College After Homeschooling

CC image courtesy of Flickr, BiblioArchives. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, BiblioArchives. Image links to source.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on April 28, 2015.

Most of my readers know that the last four semester I have been in graduate school. I am graduating with my masters degree next month, and so I have been reflecting on the experience lately. Grad school has been surprisingly positive for me. To understand why, we should zoom back ten years ago.

In Fall 2005, I started college at the university that awarded me my honours BA. The experience was overall more negative than positive, so much so that I regretted that I attended college even after I finished my degree with highest honors.

I think there were several reasons undergrad did not resonate well with my spirit.

First, I literally was not prepared to handle relationships. I did not understand that it is okay if I do not get along with some people, so I tried to force people to be my friends. I had almost never in my entire life been alone with any one friend at a time, and I do not mean alone with a guy. I mean alone with anyone. As a kid, we always hanged in small groups of sibling friends. In addition, I dressed weird. I had never had sex education, so did not know basic, basic sex terms and could not follow conversations in the cafeteria. I was using google every, single night to catch up on what was going on. Further, I had been taught that homosexuality was deeply sinful, and that people who had premarital sex were wicked. When I met people who were gay or who had sex, I had no idea how to react.

For the first two years of college, I lived in a fog, with no idea how to integrate myself or handle relationships of any kind.

Things did change, relationship wise, but that change brought a whole new world for me to sort. At some point in college, I decided that I was over the purity culture and courtship culture. But no matter how much I tried, I could never put it past me. I felt guilty for every romance movie my roommate and I watched. Literally, I was on my guilt bed for watching My Fat Greek Wedding because the couple had sex, probably, and because the dresses were so immodest. Also, I felt guilty for watching movies period because basically I never watched any movies as a kid other than Sound of Music and Anne of Green Gables. Further, I felt that I had to hide relationships because only courtship was allowed. By the time I graduated, I was an emotional wreck because I did not know what I believed anymore, and was guilty that I had had a life. I actually went through a period where I would cry myself to sleep because I thought I was wicked, all the while I was cursing courtship and I kissed-kissing-goodbye under my breath. I lived a contradictory life, and it wore down my soul.

Speaking of not knowing what I believed, I spent most of undergrad closed minded and could not listen to what my professors were seeking to show me. It started my freshman year when I took freshman literature and New Testament. We read “A Rose for Emily.” When I mentioned this to my mother, she told another homeschool mom, who then told mom to tell me that I was compromising my faith by reading this literature. At that time, I was a music major, like all good homeschool girls, and I went through weeks being torn asunder because I wanted to change my major to literature but everything in me knew that I would be exposed to so many evil stories (my family did not read literature other than Jane Austin, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien). New Testament was worse. My professor told us that the Bible has errors, he did not believe Moses crossed the red sea, and told me that Job was not a real man.

Looking back, I did not understand that even professors disagree with each other, and that disagreements are okay. One of my professors was a socialist and had us read Marxist philosophy for an entire month of our critical theory course. I complained and was annoyed because I saw her as seeking to make us socialists when in reality she was exposing us to different opinions. Back to the New Testament professor, I was not just closed minded to the idea that the Bible has errors.

I thought that everyone had to agree with me.

There was also a significant amount of deconstructing that occurred throughout my undergrad as slowly the more progressive ideas began to sink in, which again always left me torn. I have mentioned before that one of my professors, who I had nearly every semester for a literature class, quit his tenure job the year that his wife finished her PhD and got her a professorship at a state university in another state.  I was unbelievably impressed. My Greek professor, who I had for four semesters of Koine and Ancient Greek, fully embraced egalitarianism and disagreed with the complementarian interpretations of the Bible. He walked us through several of the chapters in the Bible that are used to hurt women and showed us why they have been misinterpreted or why the manuscripts are unclear and missing words. Further, my undergrad thesis supervisor, who worked closely with me for four semesters as I wrote my thesis, was married to a man who stayed home with their small children while she focused on her career. These kind of encounters may seem minor in the scope of things, but this is what my undergrad was like, being constantly pulled from that little sheltered world of homeschooling and being oriented to a world completely different.

Yet in all this, I did not appreciate college because it was thoroughly ingrained in me that college is stupid, dumbed-down, and a waste of time. A week before I graduated, I told my thesis supervisor that I had learned nothing — and I was in tears over this. Even recently when I was complaining about my undergrad to my grad mate, my friend stopped me and said, “geez, you must have learned something.” When I graduated, I did not want to walk the stage– I only walked because I was getting a special award for my honors thesis and it would be disrespectful to my examiners. And when I graduated, I wanted to burn the thesis because I was ashamed that I had written a liberal  paper. (When I presented my paper in front of interested faculty and students, I even had a disclaimer in there about the content– my professor must have been cringing.)

I should have graduated a feminist and progressive, but I just could not. The guilt overcame whatever freedom I had gained, and my academic knowledge felt such in vain, that the progressive ideas went to the wayside. To be sure, I know that it did my heart good, that it stretched me, and helped me later become who I am today. Still, I could have received it much better.

