I Am A Testament To Homeschooling’s Power: R.L. Stollar
Do you want proof that homeschooling can be awesome?
Then look at Homeschoolers Anonymous.
Along with Nicholas Ducote, I have organized an online community that — in less than five months — has received national media coverage, garnered over half a million views, received both the praise and the wrath of educational activists, and engages in dynamic social media activism.
I don’t attribute that to myself. I attribute that to homeschooling.
Now, some of you might be thinking, “Well, Ryan, of course you attribute that to homeschooling! You hate homeschooling. If you didn’t hate homeschooling, you wouldn’t have organized this community. How is that a positive?”
First, I don’t hate homeschooling.
Second, sure — if I did not experience negative experiences and observe other people have similar experiences, I would not have made Homeschoolers Anonymous. I’d be on the other side of this whole debate, scratching my head and wondering, “What is everyone upset about?”
But that’s not what I am saying.
What I am saying is that the skills necessary to pull this off – the skills of community organization, advocacy, communication, debate, and social media — I directly credit to my homeschooling experience. All things considered, my parents gave me an excellent education. For example, my mother is an amazing writer and editor. She put an extraordinary amount of effort — and skilled effort, not just energetic effort — into my writing abilities. We read awesome books as kids. We were encouraged to write our own stories.
I was even encouraged to write my own plays.
I wrote a full musical when I was twelve — “The Fun Factory” — and my mom cheered me along. Which is very gracious of her, in retrospect, because the musical is highly embarrassing to me now. My dad constructed an entire theater stage — a real one, with curtains and everything! (my dad worked for a furniture construction company at the time) — for me in the backyard. Along with other kids from our homeschooling group, my siblings and I put on a full-blown production.
That’s awesome homeschooling right there, folks.
I wrote a musical, my dad built a stage, a bunch of kids were creative and self-driven, and we put on a legitimate production for our parents. We even charged an admission fee that covered the costs of the production materials and the food provided during intermission.
That’s Writing, Drama, Wood Shop, Leadership Dynamics, Music, and Economics right there.
I was encouraged to be creative. I was encouraged to think differently. I learned to write and express myself. I did speech and debate. I was taught to pour my heart and soul into research and advocacy. When I wanted to learn html so I could create websites, my parents bought me a book. When I wanted to make research books as a summer job, my parents underwrote my business. When I wrote controversial things for my research books, my parents stood by my side.
And here I am, years later, using these very things — using creativity, technology, communication, and inner drive — to do what I believe in. This drive and these skills I owe to my parents and the homeschooling environment they created.
When I critique the Christian homeschool movement with well-phrased sentences and well-placed screenshots that go viral, I am a testament to homeschooling’s power.
When I am not afraid to stand up and denounce the leaders of the movement who value ideas over children, I am a testament to homeschooling’s power.
That power is not mine to claim.
I had a severe speech impediment for years as a child. No one understood me except my older brother until I was an adolescent. I went through intensive speech therapy. And to make life even more complicated, I was abused by one of my speech therapists. And if that was not enough, I am also an introvert. I am extraordinarily sensitive. I was even a kleptomaniac as a kid. I started shoplifting when I was 6 or 7. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just a broken, confused, and scared little kid.
And yet through the love and selflessness and dedication of my parents, through personalized experiences that supported me and my unique temperament, I became a national award-winning debater who taught thousands of other kids speech and debate when I was but a teenager.
Me, the kid who couldn’t speak basic syllables correctly.
I’ve been fairly critical of homeschooling in a good number of blog posts over the past two years.
One thing I’ve been asked a number of times is whether, looking back, there was anything about my homeschooling experience that was positive. It’s true that Sierra of the Phoenix and the Olive Branch and Lana of Wide Open Ground, while generally critical of many things about homeschooling and their own homeschool background, have both written postsoutlining the things they found positive about their homeshooling experience. Can’t I do the same? So here it is, my attempt to write about the positives side of my homeschool experience.
But I’m going to warn you up front that I don’t think this is going to go all that smoothly.
1. Self motivation.
I’ve always been a very self-motivated person. There were some years I worked ahead in my subjects and finished all of my schoolwork for the entire year by the end of March. I was always extremely hard working and driven, and this followed me into college as well. No one had to make me study. My parents have always chalked my self motivation up to the fact that I was homeschooled—and I used to do the same. Indeed, self-motivation is one thing I always see listed as a benefit of having been homeschooled. But I’m afraid I no longer buy this—at the very least, it’s not this simple.
Even as I was self-motivated, many of my siblings weren’t. I watched many of my siblings procrastinate and drag their feet and sometimes flat out lie about whether or not they were doing their work. I watched them work all summer trying to catch up for everything they’d fallen behind on during the school year. There were several years when my siblings literally finished their math textbooks for the previous year a week or two before the next school year started. Even today, I see this same thing happening with some of my siblings who are still at home, being homeschooled. Some of them seem to lack self motivation entirely, and will only do their work when there is the threat of losing some privilege over their head.
Now after high school I attended a state university on scholarship. Because of my grades, I was enrolled in the university’s honor college and lived in the honors dorms. I suddenly found myself surrounded by a cohort of extremely self-motivated public school graduates. This confused me. I honestly had not expected to see that level of self motivation in the products of public schools. I had thought they all just did the bare minimum to pass standardized tests, because of the way public schools were set up, and that they weren’t self motivated like us homeschoolers. I was wrong. Yes, I know that these kids were honors kids, and thus not representative of the public school population as a whole, but still, they proved to me that you absolutely didn’t have to be homeschooled to be self-motivated.
So did homeschooling make me self-motivated? After thinking about it, I doubt it. Some homeschoolers are self-motivated. Some aren’t. Some public schoolers are self-motivated. Some aren’t. I have no idea what makes people self motivated, or what part is simply innate, a chance of birth. But I can say with confidence that, if the family and homeschool community I grew up in is any indicator, being homeschooled does not automatically make someone self-motivated. So yes, I was homeschooled and I ended up being self-motivated. But does that really mean anything? Probably not.
