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Why I hid my college education

2012/03/09

As I have previously alluded to, I did not start my education in the public system. In many ways, my background is similar to that of Libby Anne from Freethought Blogs. This means that she keeps covering topics I intended to do. She’s a better writer with a bigger audience, which for a while made my idea to start a blog again seem pointless. She kept doing topics I intended to do, and doing them better than I likely would have. In that case, what’s the point of me writing? It’s like Gus Van Sant remaking Psycho. In practice, though, I’ve come up with new topics faster than I can write about them, so I’ve avoided re-treading her ground. However, yesterday’s post gave me a chance to play off her rather than retread her.

Like Libby Anne’s, my parents believed in an authoritarian model of parenting, at least, to the degree they believed in a model of parenting at all. They were basically making it up as they went along based on what they remembered of their parents and some religious ideas. Unlike Libby Anne, I got spanked all the time. I generally got it several times a week. The way Libby Anne tells it, there are probably a couple of days where I topped her lifetime total. I think my Mom only spanked me five or six times my whole life. This was mostly my dad’s doing, though he was frequently just doing her dirty work. Either my parents had a much lower threshold for spanking or I was a bigger pain in the ass. It was probably a little of both. I was spanked for not doing my chores, talking back, messing with my parents’ stuff, not doing my homework, teasing my siblings, going places without permission and pretty much any other rule violation you can think of. Normally, I was spanked with a sturdy cubit ruler, but occasionally got a wooden and when I was especially difficult, I got a braided leather belt across the bare ass. Based on what I’ve read in psych literature, it’s a wonder I didn’t end up with a spanking fetish, but the whole thing just seems silly to me.

Like Libby Anne, I heard the standard lines when I got spanked about how it was “going to hurt me more than you” and such. My parents tried not to spank in anger, but unlike hers, weren’t all that good at it. I can still remember my dad’s face turning red and the vein bulging on his forehead as he screamed “I… hate… being disobeyed!” before he laid into me with the belt after I willfully refused to do the dishes or something else I had been ordered to do. A couple of times, other people at the church got visits from child protective services. My sister and I got a few talks about how if we got the police involved, we’d be taken away and ever get to see them again. My parents were sure that CPS, as common practice, would browbeat kids into saying they were abused so they could throw the book at the parents. Of course, teaching us to resist pressure from authority figures had a broader effect than they would have liked.

Despite this, I wasn’t really taught unthinking obedience. I was home-schooled for kindergarten, but when it came time for first grade, my mom wanted me out of the house. We lived in Ames, Iowa at the time. My parents didn’t trust the public school system, which was a tool of liberal indoctrination or something (I don’t remember the specific objection anymore) and the only religious schools in town were Baptist and Catholic, so I got the Baptist one. As I’ve mentioned before, my parents are Pentecostals,not Baptists. While they may look similar to outsiders, Pentecostals tend to think of Baptists as ridiculously legalistic and more concerned about clothing and hairstyles than the witness of the Holy Spirit, which is the cornerstone of Pentecostalism. My dad was fond of telling jokes like “You can always tell a Baptist, but you can’t them much” and openly mocked their policies of requiring female students to bring a second skirt to school to wear over their snow pants at recess in the winter and sending letters home to parents when boys’ hair got too long. He also was an amillenialist and a non-Trinitarian, so didn’t exactly agree with the doctrine of the churches we attended either. Plus, he was a Libertarian who didn’t trust the government at all. I was being taught a healthy disrespect for authority. He just didn’t like it when I applied that to him.

I think one of the problems with public school is they didn’t spank kids. The principal at the Baptist school had several paddles for a variety of spanking needs, though and wasn’t afraid to use them. I remember in my first could days, I was supposed to be practicing writing my letters and turned an “M” into a continuous doodle that stretched across the page. I was sent to the principal’s office, where he broke a plastic spoon across my ass and had to switch to the heavy wooden paddle. That guy could really, hit, too. I think he worked out, or just kept in shape by virtue of the fact he had a couple hundred kids to spank, not just two like my parents.

My family moved a lot, so I only did half of first grade there before moving to Wichita. I couldn’t go to public school there, either. The main objection I remember hearing was the public schools played Lifeboat, which is an ethical exercise where you are given a list of people and a limited capacity boat and have to decide who you would save. My parents thought this was being done far younger than was appropriate. It seems like an oddly specific objection to me. I ended up home-schooled again for the second half of first and the first half of second grade using the Bob Jones curriculum (I should do a full post about this later). For the rest of second grade, I went to Calvary Chapel’s church-run school. We basically learned by text books due to the school being to small for a full complement of teachers. In third and fourth grade, we learned from videotapes made by Pensacola Christian Academy. This let the school have one teacher for every three grades and conduct exercises while the other two grades were watching tapes. They theoretically spanked there, too, but I can only recall it happening once. I think the principal there disliked the whole idea and hadn’t gone into teaching to hit kids, even if he thought it was occasionally his biblical duty to do so.

My dad lost his job and we moved to Huntsville for a while. My parents took another shot at home-schooling me for fifth grade, but I wouldn’t do anything. Looking back, I think a lot of the issue was that the stress of the constant moving got to me. We lived there almost a year, but I can’t remember a single friend I had. I don’t think I had any, in fact. All I really remember doing is putting off my homework, going to the corner store, going to the space museum and playing with my ninja turtles. I had been moved away from the only friends I had managed to make and was now socially isolated in my house. When we moved again to Cedar Rapids (which is where we ended up staying for good), I was put in the public schools repeating fifth grade. I had been a year ahead, so this just put me at my age level. My parents couldn’t afford private school and home-schooling just hadn’t worked. Repeating a grade was a great indignity and I had spent my life up to that point hearing about how awful public schools were, so I was miserable. I’d never learned any social skills, so everything I’d heard about how awful those ungodly kids are seemed pretty true. I was miserable. I didn’t break this cycle until tenth grade or so when I went out for drama.