I say all this because homeschoolers frequently point to public schoolers and say, “See, public schoolers do not want to learn.” I think that statement should be challenged, but even if it were true, I, a homeschool grad, did not want to learn, either. I may have produced the grades, but it was motion for me. I could not receive what I was learning. I did not respect the professors’s knowledge — I was always thinking, “he is a liberal, don’t listen to him.” It took moving overseas and having my entire worldview uprooted before I was ever able to listen and receive contrary ideas.

I see the world differently now, as I will explain in my next post about grad school.

Here’s To My Fellow Homeschool Alumni: Ruth’s Story

Here’s To My Fellow Homeschool Alumni: Ruth’s Story

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

"Here's to my peers, you fellow homeschool alumni (and wow, does it ever feel good to be connected)."
“Here’s to my peers, you fellow homeschool alumni (and wow, does it ever feel good to be connected).”

This is my own consumer review of homeschooling. I want to share my story simply and directly, so you can understand the results, both the intended results and the side-effects (as someone put it). I was homeschooled all my life until I graduated from high school. So was my older sister and four of my ten younger siblings. The youngest six are still being home schooled.

So first the intended results: I was raised to get A’s. An A practically stood for Acceptable and anything less was handed back for corrections. Because of this rigorous focus on excellence, I am very strong academically. I graduated college with a 3.87 GPA, was inducted into two honor societies and received several other awards.

I’m smart. OK. I’m smart, and I’ve proved it.

Now let me tell you about the side-effects.

At age ten, I moved with my family to a rural area in a new state. From age ten to age twenty, I had no friends. I went to church on Sunday and to piano lessons every other week. My mom was so busy having and caring for my younger siblings that my high school courses consisted of me by myself plowing through one textbook after another. My mom was frequently unhappy with the amount of time I spent on my school work because she needed me to help with my siblings. I was free childcare, and while I loved my family (they were all the life I had), I completely missed out on any experiences that would have allowed me to develop my own identity as an individual or develop any independence from my parents.

When my older sister left for college, I was devastated. I didn’t know how to live without a big sister. We had hardly ever been separated, and I didn’t know anything about how to maintain a relationship with someone long distance or during times of separation.

When I graduated from high school two years later, I was completely at a loss. Since losing my older sister had been such a blow, I was sure I would die if I left the rest of my family, and I was terribly confused as to why my parents suddenly expected me to go to school after sheltering me so carefully all my life. I had never thought seriously about a job or a career because home and family life had always been so glorified, and besides, it was all I knew. I had often been told that I was going to be just like my mother when I grew up (twelve kids and all). So there I was, clueless, clutching very hard at whatever was left of the life I had known.

The years I was eighteen and nineteen are very dim in my memory. I helped my mother care for my younger siblings. I practiced organ three days a week at a local church. I went on homeschooling myself rather secretively.

When I was twenty, my dad told me I needed to get a job. I got a job in a fast food restaurant and was very blessed because my boss was a young woman three years older than me, and I immediately adopted her as my new big sister. She patiently, patiently, patiently loved and supported me as I adjusted to the big, wide world of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. It was her love, care, courage, ambition and confidence in me that made it possible for me to finally leave home at age twenty-five and attend college several states away. I graduated four years later, and while my college years were incredibly healing (I got to go to counseling regularly for two years and dealt with a lot of anxiety issues, and I was able to cut ties with my parents and become fully self-supporting with my own independent life), there were many, many times when I would have traded some of my academic success for some social skills.

In my life today, I honestly have to say that I am extremely lonely because I still don’t know very much about making friends. I still feel very confused about my age because I am a blend of the neglected child whose needs were set aside for her family or crowded out by the needs of her many siblings and the old (almost grandmotherly) me who knows way too much about childcare and has changed more diapers than many parents. I still feel less than other people because I still hardly know who I am as an individual, and I still find it difficult to realize that I am an adult now with a job, a career to tend to and money to earn and manage. I’m still in shock at my big, wide world, and I’ve been quite depressed for the last few months because I find myself so paralyzed, overwhelmed and confused as I confront it.

So here’s to my peers, you fellow homeschool alumni (and wow, does it ever feel good to be connected). If hearing my story can make even one of you feel less alone, less frustrated, or less like a freak than I’m glad that I shared it.

And to those who want to know how homeschooling can be improved:

1. Parents, please take into account a child’s age and level of development and don’t put more responsibility on her than is appropriate (either too much responsibility for her own education or too much responsibility for contributing to her home and family). And please, please don’t push parenting responsibilities off onto older siblings. They aren’t ready to be parents and being forced into that role deprives them of energy they desperately need to do their own growing up with, and it deprives younger children of the quality parenting that only adults can give.

2. Parents, please remember that each child is an individual person and a future adult, not just a member of your family. Too much isolation is not healthy, and a lack of friends and peers to share and compare experiences with deprives a child of validation, identity-building experiences and knowledge of social roles which are all extremely important to a satisfying adult life. Too little independence is not healthy. The process of becoming independent takes time  (in reality, it starts at birth and is what all the growing-up years are about) and while you can certainly hinder this process and make your child’s normal development one hundred times more difficult than it has to be, you cannot stop her from growing up, so let go. Support her need for independence, and let go some more.