Official Statement by the Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out Board
May 9, 2014
We regret to inform the HARO/HA community that the Great Homeschool Conventions (GHC) board has — without any explanation — reneged on the offer for R.L. Stollar, Executive Director of HARO, to speak at the June 2014 GHC convention in Ontario, California. The HARO board has made repeated efforts to communicate with the GHC board and ask them to reconsider this reversal of their original invitation. However, the GHC board has not reconsidered. When they did respond after several days, they failed to give any reasoning for the decision beyond simply stating that they did not approve the application.
We know many of you were excited about this opportunity for HARO. The board members were beside ourselves with joy. Speaking at homeschool conventions is one of our most pressing goals for this organization, and we were grateful and humbled that GHC originally offered us a session. We are also overwhelmed with the love and support our community showed us by donating not only what we needed to make HARO’s presentation happen, but also donating above and beyond that need. We raised the full $1,250 necessary in 48 hours, and as of yesterday donations have continued to pour in, reaching $1,500 — 120% of our stated goal!
To everyone who shared and/or donated to our fundraiser: Thank you for the support. It is greatly appreciated. It is a blessing to know that so many people stand behind our vision and mission as much as we do.
It is with a heavy heart, therefore, we’ve had to face GHC’s reversal. We have to figure out how to handle the funds we already raised and what to do with Stollar’s almost completed 10,000-word speech. While we are not interested in speaking negatively of GHC at this time, we do owe it to you — our community and backers — to give you a basic timeline and details of the communications that occurred between HARO and GHC. That timeline and those details are as follows:
Timeline of HARO/GHC Interactions
On April 19, 2014, Kim McMillan — GHC’s Exhibitor Coordinator — received HARO’s application to speak at the Ontario convention. She responded by email that, “We will review your application the week of April 28th immediately following our Midwest Homeschool Convention – April 24 – 26th.”
On May 2, 2014, during the “week of April 28th” she previously mentioned, Kim McMillan told HARO that, due to another speaker’s cancellation, she could in fact “add a session for [HARO] on our schedule.” A screenshot of Kim’s offer follows below:
Later on the same day of May 2, HARO gratefully accepted Kim’s adding of a session for us, began filling out the paperwork she sent, and informed her that we are “going to need to raise money” because we are a “brand-new non-profit.” We asked Kim for financial deadlines.
On Sunday, May 4, HARO finished the paperwork Kim sent on Friday, May 2. We reiterated the need for information about payment, stating our fundraiser started the following day: “We are launching a fundraiser first thing in the morning (Monday). So please let me know what deadline we’d need to get you the money or deposit to you by. [We are] grateful for the opportunity to be part of the Ontario GHC!”
On Tuesday, May 6, HARO had yet to hear anything from Kim. We emailed her yet again, informing her of the fundraiser’s success: “We now have money through our fundraiser to pay for the exhibitor booth. So let [us] know if we should just get you a deposit for the time being or the full $500.”
Several hours after our final email on Tuesday, Kim McMillan left a phone message with HARO that the GHC board was denying HARO both a speaking and exhibiting spot at the convention. No additional information was given, and she never responded to our emails.
On Wednesday, May 7, the HARO board sent an official statement to the GHC board, asking them to reconsider this reversal of their promise. You can read HARO’s statement to GHC here.
24 hours after sending our official statement, we had not heard back from either Kim or the GHC board. We sent a follow-up email asking for a response within another 24-hour cycle. We emphasized the importance of being transparent with our backers and needing to inform them of any new developments as soon as possible.
Finally, today — Friday, May 9, 2014 — we received a response from Kim (but no response from the GHC board). Kim’s email contained no mention of the GHC board reconsidering their retraction, no reason for that retraction, and no willingness to dialogue. The extent of her email is as follows:
This “extra step” of approval was: (1) never mentioned in any correspondence between Kim and HARO, (2) never stated as an extra step in the email Kim sent when she said she could add a session for HARO, (3) never explicitly stated in the GHC speaker application itself, and (4) never explicitly stated on the GHC website.
Where We Go From Here
As much as we are reeling with disappointment from this decision, HARO’s number one priority at the moment is being transparent in our next few steps as we figure out what to do with the money we have raised. If it were up to us, we’d click a button and have our fundraising server — Indiegogo — cancel our campaign and refund everyone immediately. Unfortunately, Indiegogo will let us neither cancel our campaign nor refund anyone any amount.
HARO believes the best course of action is as follows:
1) Either explicitly earmark what we have raised for a future convention opportunity, or
2) Figure out how to refund our donors (which cannot happen until after our campaign ends, and may involve less than 100% refunds due to Indiegogo fees)
HARO would like to honor and respect each and every one of our donors’ individual wishes. So if you donated to our GHC campaign, we will be sending you an e-mail through Indiegogo. Please respond to that e-mail letting us know how you would prefer us to handle your donation. We also will update our Indiegogo campaign with this information, in light of the fact that we cannot manually cancel the campaign. Please note that we will need to figure out how to make each refund happen (PayPal donations will be the easiest to refund).
HARO Executive Director R.L. Stollar had nearly completed writing his hour-long speech for the Ontario convention. About 8,000 of the necessary 10,000 words were written before we received word that GHC was reneging on its offer. Regardless of whether each donor would like us to refund or save each donation, HARO as an organization values following through on its commitments. So every single one of our donors will still receive a digital download of Stollar’s presentation, “Facing Our Fears.” This presentation will be completed, formatted into an e-book, and possibly even recorded as an audio file as well — and then the presentation will be sent ASAP to our donors.
We will also make a copy of the presentation available to the general public within a month from now.
Thank you for your patience and understanding as we figure out how to proceed with everything in the next few weeks. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to ask. We look forward to continuing our vision of “Renewing and transforming homeschooling from within.” While we are disappointed with this development, it does not faze us in the long-term.
On to the next one!
The HARO board
As someone who strives to take Jesus of Nazareth seriously, yet daily fights depression and suicide, I know full well the crushing weight that these ideas can have one’s life.
I know the immense guilt and shame they heap on people. I also know they have no basis in reality, are contrary to the history of Christianity’s relationship with mental health, and thus deserve to be called out for what they are: a twisting of the gospel and a careless rejection of science — in other words, of the nature that Baucham’s God so carefully made. To reject nature, as revealed by the science and reason so graciously gifted to us, is to reject God and exchange the gospel for fear and supernaturalistic dogma.
