HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sarah Henderson’s blog Feminist in Spite of Them. It was originally published on her blog on December 17, 2014.
The impact of attitudes towards education, especially higher education, and its impact on adult life, has recently come up in discussion in the home school survivor community. We all have different experiences and heard variations of different messages while growing up in homeschooling families. Here is my experience:
My parents didn’t place much value on education. We were homeschooled in a way, meaning we were at home and some effort was made to buy books and teach lessons. But the underlying organization and structure wasn’t there, and they didn’t have the motivation or follow through to make it happen. We received a relatively decent education in the first few grades, I assume; we learned to read and do basic math in those years. But no one received any education past about grade 6-8, depending on the subject.
They taught that you didn’t need college or university to succeed in life. They said that because we were homeschooled, we were special, and people would understand that and recognize the extraordinary intelligence we were gifted with, without needing a diploma to prove it. They talked about the bullying and abuses that were perpetrated by public school and high school teachers. My mother described at length times that she was publicly humiliated in class by her teachers, and how she could not stand the public schools and that they were protecting us from those abuses.
As a girl though, there were really no plans for me to have a future at all.
Other than vague mentions of a husband and kids in my future, it wasn’t discussed. Even the emphasis on me needing to be able to cook, clean, and help raise my siblings was mainly openly rooted in my parents’ need for my help, and it was not even masked as ‘training for the future’ except to outsiders (conservative fundamentalist outsiders). Oddly, sometimes when I talked about wanting a career, it wasn’t really shot down, and my parents told me to trust their education system and I would get where I wanted. They brought back the line that I was incredibly smart and special, and that satisfied me and I believed it.
My brothers were told they could have any career they wanted, without college. They were told that someone would hire them or they could have their own businesses, all without college or even finishing high school. They said that years of education was part of the new age government control system and we needed to break free.
Due to the chaos in my childhood home, both of my close in age brothers did not achieve more than an average of a grade 8 or 9 education. They have spent time as adults earning a GED, with various rates of success. They most certainly were not granted excellent careers on the basis of being special and homeschooled.
Because I attended high school against my parents’ wishes and also went to university, my story is different, however I can still speak to the impact of the anti-college attitude.
Because there was no direction in my life, with no real hopes and dreams, until I was 17, I didn’t see the point of pursuing much education at all. What line should be drawn on when to end the homeschooling process when the goal is not college? So I did not resist when my parents stopped making an effort to educate me. I did not advance at all academically between age 10 and age 12. I made some more progress at age 12, but once I was 13 or 14 their impact on my education was pretty much over. I continued to read Bob Jones textbooks until I was 15, and wrote down answers on my own, but it was for myself, no one checked them.
I did not complete a grade 8 education at that time. I was not taught math past grade 6 until I went to high school at age 17. I never had any intention of pursuing a high school education until the year I turned 17, although I had a vague plan to go to university. The year I turned 17, my grandparents told me that I wouldn’t be able to go to university without a secondary education.
So I went to school, and I struggled. I struggled with ambivalence, knowing that it wasn’t what my parents wanted me to do, and some doubt because of the message I had received that I was special and shouldn’t have to prove it. But the courses were hard and unlike my experience with the Bob Jones textbooks, guessing didn’t work, especially with math. I had two dear math teachers who did a phenomenal job, but it’s hard to describe the crushing feeling of inadequacy you experience when you find out at age 17 that the 14 year old students are more educated than you.
The ambivalence followed me into university. I was only at the highschool for two and a half years, not nearly long enough to reverse all the messages about how unnecessary higher education was. I still tried for a while to guess and at least prove to myself that I already knew everything and didn’t need to learn. Because I didn’t learn how to build and maintain a career from my parents, since they did not do this, I felt guilty about having that as a goal. I felt guilty because it somehow felt arrogant, and I still had some feelings of inadequacy. I felt guilty because I was also proud of myself and felt guilty about the pride. I was also a bit afraid, because people warned me that higher education corrupts; although they seemed just as worried about the high school being corrupting as they were about university.
I finished university, and it turns out I was quite academically inclined. But not special. I still needed to learn, and to do that I had to learn how to learn first. I think that some people who are believers in homeschooling might read this and think that I needed to learn how to learn to fit into the public school mold, but that is not what I mean. I was able to learn as much as my mother was able to teach me; basic reading, writing and arithmetic. I believe there is such a thing as academically successful homeschooling, and in those cases those students continue to learn how to learn as their ability to process increasingly more complex information progresses. When children are not taught how to learn, or when there are other circumstances that disrupt that process, such as abuse, their progress can become stalled.
Growing up with parents who have negative attitudes towards education can remove motivation from bright young students, when there is nothing to strive towards.
It can create confusion when students do decide to pursue education. And for those that internalize those messages, and do not pursue education, the cost is high. Without an education, it is hard to get jobs. Where I live, even Subway and McDonald’s ask that you either have a high school diploma or show that you are working on one. Getting into a trade can also be difficult, as most of the trades jobs eventually require you to get a “ticket” which means going to school, and if you haven’t learned how to learn and test, you won’t be able to succeed in the trade program either.
Although some workplaces look at experience, moving up in companies and getting promotions can be heavily based on education as well, meaning that even those with experience can stay in entry level positions (at entry level wages) because of lack of education. Saying that one was homeschooled will not get someone a job or a promotion, and if people have not excelled in the learning process and become critical and reflective thinkers, their people skills and self management will also suffer.
Even a girl who is raised in a conservative home and wants to be a homeschooling mother needs to know how to learn, and has to have learned enough to effectively homeschool her children. She needs to be reflective and a critical thinker in order to manage a home and a family, and to juggle the responsibilities of teaching and parenting effectively. She will need to be able to learn how to parent, and how to deal with it if a child has special needs.
The stakes are high, and an education holds more weight than just a piece of paper.