Homeschool Confidential, A Series: Part One

Homeschool Confidential, A Series

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

*****

Part One: Leaving Generation Joshua

“Generation Joshua wants America to be a perpetual city on a hill, a beacon of biblical hope to the world around us.  We seek to inspire every one of our members with faith in God and a hope of what America can become as we equip Christian citizens and leaders to impact our nation for Christ and for His glory.”

~ William A. Estrada, Esq., Director of Generation Joshua

The story that follows is a cautionary tale.

"There is a pattern emerging. And that pattern has a story that needs to be told."

“There is a pattern emerging. And that pattern has a story that needs to be told.”

It is the story of a generation, overwhelmed and frightened by the 1960’s and 70’s, that wanted to create an isolated bubble in which to raise kids untouched by the chaos and depravity of the American world. It is the story of a generation that partied so hard that, ashamed of its doings, wanted its progeny to not do the things it did. It is a story of how you can so easily throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water — or, put another way, how babies always grow up and have to make their own decisions, no matter how hard their parents try to avoid that day.

***

This story is not meant to antagonize people, though it will surely antagonize many. It is not meant to attack anyone, but it will involve some serious disagreements. This story is first and foremost a personal statement of my personal experience — my experience of the conservative, Christian, homeschooling subculture in which I grew up.

I didn’t just grow up in the subculture. I was one of its most outspoken advocates and champions. I wasn’t merely a conservative, Christian homeschooler. I was raised and groomed to be a model for its tenets, an inspiration for my peers, and someone who trained my peers to also be advocates and champions.

I have struggled most of my life with sorting through everything I experienced as a homeschooler. Not the education, mind you — I can read, think, write, speak, and debate. But as I have been increasingly dealing with major depression, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, and all sorts of other problems, I have been reflecting on my childhood. And I realize that the pressures put on me by the conservative, Christian homeschooling subculture have contributed significantly to my problems today.

It’s not the conservatism or the Christianity or the homeschooling, per se. It’s not my family. But it’s the combination of everything and especially my years in the homeschool speech and debate league that made me who I am. And lately I’ve been talking to other people who went through the same things. And I am starting to see patterns. I am starting to hear stories. Stories of pressure, control, self-hating, self-harming, and even abuse — emotional, physical, and sexual.

I am starting to hear that I am not alone in my problems.

Everyone, of course, has a different experience, even those who were homeschooled. Some of us were in the Home School Legal Defense Association. Some of us did speech and debate, while others did Teen Pact or Teen Mania. Some of us did Creation Science seminars; others did not. Some of us grew up in Quiverfull homes, or homes dedicated to Josh Harris’ model of courtship, or even betrothal homes. Some of us were allowed to date. We all have different experiences. Some of us are atheists now, or agnostics, or Buddhists, or still Christians. Some of us are liberal; others are conservative.

But there is a pattern emerging. And that pattern has a story that needs to be told.

***

What you might not know about conservative, Christian homeschoolers is that we are actually a smart bunch. Unlike the completely ridiculous cultural stereotype, many of us received more than adequate socialization. We had park days, sports teams, missions trips, and political rallies. We had drama clubs and the Bible verse memorization club AWANA — but more than that, many of us were in speech and debate leagues, moot court, summer camps dedicated to worldview training, and all sorts of other activities meant to make us articulate defenders and proponents of our beliefs.

We were, in fact, probably able to school our secular peers in argumentation and public speaking. And that was no coincidence. There is a vast, well-organized machine that yearly churns out advocates of the conservative, Christian, homeschooling viewpoint.  We were part of the so-called “Generation Joshua,” the new generation meant to reclaim America for the glory of the Christian god.

To my subculture, Generation Joshua means two things. First, it is a Christian youth organization founded in 2003 by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), created to train children to be activists for conservative candidates who support pro-life and otherwise socially conservative platforms. But more importantly, Generation Joshua is a metaphor. It is a rallying cry based on a jumbled amalgam of biblical stories with the purpose of inspiring conservative parents and their kids.