There is much in Baucham’s sermon I could critique. But I want, for the sake of length, to focus on three specific problems: (1) a misunderstanding of the basic nature of mental illness, (2) a misunderstanding of basic medical-scientific definitions, and (3) a misunderstanding of why people don’t talk to their pastors about their very real mental health struggles.
A misunderstanding of mental illness
I’d like to start at the beginning of Voddie Baucham’s sermon, where he reveals at the outset that he has no idea what he’s talking about. Baucham introduces the topic of mental illness by claiming that Nebuchadnezzar’s curse in Daniel 4 was a curse of schizophrenia:
You can act like Daniel, Chapter 4 is not here and we can not deal with the question of schizophrenia. But then you gotta read Job and you gotta deal with clinical depression. “Oh we’ll just act like Job is not there.” That’s fine. We’ll deal with the Apostle Paul and the murders he oversaw and then we can talk about post-traumatic stress disorder. “Well, I don’t really want to talk about that.” Ok, fine, if you don’t want to talk about that, let’s talk about Jesus, shall we? In the Garden of Gethsemane, where he experiences a classic instance of anxiety. Or better yet, when he comes to the tomb of Lazarus, weeping, there in depression, but then resuscitates Lazarus, and they celebrate — now he’s bipolar. Let’s not even talk about the Psalms, where you find every manner of what we would define as “mental illness” expressed by the psalmist himself.
Right here, at the beginning, Baucham disqualifies himself from discussing these issues in any accurate, sensitive, or thoughtful manner. In fact, his introduction to this topic trots out some of the most ridiculous myths and stereotypes about mental illnesses with which people daily suffer. For example: Job went through horrible times, was sad, and therefore was clinically depressed. In other words, “sadness” is “depression.” Or Jesus weeping? That’s “depression.”
No. No, it’s not. When you’re sad, you’re sad. When you’re depressed, you’re depressed. Those are two completely different categories. Sadness is an emotion. Depressionis a disorder marked by clearly defined symptoms. You see this marginalization of depressed individuals all the time in our society. Did you miss the opportunity to buy tickets to your favorite band and thus described yourself as “depressed”? You’re doing exactly what Baucham is doing: using a word that means something medically to describe nothing more than emotional state. When Jesus wept, he was being emotional. Being emotional is not the same as being mentally ill, though people — like Baucham — who marginalize and stigmatize the mentally ill love to make this equivocation. They love to do so because it allows them to collapse emotions with mental illness and thereby prove the latter amounts to nothing more than the unnatural (or “sinful”) rejection of the former.
When Jesus experienced sadness and wept, and then experienced happiness and rejoiced — those were normal human emotions, not bipolar disorder. And I don’t know a single psychiatrist or psychologist or emergency care physician or general practitioner who would confuse the two. He’s flogging nothing but straw men here. In other words, Baucham is the one confusing the two, not mental health professionals — which is why it’s a good thing that Baucham is not such a professional nor is qualified to treat those who suffer from mental illness.
A misunderstanding of definitions
One sees the continuation of Baucham’s ignorance of mental health when he goes on the attack about mental health terminology such as “symptom,” “syndrome,” and “disorder.” He tries to parse these terms to prove that mental illnesses, unlike physical illnesses, lack scientific basis. He even imputes some species of conspiracy to the professions of psychology and psychiatry (two entirely different professions, which he constantly equivocates between). Here’s an example:
Most Christians don’t know that there is no such thing as chemical imbalance. There’s no test for it. There never has been a test for it… That’s why we use the term “syndrome” or “disorder.”… Psychiatry and psychology have never cured anyone of anything nor do they claim to be able to. Let me say that one more time slowly. Psychology and psychiatry — and they’re not the same thing, one’s a medical doctor who goes to medical school, a psychiatrist, gets a medical degree, k? And they can dispense drugs, and, and that’s pretty much all they do, just dispense drugs and [unintelligible] drugs — and the other one, a psychologist, you don’t go to medical school, that’s a complete different degree, k? But in both instances, psychology and psychiatry have never cured anyone of anything. By the way, in order to cure somebody, you need to be able to diagnose them accurately, right? If you can’t diagnose someone accurately, and there’s no test to demonstrate what a person has, how could you know if you cured them? You can’t…. I’m not telling you my opinion, by the way. Everything I’ve stated for you up to this point is just pure fact… The reason they said “disorder” or “syndrome” is because it is not a disease….You do not have a medical diagnosis. It’s not a disease. And, and it’s time to, to, to expose the man behind the curtain on this one. Because he’s been parading as the great and powerful Oz for far too long.
Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin here. Much of what Baucham is saying is based on an outdated model of anti-psychiatry championed by a man named Thomas Szasz in the 1950’s. Had Baucham bothered to do a simple internet search — or even a lazy perusal of Szasz’s Wikipedia page, at the very least — he might have known this. As it stands, Baucham is merely repeating discredited science from decades ago.
Or there’s the asinine stereotype of psychiatrists being nothing more than psychotrophic Pez dispensers. While I am sure there must be psychiatrists out there who do that (since it’s a common stereotype), every psychiatrist I know is careful in handing out medication and also highly emphasizes exercise, meditation, positive thinking, spirituality, community programs, therapy, and so forth. Baucham’s picture of the average psychiatrist sounds more like an old stereotype of evil, lab-coated psychiatrists than actual, real psychiatrists in the 21st century.
But probably the most problematic part of these statements is Baucham’s understanding of the alleged inferiority of “disorders” and “syndromes.” So let’s look at 4 basic definitions to clear this up:
1) “Symptom”: A symptom refers to an observable behavior or state.
2) “Syndrome”: A syndrome indicates a cluster or combination of symptoms that occur together over time. It does not directly imply an underlying cause. The symptoms that occur together may or may not actually be related. Some syndromes, such as Parkinsonian syndrome, have multiple possible causes.
3) “Disorder”: Disorder means a functional abnormality or disturbance. Like a syndrome, a disorder is indicated by a combination of symptoms and does not necessarily have proven underlying cause.
