Public Schools and Home Dictators: Keziah’s Story

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Keziah” is a pseudonym.

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Trigger warning for To Break Down a Child series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.

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I have half-moons on the sides of my nose. They are actually the third set of bags under my eyes. I didn’t cry all night, or stay up late with a baby. In my mid-thirties, I cannot sleep at night. Once my distractions and duties rest for the day, ghosts play in my dreams and the memories of fears warn me to stay awake. The dark is when bad happens and my parents trained me to fear it.

A lack of light is evil.

Even now, I want to write anything but this. Writing is my life’s work, but this shouldn’t be my story to write. I shake my head, furious that I know this tale, my stomach forcing me hunched over.

I won’t write it – fuck them. Then I remember the other “them,” and write. I sigh. The quiet “them”no one talks about. My being a “them” that no one talks about, that my parents still try to silence.

*****

I remember a tired face, another face of my current age; this face was my face, only on a different person, twenty years ago.

This face stood over a five-year-old me, throwing fists on a starving body, as punishment for adding sugar to cereal or adding pepper to an already perfected meal, thus insulting the cook. I saw this face as I stood shaking every morning as it scowled at the unruliness of my hair, turning my scalp to fire so that it was perfect – a twisted mix of undiagnosed OCD and passion to present perfect children, so the ultimate secret remained so. I turned green every morning and threw up many and that face didn’t care. It showed anger that I was wasting food, wasting hair-fixing time so it could return to bed.

And yes, I was going to school – a public school.

You see, a home dictator doesn’t have to be a homeschool parent, or a religious zealot. A home dictator needs a cause – which can be simply to bury their pain or to feel powerful. My home dictator was mentally ill, and surrounded by enablers: my dad, her siblings, her parents, and once I was old enough, me.

You see, if an outsider catches a glimpse of a home dictator, they recoil – in fear, in disbelief, or with thanks their kids are unaffected.

You see, a child victim’s role in life is to protect the person assigned to protect them who actually fails the most. Any psychological means keeps that victim quiet, even in a public school. The maelstrom of life creates a lack of words for people still learning their words.

If the victim speaks out, that teacher or counselor must act because revealing the fear may happen only once.

You see, an outsider who escapes has little recourse. Often suffering and sometimes still dependent, she gets little help from a state agency – especially once she is no longer a minor. When I contacted CPS for my younger brothers and sisters, the initial phone worker asked little and the investigator saw food in the fridge and left.

American culture (and perhaps others, too) can change this. When I contacted my state’s child services, they wanted to know what they would find. I told them they would find no evidence – only children who believe those workers will take them to a new home, one where they will be raped and beaten, maybe experience the same treatment they do now, only worse, because they will have no parents who love them.

And those children will lie and protect. They will be confused and scared.

You see, there will be no evidence of abuse.

The weltschmerz of these children has inspired action and a weird happiness kept me reading Homeschoolers Anonymous. I fit in, even though I was never homeschooled a day in my life.

This movement that the Internet has enabled, comprised of parents and victims, the growth of psychology and the explanations of science and brain functions the masses can understand and access, this can be the kairos to educate about child abuse.

The identity of “them” is often formed in the name of God, for pride, for the appeasement of elders, for the appearance of good parenting. Homeschooling provides a hidden world, a place of acceptable child abuse.

The same stories happen with “them” in public schools, out in the open, with the same training methods so that children remain silent.

5 comments

  • Thank you so much for sharing your story on HA. This is important work. Abuse is so unbelievable to those who haven’t experienced it–to me–yet we need to have our eyes open in case we “catch a glimpse of a home dictator” so we can take action for the children.

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  • elizabeth watkins

    wow. so well spoken, and true. I, too have called CPS for my younger siblings and had almost the exact same conversation. I was told there was nothing they could do if the children wouldn’t speak up. And as you so clearly pointed out, they can’t and they won’t. We’ve been trained to protect our abusers and fear any help- I will never be able to forgive that. Stay strong and know you are not alone.

