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.
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.
Growing up, I had very little concept of “school” in the traditional sense.
While we were not unschoolers or a family who did child-directed learning, we did not even try to bring school home. We were our own breed. In my elementary years we just did the ATI wisdom booklets, checked out tons of random books at the library, and did unit studies that centered on the scripture of the month. For example, if our verse that month was “blessed are the meek,” we studied stories of meekness in history, science, missions, and life. We did not even open up textbooks, other than in math and grammar, until I got older.
Essentially we learned conservative Christianity.
We had little to no testing. But if I made less than 100 on any assignment or test, I simply took it again. Answer keys were our substitute teacher. If I did not understand something, I would open up the teacher’s book and study it. The teachers books stayed in my school box, and I graded all of my own work.
Essentially I learned by cheating.
I taught myself to write towards the end of high school. I printed articles off the internet and copied their styles, their forms, and even rewrote their content.
Essentially I learned to write by plagiarizing.
I learned “culture” by reading the New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy for 30 minutes a day. An outsider of the family suggested this because I was so culturally and socially out of touch with anything outside Christianity and homeschooling.
Essentially I learned cultural and social cues by reading, alone.
My mom said that Saxon was too watered down. Saxon is used in “public school.” Therefore, it was inferior and “too easy.” (Remember, when I was 14, my mom had me in 4th grade spelling. But in math, they wanted it difficult.)
The problem was all the “more advance” curriculum had poor explanations. (My idea of fun is not for teachers to read me problems. *cough* ACE et. al.) So often we spent 3-4 hours a day studying the word problems on our own, trying to figure them out.
Essentially I learned algebra without a teacher.
In college I was shocked at how other students approached learning.
In my math course, when I did not understand how to do an advanced word problem, I just read the chapters on my own, over and over, for two, three, even five hours until it clicked. Then one of my classmates laughed at me and said, “the teacher could have shown you how to do that in two minutes.”
I learned how to write literary research papers by reading the university journal. When I did not understand the critical theory references, I looked it up. I quickly was studying upper-level ideas in the beginning of my college education.
My dorm room was quickly full of library books. Anytime I had to read a work of literature, I’d go and check out all the literary critics and read all their ideas. I was not checking these out to write essays. I was checking them to be my teacher, because I was used to teaching myself everything, and had no concept of discussing ideas with (or listening to) a teacher and other students. Once my teacher said I had plagiarized an idea; I explained the piles of books, and he laughed and said, “Maybe you should quit checking out books and just learn in class.” I was frustrated because I still was not connecting that I could learn by discussing ideas with people. (Even though never did NCFCA debate, this post resonated with me.)
I never let school get in the way of my education. The classroom never stopped feeling like I was paying someone to tell me what to read. As much as I loved philosophy and literature, the process of school never felt natural.
When I moved to SE Asia, I found people a little bit like me.
I was teaching in an intercity middle school as part of my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) program, and I was given two hints. 1) Don’t expect kids to take tests alone. There is no such thing. Kids take tests in groups of three or more. 2) Play games, games, games. Stay out of the books, and force them to speak English as a game.
Basically what we called cheating and playing, they called education.
School also started when the students got there and cleaned the classrooms, which varied day by day. It almost felt like we were at home.
I taught in a mountain village school one summer. The kids would often beg me to take them swimming in the creek. So we would. Then they would go home and change before going back to school.
On another occasion, I had spent the night with a school teacher. She insisted she take my bags back to my house before school. That turned into an hour sitting around on tree stumps with my friends. I kept shaking my head saying, “but school started at 8:30,” and she said, “the kids are in no hurry for us to get there.” And I thought, man, this lady sounds like my mother when she’d answer the phone first thing in the morning.
It’s tempting to only focus on the downside of these education techniques.
I built relationships with kids, broke down the private-public life dichotomy that we celebrate in America, and learned that life is more than careers and books. Similarly, throughout my homeschool I developed deep perseverance and ownership of my education. If I had not taught myself to write, no one would have, and so I became my own lifesaver.