4) “Disease”: A disease is a disorder where the underlying cause is known.
Baucham plays fast and loose with all these definitions to throw mental illness into a negative light, frequently referring to the illnesses as “syndromes” and “disorders” (rhetorically emphasizing the quotation marks as if they are figments of sufferers’ imaginations). He stresses that, as syndromes and disorders, mental illnesses have no set methods of diagnosis or cure.
The problem here is that Baucham ignores the fact that syndromes and disorders exist outside of the realm of mental illness as well. Take carpal tunnel syndrome, for example. It is highly unlikely (though I could be wrong) that Baucham would take people to task who claim they have carpal tunnel syndrome — the real, physical feelings of sharp pain that most people believe are caused by repetitive motions. Like mental illnesses, carpal tunnel syndrome has symptoms. However, also like mental illnesses, most cases of carpal tunnel syndrome (1) are idiopathic, or have no proven, known, or “scientific” cause, (2) are nonetheless diagnosed because many people report similar experiences, yet (3) there is no objective, all-mighty standard for the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome.
In other words, Baucham might as well have dedicated his entire sermon to “disproving” the seriousness of carpal tunnel syndrome and attacking and belittling medical professionals who attempt to help those who suffer from it. But he did not. He instead chose to apply these arguments selectively to mental illness.
That’s not a coincidence. Rather, it’s nothing less than proof that Baucham is wrong in claiming that, “far from there being a stigma anymore with mental illness,” “we’re proud of our mental illnesses. We wear them like a badge. We won’t tell people our phone number but we’ll tell them our diagnoses.”
That’s not actually the case. In fact, we can directly disprove it by thinking about the differences — in the work place — when it comes to something like carpal tunnel syndrome versus something like a mental illness. If you are a cashier at a grocery store, the workplace would be supportive — in fact, would demand you to inform your superiors — of your getting proper care and treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome. This syndrome would be considered “real” — despite the fact that, as I just said, most cases of carpal tunnel syndrome (1) are idiopathic, or have no proven, known, or “scientific” cause, (2) are nonetheless diagnosed because many people report similar experiences, yet (3) there is no objective, all-mighty standard for the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome. Despite all 3 of these facts, your workplace would never question your pain. You would also never turn up at a church — even Voddie Baucham’s church — and be subjected to an hour-plus sermon about how your carpal tunnel syndrome had a “direct link” to your “sin.”
But now imagine if you are a cashier at a grocery store and you suffer from bipolar disorder. Like carpal tunnel syndrome, bipolar disorder (1) is idiopathic, (2) is nonetheless diagnosed because many people report similar experiences, yet (3) there is no objective, all-mighty standard for its diagnosis. Yet not only would you feel less comfortable telling your manager about your bipolar disorder, your manager would also feel less comfortable supporting you in managing your disorder. Indeed, in a recent survey of 2,000 individuals from a cross-section of industries, it was found that over 50% “thought that if they were open about a mental health issue it would damage their career prospects.” If over 50% of employees who suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome felt their jobs were threatened from speaking up, OSHA would be all over that. But even if this was not the case: it is far easier to receive government acknowledgment that your workplace caused carpal tunnel syndrome (and thus receive worker’s compensation) than to receive government acknowledgment that your workplace caused a mental illness. Whether you believe it should exist or not, there is an inherent bias against the latter that is built within the worker’s compensation system.
That is the reality of mental health stigma. And Baucham has indirectly proven that it is still alive and well, just by the way he framed this discussion.
A misunderstanding of why people don’t talk to their pastors
Baucham attempts to challenge (or probably, in terms of results, shame) his listeners into revealing their private medical histories to their church leaders. Baucham says,
If you’re here today and you’re being treated by someone for a mental illness, and you have not informed your elders — first, I want to ask you a question. Why on God’s green earth would you do that? Why? By the way, I can tell you the answer: Because you’ve bought the lie.
Now I’m going to get a bit personal here and go out on a limb: If people aren’t telling their pastors about their mental health struggles, it’s probably because their pastors’ perspectives on mental illness are just as horrible as Voddie Baucham’s.
I don’t mean that as an ad hominem. I’m deadly serious: people die every day because of the stigma and public shaming of the mentally ill. A significant amount of that stigma and public shaming comes from Christian communities, churches, and leaders. And a significant amount of that stigma and public shaming looks just like Voddie Baucham’s sermon. The fact that he does not see how crippling and destructive the ideas he has communicated here are only goes to show how far certain Christians need to come to better support the mentally ill.
That is why many people don’t reveal their mental health struggles with their churches. Because when they do so, they often hear exactly what Baucham said.
Instead of pushing people who suffer from mental illness to publicly disclose diagnoses that often lead to further shaming and stigmatization (like the shaming and stigmatization in Baucham’s own sermon), Baucham should be working to end stigma. He should be urging his church leadership — and other churches — to transform their communities to be places where the mentally ill feel safe and welcome: where they won’t be told their illnesses are caused by sin, where they aren’t treated as though their illnesses were second-rate illnesses or figments of their imagination, and where their pastors are actually equipped to assist them (or know when to stop pontificating unscientifically about mental illness and instead encourage to seek actual professionals).
Until Voddie Baucham can understand something as simple as the difference between Nebuchadnezzar’s curse and schizophrenia, he needs to sit down and pass the microphone to those who do.
I learned about sex because of a Boy Scout merit badge.
My older brother and I were on the way to a Boy Scouts meeting. My dad was nervous the whole time, seeming to stall until the last moment. I am not sure if this conversation would have ever happened naturally. But it did happen, if it only happened because it had to.
My brother and I were working to get our Family Life merit badge in Boy Scouts. Part of earning that badge was learning about sex. Someone had to give us “The Talk,” and — since our Boy Scout troop was a primarily Christian homeschool troop — that responsibility fell on our father. To learn about sex from anyone other than one’s parents was a cardinal sin in my Christian homeschool culture.
Most of the drive was awkward, because we knew we were about to get The Talk. I do not think The Talk necessarily has to be awkward, but it was for our dad. You could feel it in the air. As a result, The Talk really materialized on the 15-minute drive. Never, that is, until we pulled into the parking lot of the rundown Baptist church where our troop met. Then it was do or die time, and my dad gave us a quick summary of lovemarriagepenisvaginababy. Boom.
