Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Rejecting “Homeschool Apostates” and Alumni Reaching Out: First Generation Homeschoolers Must See, Hear and Speak No Evil (Part III)

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Understanding the threat of painful truth: First generation homeschoolers followed an ideological system to protect their children that tragically resulted in their harm.

As a consequence, many
resist confronting the problems and will reject the Second Generation Adult (SGA) to avoid the terrible pain and grief.

The parents try to survive the pain of consequences of heavy price that they paid personally to achieve the promise of safety and benefit for their families.  

Even more painful for them to consider is the great cost that they inadvertently passed on to their children who are now adults.

Part III in a Series
  • Part I   (Sarah Hunt on homeschooling problems)
  • Part II  (Scapegoating the SGA in Sex Scandals)
  • Part IV (Accommodating Perspective of the SGA)
  • Part V  (Becoming a Safe Person for the SGA)
  • Part VI (What Old Guard Parents Must Realize)

This Dangerdust chalkboard notes that we all engage in fighting either for or against something in life. Evangelical Christians in the Seventies and the Eighties became First Generation pioneers of homeschooling for the most noble of reasons. They believed strongly that they fought for faith, family, and country – for the world would be redeemed by those they would send out into the world. And they fought to claim and defend their freedom in the early years, long before anyone dreamed of k12.com (education via internet at home via free public or private school options).

These pioneer parents braved new and sometimes terrifying territory to clear the trail for those who would follow them. It was a holy cause that yeilded the added benefit of a better education for their children than the public system could provide through the “government schools.” But no one wants to learn in hindsight that they made mistakes. The motive of achieving something selfless and grand through sacrifice makes those mistakes even more painful to note. The idea that anything negative was passed on to their children in the process becomes unthinkable, considering that everthing was meant to benefit them. Adding to that pain is the seldom noted benefits that homeschooling afforded the parents themselves – benefits and warm fuzzies that they don't wish to relinquish.

This reluctance to deal with the painful truths prompts articles like this critical one with 20 messages that the “Old Guard” (the First Generation) needs to hear and heed. As Heather Doney declares and pleads on her blog Becoming Worldly:
I know that most of the people who helped create this mess likely did not intend to build something that would ever be used to hurt kids, and most would have been outright horrified if they’d known that something they started in good faith was seen and then used as a weak point for extremists to exploit and widen so big that they could practically drive a freight train through our society. The thing is, this happened. This is real. It sucks but it is serious and we have got to fix it. Us as former homeschoolers and homeschooling parents.

When Motive Fails

I am reminded of a grandfather who went to a church of mine many years ago. He drove a truck for a family business in the area and had a perfect driving record. A devoted and loving father and grandfather, one day, tragedy struck his life. A little boy ran out into the street abruptly one day, this good man hit him, and the child died. For all of his love for children and his lifetime of fine performance, none of it could undo the pain and loss of the mother whose child lay dead in the street that day. It was the last thing this dear man would ever intend for any child, yet he happened to be the man driving the truck that day in a busy, bustling city that he loved. His desire to do only good and his grief didn't make things any easier for the child's grief-stricken mother. It struck our church with grief as well.

I think that this analogy is more kind than it should be to many homeschoolers, but appropriate for most followers of the ideology that was sold to them as a foolproof lifestyle. Many of the leader “visionaries” didn't have track records like this truck driver I knew. They had little concern for the consequences of their whims. Liken the driver to the pioneer homeschooler. Liken the disenfranchised adult child of homeschooling to the mother who lost so much (through their youth, their health, and perhaps a good education). Or in the case of those like Sean Paddock, Lydia Schatz, and Hana Williams, liken the abused homeschooled child to the poor boy who died in the street. For too many, the consequences of homsechooling have been tragic in terms of abuse, neglect, and even educational neglect.

As the harbingers of goodness and the great ambassadors for all that is good, our outcomes should be good and not tragic, though we cannot avoid it in life. However, we have too many problems from within this community of Christians who do fall into neglect and abuse – that is taught to them as a religious duty.

