My brother posted this article on Facebook yesterday. It’s long but worth a read if you’re interested in homeschooling or some of the cultural effects of it. I started reading it and I was completely astonished. I was homeschooled my whole life. I was part of this subculture, pulled into this life against my will but somehow I never knew that there might be thousands of us who had done what I did. It never occurred to me that there might be a movement of kids raised across a spectrum of abuse or neglect simply because no one was watching. Not all of this article applies to me. A great deal of it doesn’t. We were raised in a strange in between place. My parents didn’t try to keep pop culture out of our lives, they didn’t believe they were inviting Satan into our homes if we watched a movie. They loved movies, they loved books. Our watching and reading habits were strictly controlled, of course but it wasn’t about Satan, it was about political agendas and what was “appropriate.” I didn’t grow up culturally unaware. I loved culture, I spoke the language fairly fluently, especially by the time I got into high school. Although questions of modesty and shame weredefinitely on the table a great deal of the time, they never took the form of denim skirts or how long my hair needed to be. My parents considered themselves to be pretty reasonable Christians and, compared to some that I knew, they were.
There’s a lot in this article that I could talk about but the thing that really stuck out to me was several paragraphs in.
James Dobson would become the most persuasive champion of homeschooling, encouraging followers to withdraw their children from public schools to escape a “godless and immoral curriculum.” For conservative Christian parents, endorsements didn’t come any stronger than that.
I was startled to read that. I don’t know why. Like a lot of things, it seems naive. I knew that it had been my mother’s idea to homeschool us. My father had not initially been on board but she had convinced him and he says that now he’s very glad she did, in spite of the fact that it’s one thing that all three of the kids seem to agree is not something we’re grateful for. For some reason it just never occurred to me to ask where my mom got the idea. It never crossed my mind that someone gave her marching orders. I was surprised at how angry I found myself.
I’ve spent most of my life trying to unravel my mother, figure out who she was. While we’ve never had much of a relationship, I think I’ve managed to get a pretty good picture of what things were probably like for her when she was young (my age), getting married, having children. My terrified, insecure, closed off mother. Who as far as I can tell has always been overwhelmed with fear of everything. Of being a bad mother, of her past, of her future, of being close to people, of losing people, of being open. Of the huge world outside full of bad things that could suck her back in, that could destroy her children. I can so clearly picture her listening to or reading Dr. Dobson telling her that this was the thing, this was the fix. If you homeschool your children, you can protect them from the Very Bad Things. This will keep them from the evil schools, from the terrible agendas. This will guarantee that you raise good children, happy children. Moneyback guarantee, you will have perfect godly children. This is how you ensure you don’t screw up your kids, this is how you keep everyone safe from all those Terrible Things. That’s my mother’s language. Playing on her fears, playing on everything she believes lives in the dark. It’s knowing those things are there that she thinks keeps her safe. For years those things were the only things I knew.
And you see how it works, don’t you? You see how it falls apart, how cruel of a joke it is? My mother, who was never cut out to be a teacher, who was never cut out to have children around her 24 hours a day, sets off to do the thing. She sets off to teach us because the point isn’t in what you give us, it’s in what you keep us safe from. It’s everything she had, the only thing she had was her fear and her certainty and she threw herself into it. She would protect us from the wolves. It’s just that it was hard. It’s just that we were so demanding and 24 hours a day was so much. It’s just that she wasn’t prepared for a daughter, wasn’t prepared for how it would remind her of herself and how that would break her. She just started pulling back. She taught us to read and write and tried desperately to teach us math. Hours and hours of screaming and crying at a table and why was she failing? Why were her obviously smart children refusing to learn what was so easy for her? Her daughter rebels, just like she was most afraid she would but not in the ways she thought and there’s just nothing she can do. She pulls back and pulls back. Her children grow up and become liberals. Her daughter stops speaking to them. Do you see? She did everything right. She did everything exactly as she was told, she sacrificed so much and it didn’t work. What is the only conclusion to draw from that? When you are already broken and you’re already so certain you are a failure as a mother and a person? You’ve failed even more. You broke the fool-proof thing. Your children are lost and it’s all your fault. She learned the wrong lesson. It’s like a lifetime of learning every single wrong lesson. And my brothers and I are the ones who pay for it.
I am bad at being angry. Bad at expressing it, bad at feeling it. I know that what Dobson did doesn’t take away my mother and father’s responsibility. They still made their calls, their own decisions. But I still feel a lot of rage thinking about it. How dare he? What made him think he had the right? He stood up there and played on people’s fears and told scared and hurting people to make their children afraid, to hurt them more. I know he wouldn’t see it that way. I know he believed he was doing what God wanted. But how do you take the ear of that entire subculture and encourage that radical of a move and not think before you speak? My story is mild compared to what a lot of people suffered. Ongoing abuse, serious neglect. I’m not saying that these kids would have had amazing home lives if they went to school but there is at least a chance that someone might have noticed. It’s the isolation that kills you, sometimes more than all the rest. It’s not having any way of knowing that there’s anything outside of this tiny square and the walls are closing in and if you fight, if you kick or scream or tell anyone, you lose everything. You lose the people you love, you probably will go to hell. Hell is a real place and it’s reserved for gay people and Wiccans and people who walk away from their parents. Telling someone can literally put your soul in jeopardy. There are few more compelling guns to the head than that. That’s assuming you even have the ability, the words or the voice to tell anyone. The only thing you know is always the only thing you know. Normality is relative and finding words to explain that you’re suffocating is not nearly as easy as you’d think. I was in my 20’s before I could say out loud “my dad was not a good dad.” The simplest things make the world fall apart. Homeschooling is a part of what makes the world so much smaller.
So I’m angry. I haven’t really been angry at my parents for this for a while, it just seemed so pointless. But I’m angry at the idea that someone played off their worst fears to make them crazier, to make them hurt more, to drag us all down into this. And apparently, according to this article, I’m not alone. There are thousands of us.