By R.L. Stollar
“This is great silliness of course, but it is the great silliness of highly intelligent and perceptive people.”
~ Alasdair MacIntyre
I committed a decade of my life to the HSLDA-sponsored homeschool debate league, NCFCA. This league was started by Michael Farris’ daughter, Christy Shipe. During that decade, I learned the importance of approaching controversies with a rational, balanced perspective. I was taught to respect opposing viewpoints and that giving viewpoints the freedom to exist was essential to both the American political experiment as well as Christian morality.
I cherished these lessons so much that I took it upon myself to teach them to others. I became one of the original student instructors for Communicators for Christ, a group that traveled the United States and taught speech and debate to other homeschoolers. Our group was even invited to teach the children of the state and national homeschool convention leaders, at an HSLDA leadership retreat at Liberty University. I also participated in HSLDA’s rally in Washington, D.C. in 1999 that featured five of the Republican presidential candidates at the time.
I have struggled most of my life with sorting through everything I experienced as a homeschooler. Not the education, mind you — I can read, think, write, speak, and debate. But as I have been increasingly dealing with major depression, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, and all sorts of other problems, I have been reflecting on my childhood. I have realized that the pressures put on me by the conservative, Christian homeschooling subculture have contributed significantly to my problems today.
It’s not the conservatism or the Christianity or the homeschooling, per se. It’s not my family. But it’s the combination of everything and especially my years in the homeschool speech and debate league that made me who I am. And lately I’ve been talking to other people who went through the same things. I am starting to see patterns. I am starting to hear stories. Stories of pressure, control, self-hating, self-harming, and even abuse — emotional, physical, and sexual.
I am starting to hear that I am not alone in my problems.
Everyone, of course, has a different experience, even those who were homeschooled. Some of us were in the Home School Legal Defense Association. Some of us did speech and debate, while others did Teen Pact or Teen Mania. Some of us did Creation Science seminars; others did not. Some of us grew up in Quiverfull homes, or homes dedicated to Joshua Harris’ model of courtship, or even betrothal homes. Some of us were allowed to date. We all have different experiences. Some of us are atheists now, or agnostics, or Buddhists, or still Christians. Some of us are liberal; others are conservative.
But there is a pattern emerging. That pattern has a story that needs to be told.
All of you at QueerPHC that have struggled with being different have a contribution to make to that story. In fact, everyone who has been or is being homeschooled, and has struggled with being different, has a contribution to make. I have no doubt how scared and terrified you may be on a daily basis — worried of expulsion, or parental backlash, or community embarrassment. But you standing up for being who you really are is one of the most important things you can do — not just for your community, but more importantly for yourself.
I know this personally, just in admitting to myself and others than I had changed religiously. As I slowly and painfully extricated myself from my own subculture in which I grew up, I felt very alone. But the more I broke free and was willing to not just admit to others my differences in opinion but admit to myself I was changing (often the harder task, as I still fear that maybe I am wrong and thereby will be burned alive for eternity in God’s hell fire), I found that I was not alone. I would hear from increasingly large numbers of my peers, my former students, and even my former teachers that they, too, had or are trying to break free.
I had always been a rabble-rouser in homeschooling circles, but one from within, being self-critical. So I am not unfamiliar with making waves and being chastised. So to take a significant, real break from this community can be terrifying. But once I finally took a stand, I realized — sometimes, someone just needs to have the courage to say what others have been hoping to hear. I hope that you can find this strength within you and around you as well.
I think, for a lot of us, we are afraid to say what we feel, to say that we have changed. A lot of our subculture’s message to us was to shut up and get in line. That makes us, even as adults, fearful of a former community’s backlash. We have stuffed our questions and our seeds of discontent for so long that remaining silent has become a habit. Even as adults, we have that inner child who is terrified of saying, “Hey, I don’t want to be like that. I want to grow up. I want to have my own beliefs. I want to be my own human being.”
The fact is — I am my own human being. And I always was. I just was raised to not think that way. And I have witnessed with my own eyes, ears, body, and heart so much pain that comes from not acknowledging I am my own person. And I have heard of so many others’ pain.
The fact is — you are your own human being, too.
And you are not alone.
From the Quiverfull movement to the betrothal/courtship mentality to Generation Joshua and the dominionist attitudes of HSLDA, there are many survivors who — like myself — are trying to put their selves’ pieces back together.
I identify myself as a heterosexual. But even as a heterosexual, I understand how painful and hurtful a conservative environment can be. We were taught to be ashamed of our hormones, to bury deep inside our feelings of love and desire. We were taught abstinence only and often very little about the actual biology and mechanics of sex. We were taught masturbation was evil. And we were taught to look the other way when we were in grocery store checkout lines, lest the glamour magazines made us “stumble.”
I still look the other way at grocery stores to this day.
So I can only imagine how much more painful and hurtful it is for those of you who are at Patrick Henry College and are not heterosexual. My heart goes out to you. My heart goes out to anyone, anywhere, that has ever had to be afraid of who they are because others will reject them.
Which is a tragedy, because this country was founded on the idea of freedom.
With his recent threats, Michael Farris appears to no longer approve of Patrick Henry’s statement, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Actions speak louder than words. And Farris’ actions say, “Give me my version of morality or give me censorship.” For shame, Mr. Farris.
The Jesus I read about in the Bible was a friend to outcasts, showing them compassion and love and — in the historical, political context in which he lived — astonishing and revolutionary respect. The homeschooling culture I grew up in took great honor and pride in itself being an outcast. In fact, homeschoolers style themselves as advocates of the inalienable right to be outcasts.
So do not let anyone look down upon you because you are young and different. Be proud of who you are. Be brave and bold in the face of adversity. Farris may have lost sight of the true values of Christianity and homeschooling. But there are many of us out here — Christians, former Christians, homeschoolers, former homeschoolers, and even complete strangers — who support you. We are here to help. We are here to cheer you on. We are here to love you for who you are.
You are doing important work both at PHC and in the world at large.
About R.L. Stollar
R.L. Stollar was homeschooled from preschool through highschool. He spent his highschool years as a speech and debate competitor in the HSLDA-created National Christian Forensics and Communications Association and was one of the original student leaders for Communicators for Christ (CFC), now the Institute for Cultural Communicators (ICC). His coaching experiences in homeschool debate include lecturing and training thousands of students across the nation with CFC conferences, at a HSLDA National Leadership Retreat at Liberty University, at Cedarville University, the Training Minds Ministry Debate Camp in Colorado, and others. He is currently a writer and columnist for a hyperlocal newspaper in Eugene as well as a proud member of the service industry at a Northwest pub. He has a M.A. in Eastern Classics from St. John’s College and a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Gutenberg College.