When Mennonite Stories Are Your Only Literature: Sean-Allen Parfitt’s Story
Sean-Allen Parfitt is a a gay software engineer, who dabbles in creative writing, music composition, and fashion design. He lives with his boyfriend Paul in Schenectady, NY. Follow Sean-Allen’s blog at Of Pen and Heart, or on Twitter: @AlDoug. The following post was originally published on Of Pen and Heart on August 9, 2013 and is reprinted with the author’s permission.
HA note: The following is the first of a three-part series by Sean-Allen that we will be posting. This post explores the negative aspects of his homeschooling experiences; the other two posts will explore the positive aspects and will be included in next week’s positives series.
Recently I wrote about how the church keeps us in, because we don’t know any better. This is a concept I call Control Through Ignorance (CTI). Today I’m going to approach it with more detail from a different perspective: homeschooling.
I am the eldest of 8 children, all who have been or are still being taught at home by my mother.
Our parents decided to teach me at home before I was in first grade, so I never went to public school. Everything I came in contact with was carefully selected for my growth and benefit. There are several areas I would like to address. These are places in my life where my access to outside influence was restricted or completely cut off.
The first area was social interaction. Just about the only friends I had were from our church, and that’s the only time I saw them. I never made any friends who had a radically different upbringing that I did. I never met Muslims, Jews, Hindus, or atheists. I never went over to my friends’ houses for sleepovers. We were often reminded why certain things my friends did were wrong. We were very much kept in the shelter of our own home and my parent’s rules.
Because of this, we actually learned to believe that almost everyone in the world was wrong about something. We were the only ones who had it all right.
Why would we spend time with people who might influence us to back-slide into some sort of sin?
Another way in which we were tightly controlled was through the prohibition of any kind of entertainment except that which my parents approved. Basically, this meant that we were allowed to read Mennonite stories.
Here is a list of story elements which were particularly banned, with examples.
- Animals that talk/wear clothes
- Winnie the Pooh
- The Little Red Hen
- Any sort of magic
- Lord of the Rings
- Harry Potter
- Any Fairy Tails
- Anything violent
- Oliver Twist
- Anything non-Christian
- The Bobbsey Twins
- Sherlock Holmes
- Good Night Moon
There were a very few exceptions to the last rule, such as Children of the New Forest. Generally, though, the only reading material we had were story books published or sold by the conservative Mennonite publishing house Rod and Staff. I generally enjoyed them, but there was a very religious/indoctrinating theme in many of them.
In the last few years I lived at home, I saw the Mennonite teachings from these books make a serious impact on my mother and brothers.
When we lived in England,we studied British history as part of our home school curriculum. However, the books we used were all published before 1980, because our parents didn’t want us to be influenced by modern thinking and interpretation of the facts of history. Thus, we learned very little about the last few decades of history.
We were not allowed to watch TV or movies, either. We watched a few Christian movies till about 2003, when our TV/VCR broke. If we were at a friend’s house, or at a party with the cousins, we were forbidden to stay in a room with the TV or a movie playing. We were not allowed to play video games, because they supposedly teach violence, besides wasting time. Any time on the computer was closely monitored. When I was 24 and still living at home, I had to have my computer set up on a table in the living area, so that I could not visit any site that was not appropriate for school, work, or little children.
As you can see, we were very much isolated from everything around us. I did occasionally wish I went to school, but mostly because I wanted to play video games. We thought we were right and nobody else, so we even judged other conservative families at church.
Ours was one of the most conservative and uptight families.
I am so glad that I’m out of that now, but I ache for my siblings. They are still stuck in that environment, in which they have no opportunity to learn about who I am, that I’m not an evil person! That’s the hardest thing about this. I didn’t know that I was OK. What if one of my siblings is gay or lesbian? What if one is transgender? What about my siblings who want to go to college, but can’t because Mom won’t let them?
And I can’t go back and show them these things.
Because I no longer fit into the category of acceptance. Thus I am excluded from my family.
And that really hurts.