How Homeschooling Became a Tool of My Oppression and Identity- Angelina Carter’s Story
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Jack Lyons
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Angelina Carter” is a pseudonym.
CW: Sexual Assault
My story begins in a small Northern Virginia town. On the doorstep of Washington DC and within an hour of Patrick Henry College, my family was in the heart of HSLDA’s community. As a young girl I went to church with the Klicka family and attended conventions and dinners with Michael Farris. My life revolved around homeschooling and, at the time, I could not have been happier.
Homeschooling had been the plan from day one of my life. From church preschool programs to my very first co-op class at four years old, I was raised with the belief that homeschooling was the end all be all of education. Imagine my surprise when at five I started watching my neighborhood friends board a big yellow monster that would carry them off to the “demonic” state schools. The very first day of kindergarten in my county, I remember my father taking me on his knee and explaining to my wide-eyed astonishment that my friends were going to “Satan’s school.”
I could not imagine why they did not have parents loving enough to homeschool them.
From there my education was a mix of co-op, special programs, and isolated home education. After my initial year at co-op classes I was kept exclusively at home for 1st through 6th grade being taught by my father while my mother supported our family. My only outside activities included church and ballet (later to be replaced by softball), both heavily monitored by my father. We would spend the mornings exploring the wonders of Abeka, Bob Jones, and Saxon curriculums and the afternoons engrossed in approved Christian reading (my favorite being Little House on the Prairie). If I finished all of my work and maintained a proper attitude, my father would allow a family outing to the local library. I practically grew up in that library; devouring everything I could get my hands on.
In 7th grade I was introduced to the wonders of Classical Conversations and for the first time in my youthful memory, I learned alongside my peers. Though the classes were carefully structured around core Christian values and all school material pre-approved, I relished in the new-found freedom of self-directed learning and age-mates with whom I could talk about homeschooling, the religious right, and other important issues to the Joshua Generation of which I was a proud member. Critical thinking skills were stressed and I worked day and night to stay ahead in my schoolwork and prove myself to be a worthy candidate to enter the public sphere as a warrior for Christianity.
In 10th grade my father withdrew me from Classical Conversations without any explanation beyond that his health was failing and he wanted to teach me closer to home.
I reluctantly bid farewell to my good friends and love of learning and fell into the routine of a dutiful daughter. In between chores and watching over my sister I was given schoolbooks by my father and told to learn on my own. We would take weekly trips out to a coffee shop to discuss what I had been learning and to study the Bible in preparation for taking on the mantle of womanhood, but my education had been left in my own hands to make or break of my own will.
My carefully structured and indoctrinated world fell apart on my sixteenth birthday. I was given a computer with unfettered internet access for the first time in my life. Those first few months I was wary of this new beast and afraid to tempt myself or end up in a sinful place, but as time went on the world began to open up before me. I read the BBC and CNN alongside our family’s nightly viewings of Fox News’ evening programs. I discovered youtube personalities, tumblr, and fanfiction to rival my list of homeschool approved novels. Slowly but surely, my black and white world began to erode and in its place stood a world full of murky greys. People I had once thought of as angels or demons suddenly became just people with their own complexities, nuances, and vices. I stopped crossing the street to avoid the “neighborhood gay” and began to realize that this man whom I had spent most of my teenage years condemning occupied the same world that I did. My mother noticed my slow transformation first but encouraged my growth out of the indoctrinated bubble I was raised in, a shock that kept me asking critical questions of what I had been raised to believe. She even helped persuade my father to send me to a few co-op classes over 11th and 12th grade.
My father did not become alarmed until I stopped being so politically active in the homeschooling community and started using the critical thinking skills I had been taught against that same homeschooling community.
He wondered where his “champion daughter” had gone. A few weeks later I was bundled off on a college road trip to several reformed Christian colleges. I ended up falling in love with one and though some people in my community were very vocally disapproving of my choice not to attend Patrick Henry, my father was ecstatic that I had chosen a good college that would teach me everything I needed to know about becoming a Christian woman and wife.
One of my strongest memories of my freshman year was staring up at the college’s flagship building and wondering how on earth I was going to succeed when the only education model I had ever known was homeschool. Four years later and I have not only graduated with honors, but had the opportunity to grow so far beyond my indoctrinated bubble of homeschooling and into a world of professionals, homeschool alumni, and fellow Christians seeking a more nuanced view of our religion. My father’s plan backfired on him, instead of college reigning me into the subservient homemaker I was destined to be in the homeschool movement, it expanded my horizons and introduced me to people who helped me question my beliefs and restructure my life in light of the un-sheltered I was now living in.