Depending on the messenger, tragic problems in terms of both abuse and neglect that never come to light haunt homeschooling. There are no mechanisms in place to identify the problems in many cases in many states, nor are the First Generation pioneers very interested in finding them. We have no way of measuring them. And abuse cases often become private matters in family court, so they are not reported – like cases of renal insufficiency that don't result in death. Remember that the public only knows about Zariah Schatz because her sister Lydia died. The Zariahs don't get reported unless those who have first hand knowledge of events report them. People are too ashamed to report them for their own sake, and they believe that it creates too much bad press for homeschooling...and Christianity as a whole.

The Understanding the SGAs of Homeschooling

I became acutely aware of the First and Second Generation Adult within or post-homeschooling when working with Hillary McFarland in the preparation of Quivering Daughters. SGAs, the “quivering daughters” themselves, loved the drafts. Their First Generation mother pioneers hated it far more often than not – and I had not anticipated the reaction at all. After the book was published, even after editing by a mother of younger daughters (and theonomist to boot), the negative reactions of most mothers remained just as strong. A dear friend of mine who homeschooled a house full of girls but was not too heavily involved with the patriarchy movement said that it was painful for her to read. There are always ways that you let your children down, especially as a young and inexperienced parent.

When I attended the International Cultic Studies Association annual meeting in 2012, I heard a speaker named Masoud Banisadr, a Terhan born engineer who was a former member of an Iranian terrorist organization. He spoke about the terrible toll that membership in the group took on his relationship with his neglected family. Though he loves his two grown children dearly, as adults, they resent him for putting their needs behind those of what he saw as his holy calling at the time. Bearing his soul before a group of friends, associates, and strangers, he talked with moving transparency about his profound regret and sorrow.

Yet, he took full responsibility for the problems, patiently waiting while his adult children struggle with their rage and the deficits that they bear as SGAs. There isn't much else that he can do until they figure things out for themselves. He spoke of the needs of the SGA, understanding that they had much to work through in their own right, regarding ideology and their own identity as individuals and as a part of their family. I must admit that I coveted the understanding and wisdom that he held regarding his children, wishing that my own parents could have that much of their own, if only for an hour. (I present like and identify with the SGA.) I started to realize just how much my own perspective needed to stretch and grow – and it's still an ongoing process for me. I'm still working on finding the answers, just like Masoud.

(Read more about Masoud at his website and via his book.)

Homeschooling's Apostates

When Kathryn Joyce's article in the American Prospect, profiling the “apostates,” I was shocked that a dear friend started to distance herself from me. She called to let me know that she was taking me off of her social media because she couldn't let anyone know that we associated with one another. She would not be able to face her community of homeschooling moms if they knew that we were in contact. I'd started posting comments at sites hosted by many mentioned in the article. I heard the term “sour grapes” over and over, and these would be “apostates” were likened to Hillary's book.

I was confused, because Ezekiel 18 uses this to explain that children would not pay the penalty for their parents' wrongdoing – that each person was responsible for answering for their own sins. After the Aesop's Fable, it can describe the pretense of rejecting something that one really wants but cannot have. As it seems to be applied, it suggests that these disgruntled SGA homeschoolers are angry like petulant children over a few things that have offended them, so they are exaggerating and wrongly rejecting the whole of the system in their anger. Out of the abundance of good fruit that the child was given by homeschooling, as adults, they remember only a very few sour grapes.
In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge. Jeremiah 13:29 / Ezekiel 18:2

Others depict alumni and other SGAs who seek to draw attention to the problems that they believe have gone largely unaddressed as part of a grand conspiracy to destroy homeschooling and to promote public education. And some SGAs who are still following the dictates of the system offer their own harsh criticism of their turncoat alumni critics. They don't understand the efforts as a responsibility to those who are like them who need an advocate and help but as bitter and contentious people who wish to see the practice obliterated out of spite.  They're living out what was taught to them:  they're reaching out to their brothers and sisters.

Most recently, Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out (HARO), the agency responsible for the Homeschoolers Anonymous website, was denied participation with the Great Homeschooling Conventions (GHC) after a previous invitation. Though someone with GHC obviously wished for HARO's involvement, the GHC board did not concur with the appropriateness of their inclusion. Though I have no more information than HARO does, I believe that the rescinded invitation reflects more of the backlash against the criticism of the “Old Guard” from the SGAs who are identified as a rebellious lot of those who wish to see homeschooling tainted and obliterated without just or significant cause. While the initial invitation gives cause for encouragement, the choice to withdraw the invitation demonstrates the need for greater understanding and compassion.