That was the extent of my Christian homeschool sex education growing up. It lasted less than five minutes.
I grew up in an almost alternate universe, where courtship methods of the Victorian era were popular and no one spoke of sex except in hushed or negative tones. Sex to Christian homeschoolers was like Voldemort to wizards — That Which Shall Not Be Named. I attended “purity” seminars at which homeschool celebrities like Josh Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, urged audiences of horny teenagers to focus on God and flee that nebulous human demon called Lust.
In that universe, “abstinence only” was not an abstract concept but a concrete reality. I never learned about condoms, or how to use them. I never learned about STDs. As a male, I never learned about menstruation. That was a taboo topic; my parents referred to it as “that time of month” and all I knew was that it was something embarrassing and icky that only women talk about and men just need to know to avoid women during that time.
When I hear people arguing for abstinence-only education these days I cringe. I want to shout at the top of my lungs, “You don’t really want that!” I know what that education looks like because that is the education I received. It was a sham to even call it “education.” It was rather an absence of education. The so-called “abstinence” was an abstinence of knowledge about biology and empowerment about consent.
It did not help me in even a single way.
It did not discourage me from eventually having premarital sex. All it did was make me utterly ignorant of the reality of sex. It did not keep me from so-called sexual immorality. It made me incapable of acknowledging and processing my own experience of sexual abuse as a child.
As I have grown older, and both shared my story as well as heard other stories of former homeschool kids, there are so many similarities between our experiences. Sex felt like something dirty and secretive and repressed up until one’s wedding day, and then magically it was supposed transform into something holy and beautiful and celebrated. Sex was something only men wanted, that was given by women in exchange for love. (I am aware now, too, that this harmful stereotype transcends Christianity and homeschooling.) Men were incapable of controlling their physical desires, always on the brink of the sexual sin of lust. So much so, that women had to carefully don the most modest of clothing to avoid causing men to “stumble.” Men were also only attracted to women and women to men, thereby precluding any conversation about the existence of LGBT* individuals.
And foremost of all: sex education, that insidious tool of the evil secularists and humanists, was a weapon of Satan. It was described in classic misogynistic terms: a “temptress,” a “whore of Babylon,” hired by the Prince of Darkness to lead public schoolers astray. Us homeschoolers, God bless us, we were spared that temptation, as our parents took it upon themselves to raise us righteously, without sex education and its spurious ways.
But dreams run red lights and crash into the curbs of reality awfully hard.
As I hear more and more from former homeschoolers, I hear the same things I myself experienced: that what we were “spared from,” what we were “blessed” to avoid, could have really helped us. No matter how hard our parents tried to keep us unstained from “the world,” the world happened. We grew up. We made mistakes, got drunk, did drugs, made out, had sex; some of us were sexually abused and raped — all the things that happen outside of Christian homeschooling, too. The only difference is we had zero tools to process those things.
It is because of my very experience as a Christian homeschool kid that I am an advocate for comprehensive sex education.
I believe in comprehensive sex education because all people have the right to be empowered. I believe in comprehensive sex education because it is vitally important to know your body, respect your body and other people’s bodies, and understand how to stand up against those people who both want you ignorant of your body and aim to disrespect your body.
Depriving children of that knowledge, for whatever ridiculous religious reasons, is nothing less than educational abuse. It is not pleasing to God or god or anything that is allegedly holy. Ignorance is a unholy prison. Forced ignorance is one of the most soul-crushing experiences one can have.
Children need to be educated about their bodies because that is how children learn how to respect and love them and each other’s.
Children need to be educated about sexuality because sexuality is a fundamentally important part of being human.
Children need to be educated about consent because rape and sexual abuse happen in every community and every culture and you are living in a daydream if you think it will not happen in yours.
The more I learn about the universality of body-shaming, rape culture, and abuse, and the more I hear about how these things happen every day in Christian churches and conservative homeschooling communities, the more I see why sex ed is an absolute must. When we are afraid of sexuality, when we are afraid to talk bluntly and honestly and openly about our bodies and our emotions, we are giving power to those who want to take advantage of our ignorance and our silence. When we are blinded by our ideologies and unwilling to see every human being as worthy of respect and safety, we are giving power to those people advancing shame and bigotry. When we are afraid to name That Which Shall Not Be Named and speak about it plainly, we are only adding to the power of those in our communities — homeschooling, Christian, secular, and otherwise — who will abuse it.
I wish I knew about sex from something other than abuse. But my parents and my homeschooling community could not have changed that, no matter how much they wish they could.
Yet I also wish I knew how to talk about sex from something other than a Boy Scout merit badge. And that is something that my parents and my community could have done differently.
I have spent the last decade catching up on what I missed, on the lessons I never learned. It can be an awfully embarrassing process, but it is a necessary one.
First (and least importantly), Marcotte — while trying to make the case that fundamentalists are stupid — failed to spell my last name correctly. And my last name isn’t hard to spell. Second, she took the words I said in Kathryn Joyce’s amazing piece on homeschooling for the American Prospect completely out of context and haphazardly slapped them onto her piece as if they had something to do with her own point. Which they don’t.
Third, and most importantly, Marcotte’s whole piece drips with condescension towards those “stupid fundamentalists.” “They may not be the smartest bunch,” she says — qualifying that by saying they “aren’t that stupid.” Implying that, well, they’re still pretty damn stupid.
Yes, there are some truly fascinating individuals out there with some truly remarkable ideas. There is a wealth of material for stand-up comedians.
But to Marcotte as well as atheists and progressive Christians who like to rubberneck when observing fundamentalists:
Please don’t appropriate my life and my words and the lives and words of other homeschool alumni for your hit pieces against fundamentalism. We have zero interest in being your meme.
Homeschool alumni are not telling our stories for your entertainment.
We’re not telling our stories so that you can call our culture or parents stupid. If you do that, then honestly, you’re no better than our culture or parents.
We’re done with being pawns on the culture war chessboard. We’re not pawns for Christians and we’re not pawns for atheists. We are neither cautionary tales nor anti-Christian fodder.
