The Vision: Magdalene, the Wayward Homeschooled Kid

The Vision: Magdalene, the Wayward Homeschooled Kid October 23, 2020

The Vision, pp. 145-148

So. What’s the rest of Magdalene’s story? We now know how she found her way to the roadside where Omar picked her up. But how did she end up on the streets in the first place? The answer may surprise you.

Side note: what narrative purpose does Magdalene’s time stranded in the forest serve? Sure, Omar had to be able to pick her up on the side of the road, without being in the red light district at night. She had to want a ride in someone’s car for reasons other than sex work, so it did serve some purpose. Here’s the missed opportunity, though: we’re never told how her time stranded in a cabin in the woods changed her. Did it make her decide to give up sex work? Did it make her reconsider decisions she’d made? Did it make her resolve to turn over a new leaf and start over again when she finally got back to civilization?

This strikes me as a big missed opportunity. Magdalene’s time in the woods could help explain her decision to stay with The Last Publishers group, for instance. Maybe she decided to get a regular job once she got out of the woods, and maybe Cheyenne’s parents offered her a paying job at the Herb Den, and she decided to take it. But … we’re not told any of this. We’re not told she’s paid for her labor, or that there was any discussion involving Magdalene about her future. We’re not even told what she wants.

All of this is really bad writing.

That said, Magdalene’s explanation of her life before she ended up on the streets is really, really elucidating of Debi’s view of the world. Magdalene wasn’t some godless public school kid. She grew up in a large church-going homeschooling family. Debi seems very aware that things can turn out very badly for children who grow up in large church-going homeschooling families. She most have personal experience seeing this. Of course, Debi can’t acknowledge that this could be a product of things like educational neglect, or authoritarian parenting, because those are both things she promotes. So instead, she finds other things to blame.

Better Do What We Say

But first … first, Magdalene faces more abuse. “So how did you end up in the streets in the first place?” Cheyenne asks.

Magdalene paused. Hadn’t she risked enough today already? Cheyenne was asking her to peel back some ugly layers. There were some things best left untold. The girl drew back and continued in a whiny, childish voice, “Well, my daddy beat me all my life and my mama ran off and left me when I was just a kid. I had nowhere to go and nothing to eat, so I …”

“Oh, cut the crap! Tell the truth or I’m outta here.” Bobbie Jo had a keen sense for deception and an equally low tolerance for it.

Snapping back, Magdalene stormed, “If you are going to call me a liar, then I’m not telling you anything.” The small teen pulled her feet up onto the couch, sitting on them.

Magdalene’s desire not to share this part of her story is understandable, and should be respected. She’s only lying because she doesn’t feel safe sharing her story, and they’re not respecting that boundary.

Also, I feel like I need to add that this is Magdalene’s place of work, and these are her coworkers. They’re on the clock. This is completely inappropriate, and is making me wonder about Debi’s own employment practices and workplace culture.

“Fine, Liar, get your stuff together,” Bobbie Jo retorted. “I have spent several weeks trying to hide my purse from your thieving fingers. I’m tired of your drama. It’s time for someone else’s turn to put up with your duplicity. Get up. I’m taking you to the cops.”

Bobbie Jo was ten inches taller and at least fifty pounds heavier than Magdalene and just as tough. She could be as mean as she needed to be, and everyone knew it. Magdalene peevishly relented. “Okay, okay, You are going to be sorry, because it is one lousy story.”

Julie and Cheyenne breasted a sigh of relief.

Note that Julie and Cheyenne just sat by while Bobbie Jo threatened to take Magdalene to the cops. Cheyenne is a terrible employer. Absolutely terrible. She’s the boss here, and she just let this happen, just like she let Yancey come in and bother her employees without ever even asking him what his business was.

But also—why do they keep threatening to take Magdalene to the cops? This isn’t the first time. What are they threatening to turn her in for? Sex work? In that case, they don’t have proof—Magdalene wasn’t doing sex work when she came to them. What then? If they are threatening to turn her in as a runaway, that means they know they’re harboring a runaway. Is the idea to turn her in to get her sent back to her parents? Regardless, the fact that they can threaten this makes clear the power they have over this girl—and underscores the fact that, as I’ve noted, they’re engaging in human trafficking. They’ve taken in a vulnerable girl and are using threats and coercion to make her do what they want (including working for their home business, likely without pay).

And Debi makes it clear that Magdalene also (rightly) perceived Bobbie Jo’s physical size and strength as a threat. It should go without saying that this is a bad thing. I mean gracious, Debi even writes that Bobbie Jo “could be as mean as she needed to be” and that “everyone knew it.” And Cheyenne just sits by and lets Bobbie Jo intimidate and threaten her coworker. Lovely. 

