Thursday, February 5, 2015

On Homeschooling: Anti-vaxxers, privilege and Social Orthodoxy

There's a wonderful book called Cheaper by the Dozen that has nothing whatsoever to do with a terrible Steve Martin movie. In this story, all twelve of the Galbraith kids contract measles within hours of each other. The doctor, exasperated, tells the Galbraith parents (Frank and Lillian) that whenever their kids get sick, it upsets the health statistics for the whole state. "If I report a dozen new measles cases in one day, they're liable to declare an emergency and shut down all the schools!"

This happened in the 1920s, when vaccines weren't common. This was roughly the same time the President of the United States was a wheel-chair bound polio victim who went through great lengths to hide it.

This book was part of my homeschooling curriculum.  It's one frequently pushed by homeschooling proponants as a good example of parenting, child obedience and, lately, the principles of Quiverful: Have as many kids as your wife can carry. But it also illuminates one of the massive contributors to the anti-vaxx nonsense we now have to deal with.

 See, long before somebody brought their kid to Disneyland and ruined it for the rest of us, the folks that hijacked Christian based homeschooling gave us all an early warning. It came a couple years ago, here in Texas. That group is on the outer fringe of the Christian Patriarchy movement, and I had hoped and prayed that these idiots were the only ones organized enough to break herd immunity, and that any outbreaks would be limited to the insular Christian Patriarchy communities that congregate in North Texas, Nevada, Arkansas, ect. Bad by me.

Dr. Amy Tuteur, AKA the Skeptical OB, has a fantastic article on anti-vaxx philosophy as an example of privilege in the modern world. The core theme is that there is no greater example of WASP privilege than someone having access to affordable vaccines and refusing to use them. And the fact that the Christian Patriarchy movement is full of anti-vaxxers came as no surprise for me.  I knew about this several years ago, when I first started reading up on people like Bill Gothard, Doug Phillips and the ever-disgusting Pearls. But Dr. Amy's words codified something for me that I've been mousing around for months: in our society, it is a privilege to be undereducated and ignorant.Christian Patriarchy takes full advantage of systematic privilege. If White Anglo-Saxon Protestants did not have the privilege they do, Christian Patriarchy would not be a supportable philosophy. The only reason they can hamstring their wives and daughters, keep their children out of public education and spit on modern medicine is because privilege will catch them long before they fall.

This is how you can have a family of twelve live in a house without electricity and running water for ten years.

This is how the raid on the Yearning for Zion ranch could end with positive proof of systemized, instituionalized sexual abuse of children AND have the children go right back to the system that abused them.

This is how you can make a business advocating that parents beat their children until they die from the resulting trauma.

Because people know, somewhere in their minds, that they have the power to be ignorant and suffer no meaningful consequences.

The Christian Homeschooling community was hijacked back in the late 70s and early 80s. I do not use that word lightly. The demographic involved are usually desperate, slightly gullible people who have concern as a primary motive--concern for their children, their education and their politics. It's a population that is very ripe for someone convincing to come along and take over. It happened with Jim Jones in California. It happened with the Branch Davidians in Waco. It's happened in every religion, in every social group, and in every race and creed known to man. It's gonna happen again, inside of groups we haven't invented yet. Predators will always take advantage of others. It's part of the human condition.

There's a lot of key steps to manipulating an individual into rejecting mainstream society and the materials it offers. One of the major ones is to make that rejection a part of your identity. If a person merely has concerns about, say, Child Protective Services, then one can have those concerns soothed. If, however, you are taught to be frightened of CPS, and are convinced through carefully selected and edited case studies that you have good reason to fear them, then you will likely reject information that places them in a good light simply because fear is addictive. But even then, it's likely that you'll start to change your mind. But if fear of CPS is a part of your identity,  then not only will you be virulently anti-CPS, you will greedily consume information that confirms your bias. It is more important to have this bias be confirmed by an outside source than it is to be correct in your analysis.