A lot of people read this site and remark on how accomplished, out-spoken, and well-educated we all seem. Many have remarked that it was obviously homeschooling that made us who we are. The answer to that question is complicated because I am what I am because of, and despite of, homeschooling. When your entire social life and community K-12 is homeschooled, of course these influences significantly impacted my life. But much of my adult life has been spent “re-learning” everything (from social skills, to history, to biology, to relationship etiquette). I was taught about all of these things through homeschooling. Some subjects I was never taught properly in high school and my insufficiency handicapped my educational opportunities.
My mother was the primary instructor and, bless her heart, she only had a GED and a few college classes. It’s not that my mother is not smart, or stupid; it’s that she was not qualified to give me a high school education. I consider most of my educational experiences before 8th or 9th grade to be generally positive. I excelled in spelling, math, science, and language arts. I really had an interest in science at an early age – I can remember enjoying earth science, nuclear science, and astronomy/space. As I entered high school, a few things happened. First, we got involved in ATI (a homeschooling cult) when I was about 10, but by my high school years the “Wisdom Booklets” became my primary textbooks (other than math). Second, I became involved in NCFCA/CFC when I was 13 – started debating at 14. Third, I started liking girls and “rebelling” by falling for them and having innocent phone and text conversations.
We used Saxon math as a supplement to the Wisdom Booklets. I excelled at geometry, basic algebra, and word problems. I’ve always enjoyed problem solving. As I got involved with advanced geometry and algebra II, my mother simply could not keep up. I would call my older sister, who was pursuing an engineering degree, and she would try to help me through it. But math-by-phone is no substitute for a math teacher.
I think about 15 or 16, when I got involved heavily in debate, my mom stopped requiring me to do math. Debate literally took over my life and I spent about 40 hours a week researching, writing speeches, and talking to friends in homeschool debate. I consider my friends from CFC/NCFCA as the closest thing to a “high school class” because they were the only social group that I interacted with somewhat limited parental oversight. I excelled at debate and it fed my father’s interest in history and politics. So for three years all I did was debate, which was vastly superior to Wisdom Booklets. My education with Wisdom Booklets made me think that AIDS was a gay disease and my sex mis-education was downright reckless. I “learned” about logarithms intertwined with the tale of Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes.
When it came time to submit my high school transcript for college (and to apply for state scholarships) my parents sat down at the computer and literally made up my transcript. Debate-related activities and research were labeled under lots of different titles (American History, Composition, Logic, Civics, Public Speaking, English, etc). Of course, I got A’s in all of these categories. Now, my parents had some semblance of ethics and they decided I needed to complete some science courses to qualify for the state’s college entrance requirements. My science courses in high school were pathetic, with the exception of computers because my dad worked in the industry for his entire adult life.
During most of my junior and senior years, I worked full-time and debated. There was a long-distance Latin course from PHC, chemistry, and biology course interlaced with working and debate. I got C’s in all of these classes and I’m pretty sure I had to cheat on two of the finals just to pass.
Technically, I took a chemistry and biology course, but in reality, I learned nothing about those subjects. My mom wasn’t that knowledgeable in sciences. I used the Apologia biology textbook. I remember bumbling through the biology book, not understanding anything I was reading. Mostly because there was no grand narrative, like evolution, to make sense of all the different species. I excelled in college biology, but not until I understood the topics from an evolutionary perspective. My chemistry course was me and my homeschooled friend learning from his father, who was a doctor. The “classes” lasted for maybe a month or two, but then life got busy and I stopped going. He didn’t really follow-up, for whatever reason, and my parents didn’t seem that interested either. So I taught myself chemistry? Nope, I suck at chemistry – on a very basic level.
As a side note, I’m great with computers because of my father, but I never took a programming class beyond Visual Basic. He tried to teach me about things, but it always seemed like I was missing part of the story – like he wasn’t “dumbing it down” enough. Looking back, I realize it’s because my father was trying to teach me only the practical applications of computers while never learning the scientific theory. I know he knows all about it, but I don’t know that he was qualified to teach it to a child. It’s not like I gained marketable skills from my computer education.
I was also a huge asshole when I began college. I’m sure you know the type: fundamentalist Christian debater. I had no idea how to navigate relationships with non-homeschooled people and it took a year or two, many broken friendships, and loneliness to find friends. I was also encouraged through programs like Summit to challenge my “evil, secular humanist” professors in class – to “stand up” for Jesus in the public classroom. I was prepared to enter an atmosphere that antagonized Christians and Christianity.