2. Love of Learning
As a child, I loved learning. I checked out books from the library, explored the fields beckoning from my back door, and taught myself to knit. The world was my textbook, and I loved it. At the time, I was taught to chalk my love of learning up to being homeschooled. And for a long time, I thought there was a connection. But I don’t anymore, and for—I think—good reason.
For one thing, being homeschooled does not guarantee that you will end up with a love of learning. I know a guy who was homeschooled K-12, and his experience actually stunted his love of learning. For him, homeschooling consisted of sitting at the kitchen table, or at a desk in his room, filling out workbooks. And that’s it. Every day for twelve years—thirteen if you count kindergarten. Nothing interactive, nothing collaborative, just workbooks. To this day, thinking of school or any sort of formal learning gives him mild PTSD symptoms. So this idea that being homeschooled automatically makes one love learning? Yeah, that’s absolutely false.
Further, the friends I made in my honors college dorm in college all shared the same passion and love for learning that I had—even though almost every one of them had attended public school. They didn’t just study what they had to for their classes, or just do their homework because they were required to. They went above and beyond and loved learning for its own sake, whether it was required or not. And they didn’t limit learning to their academic coursework, either. For them, learning was a part of life, as natural as breathing. Once again, this confused me. I had been taught that public schools stunt children’s love of learning, and also that attending public school causes a person to divide their life into learning—i.e. formal school—and not learning—i.e. everything else. But I found that, for these honors kids at least, this was absolutely not the case.
So did homeschooling give me a love of learning? In the end, I don’t think so. I think my love of learning came from my parents, not from being homeschooled.
They made it obvious that they loved learning, and they sought to make every moment a teachable moment—and in a fun way.
We were always learning things, whether it be gardening or carpentry or zoology or the culinary arts, and my parents encouraged us to love learning, and worked to make learning fun. If I’d attended public school, my parents still would have taught me to love learning. They wouldn’t have suddenly stopped making every moment of life interesting and teachable. They wouldn’t have stopped encouraging us to learn, and teaching us to see learning as enjoyable and just a part of life.
In the end, I honestly don’t think gaining a love of learning is determined by the method of education.
One thing both Sierra and Lana hammered on in their discussion of the positive aspects of homeschooling was the sense of freedom it gave them—freedom to follow their own interests and study at their own paces, and freedom from the constriction of a public school schedule.
When I look back on being homeschooled, this is indeed what I look on most fondly.
In elementary school, my mom set my schedule, including what I studied and when I studied it. However, homeschooling did allow the flexibility for spontaneous trips to the zoo, or spur of the moment park dates. In middle and high school my mom still set the subjects I studied each year—always asking me for input first—but I was free to determine when to study and for how long. I wasn’t required to have fixed hours, I was merely required to complete the textbooks I’d been given by the end of the year.
I loved this—like I said above, I sometimes rushed through and finished some or all of the subjects early.
I loved the flexibility of choosing when to study, and in what order to study. I frequently got up early in the morning and would set myself the challenge of finishing all of my seatwork—meaning things like math and science and vocab, but not things like free reading or debate research or music—by breakfast time. I wasn’t usually able to fit quite everything into that time, but I was always finished by lunch time, leaving me the afternoon free for reading or sewing projects or digging for medicinal herbs or baking a pie.
But—and this but is important—this freedom was limited to choosing when and at what speed and in what order to do my academic work. I wasn’t free to go to the mall with friends, or free to have a part time job, or free to randomly go over to a friend’s house. I wasn’t free to go anywhere at all. Because I was homeschooled I didn’t have an outlet away from my family. Instead, I was home all of the time, both home to have my comings and goings and friendships micromanaged and home to be on call as a junior mom 24/7. As I’ve mentioned before, my parents didn’t believe in teenagers. They expected me to go straight from child to adult, and I wasn’t allowed to do the sort of things normal teenagers do.
In some sense, was given the freedom of a two year old and the responsibility of a thirty year old.
I grew up as the oldest of twelve children. There was always a baby in the house, and there were always toddlers and preschoolers who needed constant attention and help. When I think back on my time spent doing school work, the image I get is of sitting at the desk in my room doing math problems while also supervising two or three toddler and preschool age siblings playing nearby, because mom needed them out of her way so that she could teach the middle ones. For several years I was also in charge of all of the laundry for the family, and for a while I was in charge of all—yes, all—of the cooking. I was also expected to teach some subjects to my younger siblings, as a sort of tutor. My mom figured that teaching the subjects would help cement them in my mind, and also that helping with the children and housework was good practice for my future, when I would be a homemaker and stay at home homeschool mom.
All of this responsibility also meant that I rarely got to actually spend time alone with friends, or out of the house—in fact, when I think back on hanging out with friends, the image I get is of chatting with a friend while making mountains of peanut butter sandwiches and watching our 15+ collective younger siblings, our mothers having gone out for lunch together. I don’t want to give the impression that I begrudge my mother these lunches out—she needed them for her sanity! And besides, by that time watching kids came as second nature, and I savored what time I did have with friends, so the memories I have of chatting over mountains of sandwiches and quick roll counts of children to make sure we hadn’t lost any are actually pleasant ones.
So did homeschooling give me more freedom? In the end, I think it was a wash.
Yes, I had more freedom to set my academic schedule—when to study and what to study and how to study—and I thoroughly enjoyed that. But at the same time, because I was always at home under my mother’s watchful eye and able to be on call to help with whatever needed doing, be it children or food or housework, I had much less personal freedom than I would have had I attended public school. And when I compare my thoughts here to those of Sierra and Lana, I am reminded that Sierra was an only child and Lana was one of only four. So it’s not surprising that my experience here might be a bit different.
So, are there positive things I can say about my homeschooling experience? Sure. But every time I locate one, I end up finding a negative flip side. And maybe that’s why I haven’t spend a lot of time trying to draw out the positives.
