The best thing for people struggling with the effects of a terrible homeschooling situation would be for Americans to recognize that homeschooling can be and far too often is used for abuse and indoctrination purposes rather than actual education. Then we can regulate it more sensibly and stop being able to read so many horrible stories like this that make me sick to my stomach. When people know how bad it can be, they will want regulations in place to help give all homeschooled kids a fair shot. Thing is, right now they believe all those NHERI reports saying homeschooling is better than public school. They don’t know about people like us.
So we have a problem, and its a story people don’t know, an issue they don’t have any idea what to do about once they do know, and it contains a big taboo – the concept of devout Christian parents, people often seen as paragons of virtue and standard-bearers of old-fashioned family values, not having their children’s best interest in mind just turns people’s worlds upside down. Because if you can’t trust people like that to do right by their own kids, then who can you trust?
There are powerful groups of people, particularly the HSLDA, successfully advocating for parents to have total control over their offspring and kids can’t vote or publicly speak out so we don’t get to hear the other side. So we are at a place where those of us who’ve lived it or known people in it recognize that it’s pretty bad, but the issue has almost no good data, no services directed at it, and it happens to people who live far and wide from one another and who are generally isolated within their own communities. The press generally only covers it when someone dies, is half-starved to death, gets pregnant by their own Dad, or uploads a video that goes viral. They generally do not connect the dots and often don’t even report that an abused kid was homeschooled, so it’s hard for researchers to track the connection.
Soon I imagine things will change and politicians will listen to the varied perspectives of people who were homeschooled rather than just the parents trying to do it, and that time is fast coming. Thing is, most American people who have experienced neglect and abuse in a homeschooling situation are still under the age of 30 because homeschooling just wasn’t an available option before the late 70’s. So we are the first generation to come out of this and those of us who had bad experiences often have trouble talking about them, or sometimes even realizing that they were really that bad. Others are struggling so much just to make ends meet that they don’t have time for introspection, connecting with people like them, or even figuring out others exist. As we find each other and get the word out though, it will be easier to advocate for what we need, set up resources to help people, train service providers and lawmakers on what needs to change, and get people connected to other people like them.
Meantime, I don’t like the idea of people struggling and feeling like they’re carrying this burden all alone and there isn’t much there to help. Former Ultra-Orthodox Jews have created organizations like Footsteps to help people because they are all mostly living in New York. Former Quiverfull do not have something comparable partially because we are geographically all over the place.
While I really want to advocate for homeschooled children’s rights and help coordinate services for people who need them (and am kicking around ideas and would love to be part of a team to work on this), all I’ve got right now is my blog. I realize that if someone comes to me for help, and a few have, my answers seem small and full of holes in the face of this problem, so if anybody else has suggestions or resources, feel free to list them in the comments section.
So here’s a list of what helped me get out and what I’d recommend. It is mostly advice for people in their late teens or early adulthood. Young kids stuck in terrible homeschooling situations have a much rougher situation with generally less palatable options available.
I told my grandparents how bad stuff was, and I told the boyfriend who later became my husband. I also told the police. Thankfully my grandparents and my boyfriend listened. I don’t know how or if I’d have gotten out of there if I hadn’t opened my mouth. If the person you tell doesn’t believe you, is unable to help, or doesn’t seem to care, tell someone else. Keep trying. I know it’s dangerous to tell, but so is things staying the way they are. Just try to exercise good judgment and don’t expect that telling someone who believes or lives like your family does will help, no matter how nice they seem.
I initially had lots of trouble with this one and am now proud to say I have friends all over the world and one of my favorite things in life is to find new friends and keep up with old ones. I guess after being so isolated I’m making up for lost time. It’s best to find friends who share similar interests, so if you take a community college class or volunteer at a home for the elderly or help out the beautification committee for your local park you will start to meet people doing the same thing. The first few times you try to make friends it may fall flat. In fact, it may fall flat a lot. Don’t be discouraged. Keep trying to make friends and eventually you will have at least one or two good dependable friends and a number of acquaintances, which is all you really need and then you can just on keep making more if friendship makes you as happy as it makes me.
I moved in with a cousin and then my boyfriend. I was 17 but my parents didn’t stop me because by then they were regularly threatening to kick me out. You might have an extended relative who doesn’t buy into the lifestyle your parents do, or a neighbor or a friend. Moving in with someone else Quiverfull/patriarchal is not something I recommend. If you don’t have anybody, maybe you’ll need to take a deep breath, look at Craislist, and find a few roommates in a place with cheap rent. Rooming with other young people can often be a way to also find friends.
Get a Job
Leaving when you don’t have a job and maybe have never had a job can be scary.
Understand that helping out with a family business counts as experience. Tutoring children counts as experience. Cooking and cleaning in a house counts as experience. It’s all about how you spin it. Employers just want to know you’ll do a good job and have the ability and dedication to fulfill your role. Dress nicely when you go into a businesses to ask if they’re hiring. Give a firm handshake. Also go to your local employment office and register with them so employers can find you. Don’t expect a lot of help there in figuring out what jobs you should be looking for, but don’t overlook this resource either.