We have spent our entire lives overcoming stereotypes. Our parents pushed us to the point of breaking because they wanted us to prove those stereotypes wrong; we forced ourselves into all sorts of predicaments to break free from those stereotypes. We are now shouting as loud as we can that some of those stereotypes have truth to them and they need to be taken seriously.
But here all the bystanders come, sweeping in and trotting out the stereotypes all over again, just to get a laugh or content for another asinine Buzzfeed article.
That’s not cool.
We are more than the stereotypes foisted upon us by our parents and by people who think our parents are “not the sharpest bunch.”
Many of the stories we share are painful, so painful, just to think about — even more painful to write. But we summon the courage to share our stories because we want to help each other as well as kids being raised just like we were. We want to reach out to them and show them a path away from fundamentalism. But when you stereotype and mock, you are making our job that much harder.
Pointing and laughing is not helping. Instead, it adds fuel for those who grow increasingly hostile and terrified of “the world” because people like you — the “evil atheists” and “liberal Christians” — say the things you do. In turn, the fundamentalists feel more pressure to isolate their children — from people like you, but also from people like us.
If you actually care about people like us, about the homeschool kids and alumni out there who have been impacted by fundamentalism, then help us. Tell our stories.
Treat our stories as more than anti-fundie click bait.
The Fundamental Reality of The Family Is Not Just Amorphous “Rights” Language, By Virgil T. Morant
Virgil T. Morant is a lawyer in northeastern Ohio. He practices civil litigation and criminal defense, as well as corporate law, and his work includes representation of clients in disputes over education and child custody. He is also a member of the International Law Section of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association. His personal blog is Lasseter’s Lost Reef.
“The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”
That’s article 16(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one part of the International Bill of Rights from the United Nations. While one does not need an especially fertile imagination to think of a good many people whose disdain for the U.N. (or suspicion at the least) would give little consideration to the authority, and while ordinary people don’t typically go around citing U.N. resolutions, that statement transcends legal controversy or political debate: it states a principle that is widely shared.
It is not just a statement about the organization of society: it is an affirmation of how people generally feel about the dignity and centrality of home and family. Indeed even many of those who likely would have no truck with the United Nations and no love for International Law virtually quote that article word for word every day when they’re arguing about matters of home and family, and probably most of them scarcely even realize it. When we talk about rights, however precisely or imprecisely, we are talking about things that people feel very deeply about, things that give their lives meaning and purpose.
That quote right there about the family says it.
Now, in ordinary speech as well as the commonplace discourse of journalists and editorialists (“bloggers” too of course), any talk of rights is inevitably amorphous and indicative more of feelings and desires than it is of well-defined or cognizable rights. So, frequently when someone says that a right has been violated, what he really means is that he has been offended in some way. In everyday speech, and even in garden-variety “professional” commentary, that is fine—people who are talking casually or writing frequently will resort to such boilerplate, and there is little sense in crying about it—but, if we wish to step away from casual usage, we are likely best served by using the language of rights in two ways: (1) if the right is legally cognizable, then by reference to the authority that defines it or (2) if we are making a case for a right, then by setting out our definitions, argument, and authority.
In his recent article, R.L. Stollar—who graciously invited me to write my reply to him as a guest post—actually used precisely these methods in order to make the case that homeschooling was not a right. Turning, however, to the authority he used and considering his argument, I have to disagree with his conclusion.
The chief authority Mr. Stollar uses is Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). After the prior sections of that article deal with an individual’s right to an education, what level of education should be mandatory, and some discussion of the social purposes of education, UDHR art. 26(3) states, “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”
As I noted in my comment to Mr. Stollar’s post, this language both gives a priority to parents in the determination of their children’s education and states it in terms of an act that is compelled: the children shall be educated, and the parents have the prior right to choose the kind of education. Some portion of Mr.Stollar’s post got bound up in the notion that a human right cannot be controlling over another person, but the very language he quoted seems to dispel that by granting parents what it unambiguously calls a right to make determinations for other human beings (parents choosing for their children).
On top of this, it is not difficult to think of a number of other rights that involve and even require the cooperation, restraint, or compulsion of other human beings.
I noted the right to counsel in criminal proceedings in my comment on his post. How about also the right to reasonable working hours (UDHR art. 24), which places limits on how much an employer can demand of his employees and requires him to provide reasonable leave, or the right to one’s reputation (UDHR art. 12), which limits freedom of speech from, say, defamation? These are just two examples.
Rights place obligations upon the state to vindicate them, but they also often entail a restraint on individual human beings as well as granting the capacity for one human being to impose restraint upon another (as in parents making decisions for their children) or to seek redress for a violation (as when one sues for defamation).
If we want to look to concrete authority to argue whether homeschooling is a right, by the way, why stop with the UDHR?
Both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESC) make favorable reference to the “liberty of parents.”
They, together with the UDHR, belong to that International Bill of Human Rights mentioned above. Consider the full language of ICESC art. 13 ¶ ¶ 3-4:
3. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.
4. No part of this article shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the observance of the principles set forth in paragraph I of this article and to the requirement that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State.
Paragraph 3 states its “respect” for parental liberty in school choice—even choices besides public school—and paragraph 4 puts some teeth to this by forbidding the instrument from being interpreted to interfere with the individual’s liberty to establish educational institutions. Make of that what you will.
If, then, what remains of the argument against homeschooling being a right comes down to the travel by horse analogy (see Mr. Stollar’s essay for this), then my response is:
Traveling by horse, if you have one, actually is a right, and it falls within the right to freedom of movement.
Of course it is not a right to take someone else’s horse or to be given a horse, but the right to travel is one primarily cognizable in not being restrained from travel, and surely no state should have the right to stop you, under normal circumstances, from hopping on your horse and going where you will. Just the same, if a parent has a right to determine his child’s type of education, and, if we are agreed that whatever form of homeschooling we are talking about is a legitimate type of education, then surely the parental right includes the right to school the child at home.
Of course, at some point in narrowing rights down to specific examples, it would become absurd to insist that they all be found in a United Nations convention. But a good many of the things we value as rights (in some proper sense of the word) are actually spelled out in writing in statutes and case law, which constitute an overwhelming number of words and pages. If there is any uncertainty about whether something should be legally protected—such as the right to school one’s children at home—then off to court one goes, where lawyers will find the citations and make the arguments.