I simply don’t feel that I can discuss them outside of the more nuanced context.
Homeschooling can help students develop self-motivation and a love of learning—or it can limit both of these. Some kids simply work best with formal teachers for each subjects, and with the firm academic deadlines formal schools provide. I’ve also seen cases where homeschool kids end up well educated in the subjects their parents find interesting, and not well educated at all in other subject—and this is something having the variety of teachers formal schools offer serves to counteract.
Homeschooling frees kids from the formal schedule of the public school—but it also places them 24/7 under the complete control of their parents, who may give them personal freedom or may, well, not. And besides that, some homeschool parents—like the parents of the young man I mentioned—simply reconstruct the formal schedule of the public school at home, just without the same level of peer interaction.
My best memories from high school involve dressing up in suits, sorting through philosophy books and shopping for office supplies for the next speech tournament. It was a dignified, serious existence.
And then there’s this photo — which I will get to.
A lot of this post may seem like it focuses on my parents more than homeschooling per se. However, from what I have seen the homeschooling experience is made or broken by the parents doing the homeschooling. Homeschooling was a lifestyle for our family. Everything — every experience, every family friend, every activity we did and book we read was all centered around my parents work homeschooling us. And they did that work with passion and care.
A Little Bit of Backstory
My homeschooling experience had its ups and downs. I loved the ups: Choir tours (all by my-middle school-self!) with my co-op friends; Highschool trips to Europe to visit the historical sights I’d studied for years; Family weekends at the Scottish Festival; Learning beekeeping… The ups were largely thanks to an amazing peer group that I adored and a good relationship with my parents and siblings.
The downs were mostly usual issues; teen angst, and the occasional tousle with my parents. I never felt like I really fit in with the more conservative majority of our social/church circle. My parents were alright with that. They never really fit in with them either. My parents were reformed, but they rejected heavy handed theology that sidelined women or centralized church authority to squash dissent and learning. Because of this we found ourselves moving often from church to church, even though my parents desire was to be active, participating members of a stable church community.
My family wasn’t perfect. A couple members of my extended family vehemently, sometimes explosively, disagreed with my father’s relatively liberal interpretation of “biblical patriarchy”. My mother, an educator and a passionate advocate of higher education for girls, was sidelined more than once from homeschool conventions for that perspective. My relationship with my father was sometimes rocky, but he has been more than willing to invest time in working through those issues with me.
Today, I value our relationship more than ever.
When my parents’ marriage ended three years ago, I was confronted with a mountain of baggage that was compounded last summer when my mother suddenly passed away to cancer. Now I’m left picking up pieces while building a life for myself in California, and I’m struck by the rich silver lining to all my drama.
My family wasn’t perfect.
But for all its imperfections I think that they got a lot of things right.
My parents home schooled me K-12, not because they thought they had discovered the perfect formula for parenting, but because they loved me and my brother and sister, and wanted to give us the very best of everything. And in the process they gave me, a lot of tools I treasure now that I’m on my own.
And that brings me to explaining the picture at the beginning.
I was a speaker/debater for all of highschool and I loved it. My biggest challenges, and best friends growing up were found there. One of the debate camps I helped coach had a ninja debater theme. Needless to say it was awesome. I believe that this is a carefully staged photo illustrating the mesmerizing power of effective criteria. Through homeschooling my parents inadvertently passed along a plethora of moments like this filled with possibility, wonder and hope, which I have only just begun to mine.
They have helped me sort the other wounds that I have received in the normal course of life.
School in your PJ’s?
Similar to many of you reading this, my education was largely custom built. Both of my parents were college educated, lifetime scholars with a passion for knowledge. My mother worked to bring education to life for us on a daily basis early on so we’d catch the passion too. History lessons about Egypt tied into real-life biology lessons as we dissected and mummified a frog – which we then placed for display in the handmade sarcophagi we’d done in the art lesson that day.
What kid wouldn’t like that?
Or in highschool we volunteered at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for their new space exhibit, getting cutting edge lectures from NASA/NOAA scientists and then running cool experiments on a daily basis for the museum patrons. School was a wonderful time for me and my parents did a good job of teaching me not only tons of information, but how to find it and how to love the search for knowledge.
My mother was the primary teacher, but as we got into highschool years my dad took over languages and History. A Russian linguist for many years, he taught me Russian for high school language studies. Now I have a degree in Russian and endless cocktail conversation about my semester abroad in Russia to accompany it.
We also were not limited to classes taught by my parents.
From very early on me and my siblings were involved in classes taught by outside tutors whether it was in a co-op setting early on, or a community college setting later in our schooling career. All three of us graduated highschool with at least a full year worth of credits from the local community college. Those classes were especially helpful for areas that my parent’s weren’t so prepared to teach like upper level math or chemistry.
Silver Screen Dreams
While many of my peers were limited in their consumption of media, my parents encouraged an active dialogue on just about any topic. I remember the awe in my friend’s eyes (and the horror in her mother’s) as 12-year-old me happily announced at lunch one day that I had seen The Matrix the other night.
Granted, my parents watched it with us and they had remote-edited a couple of scenes they didn’t think were totally appropriate.
But the fact remained that I was raised in a really rich creative environment. Movies were a part of my life from early on (I literally can’t remember I time I didn’t have all of the original Star Wars movies memorized). Natural next steps for me were interests in living out these movies somehow.
What started as imagination and play acting turned into a real passion for acting, writing and producing for both film and theater. My parents were delighted with my creative talents and encouraged my theatrical tendencies wherever they could, even though I know my mother in particular was a little worried about what might happen to me were I ever to pursue them professionally. As I grew however, she was willing to work through those concerns as I demonstrated that I was thoughtfully investing in my God given talents.
She knew she had to let her girl fly and she was willing to make that sacrifice even if it meant that she was a little uncomfortable.
