By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
Since we launched Homeschoolers Anonymous, we’ve received all sorts of questions. Some of these questions are asked more frequently than others. So we are creating a FAQ (frequently asked questions) series. We will be addressing some of the common questions we hear and then compiling our answers on our website for easy access. This way, when we hear the same questions again (and trust us, we will), we can direct people to our pre-written answers.
Today I will be addressing probably the most common question: Why are we called “Homeschoolers Anonymous”?
While this question is common, it is asked for two different reasons. On the one hand, some people are asking this question in this way: Why are we named after Alcoholics Anonymous?
On the other hand, some people are wondering something entirely different: Why are we just “Homeschoolers” Anonymous and not something more specific, like “Christian Homeschoolers” Anonymous?
Since both of these are questions about our name, I will address them in the same FAQ. I will start with the Alcoholics Anonymous side.
Isn’t It Unfair to Compare Homeschoolers to Alcoholics?
A number of people object to our name, “Homeschoolers Anonymous,” because of its similarity to an addiction recovery group called “Alcoholics Anonymous” (AA). (I am not sure why everyone seems to only bring up AA. There are other addiction recovery groups that end with “Anonymous,” peoples!) So these people will ask something like, “Why are you naming yourself after Alcoholics Anonymous? Isn’t it not only a hasty generalization, but also just really mean and unfair, to compare homeschooling parents to alcoholics? Do you really think homeschooling is as bad as substance abuse?“
The simplest response to this is: We are not named after Alcoholics Anonymous.
I will explain what we are named after later in this post. But I am not content with telling you, “You just entirely missed the point.” As an academic debater, I cannot resist but go the extra step of deconstructing this whole objection.
Let us postulate, just for fun, that we are named after Alcoholics Anonymous.
Let’s think about this a little bit further, shall we?
1. The name “Alcoholics Anonymous” does not necessarily condemn alcohol.
There are many addiction recovery groups. For example, there is Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and Sexaholics Anonymous. These groups exist because some people have addiction problems to the object mentioned in the name of the group. But theoretically, the object mentioned is neutral. Alcohol can be good (drinking a glass of wine with dinner is scientifically considered healthy) or bad (getting blacked-out drunk 5 nights a week is scientifically considered unhealthy). Gambling can be also be good or bad. Same with sex. These groups’ names do not condemn alcohol, gambling, or sex. They condemn the abuse of those things.
If we were named after an addiction recovery group, therefore (and we are not), this would not automatically imply that homeschooling is bad. In fact, what it would imply would actually be very apt: that when you misuse or abuse homeschooling, you need accountability.
2. If we used “Homeschoolers Anonymous” as analogous to “Alcoholics Anonymous,” our analogy just wouldn’t make sense.
One reason why we simply cannot be named after an addiction recovery group is because “Alcoholics Anonymous,” for example, is a group for alcoholics. It is not (primarily) a group for the children of alcoholics, or those people who are processing a culture of alcoholism. If we were named after Alcoholics Anonymous, we would be primarily an accountability group for parents who have a tendency to misuse or abuse homeschooling.
But we are a group of former homeschool students, not parents. Granted, we have parents involved here. We appreciate them very much. But we cannot make an analogy to addiction recovery groups because, in that our focus is on the stories of people impacted by the misuse or abuse of homeschooling by people other than us, the analogy does not make sense.
“But Ryan,” you might object, “that’s not how people always use the concept of ______ Anonymous!” And I agree. Which brings me to my next point.
3. Culturally speaking, “______ Anonymous” is not necessarily a negative concept.
When you use the phrase, “______ Anonymous” (and feel free to fill in the blank with whatever you want, it can imply a negative concept. Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, implies some people have a problem with abusing alcohol. But haven’t you heard someone say something like, “We should create Snowboarders Anonymous!” That is a very different use of the phrase “______ Anonymous,” isn’t it?
The fact is, when we look at pop culture, the idea of attaching “Anonymous” after a noun can mean all sorts of things. It can be a sign of positivity, or love, for something. When people really, really like something, and there are a decent amount of people that like that something, it is very common to suggest that one should “make a club,” and then call that club, “_______ Anonymous.”
For example, do you love homeschooling?
Are you unabashed in your love for homeschooling? Are you willing to admit that love in public?
Then maybe you and others like you should make a group called “Homeschoolers Anonymous.”
Now that I phrase it like that, that phrasing might have rung a bell, or jarred a memory. Because the fact is, homeschoolers themselves have been making jokes about creating their own Homeschoolers Anonymouses for decades. As a positive thing.
In fact, this decades-old tendency of homeschoolers themselves leads me to my next point.
4. We are not the first Homeschoolers Anonymous.
Homeschoolers have joked about, and made loving references to, making their own Homeschoolers Anonymouses for a long time. For example, back when all of us Christian homeschool debaters were on Xanga, there was a Xanga group called Homeschoolers Anonymous. It was created in February of 2004, and it had a lot of members (627) for a Xanga group.
