“Who is more humble? The scientist who looks at the universe with an open mind and accepts whatever the universe has to teach us, or somebody who says everything in this book must be considered the literal truth and never mind the fallibility of all the human beings involved?” –Carl Sagan
It’s a challenging thing, to admit to ourselves how vast and mysterious this Universe is, and how small and ignorant we all truly are. It can feel daunting and isolating to think about it, and solace can be difficult to find, as Mazzy Star can maybe help you related to as you listen to their wonderful song,
But not everyone is given the same opportunity to honestly engage with the realities of existence.
In many ways, I was very, very fortunate to get the education I did from a very young age, through excellent teachers, a wide selection of reading materials, a family environment that valued learning, and exposure to a wide variety of peers.
But there was something else that was an important part of my education that not everybody gets equally, and that some people don’t get at all: a strong emphasis on figuring things out for myself.
One of the biggest epiphanies of my childhood was when I connected this to science and math. It seems like such an obvious connection to an adult, but to a child, this was truly mind-blowing. Rather than reliance on what you’re told by an authority figure, rather than memorizing something and reciting it back, rather than debate what you think might be the case, you can simply and definitively know.
Have an idea? You can test it for yourself, and figure out what’s true and what isn’t.
Read something that someone else claims is true? You can test that for yourself, too.
And if you want to know something beyond your means to do the experiment for yourself? You can look up what’s happened when others have performed them, and figure out the best, most fitting conclusions for yourself.
That’s the power of science.
And it isn’t just for scientists; it’s for everyone! An awareness and appreciation of what science is — of what scientific knowledge, facts and theories are — is one of the most powerful lessons an individual can learn in their life. It’s empowering, it’s humbling, and perhaps moreso than anything else, it prepares you to reckon with the Universe as it really is.
But not everyone gets the same opportunity to learn these lessons. You’ll often hear cringe-worthy stories about creationism in the science classroom, and that’s in public school systems that are subject to state and federal oversight. But there’s a much more terrifying story that isn’t being told: the story of homeschooled children who aren’t being educated in a proper sense, but who are subjected to indoctrination — and in some cases, abuse — in lieu of this.
(Note: In absolutely no way whatsoever do I intend to disparage homeschooling or parents who choose to homeschool, or to imply that any one of public, private, or homeschooling children is inherently better, overall, than one another. If you love your kids and want to prepare them to succeed in this world, you are — and should be — free to do so in the best manner you see fit. But you can’t abuse them, and you do them a tremendous disservice in their quest to become successful, functional adults if you take science, math and scientific literacy out of their mental toolkit.)
But I’m not writing this to rant about the evils of what some people are doing, but to share with you the existence of a community of support: Homeschoolers’ Anonymous. There are over 200 personal accounts of young adults coming to grips with their own past, negative experiences with homeschooling, sharing their own stories with the world and offering support, healing, awareness and community to others — both kids and adults — who’ve had their own struggles. Here’s an excerpt from one such account:
These children are to be trained in God’s original plan for the U.S. to be a Christian nation, and they will grow up to invade all levels of the U.S. government and society and reclaim the U.S. for Republican, conservative Christianity.
To this end, all aspects of a homeschooled child’s life are to be tailored to this vision. Every effort is made to ensure that the children become full-fledged advocates of this viewpoint. You see, many conservatives fear one thing almost more than everything else, including Bill Clinton and abortion: that their kids will grow up and disagree with them. There is an enormous apparatus in place to prevent that calamity. There are books, videos, seminars, and camps dedicated to keep kids in line with their parents’ ideology.One of the most talked about and feared statistics every year is how many kids gave up on their parents’ beliefs once they go off to college. This statistic will go viral everywhere. It will terrify parents, reinforce their mission, and inspire them to push and brainwash harder, faster, stronger. You don’t want to be that parent — the parent with the bad seed, the apostate.
It can be a major embarrassment and shame or alienate parents or families out of their long-trusted circles. “The family that has the atheist kid?” Or, “The family that has that girl who got pregnant?” “Surely they raised their kid wrong. Let’s not associate with them anymore.”
It kills relationships.
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 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’m 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. So I cannot keep silent any longer. I will no longer keep my mouth shut and I will no longer play the games of this strange world.
Bottom line: it’s your life, it’s your mind, and no matter what anyone tells you, it’s your Universe too. Its story and its secrets are there for all of humanity to discover, and whether you’ve been looking your entire life or you’re starting for the first time right now, you’re always welcome to take part in the journey. And no matter where you came from or where you are right now, you don’t have to do it alone.
(Discovered via Dan Savage.)