College was fantastic, but difficult and filled with substance abuse. I realized that I had ADD, but self-medicated for sometime with cannabis. Alcohol and cannabis helped with the anxiety –social, existential, spiritual, school and parent-related – and helped me to socialize with big groups. I still can’t socialize with big groups of people easily and I lucked into taking a lot of Honors classes with small class sizes. I almost lost my big scholarship (which required me to keep a 3.5) in my sophomore year because I got terrible grades in science and foreign languages. I didn’t know how grades or tests worked, let alone how to study. I excelled in political science and history, so that’s where I stayed. I didn’t take biology until my senior year. I finally understood it and, since then, I’ve developed a keen interest in neurobiology, psychopharmacology, psychology, and health care issues. At this point, I’d love another two or three years of school to get a B.S. and another three to get an M.S., but that part of my life is over now.
I remember a time in middle school when I really wanted to be an engineer and I still think I could have excelled at it, if it wasn’t for my homeschooling. Yes, I have an MA, but I’m confident I could have a stable, well-paying job in a science-related field. My liberal arts education came easily to me, but I would have relished the challenge of advanced science and math. Almost every public school student has a somewhat competent math teacher and most have access to AP calculus. Yes, debate is a great skill and it has made me successful, but I’ve always been jealous of people who excelled in math or science – like I once did – and moved seamlessly into the job market.
I have been reading the posts on Homeschoolers Anonymous with great interest for the past few weeks. After giving it some thought, I decided to share my own experiences. I can identify with much of what has been posted here, even though my story isn’t as traumatic as some of those I’ve read here.
I was homeschooled from grades K – 8 and in public school for grades 9 – 12. I believe that it was my dad’s idea to send me to high school full-time. I give him credit for this since it left my parents open to criticism from members of the church we attended. Had it been solely up to my mom, I probably would have gone to public school for math and science only and been at home for all other subjects. She typically had her own ways of doing things, and her ways didn’t always line up with conventional wisdom.
My parents started homeschooling me in the early 80’s (I’m 33). If I had to guess, I would say that they were influenced to do this by James Dobson’s Focus on the Family ministry and Mary Pride’s book, The Way Home. Back in the mid-80’s, there weren’t nearly as many groups and organizations for conservative, Christian homeschoolers. However, our family managed to link up with a church that had a few other families that were educating their kids at home, so we would get together with these other families on a weekly basis for a homeschooling coop.
Our curriculum was a hodge-podge of Saxon, Bob Jones, and Abeka. My memory is a little hazy on what curriculums we used for each subject, since my mom typically mixed and matched our text books from year to year.I am certain that my parents’ primary reason for homeschooling my three younger sisters and I was to pass on their religious beliefs. It may have had a little to do with my mom’s belief that she could give us a better education than the local public schools, but the main reasons were definitely religious in nature.
The church we attended started off as a group of charismatic, non-denominational Christians who just loved Jesus. Practically every member was a first generation “believer” and many had really traumatic pasts. There wasn’t too much emphasis on theology or formulating a consistent, Christian worldview, but the members were undoubtedly in love with the Lord. The pastor of this church had a particularly abusive childhood and had accepted Christ in his early 20’s. From there, he just started preaching. I don’t believe that he had a formal education at a seminary, but he was very sincere and spent his life studying the Word.
My early childhood was fairly pleasant. I didn’t mind homeschooling, mainly since I didn’t know any different, and because all my best friends were at church. Things were good up to the age of about 9 or 10. But then, slowly and subtly, the environment at church and at home began to change.
Our congregation started to get heavily involved in the Pro-Life cause and, in particular, Operation Rescue. We became very active in pickets and protests and even started sitting in front of abortion clinics. For a 10-year-old kid, the scene at these early protests and sit-ins leaves a real impression. On one side, you had the Christians, who were singing praise and worship songs while walking in a slow circle or sitting in front of the clinic. I never witnessed any of them behaving in a confrontational manner (although I did witness how they would go limp when the police would start hauling them into patty wagons).
On the other side were God’s enemies – the feminists, liberals, and atheists. These people would spew all kinds of hate and vulgarities at the Christians. As a kid, the contrast was stark. I couldn’t understand why these people were so angry at the Christians who were just trying to save the babies.
(Getting a little off track here… so back to the story.)