Here is the group’s own description:
Yes…we’re homeschooled. Any homeschooler can join. But my question is this…do you really want to admit you are homeschooled? We in the Homeschoolers Anonymous blogring have broken through to a new level…admiting we are, in fact, homeschooled. Come fellow homeschoolers, join and we will get through our homeschooled years together. “You do what? How do you socialize with other kids?” We homeschool … we aren’t social outcasts, you idiot.
Notice that (1) these are homeschoolers who are positive about their homeschooling, and are (2) intentionally co-opting the whole “support group” imagery themselves. They are owning, and consequently inverting, some of the popular, negative stereotypes about homeschooling.
Those are homeschooling students. But what about homeschooling parents? In 2009, homeschooling parents themselves fondly referred to themselves as Homeschoolers Anonymous, in the context of an online forum support group. On Whole Woman, a support group thread entitled Homeschoolers Anonymous was introduced in a positive light:
Come and share the journey!
But the most prominent cultural reference of Homeschoolers Anonymous comes from Harvard University itself. Yeah, Harvard. The following is from The Harvard Crimson in 2006, from an article entitled “Homeschoolers A Small But Growing Minority: Harvard ‘Homeschoolers Anonymous’ takes flight”:
A group of homeschoolers at Harvard banded together last year to form an official student organization, Homeschoolers Anonymous. The founder and president, Stephen T. Norberg ’06, says he created the club to help freshmen transition from homeschooled backgrounds to college. The club, which has 26 Facebook.com members, aims to dispel some of the misconceptions surrounding homeschooling, he says.
Emphasizing that the club’s title has no connection with self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, the Kansas City, Mo., native says he picked the name to make fun of the stereotype that all homeschoolers lack social skills and need support to enter society.
Notice, once again, that (1) these are homeschoolers who are positive about their homeschooling, and are (2) intentionally co-opting the whole “support group” imagery themselves.
(By the way: I would like to point out that the same people that object that our calling ourselves “Homeschoolers Anonymous” would probably have loved these other groups calling themselves the same name. So I would question whether they actually have a problem the name itself or if they merely object to us raising problems and critiques.)
It is part of the homeschooling tradition, in which we were all raised, to own, and consequently invert and mock, the popular, negative stereotypes about homeschooling. We were trained in this skill of inversion.
This brings us to our big reveal:
5. Homeschoolers Anonymous is a homeschool geek culture reference to this tradition of forming Homeschoolers Anonymouses, not a reference to addiction recovery groups.
We have named ourselves not in reference to any addiction recovery groups but in reference to our own culture’s tendency to invert references to addiction recovery groups. I know that might sound a bit meta — but hey, we’re homeschoolers! We get meta.
This is our inner homeschool geek showing itself: we are inverting an inversion.
We are not co-opting addiction recovery; we are co-opting the skills of inversion that were used to marginalize concerns about the misuse and abuse of homeschooling. We are using those same skills to now say, “Wait a second. These concerns should have been taken seriously. Not all homeschoolers are now going to Harvard, or even going to college period. There actually are some problems, and we should be addressing those.”
That is why we are named Homeschoolers Anonymous.
Why Don’t You Specify “Christian” In Your Name?
When people ask us why we do not have a more specific name, like “Christian Homeschoolers Anonymous,” I actually have no critique of this question in itself. In fact, I totally get it.
It’s not just me. We all get it. Not all homeschoolers are Christians. Not all Christian homeschoolers are fundamentalists. Not all fundamentalist Christian homeschoolers adhere to things like Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull. Not all Christian Patriarchical Quiverfull fundamentalist homeschoolers value their ideologies more than their children’s well-being.
We get it.
We grew up in this world. We probably get this fact more than you do.
The difficulty is that, the more specific we get it, the more unwieldy the title becomes. And not only does the title get more unwieldy, it also does not solve the problem. If we were “Christian Homeschoolers Anonymous,” the problem is still there: in the same way that that not all homeschoolers are bad, not all Christian homeschoolers are bad. And so on.
If we called ourselves Christian Patriarchical Quiverfull Fundamentalist Homeschoolers Anonymous, our title — CPQFHA — would be kind of ridiculous. But it is also inaccurate: what about modesty and purity culture? Modesty and purity culture problems exist in more than just the identified subculture. And so on about other problems we have identified that this does not include.
Now, we could put something like “abused” in the title — for example, “Abused Homeschoolers Anonymous,” or “Abused Christian Homeschoolers Anonymous.” This also is problematic because: (1) we are not all abuse victims; this is an inclusive community, and we include the voices of people that had positive experiences but still see some problems in our homeschooling world; and (2) isn’t “Abused Homeschoolers Anonymous” almost more inflammatory than just “Homeschoolers Anonymous,” in terms of public perception?
This just takes us back to square one: “Not all homeschoolers are abused…”
For the sake of brevity, therefore, we are going with something easy and catchy: Homeschoolers Anonymous.
But for the sake of clarity, we have done and will do our best to communicate what we mean and do not mean. We have made it clear from Day One that we are talking about a specific subculture, the Christian homeschool movement. That is reinforced on our About page. We also explicitly clarify this in many of our individual blog posts.
That is why we are named Homeschoolers Anonymous, and not something more specific.