I watched this happen inside of my family without knowing it. We were Christians, first and always. Then we began homeschooling and, in her effort to get guidance, my mother was taught to identify as a Homeschooler. Homeschooling wasn't just the best choice for our education, it was a part of who our family was. It set us apart, and the negative reaction of her own relatives, and my father's relatives, and our family friends--which quickly disappeared after we began homeschooling--only re-enforced her acceptance of Homeschooling as a part of her identity as a parent. The more shit you get for supporting an idea, the more devoted you are likely to become. And then, of course, she began reading materials that said fear of CPS was a part of being a Homeschooler--that it was an inherent facet of that identity and if you didn't follow it you weren't a real homeschooler. And because being a homeschooler was now an important part of our family Identity, we had to incorporate a fear of CPS into our every-day thinking.

When you factor in that we were also running a foster home full of kids who had been rescued by CPS, and that we had a daily reminder of just how many hoops CPS and the state will jump through to keep families together, you begin to understand the cognitive dissonance I grew up in. On one hand, I was told that we had to fear the state. On the other hand, we were frequently working with Child Protective Services, the court system, the parole system and about nineteen other state-run boards to try to keep our foster kids in touch with their families. We had one child, in fifteen years, emancipate from their parent. And yet we still believed that if Child Protective Services saw me and my brother playing outside at noon, they would take us away from our parents and we'd languish in the foster system forever.

This existed, not because we actually believed this shit, but because we'd been told that to keep our identity as homeschoolers intact, we had to have that fear.

Now, replace "homeschooling" with "good parent", and CPS with vaccinations, and you begin to see the co-relation.

If you are told that to be a good parent, you have to avoid vaccinations like the wind up with a whole lot of plague. 

It gets even worse when you realize that anti-vaxx rhetoric has become part of the Homeschooling rhetoric. It's not enough to distrust the government anymore; now you have to distrust its medicine. In order to "count" as a homeschooler in certain circles, you have to avoid vaccinating your kids. These are the ATI/Bill Gothard/Doug Phillips/Quiverfull/10,000 kids and Counting people.  If you want to "count" as a real Homeschooler, or whatever, you have to do this, this, this and this other thing. It's a kind of social orthodoxy. If you don't fit all the tennants of their belief system, then you don't get to claim that identity. And because you have already claimed that identity, this means losing everything you now believe defines you.

Debi and Michael Pearl, who really cannot be villified enough, are both advocate anti-vaxxers. None of their children have ever been vaccinated. For anything. They boast about this constantly. They have many devoted followers.

Groups like Christian Patriarchy and Anti-vaxxers are so very strict in who they accept and what behaviors are allowable, that you have to claim and conform to the identity they define. Those who don't get thrown out (or, if they're smart, run the fuck away) very, VERY early on. Want to follow science? Get out. Want to question and analyze all research? Fuck off. Want to allow for the morals and physical safety of others? Selfishness is a part of the identity. Go away.

The result is a band that adheres to a very tight belief system, and who are so tied into it that they will absolutely protect the ideology and the ideologes to the death. Not because they actually believe this shit, but because they incorporated it so deeply into their own psyches, rejecting any part of the idea means rejecting themselves. When an anti-vaxxer or a Christian Patriarchy proponent goes on a spitting rage screed, they're not defending their horrible belief system. They know they can't defend it. What they are defending is themselves. And the knee-jerk defensiveness they display is the same reaction you have when you are physically assaulted--the self must be protected at all costs. It's basic human instinct.

In a very real sense, the anti-vaxx sources and the Christian Patriarchy leaders have built themselves a comfortable protective wall. They can spout whatever they want and know that they will never be challenged. They have a human shield of devoted followers so caught up in the message, they view the Message as if it were their own limbs. The human shield will die for the Idology.

Unfortunately in both anti-vaxx atitudes and Christian Patriarchy, that shield is made of children. And it's the children who will pay the price.

Edit to add: awesomely sarcastic article comparing vaccinations to breaks on a car:

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