In the Old Testament, the Egyptians held the Israelites in captivity. The Hebrew God chose Moses to lead the Israelites out of captivity and into the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. But the Israelites and Moses disobeyed God on numerous occasions, so God made them wander in the wilderness for forty years, banning them from ever entering the Promised Land. But God had compassion on them, and chose a member of the next generation, Joshua, to lead the Israelites’ children into that land of milk and honey.

While this story is considered by academics and exegetes to be a straightforward historical narrative, conservative Christians have transformed it into a metaphor for the United States. In this metaphor, the Israelites are U.S. citizens. The U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, but the forces of secularism have held us in captivity as the U.S. progressed. So God — now the God of Republican, conservative Christians — chose homeschooling parents to lead the U.S. away from its godlessness and back to its Christian roots. But the parents were once part of that secularism, so God will not allow them to see the fruits of their labor. God has nonetheless shown compassion towards their efforts, so the parents’ children are the new Joshuas. These children are to be trained in God’s original plan for the U.S. to be a Christian nation, and they will grow up to invade all levels of the U.S. government and society and reclaim the U.S. for Republican, conservative Christianity.

To this end, all aspects of a homeschooled child’s life are to be tailored to this vision. Every effort is made to ensure that the children become full-fledged advocates of this viewpoint. You see, many conservatives fear one thing almost more than everything else, including Bill Clinton and abortion: that their kids will grow up and disagree with them. There is an enormous apparatus in place to prevent that calamity. There are books, videos, seminars, and camps dedicated to keep kids in line with their parents’ ideology. One of the most talked about and feared statistics every year is how many kids gave up on their parents’ beliefs once they go off to college. This statistic will go viral everywhere. It will terrify parents, reinforce their mission, and inspire them to push and brainwash harder, faster, stronger. You don’t want to be that parent — the parent with the bad seed, the apostate.

It can be a major embarrassment and shame or alienate parents or families out of their long-trusted circles. “The family that has the atheist kid?” Or, “The family that has that girl who got pregnant?” “Surely they raised their kid wrong. Let’s not associate with them anymore.”

It kills relationships.

To be clear, there are many kind, sincere, and well-meaning members of this subculture. There are parents who believe and know they can offer their children a better education than public schools; or who withdraw their kids due to personal handicaps, bullying, or other real and serious complications; or who are capable of teaching their kids to think for themselves instead of merely indoctrinating them.

That I am even writing this is itself a testament to both homeschooling as well as the power of human experience to triumph over human doctrine. I can read, write, reflect, and self-reflect. Much of that is due to a good education.

Much more, however, is due to the continual wrestling my mind had to do with everything in homeschooling that is not education — the attitudes, culture, worldview, and underlying biases that often are more important to homeschooling than the education itself. If homeschooling in a conservative, Christian environment was merely a parent rather than a publicly licensed stranger teaching me 1+1=2, I would not be writing this.  But I am writing this, and that is because, where I grew up, 1+1=2 because God is a protestant Christian deity who wants us to reclaim a fallen United States of America for His glory.

***

As I slowly and painfully extricated myself from this world in which I grew up, I felt very alone. But the more I broke free and was willing to not just admit to others my differences in opinion but admit to myself I was changing (often the harder task, as I still fear that maybe I am wrong and thereby will be burned alive for eternity in God’s hell fire), I found that I was not alone. I would hear from increasingly large numbers of my peers, my former students, and even my former teachers that they, too, had or are trying to break free.

I had always been a rabble-rouser in homeschooling circles, but one from within being self-critical. So I am not unfamiliar with making waves and being chastised. So to take a significant, real break from this community is terrifying. But once I finally took a stand, I realized — sometimes, someone just needs to have the courage to say what others have been hoping to hear.

