Reflections of a Homeschool Graduate: Part Four
Homeschooling and the Woman It Is Making…
Many people, upon finding out that I was homeschooled, inevitably ask if I will homeschool my children someday. Growing up, when asked that question, my answer was always yes. My plan was to grow up, go to Pensacola Christian College, get a degree in education, find a husband, get married, and home-school my own children…. or so I thought. As one might surmise, homeschooling for me brings with it very mixed emotions.
It stands as a double-edged sword, acting as both gift and weapon.
Homeschooling gave me the gift of years of wonderful childhood memories spent playing, laughing, swimming, and growing up surrounded by a loving family on a ranch in Texas. It gave me self-discipline, a love for reading and imagination, a love for writing, and an insatiable thirst for traveling. It was never just enough to read about things on a page. Each new book and place I learned about made me want to go and see and do. Because we were homeschooled and my parents loved traveling, I got to visit places like The Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons, Yosemite National Park, Mount Rushmore, ski slopes in Colorado, sandy beaches in Florida, the U.S.S. Alabama, The Vicksburg War Memorial, and so much more. These memories and the life we built as a family, I will forever cherish.
With light however, also comes shadows, and I have seen where even something meant to be good also became a weapon. As a child, it is hard to distinguish what is a healthy fear and what is not. Looking back, I can now see how, as a sensitive child, I gravitated towards fear and allowed it to consume me. Instead of giving me tools to understand my fears, and to reason through which ones were healthy and which were not, the homeschooling environment I was raised in only fueled the fire. Looking back, I see traces of fearful and defensive mindsets everywhere–in my class materials, in the community around me, at home, at church, in the books I read, in the magazines we read, in the conferences we attended, in the conversations I had with peers, etc.
For many parents I knew, whether it was the original reason or not, the decision to homeschool became more about protecting your children from the worldliness and dangers of public school than anything else. The fundamental homeschool networks we encountered and conservative political voices we were inundated with feverishly fed apocalyptic predictions. Whether it was the rapture, the end times, Y2K, fear of bombings in the wake of 9-11, fear of the social work system, fear of liberals, fear of homosexuals, fear of people of other races, fear of men, fear of rape, fear of secular college campuses, fear of psychology, fear of philosophy, fear of the darkness…
Evil was waiting for me everywhere I turned, and so I absorbed terror like a sponge.
Its web only grew stronger and spread further as my environment taught me to be afraid of anyone different, afraid of learning too much, afraid of wanting to much, and afraid of the unknown world outside my small comfort zone. In schooling it made me feel alone and forced to confine my love for learning to what I could teach myself, what was allowed, or what was better for others. The weapon only cut deeper as I believed the lies to discount myself and anyone else I felt unable to compare myself to.
Perhaps, however, its most fatal flaw was that it taught me to know all the answers to the questions of faith before I asked them.
I know that, for some, homeschooling was merely a means of education, and religion was more of a side note. However, for me, homeschooling and fundamental Christianity were inextricably intertwined. I cannot separate one from the other. Both were all I knew and everywhere I turned. I was given the questions anyone might use to doubt either and then given the answers, chapter, line, and verse with which to decry them. If I ever did doubt, I read scripture and prayed to take my thoughts captive unto Christ, for strengthened faith, and for forgiveness for my unbelief. As a result, Belief and Faith became a formula to master and a list to memorize, all the while blinding me to the reality that to actually have faith one must first understand its absence.
To this day the words Rachel Held Evans wrote in her recently re-released book Faith Unraveled haunt me with their accuracy:
“It was within this social context that I and an entire generation of young evangelicals constructed our Christian worldviews. You might say we were born ready with answers. We grew up with a fervent devotion to the inerrancy of the Bible and learned that whatever the question might be, an answer could be found within its pages. We knew what atheists and humanists and Buddhists believed before we actually met any atheists or humanists or Buddhists, and we knew how to effectively discredit their worldview before ever encountering them on our own. To experience the knowledge of Jesus Christ, we didn’t need to be born again; we simply needed to be born. Our parents, our teachers, and our favorite theologians took it from there, providing us with all the answers before we ever had time to really wrestle with the questions.”