It’s all quite entertaining for pundits and ordinary people to complain about “rights” being violated, but rights don’t mean much of anything in a society of laws until their existence is tested and proven through law.
Sometimes too, by the way, the universality of a norm is well demonstrated by the states that violate the norm against the greater consensus. So, however the current business in Germany, for instance, shakes out, and whatever may be adjudicated in the Unites States or anywhere else, for my own part, I just cannot fathom educating one’s children at home as not being a right—or, if you prefer (but I think this is hair-splitting), as squarely fitting within the right to choose the education of one’s children.
We get emotional about our rights. We get emotional about these homeschooling rights in particular, because, as with any human liberty, they are subject to abuse, and by “abuse” I mean to say the kinds of acts that take us squarely outside the realm of rights. The abuses of homeschooling are famous in the portion of the blogosphere where I am writing now. And then there is the hazy realm of, let’s call it, “indoctrination”: why, with some of the more scandalous examples of homeschooling, what sorts of things are they teaching those children! A false history or poor science or just a pathological contempt for this segment of society or that or for society on the whole, perhaps?
Let’s don’t forget, though, even when children go to public schools, their primary role models remain their parents. Even when children go through their rebellious phases, reckon themselves independent and free-thinking as adolescents will do, if they live in a home with parents, their parents are their principal models of how life is. Their chief guides, even if the parents don’t know it or don’t want it. No one can jack you up worse early in life than mom and dad, and nobody can guide and protect you better either.
The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society.
That’s not just legal jargon, and it’s not just amorphous “rights” language. It’s the fundamental reality of parents and their children.
I Am A Testament To Homeschooling’s Power: R.L. Stollar
Do you want proof that homeschooling can be awesome?
Then look at Homeschoolers Anonymous.
Along with Nicholas Ducote, I have organized an online community that — in less than five months — has received national media coverage, garnered over half a million views, received both the praise and the wrath of educational activists, and engages in dynamic social media activism.
I don’t attribute that to myself. I attribute that to homeschooling.
Now, some of you might be thinking, “Well, Ryan, of course you attribute that to homeschooling! You hate homeschooling. If you didn’t hate homeschooling, you wouldn’t have organized this community. How is that a positive?”
First, I don’t hate homeschooling.
Second, sure — if I did not experience negative experiences and observe other people have similar experiences, I would not have made Homeschoolers Anonymous. I’d be on the other side of this whole debate, scratching my head and wondering, “What is everyone upset about?”
But that’s not what I am saying.
What I am saying is that the skills necessary to pull this off – the skills of community organization, advocacy, communication, debate, and social media — I directly credit to my homeschooling experience. All things considered, my parents gave me an excellent education. For example, my mother is an amazing writer and editor. She put an extraordinary amount of effort — and skilled effort, not just energetic effort — into my writing abilities. We read awesome books as kids. We were encouraged to write our own stories.
I was even encouraged to write my own plays.
I wrote a full musical when I was twelve — “The Fun Factory” — and my mom cheered me along. Which is very gracious of her, in retrospect, because the musical is highly embarrassing to me now. My dad constructed an entire theater stage — a real one, with curtains and everything! (my dad worked for a furniture construction company at the time) — for me in the backyard. Along with other kids from our homeschooling group, my siblings and I put on a full-blown production.
That’s awesome homeschooling right there, folks.
I wrote a musical, my dad built a stage, a bunch of kids were creative and self-driven, and we put on a legitimate production for our parents. We even charged an admission fee that covered the costs of the production materials and the food provided during intermission.
That’s Writing, Drama, Wood Shop, Leadership Dynamics, Music, and Economics right there.
I was encouraged to be creative. I was encouraged to think differently. I learned to write and express myself. I did speech and debate. I was taught to pour my heart and soul into research and advocacy. When I wanted to learn html so I could create websites, my parents bought me a book. When I wanted to make research books as a summer job, my parents underwrote my business. When I wrote controversial things for my research books, my parents stood by my side.
And here I am, years later, using these very things — using creativity, technology, communication, and inner drive — to do what I believe in. This drive and these skills I owe to my parents and the homeschooling environment they created.
When I critique the Christian homeschool movement with well-phrased sentences and well-placed screenshots that go viral, I am a testament to homeschooling’s power.
When I am not afraid to stand up and denounce the leaders of the movement who value ideas over children, I am a testament to homeschooling’s power.
That power is not mine to claim.
I had a severe speech impediment for years as a child. No one understood me except my older brother until I was an adolescent. I went through intensive speech therapy. And to make life even more complicated, I was abused by one of my speech therapists. And if that was not enough, I am also an introvert. I am extraordinarily sensitive. I was even a kleptomaniac as a kid. I started shoplifting when I was 6 or 7. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just a broken, confused, and scared little kid.
And yet through the love and selflessness and dedication of my parents, through personalized experiences that supported me and my unique temperament, I became a national award-winning debater who taught thousands of other kids speech and debate when I was but a teenager.
Me, the kid who couldn’t speak basic syllables correctly.
Slightly more than a week ago, a blog called Thinkers Incorporated (TI) published three posts about Homeschoolers Anonymous. TI describes itself in the following way:
Thinkers Incorporated is a unique blog devoted to the study and application of effective reasoning. With the purpose of promoting rational thought, inspiring a love for thinking, and spreading ideas worth contemplating, Thinkers Incorporated is regularly updated and promises new material for your scrutiny each week.
There are currently four writers at TI: Joseph Clarkson, Luke Adams, Owen Stroud, and Paul Hastings. From what I have read, they were all homeschooled to one extent or another. Most of them did homeschool speech or debate via NCFCA. Some have been involved with the Institute for Cultural Communicators, which is the organization that grew out of Communicators for Christ. ICC/CFC is the same organization that Nicholas Ducote and I both worked for, and also the same organization that Josh Craddock (the guy that called us “homos”) worked for.
When I read the first post from TI, which was Joseph’s, I had some serious disagreements with him. I also noticed he (and also the other two) got quite a few facts wrong about HA.
But more than anything, I was struck with how much I actually agree with him.
