A Childhood Inside: Richard’s Story

A Childhood Inside: Richard’s Story

This is the story I’ve been trying to write for twelve years.

For the nine years before that — when most expected me to attend elementary school and learn to read and write, find my adolescence in middle school and stumble towards adulthood in high school — I stayed at home. The most logical name for this would be homeschool. However, I’m a little disturbed by the ease of that word – as if a situation so complex and incomprehensible could be so effortlessly labeled, a simple hybrid of the home and the school; a natural consequence, like homeoffice or schoolroom. It wasn’t just that the school was brought into the home; it was much more.

The specifics are easy to relate, I’ve had to explain them many times when the subject is brought up. However, the actual feelings are more difficult to write about. It was as if the nervousness the night before my first day at Kindergarten was extended infinitely and awkwardly. My entrance to school was delayed, forever. I had secret expectations of eventually going to a brick and mortar institution, the schools I read about in Judy Blume novels and saw momentarily on television. Looking back, I thought all schools were indoor hallways of lockers shut down on snow days, neither of which actually happen in West Coast schools. When I made a distinction between what I saw and what I was — my life at home and how I thought everyone else lived — I posed philosophical questions about my situation. My dad was always working, so they were directed at my mother/teacher. I questioned reality and my disconnection from it: “Why don’t I go to real school?” I tried to explore the paradox of our history: “Why did you two go to public school and I can’t?” My mother could only defend our unique separation from everything outside, rather than explain it.

Homeschooling is illegal, or exists in perilous legal terrain, in most developed countries. In Germany, families are not allowed to legally withdraw their children from school and train them within the family unit – this law is intended to “to prevent the emergence of parallel societies based on separate philosophical convictions.” Here they were able to carefully capture the essence of the homeschool: not only does it prescribe a separate education, but encourages a removed existence – separate lives running along parallel to the lives of others, distinct and never touching.

My parents both had advanced degrees. My father was a librarian, my mother a teacher. Their own education, rather than making them cosmopolitan, led them to construct a strict hierarchy along the lines of religion, culture, and race. Rather than seeing themselves on the top, they adopted the Protestant ethic: they were low beings scratching their way up to the top under the vengeful eyes of God. Both attended public schools and grew up in fairly secular households. The roots of how I was raised came not from their upbringings, but rather how they made themselves as adults. My mother attended a private Christian college and, after obtaining her teaching credential, only taught at small Christian schools. My father came from a family Catholic by default, but converted to Protestantism as an adolescent. He tells a story where he was bedridden from sickness and studied the Bible until he found his answer: a religion separate from others, distinct in its purity and historicity. His move from one aspect of Christianity to another, if one could call it a conversion, probably created a need to constantly entrench his position, to lay ideals and notions to ground. My parents, of course, met each other in church.

From what I understand, they came to homeschooling on their own; or perhaps there was some inspiration from others. This was before the echo box of the Internet. We were involved in a loose homeschooling network, but then stopped. We opened our doors to other families in our church for a year or two. Pictures show us: three original children in desks in a wing of the house we called our schoolroom. In a way, we were pioneers, doing something radically different, that had only been done many times before in equal isolation. Just like the picture book “The Little House”, we were an old-fashioned red schoolhouse, the world growing and developing around us as we remained undisturbed and alone, frozen in time.

In fact, the past is a big feature of religious fundamentalism, as I see it. It’s a refuge, a inspiration, a sourcebook. We used old textbooks in our school – they were cheaper, after all, and we didn’t have to rip out contradictory scientific notions. My friends, attending other schools also in their homes, watched Shirley Temple movies and listened to Nat King Cole alone in their rooms, as if stuck in a previous time. We prayed before food, consecrating it with our thoughts and guilt. We spoke in our parents’ dialect, adopting every manner of speech and idiom along with their beliefs, hopes, and dreams. We didn’t know any better than what was given us, and no one told us any different until much later.

I received a robust schooling. There was no “un” attached to what I had, no exploration of my inner motivations or allusions to natural learning. My mother knew how to teach. Our learning was structured, undemocratic, and curricular. But, as our numbers grew and waned, the three of us learned how to be independent. Many who had this type of “structured homeschooling” transition fairly well to future schools and colleges — academics isn’t a problem. When it comes to talking to other people and not pissing your pants in public, it’s a separate question.

I lived between a high school and middle school. The exteriors were familiar, while what was inside was a mystery. On some weekends, I would climb over the locked gates and wander onto the empty playgrounds and fields — empty fragments of something I didn’t quite understand.

