, and multiple promises that we would not act like we were in an SR for the entirety of the event, in order for them to relent and allow me to go. Once there, I spent the entire week being watched like a hawk. For several meals, I refused to eat at the same table as he, lest I get into trouble. Yet, in between all the sessions on legal matters, the staff pounded the idea that all godly men and women should marry and have babies to save the nation.

Looking back, I wonder at what we were supposed to take away. SRs had no place in TeenPact, aside from Mr. Echols – the founder – telling us he was happy to officiate our weddings, but, in the meantime, any semblance of “purple” was not considered TPA. After this talk, usually from the program director of whichever event, the group would be divided by sex. The girls were told how it was their fault if the boys stumbled and lusted after them. Whispers told us those who pushed the line were in need of a change of heart and lots of prayer. We were brought back together and learned how it was important to go forth and multiply.

After all, if we all trusted God to choose the size of our families, we would soon overrun the liberals by sheer numbers. We would, of course, send our children to TeenPact, as well, and then they, too, would follow in our footsteps. Taking back America was well within our grasp. It was practically sinful to turn your back on it.

Whether it concerned how a woman clothed the lower portion of her body, or what she did with the lower portion of her body, TeenPact was fond of making rules. Despite their reassurances that they were put in place to protect us, and inspire us to a godlier standard of living, those creating the rules couldn’t seem to agree on what exactly that standard was. In the end, it didn’t matter what you did or what you wore, as long as a staffer slapped “TPA” across it.

To be continued.