I think, for a lot of us, we are afraid to say what we feel, to say that we have changed. A lot of our subculture’s message to us was to shut up and get in line. That makes us, even as adults, fearful of a former community’s backlash. We have stuffed our questions and our seeds of discontent for so long that remaining silent has become a habit. Even as adults, we have that inner child who is terrified of saying, “Hey, I’m don’t want to be like that. I want to grow up. I want to have my own beliefs. I want to be my own human being.”

The fact is — I am my own human being. And I always was. I just was raised to not think that way. And I have witnessed with my own eyes, ears, body, and heart so much pain that comes from not acknowledging I am my own person. And I have heard of so many others’ pain. So I cannot keep silent any longer. I will no longer keep my mouth shut and I will no longer play the games of this strange world. While I do not oppose homeschooling in theory, how I have seen it practiced in many ways demands a reckoning.

From the Quiverfull movement to the betrothal/courtship mentality to Generation Joshua and the dominionist attitudes of HSLDA, there are many survivors who — like myself — are trying to put their selves’ pieces back together. We are slowly but surely standing together to make our voices heard. I want the world to hear our stories and I want to give hope to those who are still immersed in this subculture. There is a way to break free and reclaim your self.

So here I am today, deciding to take the leap and be honest about what I experienced and how I have changed.

***

I, Ryan Lee Stollar, long ago left Generation Joshua, and I think you should, too.

***

This is my story, and I hope you will listen and take everything I say with ten to twenty grains of salt.

To be continued.

30 responses to “Homeschool Confidential, A Series: Part One

  1. In the process of leaving this entity that looks like a family and functions like a cult, we learn what it means to think critically. As a survivor of the Advanced Training Institute, I agree wholeheartedly with every word. I turn 40 in September and hope that *maybe* in the next decade I can finally figure out who I am, Who God really is, and what, exactly, He wants from me. Un-enmeshing it all is the greatest challenge I have ever experienced, especially since the man I married comes from the same background and thinks it was perfect.
    Blogs that speak the truth like this encourage me to press on in pursuing truth. Thank you.

    • Simply finding out who you really are is enough. When you do that the other two questions will take care of themselves. You see, part of the trick of religion is to keep you pursuing something other than who you are.
      Get John Huston’s movie “Wise Blood” and watch it. Trust me on this.

  2. Ryan,
    I have been down this path that you write about so articulately. It is the most painful and best thing that I have ever been through. Continue to reach out and build your new community of all of us homeschoolers anonymous.

  3. We were, in fact, probably able to school our secular peers in argumentation and public speaking. And that was no coincidence. There is a vast, well-organized machine that yearly churns out advocates of the conservative, Christian, homeschooling viewpoint. We were part of the so-called “Generation Joshua,” the new generation meant to reclaim America for the glory of the Christian god.

    Storm Troopers for The Handmaid’s Tale?

  4. The U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, but the forces of secularism have held us in captivity as the U.S. progressed. So God — now the God of Republican, conservative Christians — chose homeschooling parents to lead the U.S. away from its godlessness and back to its Christian roots. But the parents were once part of that secularism, so God will not allow them to see the fruits of their labor. God has nonetheless shown compassion towards their efforts, so the parents’ children are the new Joshuas. These children are to be trained in God’s original plan for the U.S. to be a Christian nation, and they will grow up to invade all levels of the U.S. government and society and reclaim the U.S. for Republican, conservative Christianity.

    Everybody:

    THIS IS A CLASSIC GRIEVANCE CULTURE, I.E. A CULTURE WHOSE ONLY REASON FOR EXISTENCE IS TO TAKE REVENGE ON THE “OTHER”. The three axioms of a Grievance Culture’s mythology are as follows:

    1) “Once WE were Lords of All Creation, and Everything Was Perfect!”
    2) “But then THEY came and took it all away from us!”
    3) “IT’S PAYBACK TIME!”

    And (3) knows no limit.

    Think the Confederate States after the Civil War, Germany after World War One, the Palestinians after the founding of Israel.