So there is my homeschool history in a slightly bloated nutshell. Where does homeschool as a tool of oppression and identity come in? That is a good question and one that only college could answer for me.
When I went home for summer break at the end of my freshman year I first realized something was wrong.
I had always viewed my father with respect, fondness, and a small amount of fear. This was a reality I believed was proper within a good Christian home. However, that small amount of fear began to blossom into terror and questions. When had my father grown so angry and bitter? When had the fear and war mongering politics become a central discussion in our home? Why was I expected to roll over and let him walk all over me? Why was I treated as my father’s possession and not as a human being?
One day I plucked up the bravery to ask my mother what had happened and I will never forget the look of confusion, resignation, and pain on her face that day.
Nothing at home had changed, what had happened was that college has changed my perception of what Christianity and family life was supposed to be like.
With this new lens, I realized something was wrong.
The summer of my sophomore year I decided to work at my college, a decision my father bitterly contested for months until I promised to put all of my paycheck towards tuition. When I asked my mom why father was so upset, she explained that he just didn’t want to lose me so soon. Later I would realize that he just didn’t want to lose control of me.
The summer of my junior year my father forbade me to work at the school and instructed me to come home against my wishes. Shortly before the start of summer, my sister called me in tears. My father had assaulted her. The pain of that call still echoes in my mind, replaying as I lay awake at night staring at my ceiling and asking where everything went so horribly wrong. I decided to return for the summer anyway because my mother candidly mentioned that my father was not as abusive when I was around. For three months I tried to bear the brunt of his abuse to shield my sister, but I ultimately failed. When the school year began again my father drove me back, quietly fuming the entire way that I was becoming “liberal” and losing my way from the path God had set out for me. He encouraged me not to talk with my sister as much and to seriously consider where my life was heading if I stayed on the path I had chosen to walk.
A month after that I got the call that he had kicked my sister out. I spent the next month trying to convince my mother to leave him before finally succeeding in helping her escape to safety. What followed was a year-long legal battle over finances, possessions, and twenty years’ worth of abuse as we all hid in separate homes fearing my father’s violent revenge.
It was then that I realized homeschool was not the savior for the modern world that my father had promised; rather it was a tool that he had used to keep me and my sister isolated and suggestible to his teachings.
An isolation that kept us from fully realizing that the way he treated us was not Biblical, but in fact abuse. The homeschool community became the buffer that my father had put between us and the real world to keep my mother in line and me from asking too many questions lest I be cast out into the darkness of the sinful masses. This is not to say that all homeschool is bad, because that would be the black and white world I had been taught to believe in and not the one I now inhabit.
There were certainly parts of homeschooling that had a positive impact in my life and perception of self. I have been always been a learner that benefited from moving at my own pace and homeschooling allowed me to be two grades ahead in one subject and a grade behind in another, simultaneously. Through my family’s library outings I fostered a love of reading that has defined me as a person for the past 15 years. Even when I was forced out of co-op and thrown back home to educate myself, this forced me to foster skills of self-motivated learning, independence, and a drive to better my life even in hard circumstances. So while I was looking up at that flagship building on my first day at college, the homeschool voice inside my head told me that I would be fine, that I would adapt. After all, homeschooling taught me how to adapt to many different learning environments over my life and gave me the skillset to push past an indoctrinated bubble and reground myself in the outside world.
Now that I have launched into the adult world, it is hard to reconcile the duality of homeschool in my life.
It is hard to credit the tool of my abuse with the formation of my personality.
If it was not for homeschooling, CPS would have taken me away to a hopefully less abusive home long ago. On the other hand, if it was not for homeschooling I would not have cultivated such a drive for self-discipline and a love of learning, two core traits to my perception of self. If it was not for the teachings of the homeschool movement, then I would not be struggling so much with repairing my life and perception of self. Yet, if it was not for the teachings of the homeschool movement, I would not have been forced to form my own education and learn valuable life skills on being independent. If it was not for the homeschooling community encouraging my mother’s subservience to my father, we would have left him a long time ago and I would have been able to know a truly loving home. But if it was not for the homeschooling community, I would not have had some of the best mentors of my life to love me in my father’s stead.
The reality to my experience of homeschool is that while it was used to keep me obliviously in an abusive situation, it also shaped who I am. My perception of self and my abusive childhood are both inherently bound up in the homeschool movement, for better or for worse.