She Never Really Began Teaching: Sarah’s Story

She Never Really Began Teaching: Sarah’s Story

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Sarah” is a pseudonym.

We began homeschooling because my mother, who was an nurse at the time, didn’t want to work anymore. Also, my last year of school there was an incident. As I waited for my mom to pick me up after school one day, I sat on the curb. Apparently, that particular place on the curb was a chosen spot of little thuglets. The thuglets crowded around me and the Head Thuglet said that if I ever sat in that place again, she would shove knives down my throat. I told my mom about it, she told the principal, and the next day the principal made the girl apologize to me.

"My mom tells me that it is my fault for not studying enough. She takes no responsiblity for what she did."
“My mom tells me that it is my fault for not studying enough. She takes no responsiblity for what she did.”

I think that was what finally convinced my dad to let my mom homeschool instead of working. “Us” consisted of 1 older sister and 2 younger brothers.

My sister and I had enough public schooling that we could teach ourselves from the books my mother bought us the first 2 years of homeschooling. (After that she stopped buying textbooks for us, as they were “too expensive.”) My older younger brother (does that make sense?) had lived a rather privileged existence in public school: he was white in a predominately black school, and he had white teachers who always passed him through to the next grade regardless of whether or not he learned something. Yay for white male priviledge, I suppose!

We lived in a state that required the Iowa Test of Basic Skills every year as proof that we were learning. My sister and I, each learning as much as we could with very, very limited resources (this was before the internet was big!), managed to improve our scores nicely every year.

My brothers were a different story. First, it was discovered that (thanks to white male privilege), my brother didn’t even know how to read. He was still in elementary school, yes, but he was almost through. Who lets a kid pass from K-1st, 1st-2nd, 2nd-3rd and onto 4th knowing that he can’t read?

The crappy public system I grew up with.

So, the first few years we took the ITBS my brother needed “help” from my mother to even read the exam. And when she helped, she helped quite a bit — reading comprehension especially. She’d read him the story and ask him the questions. If he answered incorrectly, she’d read over the line in the paragraph again that had the answer. For example, if the story began, “There was a brown bunny who lived in the bushes,” and he had to chose what color the bunny was (White? Black? Grey? Brown?), she would read the line again “There was a BROWN bunny who lived in the bushes,” and, miraculously, he would get the answer correct.

This is no way whatsoever to teach reading comprehension. And this is the way the entire test would go. He’d stumble, and she’d “help.” Most of the ‘”helping” was flat out telling him the answer, like the example above. And this happened for years, even after he learned to read. He was so far behind that she’d make excuses — “Oh, he wasn’t taught this!” — when the reason he wasn’t taught it was because my mom stopped teaching. 

She never really began teaching. At first she’d buy the books and tell us to go read them. My sis and I did. My brothers did not. Which meant that, every year that passed, the three of them — my mom and brothers — would dig deeper holes for themselves.

We were from an educated family, on my dad’s side, and it was expected that we’d go to college. My sister and I went to a state college and graduated with honors. One of my brothers took 8 years to graduate, thanks to many, many remedial courses, and the other brother decided college wasn’t for him.

It’s funny to see how expectations for my family just got lower and lower. My father got exasperated with the entire situation and stayed out of it. My mother is happy that she pandered to her sons so much because they are still living at home with her, despite being in their late twenties. I think my youngest brother, who had no public school education at all, gave up on college because he would have to catch up on grades 3-12. I very much do think he has around a 3rd grade education, and to be so far behind and try to go to college would be a nightmare. I know he started to take a class at the local community college, English 101, but I don’t have any idea if he passed or dropped out, as that part of the family is estranged from me, and has been for years.

And if I ever complain about my lack of schooling during my middle school and high school years my mom tells me that it is my fault for not studying enough. She takes no responsiblity for what she did — and is still doing to my brothers. 

6 thoughts on “She Never Really Began Teaching: Sarah’s Story

  1. revenwyn March 22, 2013 / 1:21 pm

    I feel your pain. In my case, my mother was a single parent who was trying to homeschool me because I had some learning disabilities and would have either just been in the public school “holding tank” or it would have cost about $25,000 a year to send me to a special private school for learning disabled children. That was about what my mom made per year. My mom did not like the public school system and because I had pretty much just been expelled from a private school due to “behavioral issues” (ADHD) no other private school in the area would take me as a student.

    She really did not teach me at all either. I did either Alpha Omega or PACE notebooks for a while, and then she gave me the answer keys to self-grade. Eventually she got me a computerized curriculum and I worked on things in the car… yes… the car because I was too young to leave at home.

    During my high school years I learned P.E., music, art, and literature. I didn’t really learn any math or science. I am 30 years old now, a college drop out, because I did not know enough math to get by. My math has been tested at about 5th grade level. I have tried and tried to get over this hurdle but have been unable to.

    I was eventually diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome (a disorder on the Autism spectrum.)


    • Sarah April 10, 2013 / 7:50 pm

      Very interesting, Revenwny! I, too, am autistic, and have learning disabilities. But I also have a tremendous stubborn streak. After having no math education at all throughout middle and high school, I needed to take Statistics to get my Bachelor’s Degree. And I did! I went straight from no math for over a DECADE into Stats.

      I worked and cried and studied, and decided that I *have* to pass the tests so that I could take my bachelor’s degree and move out of the hostile environment I was living in.

      I worked extremely hard on the first tests (the ‘easy’ ones, supposedly), and actually failed my final, but because I’d done well in everything else, I made it outta there with a C+, which was plenty good enough to pass. 🙂


  2. LS May 16, 2013 / 3:48 pm

    This is quite similar to my own experience. It baffles me how an adult woman can–without a hint of irony–blame her former ‘student’ for their own poor education. As though any young child who has difficulty with math is going to be able to self-motivate themselves through a highschool education.


  3. Elizabeth December 30, 2015 / 12:48 pm

    I could relate to this so much….I don’t remember my mom teaching me. She would read to me until I could read for myself, but usually it was just leaving me alone with a textbook. She did the same with my brother. When I was in 9th grade she finally realized my math was nonexistent, so she got me a tutor (a homeschool tutor) who tested me and said I was at 5th grade level for math. (I have absolutely zero science by the way, I barely passed the basic biology class college freshman take in the arts program.)

    My little brother had dyslexia, but again this wasn’t discovered until far too late. Now he’s 21, lives with my parents in a sad codependent relationship. He can’t drive (never was able to pass the test for the learner’s permit) can read finally, but can’t write or spell worth anything. My mother blamed my deficiencies on not applying myself (though I managed to integrate into community college and later successfully transfer into a 4 year college and get a degree) but with my little brother, she kept trying to get him diagnosed with autism or ADHD or other weird (plausibly nonexistent) issues until she managed to get him on disability.

    I definitely feel survivors guilt. If I hadn’t been such an avid reader, I’m not sure I could have applied myself with equal success. I dual enrolled at the local community college at 16, and took to that structured environment like a fish to water. (Finally, I learned how to write a proper research paper!) I ended up choosing a liberal arts degree that accepted “Business Math” because I knew I would never be able to pass the remedial math courses needed to get me to college algebra level. I’m 26 now and am finally able to accept my childhood as a form of neglect.


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