Not too long after getting involved in Operation Rescue, our church split up. About half the members stayed at the original church and the other half planted a new one that began meeting at an elementary school. Soon after the split, a new assistant pastor came on board. The new pastor was staunchly reformed and, within a few years, the church adopted a Reformed, Christian Reconstructionist theology. Christian Reconstructionists are fiercely post-millennial, meaning that they believe Christ will not return until all aspects of culture and government are under his “Lordship.”
What does this look like exactly? The book of Leviticus should give you some idea. The pipe dream of this movement is one where the constitution is replaced by Old Testament case laws. Public executions by stoning, slavery, and extreme patriarchy would be the “norm.” Separation of church and state would become a thing of the past. RJ Rushdooney was the patron saint of this movement.
Once our church adopted this theology, homeschooling became the main method for raising up our nation’s next generation of foot soldiers to usher in a theocratic “utopia.” Suddenly, evangelism was replaced by activism and joy was replaced by anger and paranoia. Rather than serving the community, the members became focused primarily on getting the right candidates elected into office, including a few from within our small church.
For years, my family had been the standard by which other homeschooling families in our community were measured. But then all these new homeschoolers started showing up. These families made my parents look liberal by comparison. They adhered to the courtship model and truly believed that public education was a tool of the devil. I did witness one marriage via courtship between an oldest daughter and one of the men in the church. My parents praised them as a shining example of biblical courtship.
They were divorced within a year.
At Home – Part 1
At about age 10, I started to realize that I was “different.” Kids in the neighborhood started asking me why I didn’t go to school. I’d probably give them some canned answer that my parents told me to recite when asked this question. But it still made me feel like an outsider. It also didn’t help that I had weak hand/eye coordination – I couldn’t hit a baseball! I’m sure if you’re a natural leader and athlete like, say, Tim Tebow, being homeschooled isn’t too bad. But for me, it felt like I was getting a double-whammy.
When you also take into account the fact that I was spending every day, 24/7, with my domineering mother and three younger sisters, well… let’s just say the fact I’m straight makes me living proof that homosexuality is not rooted in one’s upbringing.
Around grade 6, I had some sports-related activities going on at the local Middle School. I got to see kids goofing around, having fun, and just being kids. I was incredibly shy and did not know how to join in, but I really wanted to! I was tired of feeling like an outsider. I wanted to jockey for position in the middle school social hierarchy. I wanted to get teased or get in a fight. I wanted to flirt with girls. I was tired of spending my afternoons and summers cooped up with my mom and sisters. I wanted my own life – one that wouldn’t be under the constant supervision of my parents.
A few days later, I mustered up all the courage I had, and told my parents that I wanted to go to school. I’ll never forget my mom’s response: “NO WAY! OUT OF THE QUESTION! THAT’S FINAL!” I was crushed and cried for a few days. On top of this rejection, her and my dad laid a massive guilt trip on me for even wanting to go to school in the first place. Saying things like, “I can’t believe how ungrateful you are for all the sacrifices we have made so that your mother can stay home with you kids” or explaining to me “how disappointed God must be in me for being so ungrateful.” Then my mom would force out some tears to drive the point home.
Of course, whenever we were around my dad’s work colleagues or anyone else who was skeptical of homeschooling, I was expected to suck it up, be sociable, and tell them how great my homeschooling experience was. And I did… every time.
That rejection and those next two miserable years were the worst of my life. My parents used to be fond of telling us that we “have no idea how good we have it” as kids. But I’ll tell you, nothing I have encountered in adulthood rivaled the misery of 7th and 8th grade. It was like I died a little inside. However, worse than the initial hurt was the fact that the seeds were planted for my distrust and animosity not just of my mom, but of women in general. I really believe that those 13 years spent being micromanaged by a controlling, overbearing mother turned me off to ever wanting to live with a woman full-time again.
Fundamentalist Homeschooling Is A Poison: Isaiah’s Story
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Isaiah” is a pseudonym.
I have mixed feelings about homeschooling, to say the least. While I find many, if not most, of the common criticisms of homeschooling to have some kind of validity, I still feel myself cringe when homeschoolers are caricatured as deranged fundamentalists since I know from experience that there is more to the story. My experience with homeschooling consists of extremely varied highs and lows — the highs of a dedicated and capable parent as a teacher, an education that fit with my self-motivated personality, and freedom from rigid schedules; and the lows of religious indoctrination and the personal struggles caused by living in an insular environment. If the good side of my homeschooling experience was very good — and it was — the bad side was very bad, and I still feel its effects to this day.