Magdalene Tells All

Proper scared, Magdalene finally tells all. I kind of feel bad reading this section at all, frankly; it feels like an intrusion on Magdalene’s private, because it is. But, here we go:

“My family homeschooled—really goody-goody two-shoes. We girls wore head coverings. The boys were not allowed to play Cowboys and Indians because it was violent.”

This is jumping so fast into Debi’s narratives. Too fast. Debi doesn’t like families she thinks are goody two-shoes. Debi doesn’t think head coverings are required, and perceives of families that wear head coverings as “legalistic.” Magdalene’s story is simply Debi’s compilations of all of the ways large church-going homeschooling families can do things wrong, according to Debi.

“We were drilled on behavior and manners. Mama made sure we followed all sorts of religious requirements.”

What … sorts … exactly?

“Appearances were very important to Mama. I think she thought if people thought we were wonderful then so must God. She really thought she was saving her children, but our family was always bitter.”

Oh, bull. Magdalene wouldn’t use a word like “bitter” unless she heard it used, and she wouldn’t have heard it used for her family unless she had access to people outside of her family who were saying that, which she didn’t. I buy that Magdalene heard that word (i.e., in church), but I am not as certain that she would have applied it to her family.

Actually, you know what does occur to me? It’s possible that that’s the only term she knows that means dysfunctional. In that sense, it might make sense for her to use that term for her family. Girl needs a better vocabulary for things like this, but, well … she was homeschooled. The only things she knows about abuse or proper family relations are what her parents teach her.

Next, we move into another of Debi’s no-nos:

“There was some church trouble. I’ll spare you the details. Mom rehashed the problems every waking minute. Dad dropped out of church and got more bitter with each telling.”

Michael and Debi Pearl are pretty firm in preferring that families attend church, rather than doing home church on their own, or even with a few families. (They way they write about this issue suggests that they’ve known many families who stopped attending church, and whose kids turned out badly.) Their justification is that families—and children—need community. This is true! They also argue that children need access to other good Christian children to consider as possible marriage prospects. It’s not that this is wrong necessarily … but note that it’s all about introducing children to a limited selection of Godly Marriage Prospects.

I’m completely unsurprised that Debi has Magdalene’s family leave their church over an argument—an argument her mother made worse by rehashing repeatedly and venting about it to her husband ad nasueum (as Debi would say women do—in fact I think she addresses this directly in her good wife manual).

The White Supremacist Father

So. What happens next?

“[Dad] began spending a lot of time on the internet. Then he started going to what he called Bible meetings, but he didn’t invite us. … We wanted to know what was really going on, so Ike—that’s my favorite brother—got a key to the locked room and got on my dad’s computer …

(Ya’ll I definitely thought it was going to be porn. It’s not.)

… and found out it was White Supremicist meetings he was attending. Soon after that, Dad shaved his head and started slipping off to meetings all dressed up crisp and clean like a soldier getting ready for inspection.”

Yikes.

It’s funny, growing up in the Midwest, I never would have considered this as an option, but Debi writes about it like it’s a common problem she’s seen a lot of. Yes, we had our right-wing “militia” groups, but I don’t remember straight-up White Supremacist groups being common enough for notice. Either that had changed by 2009 when Debi wrote this book, or—and this is completely possible—Debi may have more experience with straight-up White Supremacist groups because she lives in Tennessee.

I’m also not surprised that Debi would see white supremacists as a separate social movement from godly Christians. There is definitely overlap: both groups are conservative, and plenty of white supremacists also identify as Christian. Some groups, like the League of the South, combine both religion and white supremacy. This makes the League of the South an interesting one, though: in 2018, the group’s president, Michael Hill, felt the need to respond to southern Christians concerned by the group’s presence at the Charlottesville rally. The group still stood for traditional Christianity, Hill wrote, but had radicalized on the “Negro Question” and the “Jew Question.” Hill wrote that: “because most Southerners (particularly evangelical Christians) are still reluctant to take to the streets to defend their civilization, we have made alliances with other radicals who are willing to stand with us in public.”

A full discussion of the relationship between Christianity and white supremacism would require a far longer discussion, however. Suffice it to say that there are white supremacists who make race purity more important than anything remotely Christian, and even white supremacists who worship the old Norse gods. Racial purity and race pride can become a person or group’s central ideology and focus to the extent that it edges out time and energy spent on Jesus or on Bible reading. (But again … there are also white supremacists who claim their ideology is rooted in the Bible, as we saw earlier in this book, so … it’s complicated.)