  5. “While this story is considered by academics and exegetes to be a straightforward historical narrative”

    Sorry, dude, it’s myth. You have to get over believing that it’s actually history. It isn’t.

    “One of the most talked about and feared statistics every year is how many kids gave up on their parents’ beliefs once they go off to college.”

    The surest way to guarantee that your children will give up on the beliefs, i.e. grow up and become their own person, is to cram those beliefs down their throats even harder.

    “(often the harder task, as I still fear that maybe I am wrong and thereby will be burned alive for eternity in God’s hell fire)”

    Isn’t that wonderful? I still deal with that myself. It’s basically impossible to purge oneself of that irrational fear instilled in childhood. And, they know that. Passing it on to you is one way they try to purge themselves of it.

  6. And, oh, academics do not consider it to be a straightforward historical narrative. That’s another lie that’s part of the paradigm. I realize that many academics do, but that’s only because they’re not educated enough in myth and or science. And, who cares what exegetes think? I invite you to read Acharya Sanning’s/D. M. Murdock’s works (The Christ Conspiracy-The Greatest Story Ever Sold, The Suns of God, Christ in Egypt, etc. and Sir James George Frazer’s “The Golden Bough”, the unabridged version. Be aware that many writers, who supposedly are questioning the myth, cannot let it go and also have secondary agendas.

  7. Seriously, people, get John Huston’s movie and Flannery O’Connor’s novel “Wise Blood”. Trust me on this. It’ll cure you. Read Acharya Sanning’s/D. M. Murdock’s books and Sir James George Frazer’s “The Golden Bough”, the unabridged version. If you’re not over religion by then, there’s no hope for you.

  8. I admire what you are doing, but you are painting the huge and diverse homeschooling community with a very narrow brush. I know hundreds of free-thinking homeschool families who have never heard of “Generation Joshua” or the HSLDA. Of course you didn’t meet such people, because your parents went to great lengths to prevent that, but, believe it or not, there are a lot of us out here.

    • We don’t generalize about homeschooling as a method. However, you cannot deny that some homeschooling organizations are abusive and dangerous (ATI, CHEF, Vision Forum, QuiverFull, HSLDA, Generation Joshua, I’d even argue Patrick Henry College is an extension of that). It’s not entirely the fault of mothers without GEDs, who believe they are fulfilling God’s Perfect Plan and “train up their children in the way they should go.” The states require virtually nothing of parents in 23 states and many homeschooling institutions advocate these abusive methods. When I tell you that hundreds of thousands of families attended CHEF conferences across the country, I’m not kidding. These dangerous, fundamentalist ideologies are preached from the pulpits of massive churches in CHEF conferences (maybe not anymore, because I haven’t attended one since I was 17). Bobby Jindal spoke at my homeschool-high school graduation of 30 people – these sorts of homeschoolers basically run the state of Louisiana through his office.

      So in many isolated, insular homeschooling communities (free from municipal, state, of federal oversight), patriarchal men drunk on their own delusions of God’s Will and obsessed with Victorian ideals, are the only oversight. Men do not answer to women, so the only likely criticism would be from another father. And every family is so soaked in their ideals that they don’t take constructive criticism. I remember one occasion where my grand-parents argued with my parents for weeks about giving me a newspaper subscription because, at the age of 10 or 11, I would come over to their house and just read the newspaper. I read an article just yesterday that basically said children shouldn’t “give their hearts” (whatever that means) to their grandparents if they don’t support the parents’ homeschooling plan. I couldn’t help but think that now homeschoolers are being told to shut their children off from even their extended family if they do not support their fundamentalist vision. Did they mean my in situations like my grandparents?

      I believe that many people like you exist, my own sister is one of them. I visited their house as much as I could. Because other homeschoolers were pretty much the only people’s houses I could go into – yes, no visits with the neighbors on my street. In that world, even when those “more normal” homeschooling parents heard about what my parents thought, it’s not like they would ever question my parents about it or give them grief. After all, they too believed God’s authority flowed through the husband-father. I want to make parents like you so angry at parents like mine for ruining homeschooling that you do something for them.

