Confessions of a Homeschooler: Iris Rosenthal’s Story, Part Two

Confessions of a Homeschooler: Iris Rosenthal’s Story, Part Two

Iris Rosenthal blogs at The Spiritual Llama. This story is reprinted with her permission.

< Part One

"I remember how hard it was for me to adjust to being outside of the homeschooling bubble and in some ways, eight years later I am still adjusting."
“I remember how hard it was for me to adjust to being outside of the homeschooling bubble and in some ways, eight years later I am still adjusting.”

Since my original post I have come to the realization that I have just scratched the surface on everything that I have to tell about homeschooling. One of the problems I have with home education is that there is hardly any regulation. During the time I was homeschooled, K-12, I never once had to take the SAT or ACT or any other sort of evaluation test.

As long as it looked like I was studying I was pretty much left alone. The only subjects my mother was constantly involved in were; math, spelling and english. Occasionally she would check my work in the other subjects, but for the most part I was left to fend for myself and once I reached the age of 15 any involvement from her pretty much came to a stop.

I often hear the argument that not all parents homeschool are like this and that my mom was doing it wrong. While that may be the case, I don’t think that this should be lightly brushed off. We are talking about the education of children here! It is my belief that whichever route you choose, it’s very important that your children receive the best possible education. Be involved, be a part of their lives, listen, be aware of what they are learning about and learn with them!

With the lax requirements in place for homeschooling it only flings open the door for cases such as mine to happen. So much for homeschooling being better than public school (for those who don’t know me, that was sarcasm)!

I know my story is not the only one, my brother & sister and close friends have also experienced the same lack of education and preparedness to function in the real world because of being homeschooled. However, I’m not here to tell their story for them, I’m here to tell mine.

My first full time job experience happened when I was 21 at a call center. Yes I’d had jobs previously, but they were just odd jobs and the people I worked for I already knew from either homeschool group, church or 4-H. So I was always within that bubble my mother had me living in.

While working at the call center I got to know people who *gasp* went to public school, it was then that I started to realize that there were holes in my education. I didn’t know any math beyond the basic add and subtract. I could barely multiply or divide. Forget fractions and algebra.

I also realized that I was spelling a lot more words wrong than what I originally thought I was. It’s pretty bad (not to mention embarrassing) when your manager brings back your vacation time off request (written in clear handwriting) and asks you to tell what words you meant to put down. I found myself sticking out a lot in all the wrong ways, and my judgmental attitude towards people who were different than me didn’t help with that at all!

I had never been around so many people from so many different backgrounds before, it was quite an eye opener and culture shock for me! I still remember the first time I heard someone swear. If I didn’t agree with something someone said or did I made sure to let them know that it offended me. If I knew someone was a Christian and I heard them say something that I didn’t believe a Christian should say I made sure to let them know how wrong they were.

Looking back, I was quite obnoxious and judgmental towards my coworkers at that job. It is no small wonder that barely any of them talk to me anymore and I can’t say that I blame them!

I am so thankful that I have learned since then and now at my current job I am known among my coworkers for being helpful and a team player. I no longer allow my homeschooling experience to define me, in fact I hardly ever bring it up. I don’t feel as though I should have to defend my education (or lack thereof) to anyone.

It is my desire that people know and define me by who I really am, and not as some “failed product of home education.”

I hope that by sharing my experiences I can somehow prevent them from happening to someone else. I remember how hard it was for me to adjust to being outside of the homeschooling bubble and in some ways, eight years later I am still adjusting.

If anyone is reading this and is going through that rough transition period from the bubble to the real world, just know that you aren’t the only one who has traveled that path. It may be rough now, but in the end you will be stronger and wiser for it!

Confessions of a Homeschooler: Iris Rosenthal’s Story

Confessions of a Homeschooler: Iris Rosenthal’s Story, Part One

Iris Rosenthal blogs at The Spiritual Llama. This story is reprinted with her permission.

"I learned at a young age to keep my different opinions to myself and to let her have her say no matter what."
“I learned at a young age to keep my different opinions to myself and to let her have her say no matter what.”

I recently came across a blog called Homeschoolers Anonymous, it caught my eye since I was homeschooled for several years and never set foot in a public school.

As I started reading the blog, I found myself relating to things that were being said there more and more. And when I read the “About” section on their website, that is when I knew I had finally found a place that understood me and the struggles I have gone through to get where I am today, and wouldn’t just dismiss my misgivings about homeschooling telling me “Oh, not all homeschoolers are like that! You just weren’t homeschooled the right way!”

My mother homeschooled my brother, sister and I from K-12 grades. I’m not sure on her exact reasoning for homeschooling us since she was never homeschooled herself and also was a private school teacher for several years. I suspect she would have preferred to have us in a private school, however, living in a very, very very rural area of the state that wasn’t possible nor cost effective. So that left her with homeschooling or having her kids attend *dramatic gasp* public school.