I was homeschooled for my entire lower-level education — kindergarten through high school — and in that time I knew homeschoolers from all sides of the social spectrum. I knew unschoolers, conservative Christians, liberal Christians, vaguely religious people, non-religious people, and even a Wiccan at one point (though I didn’t know what “Wiccan” meant until some time later). I knew people — or more accurately, the children of people — with a fairly wide range of beliefs and philosophies which had led them to homeschool, rather than just the evangelical families so well-represented in cultural tropes about homeschoolers.
But in spite of the diversity I was exposed to, my experiences have led me to be very suspicious of homeschooling in general, for a simple reason: in the homeschooling movement, the most extreme voices are the majority. There is a reason why the archetype of homeschoolers as fanatical morons is so popular. For every parent who chooses to homeschool for health reasons, extenuating circumstances, or educational philosophy (ie, that of unschooling), it seems like there are ten who homeschool because they are part of the fundamentalist or Quiverfull movements. Knowing what I know now about the history of homeschooling, this makes sense. After all, the Quiverfull movement openly says its goal is to produce large broods of future homeschoolers who will repeat the process over and over until they outnumber everyone else, and while the majority of Christian homeschoolers tend to be less brazen, they often only believe in milder versions of the same philosophies touted by Michael Farris and the other leaders of the Fundamentalist/Quiverfull movement.
Fundamentalist homeschooling is a poison. I say this from experience. It spreads like a virus, and not just among the conservative Christians who form its natural hosts. There are people of milder faith who get progressively sucked into more and more conservative elements of the homeschooling movement. Sometimes, through ignorance of fundamentalism’s real motives and philisophical underpinnings, a person can be lulled to sleep by the superficially attractive images of evangelical rhetoric and never notice the bigotry and delusion lurking right below the surface. I’ve seen it happen to people, and my mother was one of them.
As is probably typical for non-fundamentalists, many things contributed to my mother’s decision to homeschool me. Essentially, she believed — not without reason — that the public schools I would go to were dirty, violent, overcrowded, had poor curricula and bad funding. We couldn’t afford a private school, so she as a stay-at-home parent began to consider homeschooling.
By the time I had reached four my mother decided not to enroll me in preschool or kindergarten, and for the next three years did a wonderful job both educating me and socializing me with other children and adults. Even though I was an only child, I had a healthy and very normal social life, and was able to be educated above my age group, starting grade one at five years old. These were some of the best years of my childhood, and I still believe to this day that with sufficiently intelligent, caring and involved parents, early life education does not require formal schooling of any kind (although I see nothing wrong a with a good formal early education either).
After this successful start, when I had turned about seven, we decided to continue homeschooling through grade school. This marked the beginning of our brush with the conservative homeschooling movement. The HSLDA, which previously had been only an abstract form of social insurance to us, began to be a resource for our studies, and its sister organizations were used to help choose my formal curriculum. We spent a while before the start of my third grade school year deliberating on what system offered the best education, and ultimately decided on a hybrid approach. Other than the notoriously dry Saxon math textbooks, we chose a fundamentalist Christian curriculum called LIFEPAC and its digital equivalent, Switched-On Schoolhouse. This might seem incongruous, since we weren’t fundamentalists, but my mother was a religious conservative in the sense that she had a very hard time criticizing anyone who claimed to represent Christianity, and always gave religious individuals and organizations a great deal of respect even when her values were utterly opposed to their beliefs. She never looked beyond the very thin religiously moderate veneers that the HSLDA and other conservative Christian organizations put up, and so she assumed the curriculum was merely a good Christian education, and nothing more.
If the thought had ever crossed her mind that the curriculum I used for ten years would progressively harm me intellectually, psychologically and spritually, she would have thrown it back on the shelf in an instant. But as it turned out, this curriculum would prove to be the central destructive influence of homeschooling on my life. It was from these textbooks and lessons that I was poisoned by fundamentalism, and they are largely responsible for the part of my homeschooling experience which stunted my development and left me struggling with extreme self-doubt, self-hatred and depression as years went by.