      • I sympathize, but I don’t think there is a homeschooling regulation that can prevent parents from preaching patriarchy or whatever or cutting off less fundamentalist relatives. Doesn’t that happen in conservative Christian school families as well? Painting all homeschoolers with the same brush would be like saying that the fundy elementary school down the street from me is exactly like the private school the Obama girls attend. I guess we could somehow mandate teaching evolution or something, but it is done so poorly (or not at all) even in the public system that around half of Americans disbelieve it, and they certainly weren’t all home educated.

      • The author made it pretty clear that he was describing his experience In a specific sect of homeschooling. How do you see him generalizing?

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  12. It sounds to me like you haven’t put your finger on “the problem” but a lot of homeschoolers have it. Can you articulate it? Is it limited to homeschooling? Or is it the age old problem of parents trying to recreate children in their own image, but never letting them make their own decisions?

    • I don’t think the problem is as much about the parent living vicariously through the homeschooled child, all parents do that to a degree. The issue seems to be more about social and cultural isolation, corporal punishment, beliefs like absolutes black/white (often Biblical literalism), patriarchy, and, as a subset of that, a very authoritarian hierarchy of authority within the family.

      I think these general issues are what you recognize from the american economic elite. However, there is a distinct fundamentalist culture that was pushed through mainstream homeschooling in the 90s and early-2000s. So almost all of us would consider ourselves spiritually abused, which is different from mainstream America. I’m sort of replying to both of your comments, btw.

  13. I think you will find this same problem in upper class Eastern USA families that pressure their kids to be whatever their upper-class parents think they need to be – parents who live vicariously through their kids. Interview the boarding school kids, and you will find the same story. It isn’t home schooling per se. Homers and boarding school kids both tend to come from families with parents who put very high expectations on what they want their kids to be and achieve. It is a common problem for kids of elitists. Homeschooling is just a new outlet for elitism.

  14. I am so sorry that you had such a negative experience! Homeschooling is supposed to be about loving relationships not harsh rules. I grew up in this culture that you are talking about. However, I had a very different experience. Could the issue be more about the parent-child relationship and less about the ideology? In reality every social group has an agenda and propagate that agenda. I’m just so sorry that you felt judged and not loved. I am homeschooling my children but I do also challenge them to think on their own. My older kids occasionally choose opposite views from me to see my reaction. I find it humorous and even cute. They are stretching their wings, forming their own opinions and that is good. I accept their thoughts but also challenge them to defend their position. Love seeing how their minds work. They are my babies, how can I not love them until my last breath?

    • This bothers me: “My older kids occasionally choose opposite views from me to see my reaction. I find it humorous and even cute.”

      Pardon me, but that is just downright patronizing. If I was one of your “many” kids, I probably wouldn’t talk to you much.

      You may be right, however, that they are just trying to see your reaction and don’t REALLY disagree. Yet.

      Me, I didn’t hear the “other side” WELL articulated until my late twenties. My parents made certain that I would grow up in an echo chamber, basically. Even the university I attended was an extension of that.

      Perhaps you would reply that “In reality every social group has an agenda and propagates that agenda.”

      To which I say: Some of us ex-homeschoolers feel rather betrayed. After being faced (for years on end!) with the fact that our parents cared FAR more about our indoctrination than our eventual independence.

      The latter I had to grasp for myself, years too late, and with significant humiliation.

      And I can atttest that any stumbling, when climbing up out of the Homeschooling Hole, is automatically attributed to the young person. The fact that others dug the hole for him is ignored. Or euphemized. “We just wanted to do xyz for you”.

      My mother now tries to “claim” anything I succeed in. She forgets the fact that I don’t see her anymore. She forgets that she tried to get me to reconsider leaving in the first place.

      In her world, whatever I struggled with was my fault, and whatever I’ve succeeded in can only be attributed to herself and her beloved Control System. (Which, btw, I want no part of.)