That willingness on her part, to let me try things that scared her, was key in building a relationship that allowed me to actually grow up — not just get older under her watch. T
hanks to her encouragement early on I’ve had the tools and the courage to step out on my own now and go beyond just being a productive member of society. I’m chasing dreams out here in California and hopefully you’ll be reading my name in the credits of your favorite summer flick someday soon.
Learning to Speak My Mind
My parents also encouraged debate. But long before the competitive bug bit me, I remember my parents hosting “Soirees” at our house after church; potluck food, and a grab bag of topics to discuss ranging from literature to politics to science. I loved them and felt so grown up when I was included at 11 years old in the adult discussions. We’d invite the most interesting people we could find. My Dad often would actually seek out people with odd views just to have them over so we could have an interesting discussion. “All opinions are welcome here. If you have a problem with that, you can leave.” That was his rule.
Looking back, the group was mostly varying shades of conservative and the occasional communist friend of Daddy’s from the Tattered Cover Bookstore where he worked. (They liked us because we were all a little bit different. He liked them because they knew about Russia — his deepest passion in life.)
But while the opinions weren’t that diverse, those afternoons ingrained in me early on that everyone deserves a voice. Even if you think you don’t agree with them.
That attitude served me well as I emerged from the homeschooling community into a liberal college where I encountered people with actual differences in opinion. They weren’t scary to me. They were just different people – with opinions of their own. And since I knew how to listen, it didn’t take me long to figure out that “the world,” as many christian worldview apologists like to call it, is just made up of people like me; People who have passions, who have loved ones, who have been hurt, who have dreams.
And when the debate is over and the ideas are put to bed, you should still be able to sit down with them over a lovely meal and ask them how their kids are doing.
One of the Boys
I was kind of odd in our circle of girls, because I never got the romantic fascination with marriage and boys and Mr. Darcy. Frankly, if you ask me even now he’d have made a really boring husband.
But, that meant that after about 9 years old, a giant chunk of my good friends growing up were boys. Even in college they were often the most interesting (drama-free) people around. I’m sure that there were mothers who thought that was odd or inappropriate, but my parents were fine with it. They were great guys and I’m proud to say that I’m still good friends with many of them even after almost a decade in some cases and marriage in others.
I love them like brothers — totally inappropriate brothers who would let me rough house with them, who would play stupid games with me, who would match my banter word for word, who would take me swing dancing and who would talk theology, politics, video games and movies with me till dawn. I am deeply grateful for those guys in my life because I truly believe that without them I might not have been able to process the Daddy issues which are inevitable for any girl whose parents divorce.
In those friendships my parents gave me a piece of the external security net that has kept me grounded as I begin to live life as an independent adult.
Learning to Say, “No”
My parents’ marriage was far from perfect.
But, with all their issues, they were a rock of help for several families struggling with abuse. They worked so hard to provide a harbor in the storm. My dad partnered with other men to help mentor a few of the fathers who were struggling. My mother hosted bible studies and invited single moms over to learn how to make jams or study child development. They even included us kids in a limited fashion, asking us (never forcing us) to watch the young toddlers while my parents had coffee or dinner with one or both parents.
I was never really privy to details and for that I am grateful.
But in light of the little I did know, my mother made sure that my sister and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that we never had to stand for abuse whether it was verbal, physical or emotional. It was an especially important lesson to her because of the systematic abuse we observed all around us which was justified under the label of “biblical patriarchal theology.” When seeking help from many churches for their own marriage issues the constant refrain aimed at my mother seemed to be, “If you would just submit better to your husband, your marriage would be fixed.”
With this useless advice ringing in her ears, within our conservative circle there was no one able to help until it was too late.
When my brother was a senior in high school, my sister was finishing her last year of college and I was doing my first year of internships post-college, my parents finally ended their marriage. They had sacrificed much to try to make a home that was healthy for me and my siblings. And when they finally ended their marriage I was witness to another step they were taking, at least in part, for us kids; they had the courage — even in the face of the social stigma in the church against divorces — to walk away from the marriage so that they themselves could heal. Many people would see this result as a total failure. But as I watched both of my parents wrestle through that time, I saw two people emerge with an even greater capacity for grace and forgiveness than ever before.
The divorce was not a failure.
It was the first step towards healing and restoration.
Hindsight, Always 20/20
The area that I look back on with the most pause is just how much I held my parents up as perfect — especially my mother. They were responsible for introducing me to the most fascinating ideas, the most wonderful people and for sheltering me from as much of the junk theology as they could. So their opinion of me, their blessing, their respect was something that I not only wanted, but it was something that I needed on a deep and very unhealthy level.
This was something I didn’t fully register until recent years.
As I hit the later years of high school and throughout my college years I found my opinions shifting as I experienced the world without parental filters. I knew the filters they had applied had been applied in love, but they were filters never the less. My experiences began to show me that perhaps my parents aren’t infallible after all. Especially spending as much time as I did with the theater department at my school my perspective on LGBT issues, sex, drugs, alcohol, democrats, republicans, “world view”…. all of it was shifting in light of my new experiences —
And the thing that tore me up was that I felt I had no tools for telling anyone from my family.
At school I was one person, and at home I became expert at active listening, passive questions, sidestepping issues, or sometimes just lying to avoid telling my parents I’d come to a different conclusion than they had.
The internal dissonance didn’t really come to a head until I met the love of my life. His name is Dylan. We met in Stage Combat learning to sword fight. It was awesome. And really quickly we became fast friends. He was the adventure I’d always hoped for in the moments when I dropped my usual “one-of-the-guys” act. He was kind and smart, better read than anyone I knew, a professional athlete, on a full ride scholarship for acting and passionate about making a positive impact through politics.
But he was also a Democrat, a former player with the ladies, and I had no idea where he really stood on the spectrum of religion but I knew it wasn’t nearly “christian” enough.
I was terrified to bring him home.
