Well, not quite. That’s what I wrote on May 30, 2009. Here’s my update, two years later:
Sunday, May 29 2011.
Nearly two years later to the day, I have stumbled upon an interesting fact that many people find my blog by googling “Sonlight Forums”. This blog post pops up like number six or something on a google search. So I’ve really been thinking about this quite a bit the past few days while lying on my sickbed with this bad cold and tending to my torn and tattered Jean-Luc. Should I remove these posts off my blog altogether, leave them as they are, or edit them in some way to reflect where I’m at now? It’s been a hard decision, but I’ve decided to do a bit of editorializing on this one post and delete the rest as this pretty much explains it all in a nutshell. It breaks my heart that after over a decade of joyful membership on the Sonlight Forums, “Yes, I was Banned off the Sonlight Forums” is what I might end up remembered for most.
That just isn’t right.
But I decided that if people are going to end up here anyway then I might write something of an explanation of my take on it. Take it or leave it.
In 1998, with a son in the second grade and our daughter in the fifth, my husband and I began to look into homeschooling as an alternative way to educate our children. While we were devout Evangelical Christians, our main issues were not religious but educational. Both my husband and I were volunteers in our children’s classrooms and we could see close-up what was happening to education. As a result of No Child Left Behind, Standardized Testing was gaining a strong foothold and we were watching on the front lines as teachers were abandoning things like history and art to teach to these tests. We didn’t blame them then and we don’t blame them now. Severe financial penalties were being exacted against those schools and teachers who were not producing adequate test results. Who cares about the history of Native Americans or Mozart when your funding is being cut and the San Diego Union is publicizing that your school is an underperformer? We believed then and we believe now that Standardized Testing was a huge mistake and has all but destroyed education in America. But we were not going to sit around while our children’s education was ruined, so we began to look into homeschooling. We spent an entire year researching curriculum and homeschooling philosophies before making our final decision.
During our investigation I discovered Sonlight Curriculum and the Sonlight Forums. In those days the forums were much, much smaller and much, much simpler. After spending a year on the forums, and studying the catalogue, and reading the 13 Reasons Why Families Love Sonlight, and the 27 Reasons NOT to Buy Sonlight, we made a decision to go with Sonlight. We scraped together the several hundred dollars necessary and bought our first Core and brought our children home to begin teaching them, “The Way You Wish You’d Been Taught”.
From 1998 until 2009, I was a very active and somewhat popular member of the Sonlight Forums. I made many friends online and went on to meet many of them in real life. The forums meant a lot to me and my family; they changed our lives. As an adult who spent all day home with her children, I enjoyed having a place where I could easily hang out with like-minded adults having adult discussions. I also enjoyed the opportunity the forums created for people of divergent points of view to congregate together to discuss important topics of the day. Sonlight, the company as led by John Holzmann, seemed to have an immense toleration and even respect for different points of view. I really appreciated that about the company.
Then a handful of significant things seems to have happened all around the same time. In the summer of 2008, Touchstone, a prominent member, renounced his Christianity and declared himself an atheist. This shook the community to the core; well, it shook me up anyway. And, coincidently, around that same time, Sonlight was denied vendor space at the Christian Home Educators of Colorado (CHEC) Convention reportedly because of the company’s perceived wishy-washy stance on the Young Earth/Old Earth creation controversy.
In truth, historically, Sonlight, through John Holzmann, has always been more tolerant of differing views on Creation than other conservative Evangelical Christian curriculum providers. And with the charismatic President, Founder, and CEO of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham, appearing across the country as a major keynote speaker at homeschool conventions, and making Creation THE #1 issue in homeschooling today, I certainly can’t say I was surprised when the big homeschool gurus who control Christian homeschooling attempted to censure Sonlight in this way.
My husband and I have had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Ham speak many times, including an entire week with him at a homeschool camp held at Lifeway Headquarters in Glorieta, New Mexico. Mr. Ham is passionate about Creationism and is very vehement that only a Young Earth Creation (YEC) belief is consistent with Christianity. Christian homeschool parents who, as a group, are very concerned with raising up a godly seed are being indoctrinated quite strongly that any other viewpoint aside from YEC is tantamount to heresy and can result in your child losing their faith (By the way, nothing is said at these conventions about the dangers of extreme religiosity and the very real risk that presents to your child’s faith because that doesn’t sell what Christian parents want to hear.).
This slight by CHEC must have been a huge embarrassment for the company since Sonlight is headquartered in Colorado Springs, the home of Focus on the Family. A quick google search of “Sonlight Forums” also reveals that the question of whether or not Sonlight curriculum is “Christian enough” remains a topic of debate within the Christian online homeschooling community.
Then, maybe as a response to the all the above, I really don’t know, Sarita Holzmann, John’s wife, appears to have taken over the helm of the company retiring John to the background. This was a strange turn of events since Sarita, always named as the Founder of the company in the catalog, never, in all my years there, was any sort of a presence on the forums.
Sarita’s sudden appearance on Lifelong Learners (LLL), the acknowledged troublezone of the forums, reminded me very much of a third grade Sunday School teacher returning from a verrrryyyyy looooonnnnngggg bathroom break only to find the students dancing on the desks and throwing spitwads at each other. Only these weren’t naughty third graders we’re talking about, but extremely brilliant, highly educated people from all walks of life and faiths discussing deep thoughts about Truth and Theology. Her opening maneuver to rein in LLL with a simplistic study of The Book of John was disastrous to say the least. It was like a kindergarten Sunday School teacher trying to present her felt board lesson to a group of Jesuit graduate students arriving to take their final exams. Daddy Otter, a Biblical scholar and a professor in Ancient Literature took up her challenge.