The subject of our education was something that my mom and dad never could seem to agree on. My mom wanted to continue homeschooling us, while my dad wanted us to attend public school once we were older. This topic continued to be something that they both strongly disagreed on even after they divorced. My mom got custody of the three of us kids and we would see our dad every other weekend.

She continued to homeschool us and our curricula consisted of books she would find for us at yard sales and at the library, she also enrolled all of us in 4-H and told us that it was part of our schooling. Once I was in my 3rd or 4th year of high school she bought a computer program called Switched On Schoolhouse.

Once a week we would go to a homeschool co-op, once I was in high school it lost it’s appeal for me because everything was geared towards the younger kids and I was the only one in high school. It was very lonely and also frustrating at times because there were classes in the co-op that I wanted to take (such as the one where you were taught how to change the oil and other basic things on your car) but was told that those were only available for the boys. They had something called Contenders of the Faith (for the boys) and Keepers of the Home (for the girls), I don’t have much experience with either of those programs since they were (as I’ve said before) geared towards the younger kids.

There are times that I have huge doubts as to how intelligent I really am. At home my mother primarily focused on my brother and his education, while my sister and I got the leftovers. It was very tiresome to always hear all the time about how “smart” and “brilliant” my brother was, how well he always did on his schoolwork and how creative he was.

I suppose you must be wondering if my mother ever tried to pass a specific social, political and religious ideology on to us kids. Short answer, yes. She only ever had either conservative talk show, or the Christian music station playing on the radio. I grew up listening to Rush Limbaugh. She also made sure that we were very involved with the church we went to (even though it was a 45 minute drive one way) and was always volunteering us for things, while at the same time not letting us choose what we really wanted to do if it didn’t match her high ideals for us.

Being the oldest I was the first one to graduate of the three of us (even though my brother had skipped a grade or two). Two weeks after graduation I was taking college classes online, even though I had informed my mother that I didn’t want to start college right after high school. I wanted to take a year off and get a job (still hadn’t had a real job at that point, nor was I even driving on my own), work in an inner city church as a volunteer. I wanted to experience the world like I never had before being confined either to the secluded farm, homeschool group, 4-H or church. I didn’t even know what I wanted to go to college for, so it made sense in my 18 year old mind to not go to college until I knew what it was that I wanted to do. And I knew that when I did go to college I would want to stay in a dorm and not take classes online.

Of course that wasn’t good enough for my mom, who took it upon herself to enroll me in an online university to take classes to get an associates degree in business administration. It was her plan for me to eventually turn the farm into a “ranch for disadvantaged youth” and that’s why I had to take these courses.

After trying my very best in the first semester I came to her in tears wanting to drop out. I had toughed it out for a semester and that was enough to reinforce my belief that business administration wasn’t for me. I tried to tell her all of this, but instead got to hear a lecture about how she didn’t raise any quitters. I told her that I would rather have a job, and she told me that in order to have a job that didn’t involve “flipping burgers” that I would have to go to college. Disagreeing with my mother is near impossible if you want to be vocal about your differing opinion, she is very dead set on being right all the time so I learned at a young age to keep my different opinions to myself and to let her have her say no matter what.

I took online classes for eight more months before the university kicked me out because my grades had plummeted so low. It was a great relief for me even though my mother was constantly chewing me out about being a failure because now I could finally get a job.

Overall I would describe my homeschooling experience as negative. Now that I am close to 30 years old and about to have a child of my own, I know that I would not want my daughter to go through what I went through. I don’t want her to be as ill-prepared when it comes to functioning in the real world as I was. I understand parents wanting to protect their kids from all the bad stuff that goes on in the world…however, you have to have balance and know that eventually you will need to teach and equip them how to handle different situations that they will face once they get out on their own.

After all, doesn’t every parent (no matter what their religious or political standings) want their child to be an independent and self-reliant adult in the real world?

Part Two >

More Than Just a Love Story: Phoebe’s Story

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

It was awkwardly quiet in the car as my words settled. They echoed in my own brain, I could only imagine what Michael was thinking.

“I have the highest respect for you, but I don’t think we can keep dating. I feel like I need to find someone who is more like-minded.”

The problem was, Michael was not a homeschooler and did not come from an evangelical background like I did, just the opposite in fact. His family was laid back about spirituality and never addressed it with structured religious custom. Pressure from my homeschooling family and friends and internal guilt had brought me to this point. I was sitting in the car with him having this awkward conversation because I felt there was no other option. I had grown up in a cloistered, homogenous community and I needed to find someone who would help me create the same kind of community for my own future children. This had been made clear to me when my family found out what kind of man I was dating.

When he graciously hugged me despite his confusion and left the car without looking back, I felt the old loneliness unpacking its bags and moving back into my heart.

