I have been following Homeschoolers Anonymous for quite a while, after searching for a social group I could be part of that reflects some social issues I’ll expound upon below. I was really not expecting to find what was posted here — stories of abuse, religious restriction, brainwashing, even death. It has been an enlightening experience, and I would like to extend my heartfelt sympathies and support to everyone whose stories I’ve read.
It is because of the harshness and true struggle of these stories that I have refrained from trying to tell my story. How can it compare? How can I hold myself to the same standard as these brave men and women sharing their suffering? But I think it is important to share my story, as it illustrates a detrimental effect homeschooling can have on your later life, even if it is well-meant, non-religious, free-form, and even in a setting that still amazes people to this day.
I had grown up in Colorado until I was 10, and up to that point I had been going to public school, brought up by my Dad after my mother divorced him when I was three or four. I began by going to the local basic elementary school, but I didn’t like it, so the last few years I had been going to a normal charter school. I was not an exceptionally smart kid, but I had a great imagination, and no problems making friends and keeping social with my little group. But in 2000, when I was turning 11, my dad remarried, and retired from his job to sweep us all away on an adventure of a lifetime.
His plan was to sail down the Caribbean, in a 40-ft boat, and go through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific, and finally settle in New Zealand.
Even at 11, I was no stranger to travel, having been to Tahiti, the Bahamas, Venezuela, and New Zealand itself, as well as yearly camping trips to Utah or Grand Mesa in Colorado. So the idea excited me, as it would any young boy, and it was only with a faint inkling of what I was really losing that we hauled our way to Florida to begin the journey.
So, obviously, since we would be moving so much and so quickly, homeschooling was the only real option for our continuing education. Our education largely came from textbooks and workbooks, and some educational computer programs. There was no religious undercurrent — my dad had disliked going to church, and had not wanted to foist that on us as well. So we were free to read the Bible if we wanted and make our own decisions on that front. We largely taught ourselves, going through the books and doing assignments for about four or five hours a day (year round, no winter or summer breaks), going to our parents if we needed help understanding something. For extra-curricular activities, my new step-mother was teaching us Russian and art, and of course we had all the swimming we wanted.
In exchange, however, my social world had shrunk enormously.
People had been voicing their concerns to my dad (who was in charge of everything) about our social development, and he had simply voiced confidence that we would be stronger, because we would be free of peer pressure, drugs, alcohol, violence, all the dangers he had begun seeing grow in our world. I believed and accepted that rationale, and prided myself on skipping the rebellious teenager phase, and being a teetotaler until I was 23.
But the reality was that, without outside input, my development had simply been short-circuited.
There were indeed other children on other boats down in the Caribbean, and we would try to make friends with them. For the most part this worked out great, although in some cases we were forced to try to interact with people we didn’t like. But each and every one of us were going our own routes, and most friendships would only last a few months before our paths split again. So for the majority of those 5 or 6 years on the boat, we had a very inward-focused social world, and depended on the family almost entirely.
Eventually, though, our homeschool supplies became inadequate for continuing education, and it was starting to become time to think about higher education. We were about at Grenada, near the southernmost tip of the Lesser Antilles, one island away from the mainland of South America, when we decided to head back to the states. We stayed in Miami, Florida for a few years, usually at a marina or a dry dock as we restocked on educational supplies and tried to get a new, bigger boat ready for our next foray to try to get back on track.
The reality was that Dad had been growing older too, and he didn’t feel like he was in condition with growing medical concerns to risk sailing across the Pacific. If he didn’t feel like he had to be in charge, and train us and trust us to run the ship if he had to be helicoptered to a hospital, things might have been different, and I might be in New Zealand now.
But the point is to show how Dad, even if he wasn’t overtly religious, had still absorbed a lot of the patriarchal ideas from his parent’s church and his upbringing.
He had been passing that down to us as well, though we didn’t know it.
