Isn’t This Why We Don’t Send Them to Public School?

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Quinn Dombrowski.

Editorial note: The following is reprinted with permission from Eleanor Skelton’s blog, The Girl Who Once Lived in a Box. It was originally published on December 14, 2015.

I was four years old.

We were visiting my dad’s childhood home in New York, and we went to the house of an elderly lady who used to be his neighbor. She had a caretaker, a single mom homeschooling her son, who was around my age.

My favorite TV show was Barney the Dinosaur, my only 30 minutes of live television once a week. I also played my Barney’s Favorites cassette tape every day and I knew all of the songs by heart.

The little boy and I started chattering and playing on the floor, and I sang “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” for him and his mom, very enthusiastically, with all of the hand motions and marching.

“Do your ears hang low?
Do they wobble to and fro?
Can you tie ’em in a knot?
Can you tie ’em in a bow?
Can you throw ’em o’er your shoulder
Like a continental soldier
Do your ears hang low?”

His mother turned to my mom and said, “Isn’t this why we don’t send them to public school, so they won’t be exposed to garbage like this?”

I remember this deep sense of shame and wanting to crawl under the carpet. I felt like I’d humiliated my mom and I wondered what was so terrible about my song. I think the little boy’s mom called him to come sit on the couch next to her, away from me, and we weren’t allowed to play together the rest of the visit.

This was the first time that I was that child, the bad influence.

Usually it was my parents keeping me away from other children that could lead me astray. This time, they hid their children from me. My mom didn’t understand at all why the other mother objected to the song.

The fear would follow me for years.

Later on in my teens, we ended up in a church with mostly other homeschooling families, some of them Quiverfull. All the other churches we’d gone to before were mainline denominations, and their children went to public school. But homeschooling was becoming more common by 2004.

I’d hear stories from the other families, pick up things in snatches of conversation.

My sister got a craft book for her 8th birthday party, the only party she ever invited friends to since we stayed to ourselves. The other children said, “Oh, look there’s a witch on this page! We’ll have to cover that up.” Their mom glanced over and said, “Oh yeah, you can just cut out black construction paper and glue it over those pages like we do at our house.”

I called my Bible Buddies partner during the week, we got into a theological discussion, and I asked, “Well, have you ever read Narnia?” “No,” she answered. “My parents don’t like that they talk about magic, and they think it’s too confusing for children to read about Jesus as a lion.” I explained that magic is like a substitute for divine power both in creation and redemption, and I read her some dialogue between Aslan and the Pevensie children. She said she thinks it’s probably safer not to read it and seemed uncomfortable, and I dropped the subject.

A homeschool mom traded some used A Beka textbooks with our family. The pages of the only Greek myth in the 8th grade literature book were stapled together. “Why should they learn about pagan literature when they could be reading the Bible?”

My dad bought clearance books and films from the Focus on the Family bookstore. He sent the kids Ten Commandments VHS series to a Quiverfull family we knew with 13 kids. My mom explained to their parents that the only time there is music with a beat in the series is the scene where the characters worship false idols.

I was always watchful around the other families, struggling to balance being honest about the books and movies I enjoyed but with the fear of not being allowed to talk to the other teens if I’m considered a “bad influence.”

In this patriarchal world, if one of the parents decided I’m not spiritual enough or too worldly, I might not be given space to defend myself.

I know because it happened to others. Teens and young adults were called into the pastor’s office and questioned about their music preferences, asked to stop hanging out with their children.

Because, you know. This is why we don’t send our kids to public school.

public school pearls

My PoliSci Professor Has a Potty Mouth – and I Like It: Savannah’s Story

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

If you’re not going to go to a Christian college, you have to make sure your faith is rock-solid by the time you graduate high school. Because college—especially professors of the humanities like psychology and social studies—hates you. College is the epitome of “the world”. The second you mention that you’re a Christian, the non-religious students will mock you. Perhaps even ostracize you or censor you. Perhaps have you thrown out of school for your beliefs if you’re not “liberal” enough for them. Professors will openly mock your beliefs in class, even calling on you personally to make fun if they know you’re a Christian. They may even assign you projects that violate your religious beliefs and you will be obligated to do them, because colleges will give a free pass to other religions, but not you. If you’re not Superman-strong in your faith by the time you go to college, you’ll probably cave to the pressure and fall away.

This is what they told me.

Homeschooled for my entire life, I had no exposure to a classroom environment. Before anxiety got the best of me and made it impossible to deal with, the curriculum was religious. I’d never had a secular education—never even knew what it was like. And so I believed them. I believed the preacher who told me his professor declared in class that no gods were real and anyone who believed in one was delusional, and I believed him when he said the professor called upon him and other Christian students to berate them for their beliefs.

It would be even worse for us now, he said, in the 21st century. Our society was getting more and more liberal. Colleges, the Liberalest Places on Earth, were Ground Zero for trying out these new liberal measures, among them the normalization and acceptance of non-heterosexual, non-cisgender identities and the stifling of free speech—for Christians and conservatives, of course; liberals could say whatever they wanted. We were on the front lines. We were, perhaps, five years away from the beginning of the end of the world, and it was soon to be open season on Christians.

