Monday, October 28, 2013

Isolating Kids to Shield Them from "The World" Is Not Only Harmful, but Counter Productive

Recently, I published a post titled Can You Sincerely Believe in Something If You Have Never Doubted or Questioned It?, it was a repose to a blog post by Christian blogger Kansas City Bob about the "Idol of Certainty". I had said that I can't really see how a belief in anything, politics, etc, but especially religion can be a personal belief, a true and powerful part of someone's identity if they have never seriously questioned it or doubted it at some point.

Blogger Jack Vance  had this to say in response to the post:

Here was my long, rambling response, which really got me thinking about the fundamentalist homeschooling movement and how it makes questioning downright impossible when a young person is in it, due to the constant isolation in order to protect children from "the world":

Not only question the maturity of it, but the strength of it? How strong can someone's beliefs be when held up to questioning and opposition if someone has never questioned and tested it?

I think that was kind of a fatal flaw of the current fundamentalist system. Fundies like to blame secular colleges for their kids leaving the faith, as though professors are actively trying to de-convert students (you of all people would know that's the farthest from the truth),
(Sheldon's note: Jack Vance is a university professor in Mississippi) but it's not the colleges that are leading to the de conversions, it's being allowed to experience the outside world for the first time, being exposed to all varieties of people, and realizing that the world doesn't fit in a nice little fundamentalist box, and that some people aren't as bad as they were lead to think.Their faith is being confronted with reality, and it has never been questioned by reality before. They've never asked the hard questions about their faith, because they haven't been outside of fundie land, and never been faced with questions before.
I think the forced isolation is not only destructive, but counter productive to the efforts of thew parents to keep their children in the faith. Because their faith has never had to face the hard questions of life before, you end up with young students that know their faith well, and can repeat all the lines and canned arguments, but their faith has never been hardened by being exposed to outsiders, and facing the hard questions that facing reality will bring about.

They have never had to ask "Is this truly what I believe?" because they have never had to make the choice to believe.

Any normal, rational person can see how isolating a child from the outside world is harmfully psychologically, and that kind of closed environment is a fertile breeding ground for abuse (if you can't see it, just spend about 30 minutes on Homeschoolers Anonymous, if that doesn't convince you, I don't know what will).

Fundamentalists isolating their children in order to protect them from"the world" don't seem to realize that not only will they be creating adults who feel like a foreigner in their own country, and have a hard time coping as adults, but that their efforts in trying to keep their children in the faith well into adulthood (which they think will happen by keeping the out of the corrupting influences of "the world"), are actually counter productive.

Let me explain. I sincerely believe that in order for a faith to be real, and personal to someone, a major part of their internal identity, they have to at some point question what they believe. Without questioning, the faith is merely what that person believes due to the fact that it is all they have ever  known in their culture, or just what they have believed due to the fact that is the way they have always seen the world, and they don't want to change that fact.

To me, genuine faith can not come about without questioning, or doubting at some point, without it, it can't true representation of who that person is, and what they believe with every fiber of their being. Questioning usually comes about as a result when someone is questioned about their faith, or confronted with new perspectives that they have not encountered before.

Neither of which can happen if someone has never been exposed to the outside world.

When a person raised in such an environment finally has to go out and be in the outside culture, whether that be in the workplace, college, etc, their faith gets shaken even harder than it would have been had they ever been allowed the opportunity to question, because though in some cases, question leads to an abandoning of the faith (like in my case), if someone can sincerely question the faith, and still decide to remain in it, it comes out on the other side as a much stronger faith than before.

Fundamentalists don't seem to understand this, and they are scared of questioning, they try to limit their children's exposure to the outside world to keep them from questioning, and it ends up creating a generation of people, who until they are able to walk away from such an environment, don't even know how to question and explore their beliefs.

It's a very closed culture where outside ideas are not allowed in, questioning isn't just discouraged, but up to a point, the very concept of it doesn't exist. Questioning is only allowed, and can only be comprehended in very limited ways. When taught how to debate, they are only taught how to use certain talking points to back up what they already believe, with consideration ever given to the possibility that what is taught is wrong on some level.

Questioning in such a way is a concept that someone in that culture, especially young people can't even grasp. Words are redefined, as many different bloggers showed in the Learning the Words project organized by Samantha of Defeating the Dragons.

 It's a deliberate tactic to keep their children in the fold (hopefully for life), and it bears an uncanny resemblance to Newspeak in the book 1984, a new language designed for the people of the empire of Oceania, whose main goal was to make dissent impossible. Here's an excerpt from chapter 5 of 1984 where the main character, Winston, a government clerk, is talking to Syme, a clerk responsible for helping to create Newspeak dictionaries:

(Syme is speaking in this conversation):

'Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. 

'By 2050 earlier, probably -- all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron -- they'll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of the Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like "freedom is slavery" when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking -- not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.' 

George Orwell was right, orthodoxy is unconsciousness, it's believing without thinking. That is the goal of this kind of thinking, people who believe without sincerely questioning. They think this will result in children growing up to believe it as a matter of fact for the rest of their lives without questioning it.

The problem is, at some point, a person, has to become an adult, they have to be able to work outside the home, they will end up moving out, and having unbelieving neighbors and co-workers, or maybe just simply people who are Christians, but not as extreme as them. At some point, this exposure to the outside world will become overwhelming to them. 

They will be for the first time, forced people who don't look, act, think like they do, forced to face the reality that exists outside of the narrow confines of the world they grew up in. It automatically either forces them to retreat into a lonely shell, or make them face questions that they never had before, which is a highly emotional process that they don't quite know how to deal with, because they have never been able to honestly question before. 