  • Parents of autistic children are often persuaded to become home dictators, too. This is because so-called “autism experts” often advocate “compliance training”, which is really just a medicalized version of trying to break the child’s will. Oh, they don’t always use violence, sometimes they even give children treats for complying. However, they use other disgusting methods as well, the worst of which is called a “reinforcement inventory” and is used in ABA therapy, which is touted as a scientifically proven means of treating autism. This method of compliance training involves figuring out what the children (and even adults sometimes) love and care about, so that it can be taken away from the kid and given to them only when they successfully complete therapy tasks, which, you guessed it, are designed to force the kid to not only act like normal, or neurotypical, people, but also to build obedience to the therapists. Often these tasks are arbitrary or superficial, like make eye contact for 10 seconds (staring much?) or touching their nose. Furthermore, kids as young as 4 or 5 are expected to demonstrate “table readiness” by keeping their hands still and sitting still at the table (as if normal kids don’t fidget, or even move their hands). Sometimes these sessions are upwards of 40 hours a week! If this doesn’t turn the professional therapist into a “home dictator”, I don’t know what does. What’s more, compliance training, ABA or otherwise, often delivers an implicit or explicit message that one should always seem happy, not showing negative emotions (i.e. Don’t cry [except maaybe to shed a few tears that are nicely wiped away in the event of a tragedy] because “it’s not good self-control”).
    Oh, and by the way, ABA, or even home assistance, is not necessary for professionals who work with autistic and other special needs kids to comply. Special ed schools do it too. For instance, my middle school, which gave swimming lessons, told me once to swim a length across the pool. The problem with this was that I had a fear of going in the deep end which (oh joy!) was there because one of my elementary school teachers literally ducked me on a field trip by pulling on my leg ostensibly to teach me to go underwater. When this fear prevented me from following the teacher’s direction, the teacher kicked me out of the pool in disgrace and took away behavior points that were part of the school’s reward system (they say students don’t lose points, they “don’t earn them”, but that doesn’t make sense when you can earn a maximum of 40 points a day and your score goes downhill from there). It didn’t matter that I vowed angrily to “get up and TRY!”. Nope, I had to be punished for not taking a sledgehammer to my fear right then and there, and swimming that length. Ironically, it was a (thankfully non-dictatorial) swimming teacher at the YMCA who taught me to get over that fear. Imagine how many points would be lost by someone whose fear is so bad they can’t even smell chlorine without having a panic attack.
    Granted, this last example was a “school dictator” rather than a “home dictator” but the behavior is the same. Seriously, not living with a caretaker 24-7 should not be the only “good” they ever do you. I do know this, though; These teachers were in private special ed schools, with no neurotypical students whatsoever. Some of these students are even afraid of public school because they are raised to believe that they could never make it there and only the special ed teachers understand and serve their needs. Therefore, teachers like these are able to use a version (albeit milder) of the psychology that homeschool parents often use, which makes kids afraid of the real world, sometimes to the point of being, for instance, cowed by an “authority figure” who is actually a harried cashier at a store, or another person of similar rank. Oddly, I think I even accidentally played the role of a pseudo-authority figure once by simply telling a girl I strongly believe is autistic that her dog was very cheerful. I have reason to believe that the girl may have taken this innocuous compliment as a rebuke for not being happy enough, especially if her teachers or other caretakers told her in some fashion that she should always seem happy.

    • Actually, I don’t see anything saying specifically that ABA forces eye contact for 10 seconds. However, I have heard of it being forced for a specific length of time. This is conducive to staring as well, because either the time frame the kid is given is too long, the kid thinks that more eye contact would be better, or the kid simply interprets “make eye contact” as “It would be best if you made steady eye contact throughout the conversation so that I know you’re interested”. Uh-oh.
      Even more of an uh-oh is that at least one person used eye contact the way that one uses a “safe word” in BDSM. That is dangerous, as people will think that this person wants more of [insert thing here], not less.

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