When you are the victim of spiritual brainwashing, thought control, and other individuality- and critical thinking-quenching measures by your local church, a religious education, whether formal in a Christian school or informal at home, is utterly exhausting. When your genes predispose you to anxiety disorders and depression, a religious education combined with spiritual abuse can make you suicidal. So when I finally won and got to be taught from a secular homeschooling program for high school, half of that weight was lifted. And I excelled. Before, I had been an A-B student, but in my “worldly” curriculum, I had a 4.0. I still had to suffer through Sundays, but I could push it all from my mind as soon as we drove out of the parking lot. Eventually, I was even able to push my limits and leave the church.

But there was still the problem of college.

When I tasted the freedom of secular education, I knew that I could never go back. So after I took my first SAT and began receiving brochure after brochure from colleges in my state, I examined each of them for any hint of religiosity. Any college that even looked Christian got its brochure recycled. I memorized their names and blacklisted them. I’d heard about Bob Jones. I’d heard a story from a visiting youth teacher who said he got in trouble for touching his then-girlfriend’s head because opposite sexes were not allowed to be near each other. I remembered the frustration, the panic attacks, the nightmares I had at the beginning of high school. I could not even take the risk that I would suffer through that again.

The “excessive”, as the pastor called it, liberalism of secular colleges might have scared me if I’d been the same little girl that he frightened into believing I’d be vilified just for who I am. But I was not. The two years of secular high school education that I got changed me immensely—not that I wasn’t already changing before, but now I was allowed. The curriculum wasn’t constantly contradicting my own views, or guilt-tripping me. Between the ages of fifteen and eighteen I became exactly the kind of thing he’d warned me against becoming—one of those dirty, worldly liberals. And I love it. I love myself. I love the people around me.

As I write this, it’s the Friday of my first week of freshman year and I’ve already had several conversations on privilege and intelligent critiques of religious culture. Half my professors swear in class. I’m taking two classes in the social sciences right now, and I’ve yet to hear any mockery of any religions or their followers—in fact, the only religion-related degradation I’ve seen or experienced came from a street preacher who hangs out just feet from campus property so that he can scream at students without repercussion. (Seriously, dude, don’t you have some feeding the poor to do?) Had I not gotten, as a friend of mine says, “out of the box” two years before my first experience with such a free environment, where everyone I have encountered so far is radically different from the people I grew up around and the expectations I would have been held to if I had stayed, this might have seemed like a little hell. Instead, it’s a tiny piece of heaven. I feel no pressure to conform to a religious or moral standard too high to reach, or follow rules I don’t believe in.

Still, to my own surprise, I’ve retained some faith, in spite of the abuse, the nightmares, the panic attacks—despite not setting foot in a church in two years. Retained, by my own standard, anyway. Not by that of the preacher of my old church—my newfound liberalism would disqualify me from any sort of legitimate religiosity; I am delegated to the ranks of “fake,” “halfhearted,” “lukewarm.” But I have found many more interesting people here in the ring of second-class Christian citizens. And a hundred times more love.

And I can never see that as a coincidence.

 

I Was Spiritually Abused and I Blamed Myself

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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 March 20, 2013.

On the outside, my childhood looked blissful. I was raised outside the box, free to roam and explore. I was raised to think wide and deep, to argue and to question. My home was overtaken in creativity. On the outside, we looked normal.

At the same time I was sheltered from ideasI was free to think — but only within a narrow framework. I was a 90s kid, a homeschooler, and I had no idea gays and lesbians existed, and I was raised to believe outsiders were ungodly. Other homeschool mothers, and homeschool organizations put enormous outside pressure on my family that ended up driving my parents into shamed-based parenting. I was fed nothing but bread and water if I was disrespectful. Sometimes my mom threw books across the room. And I would collapse in tears because I was to blame, and wept wondering if God would ever be pleased with me.

I lived in a world of contradictions. On the one hand, I was encouraged to explore. But then on the other hand, a gendered childhood hovered over me. I was told that girls are not brilliant like boys, and I was told married girls could not and should not have a career.

For example, at Advance Training Institute of America conference – a homeschool conference in Knoxville, Tennessee – we (my friends and I) asked to rock repel with the boys. The leadership just looked at us like criminals and said, “If you ever mention this again, I will go get your fathers. You are girls, and you should be grateful to get to sew.”

A piece of my heart was cut off that day.

Why the heck did God make me a girl? I asked myself.

I screamed that question and my heart beat and my guts hurt for years.Why did God give me a mind for debate and academics if he wanted me to stay home? Why did he give me a desire to teach if I could not speak in the church or teach anywhere outside an elementary school? Why did he give me a forest to explore if I was suppose to wear dresses? Why did he give me a desire to do everything else but sew if sewing makes me the definition of a quiet spirit?

So I ran.

I left for college, and I admitted I was a failure in God’s eyes. I had failed. Clearly.