(p. 78 in older version, originally titled Evolving in Monkey Town)
In the end, through pervasive fear ordained by Christianity, homeschooling taught me to limit my life to what was safe and comfortable, leaving me unprepared for the harsher realities of life and adulthood. For these reasons, I now know that I will not homeschool my children. I do not say that lightly or vindictively, and I know my experiences and struggles as a young adult have largely produced that decision. Homeschooling afforded me and my family time together, travel opportunities, and a personal love for learning that I will always be grateful for and never deny. However, when I evaluate my homeschooling experience, I have had to allow myself time to be very honest about not only the good, but also the bad.
For years, I often felt pressure to hide my feelings, or to only focus on the good. However, remembering only the good did nothing to address the lack I have struggled with, whether it was in self-confidence, self-discovery, my understanding of others, my education, my socialization skills, or my experience at large. Only by taking the time to truly grieve and to evaluate my experience honestly was I actually able to see beauty beyond the pain. It was easier to have a knee-jerk response of “all homeschooling is evil,” when all I could see and feel around me was my unacknowledged pain. Everything became a reminder of what I was trying to forget and trying to hide. So now I am learning that, by dragging the skeletons out of the closet into the light of day, not only can they be buried in peace, but the sunlight also seems to reveal some hidden treasure buried there, too.
Because of my childhood environment, I have done a lot of my growing backwards.
In today’s society, many often spend their single years finding themselves, finding their individual passions, and pursuing their own interests until they feel ready to enter a serious relationship commitment that entails building your life together and yes, sometimes even having to sacrifice for each other. For me, Rick and I began dating when I was a sophomore in college, and we were married in the summer between my junior and senior years. If I had been the typical college girl, I would have probably had my heart set on a four year university plan, and not interested in a wedding till at least after graduation, but given I was homeschooled, even my college path was far from normal. Instead it involved attending a community college, a private university, and a public university. It entailed taking preparatory classes and taking the ACT and SAT during my freshman year. It meant transferring twice, taking summer classes, and completing courses online in order to complete my degree in the midst of our move to Japan.
Even so, while my college path was abnormal, each year I grew more confident, more independent, and more aware of how much I still had to learn.
My husband has also been a huge support, as he has encouraged me to discover my own dreams alongside his. Instead of discovering ourselves separately as many do in their 20’s, we have been discovering not only how to make marriage work, but also how to grow and celebrate our own individuality at the same time. From the very beginning, he was never interested in me just adopting his dreams and losing myself behind housework, homemaking, having babies, and raising children, as was my first tendency to expect. While these are abilities I have, skills I utilize at times, and things I will pursue more someday in the future — he quickly challenged me to realize that I did not have to hide myself behind them as my only source of meaning and identity.
We have both found what works best for us is to work hard at mutuality in decisions and reciprocating support and interest in each other’s dreams versus mandating his or mine over the other. Yes, moving to Japan meant me giving up the chance for law school immediately following my graduation, and yes, it meant me having to forgo career opportunities at the time. Acknowledging that has been something we have worked to be very honest about in our communication and all the emotions it brought with it. Some days it has been very hard, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit to having felt sorry for myself at one point or another or felt torn on more than one occasion between his dreams and mine. Still, I have someone who acknowledges those feelings and appreciates the depth of my support, and that makes all the difference in the world. He has long believed in me more than I knew how to believe in myself, and it’s just one of the many reasons I love this man as much as I do. When I have felt my lowest and questioned my sanity the greatest in giving as much of myself as I have over the past six years in volunteering for ministries, nonprofit organizations, and our base community here in Japan—often given in addition to a full-time course load or due largely to the absence of gainful employment—he has been my greatest encouragement in reminding me of my value, my passions, my strengths, and what I bring to the table.