We both experienced some positives about homeschooling. We both agree that there are problems in the Christian homeschool movement. We both agree that we should not use generalizations. So while Joseph clearly had some qualms with HA (and while I think those qualms are unfounded), it was a breath of fresh air to hear someone “take us to task” but do so in a way that did not involve calling us “homos” or saying we “deserve a beatdown.” He did imply I have “rudimentary marketing skills,” but, hey — you cannot win every battle and I can only make things go viral every once in a while.
In the spirit of dialogue, I want to both point the HA community to the TI series as well as preface that pointing with some thoughts of my own. These thoughts are:
1. We Are An Inclusive Community
I have two overarching objections to the Thinkers Incorporated series. Although, honestly, “objection” is not the right word. Objection might imply I am opposed to hearing the voices of the TI writers. The fact is, I am willing to hear their voices. So these are less objections and more observations. The first observation is this:
Insofar as the writers at Thinkers Incorporated are (1) alumni of the Christian homeschool movement and (2) admitting that movement has problems that should be addressed, their voices are not excluded from Homeschoolers Anonymous.
The writers at TI go to great lengths to communicate that that they grew up in the same world we did but they had positive experiences. They also balance this positivity by each admitting that they saw problems within the Christian homeschool movement.
Normally I would just say, “Well, that’s a wrap!”
But the curious thing is, the TI writers seem to think that those two aspects of themselves make them distinct from, or other than, or even opposed to, Homeschoolers Anonymous. But that is simply not the case. Just look at me, as a glaring example: I, like them, would describe my experience in general as positive. But I, like them, saw negative aspects as well.
This is certainly not the case for everyone in the HA community. Some of us had generally negative experiences. Some of us had rather mixed experiences. We are by no means homogenous. We have vastly differing political and religious beliefs. And it is honestly amazing — and so encouraging — to see that so many different people from different ideologies and beliefs can come together and give each other space to speak.
Have you thought about how amazing that is? We listen to each other’s stories and express so much compassion, love, and respect for one another, even when we disagree.
That is what makes this community beautiful and healing.
And that is what makes the TI series strange to me: what they wrote is not somehow “other than” Homeschoolers Anonymous. In a sense we can “co-opt” what they wrote.
For all you non-debaters, I will try to explain this as simply as possible.
In policy debate, there are two teams debating a topic. One team argues for the topic and one team argues against the topic. The team arguing for the topic is the “affirmative” (because they are affirming the topic). The team arguing against the topic is the “negative” (because they are negating the topic). The affirming team, in order to actually affirm the topic, usually does two things: (1) they point out that the way things currently are is problematic, and (2) they propose a solution to fix those problems — the solution being the debated topic.
For example, let’s say the topic is, “Resolved: we should make the Christian homeschool movement better.” The affirmative team in this case would say, “Right now, there problems in the Christian homeschool movement. Children are getting hurt because of these problems. Our solution is to make the Christian homeschool movement better by bringing awareness to these problems.”
In this case, the negating team would have several options if they wanted to negate this topic. Here are just two examples: (1) The negative could argue that we do not need to make the Christian homeschool movement better because there are no problems. If something ain’t broke, why fix it?
Another tactic would be (2) the negative could argue that, yes, there are problems, but the other team’s solution — bring awareness — is misguided. In this case, the negative team would offer a counterplan.
Since the negative team in this case has to argue against making the Christian homeschool movement better, their alternative solution to the affirmative team’s problems must therefore involve something other than making the Christian homeschool movement better. Otherwise the affirmative team could just say, “Well, our opponents agree that there are problems, and they also agree we should make the Christian homeschool movement better — so, really, we’re just two affirmative teams here who merely disagree as to how to make the movement better. So we win.”
The key concept here is that, when the team arguing against the topic is willing to admit that there are problems that require a solution, their solution needs to be at odds with the other team’s solution. They need to be mutually exclusive, in other words. If the affirmative team’s solution to problems in the Christian homeschool movement is, “We should increase awareness,” and the negative team’s counter plan is, “We should avoid generalizations,” these solutions are not mutually exclusive.
One can increase awareness while also avoiding generalizations.
So the affirmative team could co-opt (or to use debate theory jargon, “permute”) the negative team’s solution as part of their own solution.
That is the idea of mutual exclusivity.
2. TI is not mutually exclusive to HA
While explaining that idea, I have also explained my second observation about all of the writings by Thinkers Incorporated about HA. My second observation is simply that everything they said about communication — avoiding generalizations, stereotypes, and ad hominems — I completely agree with. So I am not really sure what the point was.
Is homeschooling very diverse? Yep.
Are Christian homeschoolers very diverse? Yep.
Should we try to avoid demonizing homeschooling as an educational option while we bring awareness to problems in our homeschooling environments? Yep.
Should we try to avoid demonizing Christians who choose to homeschool while we bring awareness to problems in our homeschooling environments? Yep.
And so on and so forth.
By posturing themselves as somehow “opposed” to HA and our goal of making homeschooling better for future generations, it actually just makes everything a bit more difficult. Because that opposition makes it harder to take their suggestions from a non-defensive posture ourselves. (And to be fair, they are not opposed to our mission; they are opposed to our “narrative,” however they interpret or misinterpret it.)
It is one thing to say, “Hey, can I share my positive experiences so I can help you balance out your narrative?”
Or, “Hey, I notice you have some pro-regulation posts regarding fighting child abuse. I also believe in fighting child abuse, but I believe self-policing is a better solution. Can I write about self-policing as an alternative?”
To either of those questions, I would respond, “Absolutely!”
But it is another thing to say things like, “They’re a wolf doing a poor job of putting on a fleece” (as Paul Hastings did), or “They sound like bitter, angry children who need to go to their earthly parents and heavenly father to work things out” (as someone responding to Paul Hasting’s comment did). If you acknowledge there are problems, and you actually care about fixing those problems, then by all means let’s work together! We can agree to disagree on many things — this is evident from the fact that the HA community consists of Millennials, Gen X’ers, Boomers, current homeschoolers, former homeschoolers, students, parents, conservatives, moderates, liberals, libertarians, Marxists, Christians, atheists, Buddhists, Protestants, Catholics, Universalists, and so forth.
I highly doubt any one of us agrees entirely with any other one of us. But we all care about figuring out ways to make homeschooling better.
If that makes us wolves, we will proudly howl at the moon.