I went to movies. I had “worldly” friends (also called regular people). I stood up and said I’d had it with courtship. I studied what I wanted. I studied Marxist theory, even, and read and read and read.

But my spiritual abuse caught upI now had buckets of shame.

Towards the end of college my stomach went in knots over my choices. I felt this enormous sense of shame and guilt. So I did what every daughter of spiritual abuse does — I blamed myself.

Lana, you are a filthy sinner. If only you had kept your heart pure. If only you had tried harder. If only you had not read such liberal books. If only you had better friends. If only you had never turned on the TV. Your parents were right. I spewed lies to myself.

Lies. Lies. Lies.

OH MY GUT.

Soon after graduation, I started crying at night and begging God to remove my guilt. It was the most depressing few months of my life.

*****

5 years later I do not feel anymore shame or guilt over my college life. It’s not because I’ve had a great spiritual moment where I repented of my sin and finally learned to get it all right. Heck, I’ll never get it all right. No, rather, instead I finally admitted that I had been spiritually abused, and I finally realized that I had been programed to feel guilty just for watching a freakin’ movie.

“The truth will set you free.”

The process of learning the truth at a healing level has been slow and rocky, but underneath it all I can feel the truth rushing through me.

I am His beloved.

The Truth About Sheltering Your Kids: Ralph’s Story

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

I was raised in a family where homeschooling wasn’t just the preferred method of education, but the only right one. Homeschooling was a way of life or a lifestyle if you will and everything revolved around my parents’ opinion of what God’s will was.  Other than AYSO soccer, I had no social contact outside of church, family, and the homeschool umbrella group until I went to community college. This was when I discovered that I was socially retarded (yes that’s a technical term).

The religious sheltering of my childhood was only made more extreme and miserable by the international homeschool conglomerate cult ATI (Advanced Training Institute) aka IBLP (Institute of Basic Life Principles) run by ‘his eminence’ Bill Gothard. I won’t go into too many details of how involved my family was with this group or how many times we went to the IBLP seminars or the national conference in Knoxville Tennessee. But even at a young age I can remember wondering what the point was of all the putting on of shows, the mass gatherings, and the ridiculous dress code which looks nearly identical to that of the Mormons.

Besides the endless hypocrisy of Mr. Gothard’s teachings, the suppression of children’s natural instinct to ask questions of things that don’t make sense, and the plain and simply false teachings that go against recorded history and scientific fact — the most damaging moment of my experience with this group and quite possibly of my childhood (ironic that at the age of 20 both my parents and I still considered me a child) was when I attended the ALERT Academy. ALERT stands for Air Land Emergency Resource Team, but is really nothing more than a glorified boy scout troop; often referred to by some as ‘Gothard’s boy scouts’.

The main point they tried to drive home to their ‘trainees’ (typically 16-18 years old) was that no matter what adversity or difficulty you are facing, either physical, mental, or spiritual, all you need to do is cry out to God and he will get you through it. The way they taught us to do this with the physical aspect was by hiking with 60-80 pound back packs at nothing short of a speed-walk pace which often turned into a jog for miles on end without ever disclosing how far or long we were going.

Again, I won’t go into too many details but the ‘physical training’ done at ALERT made Basic Combat Training feel like a summer camp when I joined the Army years later. During this abusive level of physical training I ended up spraining my back which caused horrible pain during these hikes, but as I was told, “just ask God to make the pain go away and you will make it through.” Needless to say this was not a satisfactory answer to me and I ‘developed an attitude’ according to the leadership there.

I eventually was kicked out with them citing a ‘prideful spirit’ as the root cause of my problems.

This explanation is truly only scratching the surface of my experience at ALERT, but I don’t really want to turn this into an book. A few years later I found myself thinking that being a youth pastor might be a good path for me to take. So I attended a Christian college to begin studying for this purpose. However it didn’t take long from being out of my parents immediate control and having even a tiny taste of independence and freedom to begin rethinking everything I had ever been taught. Of course this did not happen without some outside influence.

After years of hearing my mother rail against psychology as nothing but excuses and philosophy as a way of opening your mind to Satan, I decided to take some classes and ended up majoring in both. She was partially right about something, philosophy does open your mind, but not to an imaginary evil gremlin whose ultimate goal is to enslave humanity. It simply opens the mind to new ideas and not being close minded.

To this day my parents curse my philosophy professor for ‘leading me astray’.

Some may say I’m just another typical example of how the devil can take possesion of people through exposure to worldly things. The truth is if you shelter your kids from ‘the real world’ they are going to wonder what you are keeping from them and many will run at the first chance they get. If philosophy, being the love of knowledge by definition, is so evil, then what are you saying by telling people to stay away from it?

I’m pretty sure there is a word to describe the rejection of knowledge; it is called ignorance.

After years of rebuilding my beliefs and life I have come to clarity. I realize my parents were raising children, and while this is typically what people say, I believe the mentality of child rearing needs to change.

Stop ‘raising children’, start raising responsible and educated adults who will not only be beneficial to society, but understand how to be a part of it.