When I get fearful about the unknowns of the future, how I will make a career work with the constant moves, what jobs will even be available, how we will work kids into that plan, etc. — he is my anchor that brings me back to reality. With my long-ingrained anxious and fearful tendencies, I struggle with constantly worrying about what is over the horizon. This seasoned military brat I am married to, though, knows that it’s a recipe for misery to waste time worrying about what you don’t know. So, as he constantly reminds me, “you might as well sit back and focus on what matters today.” I am a slow learner, but a grateful one.
I know this may sound strange, but the greatest gift Japan has given me is the time to truly discover myself. In looking back, I would make the same choice again and I would not change these past three years abroad for the world. Living overseas has given me the opportunity to meet people from all kinds of backgrounds and cultures. It has pushed me to learn how to be a capable, independent woman on my own, given how often my husband was either deployed or traveling for work. It has taught me how much I love being an active participant and leader within my community. It has given me time to learn what I wanted to continue to study, and how to be creative in pursuing higher education. It has increased my passions and shown me that more is always possible. It has given me the courage to learn what I truly think and believe, and to find my voice.
It has been a safe haven, providing a space for my faith to fall apart and time for me to search through the rubble for what to rebuild it with.
It has taught me the gift and cost of true friendship that only the fires of distance reveal. Leaving family and friends behind and facing months at a time without your spouse forges friendships of a lifetime in this military community. I also found that some friendships from home bloomed in ways I never dreamed possible, thanks to inventions like Skype, Facetime, and iMessage, while others (to my surprise and grief) slipped away. So, while homeschooling did not give me the space to discover much about myself as an individual, its footprint in my life has pushed me to do just that.
When I was young, I thought I needed to be a mother and a wife before I needed to be a person. I thought I would marry some nice Christian boy who would think just like every other male I grew up knowing. I honestly thought that was all I was allowed to be and never dreamed my life would follow the path it has. Instead of becoming everything homeschooling taught me to be, I have found meaning, identity, and a life far richer beyond its boundaries.
Instead of a Christian college, I went to three secular colleges over the course of finishing my bachelor’s degree. Instead of a degree in Education, I got a degree in Political Science. Instead of a Protestant homeschooler from the country, I married a Catholic boy in the Air Force and have traveled all over the world. Instead of being a homeschooling mother at the young age of 25, I am instead working on my Master’s in Public Administration and a certification in Nonprofit Management, with only my cat and husband to care for. I am not sure yet exactly what my career path will look like, as being a military spouse means being extra creative, but I do know that I will find ways to utilize my education and talents, and to contribute to my community and the world at large.
Instead of being an active member in yet another church, being an active church leader, or being a minister’s wife (all of which seemed highly plausible in high-school) I have now gone through three plus years of my faith falling apart and my participation in church slowly decreasing. In the last year alone, I finally found the courage to be honest about my need to heal, and have spent the larger amount of my Sundays at home resting and feeling safe to have my own time of private reflection. Instead of being 100% certain of my faith and beliefs, I have learned to honestly question. With that, I have also found peace in accepting that I don’t have to know all the answers to hold on to a faith in a love and life source bigger than myself.
Christianity is what I am most familiar with, given my upbringing. It’s a familiar language, and one that I have learned to love for all its strengths and despite its weaknesses, both present and historical. However, in questioning it, I have also discovered respect and beauty in learning about other religions and faith outside my own. Instead of being close-minded, judgmental, and afraid of anyone different than me, I am now learning how embracing diversity and difference makes my life more interesting. Instead of limiting people based on gender or sexual orientation according to the doctrines I was taught but had never examined, I am now a feminist and an LGTB-Affirming Christian.
The ever-pervasive fear I lived with for so long is now a daily, sometimes hourly, sometimes minute-by-minute process to deprogram and unwind. I have learned to treasure activities like running and yoga, as they have taught me to hone my racing thoughts and to simply breathe.
In and out.
One step at a time.
One day at a time.
Until suddenly I look up and around, and I see the woman I am becoming:
A Woman with a voice.
A Woman with hope of a life, filled with passion and purpose, unchartered by fear.