I would run around the track or sit on the swings.


9 thoughts on “A Childhood Inside: Richard’s Story

  1. Matt June 20, 2013 / 12:29 pm

    Beautifully written. I can related to a lot of what you said about the isolation factor.

    Many who had this type of “structured homeschooling” transition fairly well to future schools and colleges — academics isn’t a problem. When it comes to talking to other people and not pissing your pants in public, it’s a separate question

    Nailed it right there. I was a total basket case when I did finally get to go to high school.


  2. Sophelia June 20, 2013 / 5:23 pm

    I used to do exactly the same thing… sneak out of the house and climb the fence to spend time in the school grounds.


  3. Lana June 20, 2013 / 9:22 pm

    Very poetic. Thanks for sharing.


  4. Pro-family Christian June 22, 2013 / 1:23 pm

    “Homeschooling is illegal or on disputed terrain in most developed western countries”? Not heard such a bare-faced lie on an anti-Christian blog for a while! And I am a leftwing watcher!

    Just to make it clear: homeschooling is legal without exception and by long established statute, precedent and/or Constitution in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Norway and Portugal.

    Austria and Finland permit home education within strict academic standards; so long as these are met one can be as religiously conservative as one desires. Holland makes exceptions for parents who disagree with the religious or philosophical character of all nearby schools- so fundamental Christians living outside their Bibjelgordel and Muslims can home-school.

    On the other hand, many ex-Soviet/Eastern Bloc nations which still have fairly human rights-abusing governments, Godless communistic Cuba and China [for citizens only; non-citizen residents are permitted to homeschool], central American nations run by hardcore Catholics, Turkey under its far-right Muslim Erdogan government currently being protested in Istanbul, and various other repressive regimes make public school compulsory for everyone.

    And as far as racism is concerned.,. South Africa sent homeschoolers to PRISON under Apartheid and when Mandela came to power it was legalised.


  5. Richard June 25, 2013 / 8:41 pm

    Thanks for the lovely comments. I’m trying to write more, I’m enthusiastic to have found others with similar experiences.

    Anonymous Christian, I always appreciate new information and knowledge, but surely you’ve missed the point and confused this article with a political statement, which it is not. It is rather a reflection on the isolation and anxiety caused by well-intentioned yet often self-unreflecting Christian fundamental homeschoolers. Not every stance or opinion is pro- or anti-, or should be interpreted as such to fit nicely into one’s worldview.


  6. Gnat August 15, 2013 / 6:27 am

    Dear Richard,
    I homeschool my two kids and I wonder what their views of this aspect (in fact all aspects) of my parenting will be when they are adults themselves.
    They haven’t been left to entirely wonder about what a school is like as they have both been at different times for a day or two to schools of their friends, cousins and my friends’ kids.
    Did you go out? Join clubs? Have friends who didn’t homeschool? Have a job when you were young? Do extra-curricular activities?
    One of my two is very social, chatty, friendly, theatrical; the other is quiet, reflective, a deep thinker. I’ve always put it down to their own temperaments.
    I’d be interested to read more and thank you for sharing.


    • Sarah September 11, 2015 / 12:40 pm

      When your only access to the outside world is through your parents, going out, joining clubs, and making friends who aren’t homeschooled is not something a child can do on their own. And when you have controlling, over protective parents, it pretty much doesn’t happen at all. They control every friendship and activity. Also, viewing the inside of a school for a couple of days is nothing like the experience of attending school.


  7. Michell September 15, 2015 / 6:34 pm

    “I would run around the track or sit on the swings.


    This part put tears in my eyes just imagining how you must have felt. My dh was homeschooled from 6th grade on and he said he felt very alone. His parents controlled all of his social activities. His father pastored a church (where we actually met) and his mother was in charge of the homeschool group. He said he felt very alone during those years.


  8. govpappy September 22, 2015 / 5:31 am

    I’ve commented on various aspects of my religious past on other blogs, but I haven’t really visited the homeschooled aspect beefier. Your presentation of the isolation you feel is spot on, like this:

    “Academics isn’t a problem. When it comes to talking to other people and not pissing your pants in public, it’s a separate question.”

    I was homeschooled till I graduated, and never went on to college, but I did get my current career right out of high school, and the transition was hard. Mentally/emotionally I was an early teenager holding a man’s job.

    Thanks for sharing this.


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