Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The Impact of Parental Values and Opinions on Educational Outcomes: My Perspective

The impact of attitudes towards education, especially higher education, and its impact on adult life, has recently come up in discussion in the home school survivor community. We all have different experiences and heard variations of different messages while growing up in homeschooling families. Here is my experience:

My parents didn't place much value on education. We were homeschooled in a way, meaning we were at home and some effort was made to buy books and teach lessons. But the underlying organization and structure wasn't there, and they didn't have the motivation or follow through to make it happen. We received a relatively decent education in the first few grades, I assume; we learned to read and do basic math in those years. But no one received any education past about grade 6-8, depending on the subject. 

They taught that you didn't need college or university to succeed in life. They said that because we were homeschooled, we were special, and people would understand that and recognize the extraordinary intelligence we were gifted with, without needing a diploma to prove it. They talked about the bullying and abuses that were perpetrated by public school and high school teachers. My mother described at length times that she was publicly humiliated in class by her teachers, and how she could not stand the public schools and that they were protecting us from those abuses. 

As a girl though, there were really no plans for me to have a future at all. Other than vague mentions of a husband and kids in my future, it wasn't discussed. Even the emphasis on me needing to be able to cook, clean, and help raise my siblings was mainly openly rooted in my parents' need for my help, and it was not even masked as 'training for the future' except to outsiders (conservative fundamentalist outsiders). Oddly, sometimes when I talked about wanting a career, it wasn't really shot down, and my parents told me to trust their education system and I would get where I wanted. They brought back the line that I was incredibly smart and special, and that satisfied me and I believed it. 

My brothers were told they could  have any career they wanted, without college. They were told that someone would hire them or they could have their own businesses, all without college or even finishing high school. They said that years of education was part of the new age government control system and we needed to break free. 

Due to the chaos in my childhood home, both of my close in age brothers did not achieve more than an average of a grade 8 or 9 education. They have spent time as adults earning a GED, with various rates of success. They most certainly were not granted excellent careers on the basis of being special and homeschooled. 

Because I attended high school against my parents' wishes and also went to university, my story is different, however I can still speak to the impact of the anti-college attitude. 

Because there was no direction in my life, with no real hopes and dreams, until I was 17, I didn't see the point of pursuing much education at all. What line should be drawn on when to end the homeschooling process when the goal is not college? So I did not resist when my parents stopped making an effort to educate me. I did not advance at all academically between age 10 and age 12. I made some more progress at age 12, but once I was 13 or 14 their impact on my education was pretty much over. I continued to read Bob Jones textbooks until I was 15, and wrote down answers on my own, but it was for myself, no one checked them. 

I did not complete a grade 8 education at that time. I was not taught math past grade 6 until I went to high school at age 17. I never had any intention of pursuing a high school education until the year I turned 17, although I had a vague plan to go to university. The year I turned 17, my grandparents told me that I wouldn't be able to go to university without a secondary education. 
So I went to school, and I struggled. I struggled with ambivalence, knowing that it wasn't what my parents wanted me to do, and some doubt because of the message I had received that I was special and shouldn't have to prove it. But the courses were hard and unlike my experience with the Bob Jones textbooks, guessing didn't work, especially with math. I had two dear math teachers who did a phenomenal job, but it's hard to describe the crushing feeling of inadequacy you experience when you find out at age 17 that the 14 year old students are more educated than you. 

The ambivalence followed me into university. I was only at the highschool for two and a half years, not nearly long enough to reverse all the messages about how unnecessary higher education was. I still tried for a while to guess and at least prove to myself that I already knew everything and didn't need to learn. Because I didn't learn how to build and maintain a career from my parents, since they did not do this, I felt guilty about having that as a goal. I felt guilty because it somehow felt arrogant, and I still had some feelings of inadequacy. I felt guilty because I was also proud of myself and felt guilty about the pride. I was also a bit afraid, because people warned me that higher education corrupts; although they seemed just as worried about the high school being corrupting as they were about university.  