The lesson plan started off innocuously — even with a bible study textbook as one of the main subjects (right next to science, history, and English), the first few grades were of decent quality and generally avoided controversial material. Thanks to excellent teaching I excelled consistently in my studies and everything seemed to be going well. But as the years went by, little oddities started to present themselves when I studied my textbooks or took lessons on the family computer. Starting around the sixth grade — once biology and astronomy became serious subjects — science seemed to take a strange path, and as grades progressed upwards the tone of the text became more and more defensive, with the writers eventually resorting to actually mocking biology and astronomy (evolution and the big bang were the biggest targets) rather than merely promoting creationism. The extreme immaturity of using mockery in a textbook apparently never occured to the writers of the lesson plan.
History not only consisted of the standard American whitewashing, which strains a person’s grip on historical facts badly enough, but also a Biblically literalist whitewashing, an almost colonial view of non-Europeans, and to top it off, no acknowledgement that anything over six thousand years old could exist at all. It is not an exagerration to say that everything I actually know about history I learned outside of that curriculum, and that beyond certain parts about Rome, colonial Britain and early America, I have had to erase and relearn much of what I was taught to get an accurate picture of the world. As with the science curriculum, history lessons progressed in their deviance from standard textbooks over time, in this case by including slightly more biblical content in each grade level, marked as “history” right next to the founding of Rome or the pyramids of Egypt. Bible study, needless to say, was extremely focused on inculcating the “right” beliefs into students as quickly as possible and didn’t pull its ideological punches as much as the other subjects did. Although it did review the whole Bible (starting at about the 6th grade) it only did so in a literalist context, progressing in nastiness and pushiness by grade. All this time I had continued to use Saxon’s math textbooks — which I loathed, but did seem to work — and occasionally found myself welcoming their dry dullness near the end of the school day.
Saxon didn’t preach — it merely made you fall asleep.
The curriculum as a whole struck very softly with indoctrination, couching it in well-written and produced textbooks as well as computer applications that included media and games. The packaging was, as a whole, fairly slick, and if you weren’t looking it was easy to miss the poison that peppered the whole thing.
In addition to the other beliefs I described, all the subjects I studied promoted complementarian sexism, sexual abstinence, chastity, Edwardian/Victorian style gender roles, human exceptionalism, and of course Biblical Literalism, though they all did so in different ways. What strikes me now is how subtle some of this propaganda could be — it was even present in English class, not only in the books on the required reading list but occasionally written bluntly between otherwise unrelated text in the middle of a lesson. Now and then harsh Bible quotes would appear beside inspiring ones, as if in warning, and heaven, hell, angels and satan were all real characters in the context of the textbooks.
Before I make this look too bad, though, I have to say that I didn’t even notice much of this until the last years of my education, although I always noticed, ignored and then tried to forget all kinds of little doubts I had about what I was learning. I read voraciously, including many science and history books that contradicted what I was taught, but until I became an older teenager I never really paid much attention to the contradictions, and through some kind of doublethink held that both ideas could be true. My mother remained an excellent teacher, I continued to hold a healthy social life, and I was otherwise quite whole as a person. Because fundamentalism only came from one part of my life and it was not promoted — though it was also never criticized — by my family, I had a lot more intellectual freedom than do most of the children who use this kind of curriculum. While some problems were simmering within me, my middle school life was overall a good experience even with my inane curriculum.
Personal issues during my high school years finally drove me to look back on, question and eventually discard the philosophy I was taught. A move to a faraway state had left my social life in tatters and it never recovered for the rest of my teenage years, I was forced to realize my own sexuality (both the existence of a sexual instinct itself, and that I was bisexual), I learned enough about real science and history to know that my education had not given me the whole truth, and I began to realize the terrible cruelty and undesirability of the world that fundamentalism sets out before people. All the little doubts and moral outrages I had repressed over the years came flooding back piece by piece, and after a long and hard struggle that included four years of constant depression I left both the fundamentalist part of my education and religion in general, becoming a happier and better person for it.
