Kindergarten was basically normal. I fingerpainted. My best friend was in the class with me. I remember making paper feathers for a hat at Thanksgiving. It was uncomplicated.
My first grade teacher was evil. We found out later that she wasn’t even qualified to be a teacher. She put children in closets. Including me. She punished you for squirming. I kicked my first boy in the crotch. He would confide in me when we were both 18 that he still possessed a scar. I would tell him that the scar was a lesson that you should listen to girls when they tell you to let them go or leave them alone. Mom moved me because the environment there was so toxic.
I don’t remember much of second grade. I think that it was fine, though. I was bullied, but I don’t remember to what extent. It must have been bad, because Mom moved me to a local Baptist school.
Third grade was the best grade. I was not being bullied. My best friend was in my class. My teacher was red-haired and beautiful. She brought us back cheese from Wisconsin. Someone in the class cut themselves on safety scissors. It was the first time that I had seen blood in that amount. They went home in an ambulance.
In forth grade my teacher was also a Civil War reenactor like my dad. I accidentally told her that I loved her one night when leaving the Civil War museum. She was kind. And warm. And nurturing. Like a favorite aunt. I really did love her.
My best friend left my school in fifth grade. Suddenly the bullying was too much to bear. Girls in my class telling me that I could be the servant when we played princesses on Church days because my dresses were not as nice as theirs… suddenly stung. And my old retreat between a building and a wire fence where I would pretend to be a pilot, sketching out drawings in chalk on the stone and pressing buttons that would take me to Where They Were Not, was profoundly isolating without a co-pilot. My mother elected to move my brother and I to home schooling.
Sixth and seventh grade were spent at home. My dad was my history teacher. I spent hours with my mom out in the woods learning the names of trees and rocks and rivers. I poured over Civil War era maps with my father. I had a few friends from local home schooling groups. One of them had a deer named Dawn who lived in her back yard and would gently take offered grain from my hand. Most of the home schooling groups were fundamentalist Christians, however, and I grew tired quickly of having them tell me that my family was going to Hell. Additionally, I had a hard time adjusting to the idea of my mother as a teacher and respecting her as such. So the decision was made to send me back to school. I did not pass the entrance test for eighth grade, however.
The second go of seventh grade was more difficult than school had been to that point. I was close enough to walk home, but my bully followed me. She whispered death threats in my ear in class and followed me home until, one day, terrified, I threw a metal trash can at her face and ran. After a quarter of the year had gone by, my mother was fed up and I was terrified. The Principle told my mother than I could deal with the problem or get out. We got out.
Seventh grade part three was easier. I was not afraid of what passed for a bully in the new school. She tried to push me down the hill at lunch. I stood stock still and laughed. She made fun of my pads and the boys joined in, so I threw them at the crowd of shrinking boys and they scattered like schools of fish before me. I felt the flavor of future power as I laughed off her pale attempts at playground butchery.
In eighth grade I had a new best friend. I was a little in love with her. I had followed her around the playground and begged her to be my friend. Eventually she would come on vacations with me and my family. I was so grateful to have a friend. And she was so lovely.
In high school my fifth grade bully would find me, now a grade ahead of me because of my having repeated seventh grade. She asked me if she could be my “big sister” and show me the ropes.
I was home schooled for sixth and seventh grade. My mother went through cycles with the schools I attended. She would put me into a new school and then move me out at the end of the year because the administration was terrible. She didn’t want to put my brother and I into public school, but the Catholic and Baptist schools that she preferred weren’t much better when it came to bullying and the attitudes of the administration regarding bullying.
So, when I was in sixth grade, she removed the issues she had with the school systems in Philadelphia by removing my brother and I from them.
Home schooling was rough. One of the things my mom really wanted to do was to make sure that we still had social interactions and friends. But she quickly discovered that the local homeschooling groups were packed with fundamentalists who told Jules and I that our family’s ungodliness meant that we were going straight to Hell.
My mom did not stand for any of that shit. So we drifted out of homeschooling groups in the same way that we had drifted from school to school, save with more rapidity. I’m so grateful to my mom for recognizing toxic environments and making the effort to remove me from them when I was a kid. She worked really hard to make sure that I was in a safe space, and that is so valuable to me as an adult when I look around me and see so many of my friends and loved ones whose parents did not do that hard work for them.
Which brings me to this weeks totally unshocking revelation of adult misconduct.
Before this week you might not have heard of the Duggars. They were the stars of a TV show that aired back in 2008 titled “17 Kids and Counting” that made it’s way up to “19 Kids and Counting” by way of being “18 Kids and Counting.” The show was about Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their 19 kids. The kids’ names all start with the letter “J.” Because why not.