Not understanding the dynamics of the forum’s complex online relationships and lacking the skills required for a winsome defense of her viewpoints, Sarita was soundly thrashed on her own forums. Timing being everything, I believe I was among the first to see these two Titans go at it on LLL and made the very bad mistake of publicly joking, “Why do I suddenly feel like Mouse and want to run over to Meet and Share and say, ‘Morpheus is fighting Neo.'”
My mouth is always what gets me into trouble.
Sweet little me, who mostly posted on Parenting or Meet and Share, suddenly felt the Eye of Sauron upon me. The John thread was pulled for a time after my comment and then another silly thread started by my husband about Twilight and loving me enjoying Twilight and K.C. and the Sunshine Band (you really had to be there) was also yanked for no reason that was ever explained. Prior to this banning that I write about here on May 29, 2009, I received a few demerits over really silly things and was sent an ominous private message from someone letting me know that my end on the forums was coming. It is not an exaggeration to say that a siege mentality began to prevail.
I truly believe that Sarita Holzmann is a godly woman, but I honestly do not think that she understood or understands the nature of the online forums her husband created. Also, there were some forum participants (and certain cowardly tattletales) who began reporting posters and posts that didn’t line up with something called, but never defined, “An Evangelical Christian Worldview”. Instead of treating these tattletales like any wise mother should and telling them to grow up and take their complaints back to their sister (or brother), the moderators allowed themselves to be placed in a terrible position of censoring certain posters to protect the delicate sensibilities of certain customers. The moderators of Sonlight were called upon to abandon their position of serving customers and taking up the banner of protector of the faith, the right faith: Evangelical Christianity.
For myself, I feel that initially I simply got caught in the middle of this. Having friends on both sides of the divide, I was never a great theological debater on LLL. I was as crushed as anyone when Touchstone announced he was an atheist; I’m still sad about it . Most of my writing centered around parenting and women’s health issues. I wrote extensively about my daughter’s courtship, which was widely well-received and likely made me pretty popular. And trust me, I was very tempted to leave it at that and allow myself to stay up on that wonderful pedastal of parenting having achieved the Holy Grail of Evangelical Christian Homeschool parenting: The Virgin Bride. But it wouldn’t have been the whole truth, and so I began to write about my son going prodigal.
I wrote out of my desperation and out of my pain. Here my husband and I had done all ‘THE RIGHT THINGS” and our son rejected our worldview. How did this happen? What could we do about it? How would we survive it?
Initially, some people gave us some really “great” advice like, “Have you tried Scripture?” Our answer: “Well, gee, our son was a Bible Drill Champion.” Others offered, “Do you do Bible Study?” To that we can say, “Gosh, every morning, often with dad.” I did become disenchanted with some of Evangelical Christianity’s simplistic answers to life’s difficult problems. I didn’t and won’t hide my disillusionment with churchianity, but I’ve never rejected my faith in Jesus Christ.
As we got deeper in our walk with our son we realized how little help there really is out there for parents of prodigals. And slowly I began to see the hardest truth of all: I’d been raising my children as a idol unto myself. I discovered the reality that children are their own people and we can’t make them do anything. No curriculum guarantees “a godly legacy”. And I started writing about that. And as I crawled out of despair I started writing that life could be worth living even if your children go their own way. I wrote that, while mothering is great and wonderful, there is more to life than mothering and I was going to find out what that more was.
But you know what? That isn’t the sort of message that sells Christian homeschool curriculum. Parents want a product that brings them the guaranteed results: a godly legacy. Parents flock to homeschool conventions to learn how to raise children who will never stray from our worldview What could one say about a curriculum company that ended up having parents who become atheists or children that become prodigals? That doesn’t sell homeschool curriculum and Sonlight is first and foremost a Company that sells homeschool curriculum.
So, in 2009, to save their company and prove that they are “Christian enough” there began a great cleansing of everyone who didn’t espouse the correct Evangelical Worldview (which, again, was never actually defined) that continued on until 2010 when several people, including myself, were ultimately banned.
If you read my other blog posts about this situation you’ll find that eventually my heirloom membership was reinstated and the Company privately apologized to me. But it was too little, too late. I’m still an heirloom member on the forums and I can post anytime I like, but I rarely do now. And that’s okay. Really.
P.S.S.S. I forgot the very best part. As noted, a few weeks after this fiasco on the forums died down, I did receive an apology from Luke Holzmann for the above banning and the “unintended” besmirching of my character. In fact though, months and months after all of this happened, Sarita herself sent out a “personal” apology that apparently was meant for me. It was addressed to “Chloe”, so I’m assuming she meant it for me anyway. But, to bolster my argument that Sarita really is oblivious to her own forums and the members there, she did not send the apology to me but appears to have inadvertently sent it to another member, whose name isn’t even remotely Chloe, who hadn’t even posted on Sonlight in over a year!
As my friend read Sarita’s rather generic letter to me over the phone it was very obvious that Sarita really had no idea who either of us were. Heavens. But in truth, I feel that Sarita’s mistake was a much greater insult to my friend than to me since my friend is responsible for several of the popular marketing ploys that have engendered extreme goodwill on the forums that Sarita now enjoys. You might know those things as: “Big Fat Meet-Ups” and the phrase “Box Day”, but Sarita hasn’t even taken the time to know who my friend is either. I responded to Sarita’s heartfelt apology with an equally heartfelt response and sent it to Susan Wise Bauer.