I didn’t even tell my family I was dating him for about a month. I knew in my heart that our relationship was healthy, that I was growing and that I trusted him with my life even with our differences. The fact that our friendship was based on a choice to be invested in each other rather than a checklist of intellectual compatibility was freeing. But my parents didn’t know how to handle him. They were shocked by my choice because for about 7 years I’d been hiding behind my silent nods.
They didn’t know me anymore because I had stopped letting them in for fear of losing them.
I had to learn to speak again.
And this is the juncture at which I find myself today. My mother passed away last summer, so I never got to finish letting her back in. But my father and I are watching our relationship slowly heal. I still have the need for approval of people I respect — but I think that’s more me than any homeschooling-bred need for perfection. And I’ve finally been able to be honest about my choices — choices that I make on a daily basis using so many of the tools that my homeschooling experience gave me. I would never give back that experience. The glue that held it all together and kept my parents from being dysfunctional task masters, or chronic busy bodies with a messiah complex was that they loved us kids and wanted the world for us. And they sought every day to live out a faith that convicted them to serve, love and empower.
That is perhaps the greatest example that they left me.
And while I now no longer really identify as a conservative as they did, I carry that passion of theirs with me. And I carry a faith that I have inherited but have also grown to own as mine. In many ways I’m still the crazy kid in the photograph: Obviously not totally put together, but self possessed enough to fake it till I make it — and wise enough to love the journey along the way.
For that, I have my parents and my time homeschooling to thank.
The fluke of my birthdate put me either the youngest or the oldest of my class, and after being the youngest in kindergarten my parents decided to homeschool for a year before first grade. That year went so well that they homeschooled for another, then another, reevaluating each year. My mom thoroughly enjoyed the experience and my dad supported it wholeheartedly, though was not often involved in hands-on teaching. I have one younger homeschooled sibling, but I’ll focus on my experience.
In 4th grade I started doubting my academic competency due to lack of comparison. I spent a half a year in public school for 5th, and after discovering that I was, indeed, on track academically, begged to come home. We homeschooled through middle school and I entered public high school in 9th grade. I went to a private Christian university and a public university for a master’s and PhD. I’m midway through my PhD.
First, I want to point out some social-location factors that positively frame my homeschooling experience. The big ones include my family’s upper middle class economic status, my parents’ education, our family size (2 kids), large suburban location, and Christian faith.
Had those variables been different I would be telling another story.
My mom homeschooled as a Christian but I missed out on the quiverfull/CP, Vision Forum, etc. My parents decided to avoid those circles. There is a family story of going to a homeschooling event where a couple of the other dads talked seriously to my dad (whom they had just met!) about the small size of his quiver.
His snarky response was, “Actually, my quiver is full! It’s a two-arrow-holding quiver.”
Early on, we used some Bob Jones and Abeka history, but that got ditched, especially as more homeschool resources were made available each year. I got my fair share of gender roles at church, but it wasn’t Christian Patriarchy as such.
I will start with what I see as strengths of my homeschooling experience. First, we were often not at home. We had season passes to the aquarium, the zoo, amusement parks (yep – when other kids were at school!), tickets to anything appropriate for kids at the city’s performing arts center, state parks, library programs, art, science, music camp. Plus, my dad’s work requires travel to cities around the country and we would all go along and tour each city’s historical and cultural landmarks during the day. My parents’ approach was “180 school days per year, distributed as necessary,” so we didn’t follow the public school calendar and continued through summer.
I thrived in self-directed, participatory learning.
I’m reading Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed this week and I missed out on what he terms the banking model of education, where the student is an empty account into which the expert teacher makes deposits (till high school and college, at least). In contrast, my mom always talked about how we all learned together.
I often participated in setting the agenda, and she provided the resources and helped guide the investigation. It was that way as far back as I remember. Clearly, there was stuff I just had to learn, like cursive and long division. Still, I had the freedom to say if a method wasn’t working and I wanted to try it a different way. I read like a girl possessed, mostly uninterrupted, completely uncensored. If it was at the library or Barnes and Noble, I had access to it. I was well-prepared for honors and AP classes in high school, the SAT, then the honors college, on the GRE, and now in a PhD.
No academic regrets.
Socially, I largely avoided some challenges and my parents orchestrated good opportunities to form relationships. I got a very low dose of the girl-on-girl relational violence of adolescence. Given my social location, this was a real threat. Since I was relatively chill during the day I had lots of energy for after school activities. I participated in competitive soccer, Girl Scouts, a children’s chorus, church activities, and community theater. When I did enter public school in 9th grade, it was new and fresh. I didn’t develop senioritis and I wanted to get to know all kinds of people. I didn’t have as many labels to apply to others as my peers did. Also, with our homeschool peers, there was no age hierarchy for building friendships.
There were some things I had to compensate for later. In a word: algebra.
Saxon Math was awesome for word problems, critical thinking, and the basics. Except later, I really needed someone to explain how to solve for X and my mom’s skill set didn’t extend there. Math in high school was a battle. That said I am now proficient in statistics, which I am constantly using in my PhD studies. I will never catch up from missing the peer-to-peer sexual education that happens during middle school.
For example, I only know, like, four words for semen and I realize there are about a thousand in current use.
I don’t consider this a deficiency. I know I miss some social queues.
Transitioning to a 2,300 student high school was a big adjustment. Here’s what was hard: asking permission to go to the bathroom and having requests denied, stopping in response to the bell, even if the algebra question on the board was left unanswered, the sheer noise of the lunchroom, hallways, etc., bomb threats and lockdowns (this was Columbine-era), learning how to respond to different teachers’ expectations and methods, academic competition, watching discrimination happen, being “made” to do stuff by authorities (like fundraise for a new football field house), and the amount of wasted time. I came home really tired each day.
That said, I’m so glad I did it. I really enjoyed many of my teachers and the new subjects I took, as well as the friendships I developed. Playing soccer was fantastic, as was my involvement with the FFA.
This week I am again focusing on the positives of homeschooling.