All that is enough to make me just nope straight out the door, but it gets worse. The Duggars are also Independent Baptists (i.e. super fundamentalist Christians) and members of the Christian patriarchy movement. Christian patriarchy is one of those things that really upsets me both in idea and practice. It is what it sounds like, basically. The father is the head of the house and, as such, he is responsible for the conduct and care of his family. But, of course, that means that all the women in the house are totally subservient to the father and viewed as property.
If you want to understand more about the sickness of the Duggar way of life and some of the people that they associate themselves with, I wholly recommend this Open Letter to Duggar Defenders when you have time for a long read. Here is an illuminating excerpt regarding the supposed “happiness” of the Duggar children:
The Duggars are deeply enmeshed in ATI, (Gothard’s homeschooling program) and ATI takes allegiance very seriously. It isn’t a vague statement of beliefs that you sign so your kids can take the courses. It is several pages of in-depth info that covers what kind of music you can listen to (no Christian rock), the kind of TV you may watch (mainly Christian DVDs), the way you must dress (those jumpers are about modesty), the kind of punishments the parents must use (spankings), and more. It isn’t just a curriculum–it is a lifestyle which delves into family finances, child planning and every other detail.
One key idea teaches the importance of a joyful countenance and a light in your eyes. This is a measure of how mighty you are in spirit. Not only that, it is also an indicator of your respect for authority. Bill Gothard explains in the Basic Seminar session on How To Relate to Four Authorities that if you look unhappy, you are publicly shaming your authority. In parenting, that means that if the kid looks unhappy, it is a personal offense against the parents. He also teaches that unhappiness is the result of ungratefulness, and that anger comes from not yielding our rights to God. This boils down to the idea that if you are not cheerful, you are not pleasing God.
I get that negative emotions are not easy to deal with. And navigating them as a parent must be hard. But giving kids the space to feel sad and to deal with negative emotions healthily as they arise is important. At the very least, allowing kids to feel authentically and to express those feelings is vital to healthy emotional development.
So that’s just one aspect of the things that the Duggar children have internalized over the years. I should point out, by the way, that the Duggars are not alone in this. There are many other children being raised in this way and being taught these things. This is not an isolated group of people acting completely alone and contrary to all the other folks around them. Which is what makes it even more frightening to me.
Anyway, as you can imagine, all of this opens the door for all kinds of abuse. And, this week, it all boiled over.
It turns out that Josh Duggar, the Duggar’s eldest son, has admitted to molesting underage girls when he was a teenager in Arkansas. Included among these girls were his own younger sisters. The story broke on Thursday, when In Touch magazine published an article about the recently uncovered police reports from 2006 which indicate that Josh confessed to his father regarding the molestation. And that his father did not go to the police until a year afterward.
In a statement yesterday Josh was quoted as saying:
Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends… We spoke with the authorities where I confessed my wrongdoing, and my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling. I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life.
Since the news hit yesterday, Josh has resigned from his position at the Family Research Council. Josh’s parents Jim Bob and Michelle have stated that:
Back 12 years ago our family went through one of the most difficult times of our lives. When Josh was a young teenager, he made some very bad mistakes, and we were shocked. We had tried to teach him right from wrong. That dark and difficult time caused us to seek God like never before.
I have so many problems with what Josh did. But even more problems with how his family chose to handle what Josh did. Waiting a year to report the incidents to the police and praying to God rather than allowing the legal system to do it’s job are not acceptable choices.
At any rate, I am waiting to see whether the Duggars come forward with any more pertinent information to this case. Has Josh received any kind of therapy since these events? Has he been continually involved with any type of support group?
The fact that Josh has been involved in pedophilia and incest and now has his own children makes me concerned for the safety of those children. And the insular way in which the Duggars chose to deal with their son’s criminal acts toward his siblings and other young girls makes me suspicious. If they were not willing to report him to the police until one year after his “childhood mistakes,” what would they do if he was still molesting young women today? Or his own children?
My doubts about the family’s willingness to do the right thing regarding Josh’s pedophilic acts are exacerbated by the family’s close ties to Doug Phillips of Vision Forum and Bill Gothard of ATI. Doug has been revealed to have sexually abused a young female employee, while Bill spent decades sexually grooming the teenage girls sent to him by their parents for instruction. The Duggars have yet to speak a word against these men and their acts of sexual misconduct.
The Duggars have revealed with their previous behavior that they have no wish to expose Josh’s proclivities to the public eye. They hid his misdeeds behind the thick veil of secrecy that surrounds their family long enough that that is clear. But if the Duggars are not willing to expose Phillips and Gothard, who are not blood relatives, to bad press regarding their inappropriate sexual acts, I do not believe there is a force in this world that would compel them to expose their son in that way.
As I said, I am waiting to see if the Duggars come forward with some evidence that Josh has control of his urges to take sexual advantage of the girls in his life. But honestly, the fact that his behavior started so young and went un-addressed by anyone in a position of authority outside of the family does not give me a lot of hope that it has abated. I remain deeply concerned for the safety of his children and all young women with whom he interacts and over whom he has authority.