Only a couple of years after that last break from fundamentalism, my feelings on homeschooling remain mixed because my experience was mixed, and while the high points were great, the low points could be awful and intolerable. My mother’s dedication and inherently tolerant and empathetic nature gave me not only a good basic education, but a diverse and varied social life, ethical feelings I could seperate easily from religion, and intellectual freedoms that most homeschooled children never enjoy. But my curriculum, much of the media I watched or listened to, and the culture I grew up in contained no voices arguing actively against fundamentalism. Because of this, I became a host to the virus of religious paranoia and self-hatred, which I only recently managed to shake off enough to do things like write this essay. I was taught a much more warped perspective of history than even the average American middle-schooler, and my knowledge of useful science was very small until I studied real science for enough time to fix what my curriculum had broken. My relative intellectual freedom as a young child had left me well-prepared for this and I have managed to “catch up” without much fuss, but not everyone gets that opportunity.
Ultimately, I can’t say what my views are on what should or shouldn’t be legal in homeschooling. No matter what, I believe that there must be a strict basic code of regulations on homeschooling to prevent indoctrination and abuse, but I also understand the position of Germany and Scandanavia when they choose to simply ban it outright except in exceptional circumstances. I have met a few secular homeschoolers, unschoolers and other non-fundamentalist homeschoolers who have done well with their children’s education and have nothing to do with religion, let alone religious indoctrination. But the poison of religious fundamentalism is very potent, and the potential for even non-religious abuse within homeschooling is still high, regulated or not. I was a very loved and nurtured child in a relatively liberal household, and yet I suffered at least some of what children in deeply authoritarian Christian homes do.
I can’t imagine what I would be right now if I had grown up in a family of true fundamentalists, Quiverfull members, or right-wing evangelicals.
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Faith” is a pseudonym.
Being homeschooled is an incredibly unique experience. It feels like you’re part of a giant club that no one else understands unless they also grew up being homeschooled. It’s impossible to explain to “outsiders”, not to mention that I have always felt a tremendous burden to avoid breaking ranks, so to speak, and making any criticism of homeschooling to the uninitiated. To me at least, there always seems to be an unspoken agreement amongst homeschoolers that we might quibble and squabble between ourselves but we present a united front to the public.
I am in my late 20s now so my education started in the early 1990s. Homeschooling was not quite as popular, particularly in the area of the country where we were living, nor were there as many resources available to homeschoolers. I honestly am not 100% sure of what motivated my parents to decide to homeschool (I’m the oldest) but I do know that, initially, their parents, my Grandparents, were relatively skeptical and not quite “on board” with the crazy kids. Between the relatives and the oddity of homeschooling itself, I have always felt a bit like my siblings and I have carried the burden of proof — living, breathing results that the experiment didn’t go horribly wrong (so we all hope!).
I have never felt like I could discuss my conflict, particularly criticism, with my homeschool experience with my other homeschool friends as they all seem quite happy with their education and plan to homeschool their own children. Not my parents because they would take it as a personal attack on their lifestyle. Rarely with my non-homeschool (and let’s just say it…the non-Christian) friends nowadays because, as I said before, the pressure to maintain the united front still has influence on me. Having the opportunity to write this is incredibly liberating.
First, I want to preface my “true confessions of a homeschooler” by saying that, from the bottom of my heart, I am sincerely grateful for my parents and for all the time, money, energy, and love they have invested in me and my siblings. I understand and have always known that they chose to homeschool us with the best of intentions. Their commitment and sacrifice has been tremendous. I want to acknowledge that and say that I love them, respect them, and hope that, in many ways, I can be as incredible a parent someday as they have been.
Throughout elementary and middle school I really enjoyed being homeschooled. To this day, I can honestly say that I sincerely believe that I would not have such strong relationships with my siblings if we had not spent so much time together. It’s a privilege to be able to say that my brothers were my first best friends and that my sisters (10 and 12 years younger than me) are some of my favorite people to call and talk to. I have great memories of “going to school” with my brothers. The moment one of them zoomed his roller chair into the corner of the wall and broke off a big chunk of plaster, which we then proceeded to color in an attempt to hide the damage. Or the moment my Mom drove down the driveway heading to the grocery store, my brothers burst into a loud rendition of “Ninety Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” The opportunity of spending time with extended family, particularly my Great Grandparents, who have since passed away, has given me so many priceless memories. Our ability to vacation was much more flexible, which was really great and we took some exciting trips. The hours and hours we spent playing outdoors when we probably would have been cooped up in a classroom somewhere are fond memories as well. I have such positive reflections on my homeschool experience during elementary/middle school that I am fairly certain that I would like to homeschool my own children at least through elementary.