For my family, school time was based on academics. We learned grammar, mathematics, science, and geography, among other subjects. But there was much more than the 3Rs to our education. I learned many life skills that have continued to be relevant beyond scholarly pursuits.
One particular bit of education that’s been useful is how to take care of a home. I was taught from an early age how to do the house chores. I know how to properly wash clothes, clean dishes, sweep, mop, dust, clean the bathroom, and more. Mom was a stickler for detail, and she taught me the precise methods that would result in crisp whites and sparkling glassware. And believe me, there was no room for error. So when I sweep, I move all the furniture.
When I clean the bathroom, I get the dust behind the toilet.
When I was 10 years old, Mom was pregnant with my 4th brother, and she put me in charge of dinners. Thus I became the family cook for 8 years. I learned how to shop for the cheapest, and healthiest, food items. I became expert at crafting meals that were not only nourishing and delicious, but also tastefully presented. I can follow recipes as well as create my own dishes on the fly. I find pleasure in the craft of delighting people’s palates and satiating their appetites.
I also learned how to take care of and fix cars. Dad usually chose to fix our vehicles when he could rather than spend money to have others do it for him. I remember helping my dad change tires, replace a radiator, and bleed brakes. I myself have replaced breaks, replace the exhaust system, and changed my oil. Just this past week one of my tires got a hole in it, so I took off the wheel and put on the new one, using the skills my father taught me. (I have to admit that I prefer taking my car to the garage and spending the money rather than fix the brakes myself. Grease, anyone? Gross.)
Another area in which I was instructed was construction. Again, my father did most of the house renovations and construction throughout my time at home. Form tearing out plaster and lath when I was 6, to installing the lighting in my bedroom at age 24, I learned framing, plumbing, electrical, drywalling, and painting.
I am certain that if the need arose, I could build a house from start to finish.
I was raised to be polite and address folks with respect. Though some people prefer to not be addressed with “yes ma’am” and “yes sir”, I have found that holding doors for others, picking up items they have dropped, saying “please” and “thank you”, and looking into their eyes while firmly shaking their hands goes a long way in building people’s positive impressions.
As the oldest of 8 children, I certainly have a lot of experience with children. I find it natural to “get down on their level” and play with them. I have learned, through teaching my own siblings as a sort of “teacher’s aide”, how to explain complex systems to others in a manner they can understand. Though I do not yet have children of my own, I look forward to the opportunities to share the wisdom and lessons I myself have learned.
I may have faced negative consequences from a tightly-controlled childhood and education, but I have still been successful in my adult life, thanks to the academics and life-skills my parents’ instruction provided.
I am grateful that they cared for me and gave me the tools I needed to become a person I can be proud of.
The Freedom From a One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Education: Apollos
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Apollos” is a pseudonym.
I loved being homeschooled.
Homeschooling gave me freedom. The freedom to explore my interests. The freedom to follow my heart’s passions. The freedom to study the things that I wanted to study.
It was an overwhelmingly positive experience that I would never trade for anything.
I was homeschooled all the way through. Starting in kindergarten through highschool graduation. Religion was a factor and I don’t mind that. My parents are Christians, we were in a Christian homeschool co-op, and I am still a Christian. I am not ashamed to say I love Christianity and I love homeschooling.
But what I love about my homeschooling experience was the lack of structure.
It’s not that there was zero structure. I had to learn the basics. Ya know, math, science, history, language arts. But there was no per se “curriculum.” We’d start with some general outline: read this book, or that book. My parents would assign me a book on U.S. history, for example. And when I read something interesting about William Jennings Bryan, I was allowed to focus on Bryan and progressive Christian politics. I wasn’t forced to only study the side of history (or the ideas on that side) that a particular group of people liked.
This freedom really fostered my creativity and my innate desire to explore new ways of thinking.
In a very true, deep way I was not taught whatto think, but how to learn.
And again, my family was Christian.
But they didn’t let their ideas about religion get in the way of my education. In fact, their willingness to let me look at ideas they personally disagreed with ultimately led me to see that Christianity doesn’t have to be believed from a fearful, reactionary stance.
In the last few years, I’ve noticed a big push in homeschooling towards “Classical Christian Education.” (I’m just going to call that “CCE” for short.) Which is funny, in itself, because that push comes from Mr. Slavery Apologist himself, Doug Wilson; which, insofar as slavery is truly a classical institution, demonstrates that “classical” isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Wilson’s books, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning and The Case for Classical Christian Education, have been credited by many people in the CCE movement as being inspirational. Lots of Christian homeschoolers I know are now moving in this direction; Classical Conversations is one such manifestation.
I find this odd. Key to the CCE movement is the radical integration of one particular worldview into all subjects and a reliance on Middle Ages pedagogy. Is everyone forgetting that these are the very things that Protestants did when they created the public school systems in the first place — the systems that us homeschoolers have tried so hard to break free from?
I don’t see much difference between the public school mentality and what CCE homeschoolers are now doing.
They’re both using the same top-down techniques and one-size-fits-all pedagogies which — when I was being homeschooled — were explicitly rejected by the homeschooling movement.
But I digress.
The main thing I wanted to say was how thankful I am that homeschooling, for me, freed me from a one-size-fits-all approach to education. It liberated me from a one-size-fits-all curriculum, too.
That freedom made me an enthusiastic student, as well as strengthened my relationship with Christ.
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “DoaHF” is a pseudonym.
As far as the best parts of my homeschooling: I had a very solid education. My mother had a college degree and she took pride in her work. Once my father convinced her to homeschool she threw herself in whole-heartedly. Even in a foreign country she bought or shipped over textbooks and taught us daily with dedication and passion.
I learned to learn and to love learning.
Her approach to certain subjects was different from traditional education, but she required us to complete everything with excellence and had us correct and re-correct our work until we fully understood issues. She usually helped me with problems on lower grades until she had so many different grades that she couldn’t find the time.