Most white evangelicals believe in white supremacy even if they don’t realize it. White evangelicalism is rooted in white supremacy; see centuries of white evangelical missionary activity, for instance. Most white evangelicals, though, would deny being white supremacists—they may not realize they hold white supremacist ideas—whereas the sort of white supremacist groups we’re touching on here are open about their belief that the white race is superior. For people like Magdalene’s father, belief in racial purity and race pride can edge out their focus on Christianity, Bible study, and so on.

And I’m just going to leave that there. Magdalene’s father’s new hobby is white supremacy, and he’s taken up with skinhead groups to the point of changing his appearance. He has also retreated somewhat from involvement in family life.

The Spiritual Lesbian Mother

Magdalene goes on:

“That’s when mom really flipped. She became the victim.”

Oh lort.

I don’t think I have time to get into this idea of “becoming the victim.” It’s gross. It’s this idea that people participate, in some sense, in their own victimization. In fact, it can even suggest that they victimize themselves by deciding to be a victim.

“Mom started getting regular counsel from a lady named Alice who told her to ignore any unreasonable demands my dad made, and that would humble him.”

Uh … what.

Note that Alice only told Magdalene’s mom to ignore unreasonable demands her husband made. Neither party in any marriage should be expected to meet unreasonable demands by their spouse. (What sort of demands are these, exactly?!) And what’s this bit about this humbling him? Conservatives’ approach to marriage and relationships is just so broken.

“So mom just stopped doing home school with us and told us kids to stay outside all day while she talked on the phone with Alice.”

This is why we need better homeschool laws: because parents can do this. Since Magdalene was in North Carolina when Derek kidnapped her, that’s probably where she grew up. Homeschooling parents in North Carolina never have to submit any evidence that they are educating their children. Hence Magdalene’s mother’s ability to simply stop educating her. 

“Dad said mom and Alice were spiritual lesbians. At first it seemed like a nasty thing to say, but after a while I saw his point.”

Ughhhh, again a Debi talking point. A woman has a female mentor! Egads! It’s not like everyone needs some mentorship in their lives, or anything. Not only should spouses not try to fill their spouse’s every need—bad idea!—but also, Magdalene’s father has already become remote and distant at this point, so it’s not like he’s even trying. But no! According to Debi, Magdalene’s mother should carefully keep herself alone and friendless.

And then we get to another thing Debi dislikes:

“Anyway, Alice got mom into keeping Jewish feasts and fasts, lightening candles on the Sabbath, and a bunch of other ridiculous religious junk. They even started calling each other ‘prophetess’. When she wasn’t on the phone, Mom was reading the Bible or down on her knees praying with this big black scarf on her head. It was really weird.”

This is actually common enough that I saw it while I was growing up. Some homeschool families started calling themselves “Messianic Jews” even though they had no Jewish ancestry, and had never joined that faith. They did, however, change their names, start recognizing the Sabbath, and start celebrating Jewish feasts. It was a sort of cosplay.

Debi does not like it. She does not like it one bit. So, since Magdalene’s backstory is an amalgam of everything large Christian homeschooling families can do wrong, this is thrown in too.

The Drug-Addicted Brother

And things are about to get worse for Magdalene.

“We barely saw Dad for the next year. When he wasn’t at work, he was with his White Power buddies. Mom was sure that when things didn’t go her way it was a direct attack on her happiness.”

Like I said: Magdalene’s family was dysfunctional.

“Anyway, the night of my sixteenth birthday, my oldest brother, Dave, came home for the party. Dave was hooked on drugs and I hadn’t seen him for a while. I was thrilled and flattered that he came home just for me.

Wait, wait, I want to hear this story. What happened with Dave?

In families like Magdalene’s, kids’ reach adulthood with two primary problems. First, they often don’t have a high school level education or, in many cases, a high school diploma. Homeschool graduates’ high school diplomas are accepted by most employers and colleges. However, the parents are usually the one who issues the diploma, and when a family is dysfunctional, this does not happen. Or if it does, the document is slapdash and doesn’t look terribly official. So it’s likely that Magdalene’s brother, Dave, did not receive an adequate education and does not have a high school diploma. He’s effectively a dropout.