If you need a job quick, try to get one at a grocery store or a chain restaurant. You don’t have to keep this job once you’ve found a better one. You just have to pay the bills. Often your first real job kinda sucks. Mine was as a cashier, but when I left home I had to get a part-time job at a little pizza place where I worked until 11:00 at night and had to be ready to take the bus to school at 6am the next morning. The sleep deprivation killed me but I no longer had to live with someone whose last act of violence had been to knock me over in a chair and chip my front tooth.
Use Available Resources
Also, if you don’t have a job yet but need to get out, get out. Battered women’s shelters and homeless shelters can point you towards resources, and although you were probably raised to think that debt and the government were both totally bad, now’s the time to forget it. Please don’t go out there and max out credit cards, but understand that “investment” is good and credit is a good thing when used responsibly. For example, if you use a credit card to pick out an appropriate job interview outfit and use it to get a job that then pays you money and you then pay your balance on the card, that outfit was a responsible investment. You may also be eligible for food stamps, winter heating credits, cell phone minutes, certain types of health care, and maybe a few other things to help you make this transition. You will still be poor but not out on the street. So don’t feel bad going down to the food stamps office and applying. My Mom has done this and it’s helped my family. It’s there for situations like this, to help people on hard times, just prepare for a bureaucratic experience. Later on when you have a stable job and are paying your taxes you won’t need this stuff anymore and you’ll return what you used.
Get Financially Stable
Maybe you have some savings. If not, try to get some. The idea of “tithing yourself” by putting away 10% of your income to save for emergencies is a good idea if you can manage it. Maybe you’ve got nothing and have never been allowed to handle money or make purchasing decisions before. I suggest familiarizing yourself with household budgeting and once you have a job, getting a bank account and using a free application like mint.com to keep track of your budget. I got through college spending $200 a month on rent for my room and $40 a week on groceries. I still don’t know quite how I did it on such a small amount, but I know it can be done for far less than what many people pay.
Get an Education
There are grant programs for you to go to college. I used them, Pell, SEOG, Louisiana’s TOPS program, and graduated debt-free. Admittedly this is rare and I managed it because I budgeted like a crazy person. I was still ridiculously afraid of debt because of how I’d been raised. if I could do it over again I’d honestly take out a loan or two and live a little less austerely. So if you want to further your education, do it. Also, if you want to go to hairdressing or mechanic school, do that, or if you want to join the military, read info on the connection between adverse childhood experiences and the higher risk of developing PTSD in the military. Then, if you still want to go the military route, do it.
If you are unsure about how educated or uneducated you are, get the collection of books starting with “What Your First Grader Needs to Know” and going all the way through the sixth grader one. Sad as it may seem to say this, getting through the sixth grade book should make you feel pretty confident you can make it in college. You’ll need a bit more math and essay skills, but that’s about it. Also, it took me less than one year and my grandfather’s military-style dedication to my education (we started early in the morning and sometimes he even shouted drill-sergeant style and broke pencils) to get through them all. I caught up to high school level in everything but math, and that is the one subject I still struggle with, even though I have found I love stats and budgets. Still, even after a decade of educational neglect I made it through a mediocre public high school, went to a decent and affordable public college, and then got a master’s degree at one of the top 10 schools in my field. It mainly took patience and dedication to the goal.
Also, if you feel you need a teacher, or have a learning disability such as dyslexia or ADHD that has never been handled properly, there are adult education opportunities offered through your local public school district. They might be lame, but still, better than nothing. Give them a call.
Also, there’s so much amazing free stuff available on sites like iTunes U and TED talks that if you aren’t ready or interested in taking the formal educational plunge, you can still dip your feet in whenever you like.
Personally, I loved college, absolutely loved it. Although I struggled with math and foreign language and had to fight with my parents to sign the FAFSA form for me, hands down it was my ticket out.
Get Mental Health Care
I didn’t think I needed any. I was so happy to be out and living free that I never wanted to think about how things used to be, ever again. I just wanted a “normal” life. I had one for quite a while, but then just when things were calming down in my life I started getting nightmares, insomnia, and lots of intrusive upsetting memories. It caught me unaware big time and it took me several months of PTSD symptoms to get over my own pride and make a counseling appointment.
So if you don’t feel the need to deal with it now, understand there may come a point when you do.
When you are struggling with living this new life on the outside some people may tell you it’s punishment for leaving or that you are somehow broken. Understand that it actually is pain and heartache due to being mistreated and not being properly prepared for normal life. Maybe like my parents, they tried to keep you under their control by never teaching you how to drive or letting you walk your own neighborhood alone. You can learn to do those things now and you can have GPS to help you with both of them. It will sometimes hurt and be scary to make the changes you need to make and decide who you will trust and who you won’t, realize who is there for you and who isn’t. At times you will feel like a disappointment, a bad son or daughter, a terrible big sister, etc. This is a normal part of your mind dealing with the disconnect between reality and how you were taught it was. Family, or church elders, or former homeschool buddies will also likely try to cajole you or threaten you into coming back and doing stuff like how you were told. I had this happen and these feelings were strong for me. I even moved back home for a bit. I felt like a total sellout and then I left again because I followed my own intuition.
So recognize that you are coming from an environment where you are one crab in a bucket of live crabs. A bucket of crabs doesn’t need a lid because as soon as one crab tries to climb out, the other crabs pull him back in again. Be determined to be the crab that got away and you will be.