More than a Few Sour Grapes

As Joyce documents, for the SGA, the problems with which they contend are far from just a few sour grapes. As Sarah Hunt and Heather Doney attested in their interviews with Al Jazeera, the problems are debilitating, and some are quite tragic.

As the December 2013 article summarizes, on the heels of the Vision Forum scandal:
As of October, Homeschoolers Anonymous had published nearly 200 personal accounts and attracted more than 600,000 page views. For those outside the homeschooling movement, and for many inside it, the stories are revelatory and often shocking. The milder ones detail the haphazard education received from parents who, with little state oversight, prioritize obedience and religious training over learning. Some focus on women living under strict patriarchal regimes. Others chronicle appalling abuse that lasted for years.

Since the publication of this article, other problems within homeschooling have been reported in the press. Bill Gothard resigns over more than thirty reports of sexual abuse that he allegedly perpetrated at his organization, some involving minors. The New Republic (not Christianity Today) published an article about the neglect and revictimization of sexual assault victims at Patrick Henry College. Press outlets like Vice took notice of problems within Independent Fundamental Baptist institutions as the investigation at Bob Jones University created more drama and reports of abuse at Pensacola Christian College surfaced. These all follow a Daily Beast article about the Sinster Side of Homeschooling.

For those who live with the enduring problems or who have struggled to overcome their deficits due to educational neglect, these examples represent more than a few sour grapes. If it were just a matter of mispronouncing $3 words or having trouble remembering all of the Roman Numerals, it might be sour grapes. But too many perfectly capable and smart adults have to go back to start with third grade level math, have to overcome the tragedy after sexual and physical abuse, and they have to develop the vital critical thinking and life skills that were withheld from them in the name of hierarchal submission to parents as a show of honor.

In closing, I will leave you with the truncated version of Heather Doney's list of the truths that the First Generation Old Guard should hear as a starting place for change – for bringing the First Generation homeschoolers together with their homeschooled SGAs who do seem to have dull teeth from the sour grapes that their parents chose to feed them – with the best of intentions.  May all prove to be both good and great.
  • Change is inevitable and some change is sorely needed.
  • Homeschooling was hijacked under your watch.
  • This child abuse problem is a built-in homeschooling design flaw.
  • Children’s rights are not compatible with your children “belonging” to you.
  • You personally benefitted from something that hurt kids.
  • You helped perpetuate harmful myths. 
  • Questioning you is not abusing or disrespecting you.
  • Deflecting to your “public school problems” talking points when speaking with former homeschool kids gets you nowhere.
  • Y’all got the socialization thing quite wrong, so stop saying socialization is not a problem.
  • You need to be open to homeschool kids’ true stories of bad homeschooling.
  • You are not the victims here.
  • You cannot disavow us.
  • You cannot claim us as “successes.”
  • Misleading and “liar stats” do not help your case.
  • If you are defending an institution sooner than defending flesh-and blood people who are hurting and could use your help, you have lost your way.
  • If you care about children’s rights, you need to champion the effort to address child abuse within homeschooling.
  • You need to support outside protections for children or this won’t get better.
  • You need to have awkward conversations in order to confront the issues.
  • Not all less-than-perfect parenting or structured childrearing is abuse. 
  • Doing these aforementioned problematic things does not mean you are a “bad person.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

For more information about the SGA and the bounded choice to which all people in a “totalist institution” suffer, read more about it in the series at Spiritual Sounding Board.
    • Part II discusses bounded choice faced by all in a totalist group.
    • Part III explores the additional constraints and limitations that the SGA faces when seeking to free themselves from both difficult situations and from a high demand group itself.
    • When available, Part IV in the series will explore the specific constraints of SGAs within the Quiverfull/Patriarchy Movement.

Check back for Part IV
concerning how to expand your perception.
How can the First Generation homeschooler make room for the SGA?