Saturday, March 3, 2012

Good Intentions, Bad Fruit

I heard the stories so many times as I was growing up, the reasons for my parents' decision to pull me out of public school halfway through first grade and start to homeschool me.  I heard how I cried every day when my mom dropped me off at school.  I heard how I was bored in class because I had learned to read at age 3, long before going to kindergarten.  I heard how my teacher was wasting classroom time on political issues by having the class write a letter about saving some whales.  I heard how the teacher hurt my feelings badly by insulting my quiet speaking voice during a presentation.  I heard how I had the problem boy as my seatmate because I was the best behaved student.  I never thought to question my mom's narrative; school was certainly a terrible place for me, based on her stories.

As a former elementary school teacher, my mom knew that she could give me a more personalized education than I would get in a classroom of 30 other students.  While helping me get ahead academically, she would also be able to protect me from worldly and liberal influences.  The temporary sacrifice would certainly produce rich rewards for our family, she believed, so she steeled her will against criticism and dove in the the relatively new homeschooling movement in Northern California.

These days, I am often amazed at adults who remember what grade they were in for important world events, or who say things like "This was my favorite song in 6th grade!"  As a homeschooled student, I have almost no time markers on my memories.  Everything is a blur.  However, it seems like homeschooling went fairly well for my family throughout elementary school.  We were part of a homeschool group that had weekly park days and occasional field trips to factories, restaurants, and government offices.  My younger brother and I were very independent in our learning, with high reading comprehension, so we could complete our assignments each day with very little input from my mom.  Although there was almost no regulation of homeschooling in CA at the time, my mom still made sure that we covered the same general topics as our public school counterparts in each grade, except of course that our education was exclusively from a Christian perspective.

Years of countering criticism of homeschooling, years of being surrounded by other like-minded Christian homeschoolers....the effects on my family were detrimental.  We lost the ability to objectively evaluate whether homeschooling was still working for our family.  Things were obviously falling apart as my brother and I reached our teen years and as my younger sister reached school age, but no one could acknowledge it.  By then, our identity as homeschoolers was inseparable from our spiritual, political, and family identity.  Failure was not an option.

Desperate to achieve the Christian homeschooled family ideal, my family was drawn into the dangerous personality cult of Reb Bradley and began attending his homeschooling church, Hope Chapel.  Each member of our family has suffered as a result of the messages and culture of Hope Chapel.  Our weaknesses were exacerbated by the well-intentioned "support" we received there.

For me personally, the last 10 years have been an intense journey, a re-working of my entire worldview, in an attempt to become a healthier and happier person.  I've been working hard to weed out the deeply-rooted ideas that were planted by the homeschooling community and Hope Chapel, and I've seen the positive effects on my life as I have done so.

Upcoming posts will cover my personal growth in each of the areas where I was damaged:

Social isolation

Fear of sexuality

Emotional repression

Poor boundaries

Restrictive view of gender roles

Warped view of humanity


  1. I found your blog via Frank Schaeffer's ... I clicked on it because of the name, which I absolutely LOVE. It is brilliant. Your writing strikes a chord. I look forward to more!

    1. My first comment! :) Thanks for the encouragement, Elizabeth! I'm an ESL teacher and I've spent a lot of time teaching English grammar, so that's how the blog name came about.

      I'm hoping to get another post on the blog this weekend.

  2. Your story is distressing to me because you are only a little older than my daughter. She was painfully shy growing up, but she had public school and a mommy and daddy who both understood and accepted her, and challenged her to challenge herself. To think about a girl needing that understanding and encouragement and not getting a bit of it ... well. You are a very strong person.

    I ran across this article about theories about child raising and how they have changed, and your lack of memories of your childhood jibes with this:

    "No one ever doubted that my mother loved her five children," Hrdy says, but as a result of her upbringing, "I was a case study in insecure attachment and, except with friends, quite shy." Hrdy would eventually learn to overcome her shyness, but the absence of an emotional bond during her early development left behind a permanent scar: to this day she has no memory of childhood.

    In 1990, after Hrdy's brother died tragically at the age of 30, she received his baby book from their early childhood in Houston.

    "I was amazed by how much detailed information there was in it," she says. Having only vague impressions of their distant caregivers, Hrdy couldn't imagine that one of them had kept such a complete record.

    "But then I looked more closely and I realised that it was my handwriting," she says. "I was keeping all of these detailed notes on my brother's development, but I have no recollection of caring for him."

    1. I finally had a chance to read the article that you linked,, it's just SO sad! Why do people keep trying to say that parents' natural affection and desire to nurture their children must be overcome? These days it's in the name of "godly" discipline, but it's still psychologically damaging.

      I'm not sure why I don't remember much from my childhood. I do know that when I was in my late teens, my mom said she thought she had "ruined" us by being too nurturing in our younger years, making us "rebellious" as teens. Her sentiment came from the teachings of Reb Bradley and his book Child Training Tips. Based on those ideas, she believed that if they had been much stricter with us from the start, as teens we would have had more respect for authority and more "self control" (as named by Reb Bradley, who seems unaware that the source of the control is certainly not within yourself if you're simply avoiding punishment).

      Thank you for sharing the link and your thoughts.