I finished university, and it turns out I was quite academically inclined. But not special. I still needed to learn, and to do that I had to learn how to learn first. I think that some people who are believers in homeschooling might read this and think that I needed to learn how to learn to fit into the public school mold, but that is not what I mean. I was able to learn as much as my mother was able to teach me; basic reading, writing and arithmetic. I believe there is such a thing as academically successful homeschooling, and in those cases those students continue to learn how to learn as their ability to process increasingly more complex information progresses. When children are not taught how to learn, or when there are other circumstances that disrupt that process, such as abuse, their progress can become stalled. 

Growing up with parents who have negative attitudes towards education can remove motivation from bright young students, when there is nothing to strive towards. It can create confusion when students do decide to pursue education. And for those that internalize those messages, and do not pursue education, the cost is high. Without an education, it is hard to get jobs. Where I live, even Subway and McDonald's ask that you either have a high school diploma or show that you are working on one. Getting into a trade can also be difficult, as most of the trades jobs eventually require you to get a "ticket" which means going to school, and if you haven't learned how to learn and test, you won't be able to succeed in the trade program either. 

Although some workplaces look at experience, moving up in companies and getting promotions can be heavily based on education as well, meaning that even those with experience can stay in entry level positions (at entry level wages) because of lack of education. Saying that one was homeschooled will not get someone a job or a promotion, and if people have not excelled in the learning process and become critical and reflective thinkers, their people skills and self management will also suffer. 

Even a girl who is raised in a conservative home and wants to be a homeschooling mother needs to know how to learn, and has to have learned enough to effectively homeschool her children. She needs to be reflective and a critical thinker in order to manage a home and a family, and to juggle the responsibilities of teaching and parenting effectively. She will need to be able to learn how to parent, and how to deal with it if a child has special needs.  

The stakes are high, and an education holds more weight than just a piece of paper. 

Friday, 3 October 2014

Socialization and Psychological Maltreatment: Isolating Children and Teenagers

This post deals with parents isolating and controlling their children’s social interactions; of course my parents and many other homeschooling parents have engaged in many other forms of control, but this is one that people don't seem to realize is a problem. Below, I give some examples of social isolation and control in my own life, and then reference work from Roberta Hibbard, Jane Barlow, and Harriet MacMillan to show how social isolation can be a serious problem for children who are subjected to it.

    As I have said in previous posts, many of the people who were involved with my family over the years still don't really get what the problem was. They will admit that my parents were a bit overprotective. Depending on the day they might even admit that my parents were controlling. But they always cycle back to trying to convince me that my parents were just doing their best, just trying to keep us safe. Then sometimes the same people concede that not everything was perfect but assure me that my father has changed. I don't spend much time around people who think they are in a position to re-write my history for me.

    Once when I was about 15, I was something like friends with the neighbour girl. She was about 2 years older than me, and very conservative (more so than we were, in some ways - they attended a very conservative Mennonite church). Her parents and my parents ran in the same circles and spent time together talking about fundamentalism

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Navigating the Justice System Part III: As a Young Adult

Please see also Navigating the Justice System Part 1: Alone at Age 9 and Navigating the Justice System: When my Parents Went to Court

When I was about 17, I moved out. Once it was truly clear to me that what happened in my home was abusive and not normal I decided to try to end the abuse for everyone. I started making regular calls to Children's Aid on my father. I had to get help making these calls because Children's Aid did not take my calls seriously because I was perceived as a disgruntled daughter (I was a disgruntled daughter, I suppose - but it didn't negate what I had to say). There had already been multiple closed investigations on my family, and my parents presented as godly people who were just doing the best they could do with very little money and terribly rebellious children (although the social workers were always impressed with our obedience). I had help from guidance counsellors at my high school, and from the family I was staying with.

This process exacted a steep personal cost. I had to relive what had happened constantly, and I worried that if this bid for freedom

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

How I Was Almost Rescued from Abuse

A few months I wrote a post called Navigating the Justice System Part 1: Alone at 9 Years Old. This post is the story of what it was like for me to experience a Children's Aid investigation and a court case, from my perspective as a child. It skips pretty quickly over what the social workers were like and what they did, and I didn't talk very much about the involvement of other agencies and groups.