I can also say that my early education was quite solid. My Mom never really “stuck” with any one curriculum. There was some cherry picking from various publishers but I recall using Saxon Math, Bob Jones, Calvert School, Abeka…the usual that I’m pretty sure most homeschoolers have seen and used.
Once high school hit things got a little more hairy. I am a classic example of the tendency that, at least in the past, homeschoolers have been minimally educated in math and science. My Dad really did his best (math at that level was beyond my Mom) but he was working all day so I definitely wandered through Algebra 2 at my own sweet will. The same with geography and history and basically everything my 10th grade year. I’m pretty sure I learned…just about nothing that year. The one thing I actually remember is writing a paper on Eva Peron. So, I have that in my bank of knowledge! Every year most of my friends would go to the church school (the “umbrella” school for those of you who will recognize that term) for the standardized state testing but since my Dad was a college graduate, he was able to administer the tests himself.
The one time I darkened the doors of a public high school was when I took the SAT. I actually don’t remember much about that experience but I do remember that sometimes we’d go to high school football games because some relatives lived near the high school. I had a great time observing that other species, the public schooler, those heathens!
The best part of high school was taking classes twice a week at the church school and for 11th and 12th grades I took some classes at the local community college. Quite a few of us from the local homeschool community took classes there so we would generally meet up and have lunch together or walk around campus. In general, my teachers were impressed with me. My English teacher told me I was the best student he had that semester (between several classes) and one memory in particular stands out…he asked the class what the Luftwaffe had been. I responded that it had been the Nazi air force during the Second World War. He looked at me and said “How do you know that?!” and I just shrugged and said “I read a lot.” Good times….
But, on a personal level, high school was hell for me in regards to being homeschooled. I had an extremely negative relationship with my parents, particularly my Mom, for various reasons that I won’t detail. But I can tell you that when you don’t get along with your parents whatsoever and you are miserable, that being at home with them 24/7 is not quite the way to deal with that. I struggled with depression and self-injury throughout high school, of course without ever seeing a counselor or getting any sort of professional help.
Being homeschooled throughout that period of time was damaging in the sense that I felt trapped, which did not help my emotional stability whatsoever. I was not involved in any sort of social group, not even a youth group because my parents didn’t approve of youth groups. My Mom was very occupied with my younger siblings so she had little time to talk and never any opportunity to sort out our issues. I certainly won’t blame my struggles on being homeschooled but I am sure, without a doubt, that homeschooling exacerbated them.
To be honest, I have spent the past 9 years struggling with how bitter I am about my high school experience. There are moments that I wish I had been able to go to a prom, that I had been able to wear the “cool” clothes, that I had gone to the mall and movies with friends like “normal” high schoolers (my friends and I did go sometimes but it was always planned in advance and was never a “spur of the moment” event), not to mention that I really, really wish I had dated in high school. I wish that I had gotten some of the “crazy” out of my system in high school and had more freedom to experience the “real world” and meet non-Christians and sort out my own thoughts and beliefs for myself.
This has been pointed out by other bloggers, but it can be frustrating for those of us who are “first generation” homeschoolers because our parents never had the experience of being homeschooled. I understood that my parents had their reasons for choosing to homeschool and they tended to reflect more negatively on their public school upbringing. But I have always thought it ironic that they seemed to believe that being homeschooled was the best thing since sliced bread and couldn’t understand why we could possibly dislike any aspect of our experience but they had no idea what it was actually like. Sometimes I wish that we could have an honest discussion about it so that, someday, they will understand why I won’t homeschool my own children “all the way through.” Perhaps one day we will. Even if we don’t, at least I will get to make those decisions on my own.
The face of homeschooling has significantly changed, so it seems to me. I don’t think my sisters ever had that fear of being taken away by social services (I avidly read the HSLDA magazine and all the horror stories), they have an extensive social life, they have gone to prom, and have a well adjusted, mature relationship with my parents. They are far better educated than I was upon graduation from high school and I am happy for them. Their experience seems to have been tremendously different from mine (from what I observe) and that is encouraging to me. It definitely seems possible to homeschool without some of the negative results that I experienced and I hope that it is an opportunity I can provide for my own children one day, if possible.