I thrived under her verbal approach to history. Once I learned to read, I began voraciously devour the large stock of tame classics and children’s books that she collected and continued to expand as we got older (she hid some of the other classics like The Good Earth and Dr. Zhivago from me, as well as Rilla of Ingleside, but not Les Miserables or A Tale of Two Cities).
She even included my habit as school credit, giving me special allowance to read more when I wanted to further engross myself in an imaginary book land.
She kept detailed records of our work and made sure that we were competent before moving on. She gave me a break inbetween Saxon pre-algebra and Algebra 1 to do Abeka Consumer Math because I was struggling with the concepts. She made sure I completed my work and made sure I did not just cheat or guess. I remember loving school as a pre-teen. Science was covered by Wyle and while she could not help me much, she spent time with me looking over the answer key and the module in order to find out how they arrived at their answer.
While we never had a positive personal relationship, she encouraged my love for herbs and baking by letting me have seeds and do extensive research into uses and cures and teas. She also encouraged me to bake bread, pizzas, biscuits and desserts for my 8 siblings and friends and guests. She coached me past my stages of not-hair-brushing, wearing dirty and/or stained clothing all the time, bed-wetting, and I think she really understood my struggle to be accepted
My father and I were very similar. He always stood against the tide that shut women up and encouraged us to speak our minds and to think boldly. He did not believe in women preachers, but he taught us theology and koine and told us not to be intimidated by any hot-shot divinity student who thought they knew the Bible. He refused us independence and further education like college, but he modeled hard work and dedication every day for us and he truly wanted us to be intelligent and capable of being progeny he could be proud of.
I learned my fierce independence and tenacity from him, as well as my money habits which have stood me well on my own.
My grandparents insisted on being part of our family’s lives no matter how many thousands of miles away we lived. They made an effort to spend quality time with each of us and I still remember their lessons and examples to this day.
My favorite part of homeschooling in the US was my last three years at home where, even though I had graduated school, I was involved in a homeschooled Square Dance program. A local caller realized the potential and lack of time constraints that we kids as a group had and he organized us in practice for a local talent competition which we entered each year.
The social scene and the physical activity made a huge difference to my mental health, and I made two very close friends whose friendship I cherished and miss.
For Science in grade school my mother put together elaborate unit studies. We spent a whole summer learning about the seas in Oceanography. We then went on to memorize the Animal Kingdom as we studied Horses. Finally, after learning everything we could about Volcanoes, our whole family went on a week-long trip to see, climb, and learn about one volcano in specific, even speaking with someone who lived through a volcanic eruption.
I am, and always have been the gregarious, outgoing, bubbly one in our family. Even though I went through abuse and trauma, I loved being homeschooled. My brain thrived on the literature-based approach that my mother took.
If I could afford to not work and stay at home, I might homeschool my future children if they wanted me to.
Even so, I want to teach my children to read voraciously and to love information more than a method of learning. That is a positive one can gain anywhere.
I Was Born With A Severe Immune Disease: Attackfish
HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was a guest post by Attackfish and was originally published on Patheos on February 3, 2013.
I was “homeschooled” (and I’m not sure I am comfortable calling it that) for absolutely non-ideological reasons, and in fact, there was only ever a brief time during my schooling in which I was not enrolled in public school, at the very end, a few weeks before I took my GED.
I was born with a severe immune disease, and along with making me extremely prone to infection, it also causes me to have seizures, narcolepsy, fainting spells, asthma, and circulatory problems, all of which grow worse when my body is run down. This made just getting to school, a building with two thousand people and all of their pathogens, a real challenge for me, and in my freshman year of high school, my family and I convinced the school district to send a teacher home to teach me, as part of a program usually used for students with less chronic illnesses, like pneumonia. I was enrolled in six periods of classes, and the teachers from those classes would send me assignments through the home hospital teacher, so the academics of my schooling were identical to the ones at the local high school, aside from the fact that I was allowed to pace myself.
Every year, I did attempt to go back to attending school, and every year I lasted a couple of months before admitting that no, I wasn’t magically better this year.
We knew that the home hospital program existed, because my elementary school had begged us to take advantage of a similar system when I was in kindergarten, because they were unable to handle my “strange behavior” which would much later be diagnosed as seizures. My seizures aren’t what most people think of as seizures. During them, I lose all awareness of myself, and run around, glaze-eyed and utterly non responsive for up to several hours, looking for a place to hide, attacking anyone who physically tries to stop me.
They happened at least once a week before I was diagnosed and received treatment, and sometimes, they happened several times a day, almost always at school. Before I was diagnosed, the school and my teachers assumed it was some kind of emotional problem, and the other students were terrified of me. Even once I had a diagnosis, the teacher and principal I had at the time both refused to believe they were anything other than a brat’s tantrums.
As I stopped having them, they encouraged the other students to bully me mercilessly as punishment, and I eventually had to change schools because of the abuse.
Although we moved to another state when I was in middle school, the social anxiety, low self esteem, and poor grasp of social cues the earlier bullying, and falling prey to my first of two stalkers, had left me with, marked me out as easy prey for more bullies and another stalker, right up until I withdrew from high school.
My bisexuality having somehow become common knowledge to the student body didn’t help matters.
For years, my family and I had battled bullies and an administration dead set against helping me end the torment I was enduring. I had switched schools, moved, and done everything I could to blend in and keep my head down.
I was out of options and out of hope.
I remember this tremendous sense of relief at the idea of leaving school, and once I had, I felt truly safe for the first time in years.
For the first time, my illness presented the solution. I really was too sick to go to school. The bullies and my stalkers hadn’t driven me out, I could leave school guilt free. Learning at home for me was an overwhelmingly positive experience, giving me space to breathe, heal, and gather my strength. I had become so used to living in fear that I didn’t realize how afraid I had been until I wasn’t any longer. Later I would be diagnosed with PTSD, most likely from the two stalkers, and it took me years to be able to admit to myself that I wasn’t just weak, or a wimp, or an overdramatic teenage girl, that school for me was bad.