To read the Thinkers Incorporated series
Having said all that, I want to reiterate that I appreciated hearing these voices, and to understand how some people — who admit there are problems in this movement — perceive our “narrative.” Unlike what some people have alleged, Homeschoolers Anonymous is not some tone-deaf echo chamber whose arch-enemies are God, country, and homeschooling.
It is for this reason that, over a week ago, I reached out to Joseph and asked him to contribute something to HA. I also mentioned our upcoming positives series to him, so that if any of the TI writers wanted to add their voices, they knew they would be explicitly welcome. I sincerely hope they participate.
If you are interested in reading what Joseph, Luke, and Owen wrote over at Thinkers incorporated, the links are provided below. I am also posting on HA some thoughts that Lana Hope at Wide Open Ground had about the TI series. As a community here at HA and also more broadly as members or alumni of the Christian homeschool movement, my hope is that we can have a spirited dialogue about all these issues together.
This dialogue that we are finally having — and I include the TI writers in that dialogue — is one of the main reasons I wanted to create Homeschoolers Anonymous.
I have a very complicated relationship with homeschooling.
In many ways I have significant problems with the Christian homeschool movement; in many other ways, however, I appreciate my homeschool education. My education was lacking in some areas, particularly science, but it was also exceptionally above average in other areas, such as language arts and communication. I have suffered emotional and verbal abuse in homeschooling contexts. But this was at the hands of other homeschooling parents, not my own parents. My parents have been extraordinarily supportive of Homeschoolers Anonymous, for which I am deeply grateful. Also, while I experienced emotional and verbal abuse in homeschooling contexts, I have also experienced sexual abuse in a public school context.
I am under no delusion about the universality of abuse.
It is for these reasons that I do not primarily see my identity as a survivor of homeschooling. In many ways I am a survivor: I am a survivor of abuse, sometimes from abuse in homeschooling and sometimes not. But my experiences are too mixed to be able to fairly isolate only one community from which I am a survivor. I have instead channeled that complex pain into wanting to make the world a better place in whatever context I can. Since homeschooling was my life for so many years, I see myself as an advocate for other homeschoolers who have had far worse experiences than I have.
Honestly, most of my experiences growing up in SELAH and CHEA, my California homeschool groups, were positive. It was while traveling around the country with Communicators for Christ that my eyes were opened to all the different subcultures and ideologies that can create real and serious damage to children. Growing up, I only had an inkling about some of these phenomena. I did not begin to connect the dots until I came into contact with thousands of other homeschoolers and began observing patterns.
Much of my life has revolved around this sort of tension, or dialectic: there is so much good, and there is much bad; there is so much pain, and there is so much joy.
As we begin our next “week series,” I am hoping that as a community we can explore this sense of tension and the reality of dialectic in our experiences.
On July 15, we asked you as a community to pick the next topic you’d like to see us address as a community. We received votes via Facebook comments, private messages, emails, and Tweets. Honestly, there was a good number of votes for all four of the options: (1) Mental health, mental illness week, (2) Abusive relationships week, (3) Grandparent(s) appreciation week, and (4) Positives (what you liked about homeschooling) week.
No one topic won by a landslide.
So obviously we need to cover all of these at some point in the near future. Mental health came in second, with a lot of vocal support for it. So it seems that would be the most appropriate topic for the series after this next one.
For the immediate next series, the winning topic was positives.
While this topic was the winner, it also received a lot of pushback — which, frankly, I understand. If you have suffered neglect or abuse in homeschooling, you’ve probably spent the majority of your life wearing a “I love homeschooling and nothing is wrong with it” mask. This might be the first time in your entire life that you’ve felt the freedom to talk about the negatives. You might be thinking, “I don’t want to talk about positives. I’ve done nothing but talk about the positives since I was a kid.”
Honestly, I personally relate to that sentiment.
At the same time that every fiber of my being wants to finally talk about the negatives, there is a place for the positives in our community. Not everyone in our community has had a bad experience. Not every ally here has experienced our pain. But they are here, supporting us, and listening to us.
I want to give people with positive experiences a place to be heard, too.
Our allies’ positive experiences are fundamentally vital to making homeschooling better for future generations. Those of us with good stories are examples of how homeschooling can be done well.
For every story that says, “This was a problem,” the question is raised: “What is the solution?” Sharing positive experiences is crucial to teaching current and future homeschooling parents the difference between those environments that led to pain and those environments that led to joy.
We need to hear those.
So those of you in our community that have had positive experiences, this is your time to speak up.
And to those of you in our community that have had negative experiences, this is actually also your time.
A week of positives does not mean we are just talking about generally positive homeschooling experiences. Yes, it means that we are taking a week to celebrate the good things. But it also means we are dedicating time to celebrate those moments of joy that contrasted with those moments of pain. This is a week of joy for everyone: to share in others’ good experiences, and also to celebrate those people or those moments that gave us a hope to carry on, that gave us maybe a unique experience of unconditional love.
I have moments like that. I remember when a horde of parents surrounded me and yelled at me (no exaggeration), and one parent silently pulled me out of that crowd and went for a walk with me. That one parent in a very real sense rescued me. He told me that, regardless of what the other parents might say, I was valuable. I was a human being and I was to be unconditionally loved.
I learned that lesson from a conservative Christian homeschooling father. So I celebrate him.
I remember that moment because moments like that, though maybe few and far between, are some of my favorite memories to this day.
Our upcoming positives week is an official celebration —
Of parents that succeeded in giving their kids a good education, of those adults or peers that showed you real compassion, love, or respect, of those moments that gave you hope and healing amidst not-so-positive experiences.
Let’s celebrate all of those things together.
If you are interested in contributing, here are some ideas for what you could write about:
Your personal story of a positive homeschool education
Your personal story of positive aspects of your homeschool education
An experience you had where another person in your homeschool life (one of your parents, another homeschooling parent, a friend, a tutor, etc.) showed you love or respect that maybe you had not experienced before
An experience you had where another person in your homeschool life taught you something that gave you hope about the future, or maybe a personal struggle you had
You do not have to pick just one topic. You could combine several of these ideas, or bring your own ideas to the table, or — if you have a lot to say — contribute several pieces on a variety of these topics.
The deadline for submission is August 23, 2013.
As always, you can contribute anonymously or publicly.