      MotherofMany, I think one thing you said was true: that homeschooling is SUPPOSED to be about “loving relationships”.

      However, for too many of us, the reality was different from what it was SUPPOSED to be. In my family, homeschooling allowed a naturally dominating woman to morph into a complete control freak.

      The last time I saw her I was sad. For her. I think she could have been more.

  15. I am sorry your experiences with homeschooling left a bad taste. I too experienced some frustration with groups like Teen Pact and NCFCA, but not quite to the degree the author (& some commentators) has experienced. I have witnessed homeschooling families treating their kids the ways you & Nick describe, and I agree, it’s not right, but is this seems to be just the opposite extreme of the negative family stereotypes that come from more secular communities. Christian, homeschooling families can be just as screwed up as non-christian, public/private school families; same story, different problems.

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  17. I’m so sad that the writer, R.L.Stollar, has experienced panic attacks, suicidal tendencies, an absence of unconditional love, etc. I’m praying right now that he’s healed from these terrifying thoughts and feelings.

    It is important to discuss the other side of the coin though. Let’s see how to keep this simple, yet still reveal enough truth. Has anyone in this discussion experienced a secular, liberal, socialist public education? Trust me, compared to what we’re learning about in my house, we were the sheltered students. There was absolutely no mention of the Bible (best selling book of all time ever, by far). Maybe it was mentioned once in world history, but not with any significance whatsoever. We basically pretended it and God did not exist. We evolved from monkeys. We were insignificant little mistaken, not yet perfected specks of nothing in the ever evolving web of life. We should just sit down, shut up, do our homework and we better show up at school so they could all get paid from the state.

    My visions of life was to get out and start a business, accomplish something, see the world, get something done. This was at the age of about 15. Forget it. I had to go to jail every day all day long. Furthermore, if I wanted any money to go and do anything, I had to get a job during most of free time. I was completely clueless about how to run a house when I started a family (which was a complete miracle in itself). I knew not one man who was worth marrying, much less having children with and who in their right mind would bring kids into this mess anyway?! I was continually hallucinating from all of the recreational drugs I took, having severe panic attacks that I thought would never end, and asked God (if he was up there) to help me. Eventually, he did. All of it subsided and there will be healing for you too. To everything there is a season. Please don’t doubt God’s existence. The Bible is true. Those are the only two things that you can rely on in this life. All the rest is human error. The childhood sexual abuse, the hateful names my father called me, the overall lack of concern for my safety, is all just a blip in the timeframe of eternity; and so are your backaches.

    My story sounds a lot like yours, doesn’t it? I just have different issues to be resentful of. Trust me, God is real. Your parents just had a bad example and never learned how to help you see the truth for yourself. The destruction that occurs from rampant sinful behavior is so devastating that they didn’t want one ounce of it for their beloved children. They didn’t want you to have to go through what they did. It’s a shame they tried too hard and left you with the same torture that they may have experienced (if it was anything like mine). One of these generations will get it right, hopefully. If not at least we have heaven to look forward to. If they taught you that you’re not forgiven when you ask for it, then they really are mistaken. I’m praying everyone here understands that our Creator and Saviour is merciful and loving. There is no specific way to live out our love for him. It can look so different. There are probably as many ways to live the life of a true believer as there are believers on this planet. I’m sorry you experienced such devastatingly rigid parenting. Honestly, it frees me up to be the parent I’ve been all along and I can definitely stop feeling like I’m not “as good as” all of these perfect homeschoolers who seem to have their shorts wound up in a ridiculous bundle. On a daily basis, I’m completely astounded at what is supposedly absolutely necessary to accomplish in this life according to many other mom’s I come in contact with. So thank you and please accept my encouragement the a better season is in store for you as your progress through this life. If you continue to believe in God, though, things might not get much easier. We are at war, after all. It just doesn’t have to be fought on someone else’s terms anymore. Welcome to adulthood.

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