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education is an organization that advocates for homeschooled children. Their mission is "to raise awareness of the need for homeschooling reform, provide public policy guidance, and advocate for responsible home education practices". Their vision is "for homeschooling to be a child-centered educational option, used only lovingly prepare young people for an open future".

The CRHE has started a blog on their website, and with some collaboration from CRHE personnel, I have written a piece that has been posted on their blog, called How I was Almost Rescued from Abuse. In this post I elaborate on what the social workers were like, and I provide a more thorough explanation of the rationale behind the court cases and what the goals were. Rather than posting the text here, I encourage you to click on the link in this paragraph and visit the CRHE to read the post.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Cupcake Piñata

I want to share a very simple little story about something that was a precious moment for me.

When I was a child, we didn't really have birthday parties, although my mother did make an effort most years to cook a favourite meal for the birthday child. When I was really young, we did have a party or two with a few friends invited and a special meal, but eventually as we became more isolated by the homeschooling, there weren't really friends to invite, and there was no money for extras like birthday meals when my father was just not working. So in my last few years before I left home, all our birthdays were barely noticed, much less celebrated, except by my mom quietly making a preferred meal from pre-set options and often no cake, or a very plain one with no icing. Birthdays could be a cause for concern for us, since we also were fair game to be confronted about whether we had matured into more godly children in the past year or not, and there was no safe way to answer that question. We were also sometimes taunted by the chance of a birthday party or a coveted gift if we behaved well enough. This was never really a possibility, and we would always lose that privilege no matter how good we were, since the money literally did not exist for it.

I became a little resentful about birthdays and birthday parties as I became an adult, because not only were birthdays not special, they represented a loss. I had been to a few normal birthday parties as a child and just couldn't be happy for those kids when I would never get that myself. Seeing someone have a nice birthday party became a difficult thing for me. I explained this my non-fundamentalist husband, who along with millions of North American children, apparently had birthday parties. He was a little surprised by this, and decided to do something about it.

My husband threw me a kid's party for my 24th birthday, because I never got one. He invited friends over, and ordered a very pink cake that said happy birthday on it. He stuck a ton of candles in it and lit them all. He set up our kitchen and living room with pink and white streamers all over, and blew up balloons and hung them from ribbons all over the downstairs area of our house. He made some kind of supper, I can't even remember what it was, the party was so exciting. And the best part of my party was the cupcake piñata. It was huge, at least two feet in diameter. It had a colourful "wrapper" base, and "icing" on top covered in sprinkles. He filled it with candy rockets and jolly ranchers and suckers and Hershey's chocolates and little plastic dinosaurs. We hung it in the doorway between the dining room and the living room and he videotaped us hitting it until it cracked open, and then we had little goodie bags and gathered up all the loot.

I didn't really eat a lot of the smashed piñata candy, but being given that experience at 24 years old was such a healing day for me. I still don't like it that I missed that part of childhood, but I am not hurt by that any more because the thing that I had lost was given to me. He gave me a piñata for my birthday last year too, I am coming up on my 26th birthday this year. Who knows, maybe I will get another one.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Navigating the Justice System Part II: When my Parents Went to Court

See also: Navigating the Justice System Part I

This part of Navigating the Justice System deals with a time in my life when my parents went to court and I didn't, but I am including it in the middle of a three part series since it hinges them together. Here is what happened when my parents went to court:

    When I was about 11, we were living in Ontario, where we had moved to get away from the court proceedings in Nova Scotia. However, my parents had been ordered to appear back in court in Nova Scotia. We had been going a conservative church in Ontario, for about a few months to a year. My parents talked to some of their friends in the church, and the decision was made to "farm out" the kids to various families

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Navigating the Justice System Part I: Alone at 9 Years Old

Trigger Warning: please click away from this page if you will be triggered by content that deals with child maltreatment and its consequences.

If this is the first Feminist in Spite of Them post you have read, please consider reading this either before or after.

When I was about 9, my parents were investigated by Children's Aid. Social workers came out to talk to us. They met with us and found out that my parents spanked as punishment - which made sense since my parents had posted "The 21 Rules of This House" next to the dining room table. They came back a few times and spoke to each of us children. My parents homeschooled and they questioned whether we were getting an adequate education