It was ugly, and it was bad
Escaping it was a Good Thing.
And it was medically necessary. Given how vital the chance to lick my wounds and put myself back together was, it’s sometimes hard to remember the real reason I left high school was that I kept ending up in the hospital.
I don’t fit in well in the pro-homeschooling camp, because I don’t think it’s the best thing ever and everybody should do it. In my case, it was a last resort, but most students aren’t as horrifically unlucky as I was. It’s more that I believe in everyone’s right to protect themselves and to leave abuse.
For me, that meant learning at home. I’m grateful for it.
HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was a guest post by Skjaere and was originally published on Patheos on January 27, 2013.
I was home schooled full time in eighth grade, and part time in ninth and tenth. Up until that time, I had been enrolled in our local public schools, where my dad was a teacher.
I’d been having problems with bullying at my middle school (both by my peers and by teachers, WTF?!).
When my mother asked me if I wanted to try home schooling, I jumped at the chance. It sounded almost too good to be true. I could choose my own reading lists and projects? Sign me up!
We were not a terribly religious family by any definition at that point. We attended the Episcopal church a block from our house because it was closest, and I had a lot of friends who went there. Our home school curriculum was not based on conservative politics either. We did things like visiting the local National Park and helping them plant seedlings. We went whale watching. I researched my family tree as a history project, and read Lewis and Clark’s journals.
It turned out the promise to pick my own reading list was too good to be true.
I loved to read, but my interest was mostly limited to fantasy fiction. I was allowed to choose books from a pre-selected list, however, which included such classics as 1984, Fahrenheit 451, To Kill a Mocking Bird, as well as various works by Mark Twain and William Shakespeare.
We also frequently got together with other home schooling families for Latin classes (our parents let us choose what language we wanted to take), and they all fell more into the hippie home schooler mold than the religious as well. One of my best friends was part of that groups, and we hung out together a lot. Many of us also took ballet classes together and participated in the Girl Scouts, so I don’t feel like I missed out on socialisation, especially when compared with the experiences I had suffered at my middle school. At the end of my ninth grade year, we organised a dramatic reading of “As You Like It” with an all-female cast and a five-year-old Duke. It was pretty awesome.
I was lucky to have two educated parents, and a mother who was able to stay home and teach my sister and me.
My dad was a math and science teacher at the local high school, and my mother had an English degree, so we have most of our major bases covered right there. I also took some correspondence courses through the University of Nebraska, did a year a our local community college through the Running Start programme, and then went to the high school full time my senior year. By the end of all that, my transcript was a confusing mish-mash, and it was pretty much impossible to calculate my GPA, but I did well on the SAT and was accepted to some wonderful univerisities.
After almost twenty years and some major shifts in my personal politics, I still feel pretty good about my home school experience.
My whole family has been homeschooled from kindergarten through high school. In last week’s post, I discussed how I was forbidden to learn anything that was “unapproved”. Though the effect was a deprived of a well-rounded education, I will stand by my opinion that my home education was actually quite excellent.
The base curriculum my family used was Rod and Staff. As is frequently the case with Mennonite education, the curriculum stopped at grade 10, so for grades 11 and 12 we used the curriculum by Bob Jones University Press. The BJU Press science curriculum was also used to supplement the lower grades, as was their math curriculum from 9th grade on.
The schoolwork we did was in fact quite vigorous, and Mom was a strict teacher.
We were far from “unschooled”, as some families are. Quite the opposite; we were not allowed to play until our homework was done. For many years we were required to complete every problem, question, and assignment in every lesson of every book. Every wrong answer was to be reworked and returned for re-grading until it was correct. Every reading lesson was read out loud to Mom, and any mistakes in pronunciation or inflection were to be corrected and the section read over until Mom was satisfied. Every essay was carefully scrutinized and marked up with red pen. All suggested class questions from the teacher’s manuals were duly asked, and answered. Every flash card drill was performed, with all speed times for each child written in the teacher’s book to be compared to previous work, both by the individual child, and to his or her siblings who had gone on before!
As you can see, this rigorous classroom method kept me working hard at my desk for much of my childhood. I studied math, English, science, geography, history, and other subjects. As the eldest, I did not have the competitive element that came from comparing the younger ones’ work with the older ones’. Nonetheless, the in-depth curriculum, along with Mom’s strict grading, kept me aiming for the highest grades possible. Every misspelled word was -1/4 point, and any other mistake was at least -1 point, if not -2, depending on the problem and the severity of the mistake. An A grade was 95% or higher.
I didn’t pick up as much in science and history as I did in English and math. But the education I did receive, and retain, was quite sufficient. In fact, it was superior to many public-schooled children in America.
Every 2 years our family took standardized tests, and we routinely ranked in the 99th percentile in many subjects.
When I took my SAT, even though my score wasn’t as high as I was hoping, it was still quite good. I took the entrance exam to attend Monroe Community College, which consisted of an English section and a math section. Afterward, when I sat down with the adviser, he told me that I had done so well… I had only gotten one question wrong on the whole test. They placed me in advanced composition, which in which I received an A, and when I took pre-calculus, calculus I and calculus II, I got A, A, and A-, respectively.
I believe that my academic education, though perhaps lacking in literature and humanities, was quite sound. My English skills gave me an advantage when learning Spanish, as I thoroughly understand how grammar works. My scores of essays written in school now serve me as I attempt to communicate with the world. Math was indispensable in college, and I even use it sometimes today. In fact, my career as a software engineer was born from the seeds my father planted, when he taught me how to program in MBASIC on an Osborne Executive when I was only 8 years old.
He nurtured this throughout my middle- and high-school career, and now I program for a living.
Even though there were some drawbacks to being educated at home, I emerged academically well prepared with a career path ready for me to follow. I am extremely grateful for the care my mother and father put into making sure I was ready for life. One thing I’m really not good at: speling.