They don't know what to believe, or what to think of the world around them, because they have never experienced it before. Suddenly the canned response they were taught to give in response to challenges to the faith (lovingly called apologetic in the world) seem to be falling short in response to this new internal struggle. They will be forced to re evaluate everything they have been taught, and decide for themselves what they truly believe.

For some, they will end up coming back to fundamentalism somehow, and more determined to be a "better Christian", but most will either come back to Christianity in a more moderate form, it give it up all together, the experience will lead to their former fundamentalist beliefs collapsing like a house of cards. 

The parents who wanted to try to keep their children in the faith by isolating them don't realize that realize that their tactics are back firing on them, creating a generation of former fundamentalist who have given it all up, and who realize just how toxic that belief system is, people like me and Lana Hobbs, Jonny Scaramanga,  and Samantha Field, just to name a few.

In trying to create a army of fundamentalist foot soliders who follow orders, and believe what they are told without objection or question, they have actually created toxic fundamentalism's worst enemy: A generation of people willing to tell the truth about fundamentalism.                 


  1. LOVE this.

    The fundamentalist homeschool movement strives to keep its children sheltered from any influences that might undermine their beliefs. You can almost smell the desperation in their revisionist history, constrictive curricula, and fear of the outside world. I do worry for children growing up in that subculture; when and if they escape, they'll be free, but freedom will be a painful, jarring surprise.

    1. Thanks for sharing this on Twitter.

      They'll be free, but wondering what to do, thankfully, there's sites like Homeschoolers Anonymous.

  2. It wasn't till I got interested in foreign missions and met some missionary kids that I realized I, too, was a "third culture kid". My relationship with my world made so much more sense after that.

    1. I always knew I was different, but I didn't know why, there was more differences between me and even the other students at the Southern Baptist university I was in. I didn't figure it out until later.

  3. "they are scared of questioning" - I can relate to that Sheldon. Even my public schooled kids were not encouraged to question at home.

    That said, I know of many families who homeschooled their children in an environment that encouraged questions. Their kids are now grown and seem to be in pretty good shape. Even so, I have heard rumors of the type of folks that you speak of. My thinking is that you may have any hand experience?

    Of course we all know that our public school systems are all about challenging the status quo and kids questioning what they are taught - not! ツ

    1. Bob, you are right, that some homeschooler question more than public schoolers. My kids were homeschooled. But, not to isolate, to expose them to MORE. So, when they did go to public high school and they had strong opinions with facts and reasons to back them up their teachers loved having them. Very few other kids would speak up. And those that did mostly parroted their parents and could not back up any of their beliefs with reasons. It was sad. My kids don't agree with me politically on everything and that's OK as long as their choices are backed up by thought out reasons. They are more conservative than I am. I grew up in the 70's I'm very liberal.

    2. Oh yes, Bob, plenty of first hand experience on this, I'm a contributing writer to Homeschoolers Anonymous, check out that site, there's plenty more people like me there. I know public school (and even college/university culture), is more about studying for the test, instead of actually learning concepts. But the fundamentalist homeschooling movement is about more than that when it comes to discouraging questioning.

      @Stacey, wait you have conservative kids? lol

      I know you would probably be different than most homeschooling parents, mostly because you never feel into the fundamentalist mindset. Homeschooling can be alright, there's nothing wrong with homeschooling in and of itself.

    3. I added you on Twitter, btw, Bob.

    4. Thanks Sheldon. Added you back.

  4. I've been homeschooling our kids from the beginning, but we are transitioning them to an online public school now.

    1. Good, hopefully they will be exposed to more ideas now. What curriculum did you use before?

      Keep doing what you are doing, expose them to people of various beliefs and backgrounds, and encourage questioning. They'll turn out alright. :)

    2. Our curriculum is a hodgepodge of things. I never felt comfortable going the BJU or Sonlight route. I've been most impressed with Saxon math. You were homeschooled?

    3. Growing up, I had ACE, first in a private school, then in homeschooling.

      These links will tell you more about it:

  5. The more I read about home schooling the less I understand :(

    I was wondering, if you think it contributed in any way to your depression. I ask, as I think sometimes a mental illness like depression can be helped by social interactions. In case you answered this in the post ( don't worry answering again, as I will be reading it later today.

    BTW, as you know I am also clinically depressed that's why I am wondering.

    1. Mental illness runs very strong on both sides of my family, which makes my mom's denial that I have depression even more puzzling. I probably would have had it, even under other different circumstances, or at least a pre disposition that would have come out under different traumatic circumstances.

      It couldn't have helped, though.

      I bet the whole fundie homeschooling culture is probably puzzling to you, since it's only a powerful force in the US and some provinces of western Canada right now, though it's starting to grow in Europe.

  6. Great post, and great to see it over at HA as well.

    1. I sent an e-mail to Ryan/R.L Stollar about it (the founder of HA), asking if he would be interested in it, I was glad to see it was re-posted there this morning.

  7. I can't help but look at everything through the lens of a math teacher. If there was ever a concept that a student was having trouble understanding, the best way to get them there was to get them to try to break it. If they can't see why a theorem should always hold, have them try to concoct a situation where it fails. Assuming the theorem is valid, their example will never work, but once they see WHY their example fails they will have a much easier time fully understanding the theorem. Questioning what I say at the chalkboard will only lead them to understand why I said it in the first place.

    1. I understand that line of thinking, I've had math professors, and if circumstances would have been different, I could have ended up with an engineer for a father in law, same kind of thought process operating there. I'm not going to talk about that relationship, another story for another day, I'll just say I'm glad I didn't end up marrying his daughter, lol.

      Yes, questioning is a big part of math, don't just accept that something works, demonstrate why and how, prove something before you take it for granted.


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