In Florida, things slowly got worse for our family. We stopped homeschooling, on hiatus while we tried to work things out, but we were more restricted than ever, because Miami was a hotbed for the peer pressure, drugs, and violence we had been warned about all of our lives. So going to normal school there was out of the question. My older sister and I got our GED’s, where I had my first glimpse of college and wanting to really feel like I wanted to go there. But we were stuck in limbo while Dad tried to work things out.
Long story short, we made a last ditch effort to make an art gallery in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and it failed. My family split apart with another divorce, with my older sister and my step-mother and her daughter remaining in Eureka Springs. I went to Tulsa with my Dad, because he had a friend there and it was a good place to continue my education.
In Eureka Springs, ostensibly I had more freedom than ever. I had a car I could drive, and a whole town of people I could socialize with, if I wanted. I had nothing but time on my hands, and nothing to do except go to town and help with the gallery every now and then. But I was more isolated than I’d ever been before- I was forced to stay in a camper in the back of a pick-up truck, because my mother and sisters had rented an apartment that didn’t allow pets, so I had to stay there with the dogs and the cats. But I hardly ever went out- I kept myself confined, worrying about the dogs, not having any motivation to leave. I was by myself most of the time- Dad was hired as a trucker to supplement the gallery’s income and keep it afloat, so he was away for weeks at a time, and my sisters lived in town. But I just couldn’t leave the camper except to get food.
When Dad and I moved to Tulsa, it was actually worse.I stayed in the trailer for a year while we waited for residency to get into college, too afraid of that peer pressure/drugs/violence world out there. When I finally enrolled for classes, at first I could not even talk to the teachers- though the homeschooling now apparently paid off, as I was literally steam-rolling through the classes, only getting B’s in Composition because I had never heard of and didn’t know how to use MLA format. But even though I was doing great academically, I was still suffering socially. I didn’t make a single friend, as I just didn’t have the courage to talk to anyone, and I had no connection to them.
I often felt like I was a time traveler, as I had missed so much of what was integral to everyone else’s development and frame of reference.
And I was dismissive of them too- it seemed like all the girls were dressing like sluts, all the guys were idiots, the teachers were liberal scum. I even refused to write a paper for a sociology class about the gender/orientation spectrum, protesting that it was complete nonsense.
From these last few sentences, you can see that I had pretty much unthinkingly adopted my dad’s point of view. Growing up in that homeschooling environment, so inwardly and family focused, had denied all other points of view. And even though Dad wasn’t aware of it, he was one of the only guiding points we had available. He was unconsciously passing along his parent’s strict, conservative religious teachings to us. It was only after I finally decided on archaeology over paleontology, and studying anthropology, that I began getting a global perspective.
I had dismissed sociology as just liberal propaganda dressed up to look scientific to push their agenda- but anthropology gave me the tool of cultural relativism to realize that Western notions of right or wrong weren’t necessarily the right one. I learned about how other cultures express sexuality, religion, and family relations. I learned more about how people worked, in a sense of all of humanity, not just Americans.
Slowly, I began to change my accepted views. I saw how ethnocentric right-wing politicians really were, pursuing an agenda focused solely within their Christian-political world-view. I explored my own sexuality, coming to terms with it and even completely changing my gender identity.
I also began seeing the need for my own independence. I needed to get out from my dad’s apron strings, and begin learning how to do things on my own. So I moved from Tulsa to Norman to attend OU, to attempt to make it on my own. But I still find myself secluded- I stay in my room, lacking the incentive or energy to go out, even to see my other room-mates. I have gone to several campus organization meetings, but most of the time I find some excuse not to go. Like before, even though my intellectual development expanded again, my social development still lags far behind.
So many homeschool parents intend the best for their children. They want them prepared for the world that they see, to be good, upright people, or to protect them from the evils of the world. But, as hopefully my story illustrated, even homeschooling in the amazing setting of the Caribbean can give much different results than you could imagine, and how parents can rarely foresee the outcome of what they are really doing.