How are spanking and school connected, especially considering my parents started fining me instead of spanking me about the time I turned eleven? As with Libby Anne, spanking taught me that I was supposed to shut up and obey and that no one wanted to listen to me, especially when I thought I hadn’t done anything wrong and got extra swats for protesting. Fining wasn’t much different. On several occasions, I ran up a sizable debt when my mom told me she’d fine me another dollar for every word I said in protest. For me, the problem went way deeper than this, though. This approach to discipline set up parenting as a battle to make myself heard and get respect for my own autonomy. If I obeyed after a spanking, that would just send a message that they were right and that my voice didn’t matter.

Being forced to go to church and camp, which I found increasingly objectionable, didn’t help, nor did the fact I couldn’t really talk to my parents about anything. My parents hadn’t set up a cooperative relationship. Everything they knew about me was another item that could be used against me when they wanted to pressure me to do something. Anything I liked could be grounded from. Anything I was scared of could be worked into lectures about how I needed to do what they said. All of it could be passed along at church so people could pray for me. I never told them why I became a vegetarian. It got me forced into therapy, though. I never told them why I quit going to church, either. It was easier to just say nothing.

As grades went on and I got more homework parental pressure to perform in school only increased. My dad used to say there are only two grades: an A, which is good and an A minus, which is not. By high school, I had established my own identity to the point that didn’t want to let them win. I also didn’t want to flunk out of school. They yelled at me a lot and I spent basically the entirety of high school grounded ad I constantly went back and forth between my desire to do well and my desire to stand up to my parents. It was very stressful and I had several breakdowns. In the end, I had a not-awful 2.97 GPA and an outstanding 35 ACT score and 99 ITED, but barely graduated thanks to almost flunking several key classes. Luckily, my government teacher took pity on me a bumped me a few points to a D.

I went straight to college at Iowa State. I had never developed any study habits and the same pattern of not wanting to give into my parents repeated. I end up flunking out and defaulting on my student loans. A few years of hard work got me on my feet again and let me get established in my own apartment and generally live a life independent of my parents. When i was twenty-four, I decided to take another crack at college. I didn’t really need to make more money, but ladies love degrees. I didn’t want to repeat the problems of my youth, but I hit on a solution: don’t tell my parents. If they didn’t know, then they couldn’t bug me about it and success would itself be defiance and I was self-reliant, so it wasn’t like they needed to know. I did very well under the radar for two and a half years, though I had a close call once when my mom started trying to pressure me to go back to school and Kitty had a hard time not laughing and again when my car broke down in the parking lot and I needed my dad to pick me up. They didn’t catch on, though. I considered waiting until I got my BA, but decided it would be mean to make them miss community college graduation. I brought Kitty along for the big reveal. It was rather anti-climactic as they didn’t really get it until it was explained in detail. I had hoped it would be a lot funnier. They didn’t even attend as my cousin had a wedding the same day. Here’s my old Xanga post about it. I ended up graduating with honors for an AA and AS and going on to a BA program at University of Iowa I’m still struggling to finish.

To this day, I’m hardly shy about talking, but don’t really talk about myself. Kitty was the first person I ever really felt like I could trust with anything personal. Even my current girlfriend, Sophia, hasn’t been told all that much. Almost everything in this post will be new to her, for instance. I hate events in classes and workplaces where you are supposed to say your name and one thing about yourself as I don’t like it when people know anything about me. You never know when that will come back and bite you. Now that I’m thirty-one, I’ve largely gotten over my anger at my parents and can see that they meant well, as awful as they were at times and tried to break my will as their parenting technique because they were seriously unaware of any other approach. The fact they’ve been better at parenting adults than they were at children helps, too. Still, things can get quite heated when I see how they handle things with my youngest brother, who still lives with them. Between this and my religious break, I just don’t feel connected to my family like most people seem to. Sometimes, I’ll go months without seeing them, even though they only live about fifteen minutes away. My parents have never met Sophia, even though we’ve dated almost a year. I’ve felt no real desire to see my extended family at all. On a conscious level, I realize it’s silly,but even as an adult, I’m still afraid of them knowing very much about me. I hear through the grapevine they’ve speculated all kinds of stories about me. I don’t think any of my siblings want them to move in when they get old. Ultimately, that is the consequence of adversarial parenting: Your kids may love you with difficulty, but they can never trust you.

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4 Comments
  1. faustinchen permalink

    The frequent forgiveness I come across in stories like yours truly surprises me. Had I gone through something even remotely as grave, I would have cut ties entirely, and perhaps, as a final (silly?) act of defiance let it be known exactly why. People love to talk about violence as a “consequence” of bad behaviour when it is really something they imposed. Losing someone in your life is a consequence of mistreating them in the true sense of the word.

  2. My parents never spank me and I think that spanking definitely should be considered abuse. At the very least, this sounds like it was emotional abuse that instilled fear instead of love into you. The last line was particularly powerful and insightful. http://theweirdworder-awritersworld.blogspot.com/

  3. It really sucks to hear that, actually. Spanking is so wrong on so many different levels.

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  1. An addendum to my parenting post « The Hypothetical Bus Stop

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