For me, the story of being homeschooled was a story of being told to sit down and shut up. “An ideal woman is quiet and submissive,” I was told time and time again. As a weird, geeky, slightly tomboyish girl, I certainly didn’t fit that description at all. I ran around in the woods for hours at a time, I loved competitive debate, Cheese-Its and oversized cargo pants. My stubborn, goofy personality did not fit well in the sheltered, pressure-cooker that is the homeschooling culture.

My family followed the Quiverfull doctrine, which meant I was told that I was an arrow in my parent’s quiver, to be shot out into the world for God’s glory. As time went on, I began to realize that girl arrows get a much narrower, more specific target than boy arrows. They are to become wives and mothers or celibate missionaries. End of story.

At the local homeschooling meetups, it was hard for me to find a place in the circles of thin, whispy girls who were being groomed to be homeschooling mothers and wives. The pressure to be quiet, mousy and seemingly perfect was very high. I tried. I wore dresses and grew my hair out long. I read and quoted books about meekness and godly womanhood, and did my best to avoid hugging boys.

Ultimately, I wasn’t happy. I would hear the adults debate about how women were to be silent in the church. I would hear my dad yelling at my mother, telling her she was not a submissive wife. I would hear girls and mothers gossip about each other and use nasty words for whoever wasn’t ladylike enough. I saw the thousand mile stare and deadpan look on my mom’s face when she opted yet again to check-out, bottle up everything she was thinking and let her bitterness grow. I watched as other homeschooling mothers picked our family apart, criticizing us and pushing my mom around, spreading lies and rumors about each of us that my mother refused to refute. After years spent in this oppressively judgmental and chauvinistic environment, I listened to what I was told. I shut up just to avoid attention and judgment. I hoped to go unnoticed so no one would point out how inadequate I was. The silence and submission I was pushed into was ultimately a place of loneliness, bitterness and almost crippling insecurity. I wanted to get out, but I didn’t know how.

I went to the local college despite my parent’s discouragement. College (especially for women) is clearly contrary to the beliefs of many very zealous home-educators. In class, I met women who spoke up when they had something to say (sometimes even when they didn’t) without anyone thinking anything of it. Women who taught and led classes with passion and a certain touch of oddness that was all their own. They didn’t fit the submissive woman cookie-cutter shape I had grown up with. They were themselves. They were more feminine with their pant suits, unkempt hair and unabashed geek-out sessions than anyone else I had met. I wholeheartedly believe this is true because didn’t feel judged by them and I didn’t feel like less of a woman myself when I was around them. In my mind, that is a huge part of being truly feminine, letting other women feel comfortable being themselves around you. I cut my hair short, I got clothes that fit and I raised my hand in class.

Then I met Michael and we started dating. Michael is goofy, he is curious, he asks questions. He drew me out of my shell, took my hand and encouraged me to stand up and say something. We got into debates and he never once told me to shut up or submit. He was one of the first men I met who didn’t feel like women were solely meant to be homemakers; he helped me build a new confidence in the possibilities that were ahead of me.

Things got rough for Michael and I when my family and friends in the homeschooled circles realized what was going on. I was encouraged to dump him. I was told the path I was going down was dangerous. I was told our future children would go to hell, for sure. Michael was aggressively witnessed to by my family and friends almost constantly. He and I began to argue about religion and conservative beliefs almost every time we went out. I desperately wanted him to sit down with me, to shut up with me, so we could just quietly carry on and go unnoticed and free from judgment. Maybe if he would just nod his head in public and let the judgment pass us by.

He wouldn’t have any of that, so I tearfully dumped him. I decided in that moment that I would rather be comfortable, miserable and silent than be with the man I loved.

It took time, but we stayed in touch and slowly our friendship grew again. It became obvious that he was the man I wanted to be with and that the homogenous, fear-based homeschooling environment I had lived in for so long was holding me back from the life I now knew I really wanted. I wanted to be part of a family that could be open and honest and be married to a man who treated me as a true partner and an equal and respected my thoughts and goals. Two years later, on a pleasantly chilly day, we were married. My family and friends are still unhappy that this arrow went off target, but slowly they are learning to accept my husband and I for what we are and I am learning to stand up for myself around them.

With time I came to understand that my purpose on earth is not determined by my parents or the judgments of the homeschooling community. It can be hard to think and decide for yourself when you grow up without any autonomy, stuck at home with all your life decisions and friends carefully picked out for you. Sometimes, I get overwhelmed and slip back into passivity or dysfunction. I know this is frustrating for my husband to see, but he encourages me to step out of it.  Slowly, I am discovering how to communicate and take charge of my own life.

I am grateful to be away from an environment where women are told to sit down and shut up. Michael and I are slowly building a new family culture from the ground up, one that’s founded on mutual respect, openness and love. I hope if we ever have children, they will never feel like powerless arrows that their parents just shoot at set targets. I hope they will know that they are free to choose their own future, and that they will be prepared to take responsibility for doing so.

After homeschooling, this next phase of my life has become more than just a love story. It is about breaking the silence and learning to speak out for myself.