The second problem kids like Dave face is a lack of connections. Kids who attend school have contact with different families and people, from teachers to fellow students and their parents. Kids in families like Magdalene’s aren’t just homeschooled; they’re also often isolated from relatives and others. Connections are often important to getting your first job. You may have a friend who works at that plastics factory; or, maybe your uncle knows of an opening at an auto body shop a friend of his runs. If you don’t have those connections, getting your first job becomes a lot harder.

It can get far more complicated, too. Remember the Turpin family, in California? There were thirteen children in that home, homeschooled, isolated, starved, and abused—and so malnourished that their growth was permanently affected. One thing that shocked a lot of people was that half of those children were adults, and yet they stayed. But where exactly were they supposed to go? Upon adulthood, lot of people from dysfunctional families move in with a relative, or crash on a friend’s couch. You can’t do that if you have been isolated from your relatives and prevented from making any friends, as the Turpins were.

Now, it doesn’t sound like Magdalene’s family was as isolated as that. Also, plenty of children who go to public school, or who grow up with lots of friends and connections, still flounder or have a difficult time on reaching adulthood. Still, it feels like Debi is writing things she knows—things she has seen happen—as she often does. This story is not an isolated one. This is a thing that can and does happen in large dysfunctional homeschooling families. It’s a thing Debi has seen happen.

Anyway, back to Magdalene:

“[Dave] took me aside and asked if I wanted to slip out the window and meeting him after everyone was asleep, for a real party. I was thrilled. I thought he was finally treating me like an adult, not some stupid kid. Later, I found out that his friends promised him free drugs if he could bring me to meet them. His friends liked fresh meat … really young girls—virgins … especially blonds.”

Don’t worry, there’s nothing graphic—and it’s actually unclear whether Magdalene was actually raped, though I’m not confident in her ability to draw that line. Remember, Magdalene has been homeschooled, in a Christian family: her sex education is effectively nil. She has probably never heard the word “consent.”

“At the time, I was so excited to be included. At home, I was just a kid. Everyone else was wrapped up in themselves. At the party, the guys actually complimented me, and talked with me long into the night. It didn’t take much to convince me that it was destiny and I was in love.”

Clearly, Magdalene was taken advantage of. And her background left her vulnerable to that. That’s one thing “sheltering” a kid can do—it can leave them so ignorant of the world that don’t know how to navigate it and are vulnerable to being exploited. Of course, Magdalene’s desperate desire for love doesn’t come from being homeschooled—it comes from living in a dysfunctional home. Plenty of other teen girls are left vulnerable to the first guy who shows interest in them for this same reason.

Poor Magdalene.

“I got pregnant, but the father was long gone. I had no idea what to do, so I finally told Dad. He just stood there and sobbed like a baby. He didn’t cry because I was into drugs or pregnant, but because I was carrying a black baby. Dad kept saying, ‘Pure Arian blood! You have tainted pure Arian blood!”

I mean … sure. I’m interested in her mother’s reaction too, though. Did she not tell her mother?

“That night I slipped out and never went back. Another girl invited me to come live with her. After a week she told me that I had to earn my keep.”

Presumably, the girl she moved in with was someone she met at that party, or through her brother Dave. And presumably, earning her keep meant streetwalking. None of this is stated directly, of course, but then nothing is in this book! (With the exception, of course, of the things that shouldn’t be stated directly, lol.)

In Conclusion…

Let’s list the themes Debi included in Magdalene’s upbringing.

Her mother rehashed a disagreement with their church repeatedly, until they left the church and stopped going to church altogether. Her father was radicalized by online content to become a White Supremacist, and then joined a local skinhead group. Her mother became close friends with a woman who talked her into super-conservative homeschoolers’ weird version of Messianic Judaism. Her mother also stopped homeschooling her and her siblings and started ignoring them—and started refusing to obey her husband without question, as (Debi says) a good wife should. Her brother left home, struggled to find his lace, and ended up addicted to drugs; Magdalene was drawn into that world by her brother, and ended up pregnant.

These feel like themes Debi has seen. The trouble is that Debi’s takeaway is not that you shouldn’t rely on a formula and assume you’re going to end up with a perfect family life and kids that turn out great, but rather that you shouldn’t rely on those formulas. Debi still believes you can follow a recipe and get the perfect kids. Real life doesn’t work like that. In the real world, kids need the space to grow up to make their own decisions—and will claim that space themselves if you don’t give it to them. The fundamental problem, as I see it, is an insistence on seeing children as an extension of—or possession of—their parents, rather than seeing children as their own beings, as independent people with their own rights and needs separate from those of their parents.

Poor Magdalene. And she hasn’t really escaped yet, either—to a certain extent, she’s jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. That Bobby Jo ain’t playing.

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