Social Issues

an average homeschooler: introduction

first grade
[me, the first year I was homeschooled]

I’ve been avoiding writing about this. Even once I started planning out the series, I debated with myself for weeks over whether or not I wanted to write it out– and then post it. I’ve talked a lot about some of the other aspects of growing up in fundamentalism, but I’ve avoided talking about my experience with homeschooling for a few reasons. I’ve touched on it a few times, and I’ve even written posts for Homeschoolers Anonymous and for Leaving Fundamentalism. Even as I wrote those posts, I was hesitant about sharing them here, although I did eventually.

First of all, one of the reasons why I haven’t written about homeschooling is that my experience was nothing like what you can read about at H-A. My life was complicated, and the cult-church I grew up in made many things worse, but it was certainly not even approaching the nightmare of parents who could have refused to teach me to read or those who pull their kids out of school so that they can hide their abuse.

I would describe my homeschooling experience as fairly average. One of the beauties of homeschooling is that no one experience could be called truly average or representative, but in the past nine years since I’ve graduated I’ve been able to interact with hundreds of homeschoolers from all over the country. There are different sub-sets in homeschooling, with the conservative Christian/fundamentalist sub-set probably being the largest, even today (although other movements, like secular and unschooling, are gaining ground). Since conservative homeschooling environments are probably the largest and the most dominant (see: every single state-level homeschooling conference ever), I’m comfortable with viewing my experience as pretty middle-of-the-road. There are a few patterns– in how homeschooling is experienced, in how it is talked about by its advocates– and some of those are what this series is going to focus on.

My “average” experience is actually why I’ve decided to write this series, though. H-A has hundreds of stories now of educational neglect, of spiritual and physical abuse, and one of the very common arguments that people like R. L Stollar and Heather Doney are running into all over the place is that yes these experiences are awful but it’s not really homeschooling you’re talking about you’re really just talking about abuse and that’s present anywhere.

So while my church experience was definitely abusive, and while some of the things that were taught at church caused my parents to do some harmful things, my homeschooling experience was slightly detached from all of that. Up until this year, I would have described it in glowing terms. I believed my education was… well, superior. And while I haven’t completely changed my mind about that, I’ve come to realize that my “average” experience was lacking in some pretty big ways that do seem to be common among homeschoolers– religious and conservative homeschoolers, especially.

The second– and biggest– reason why I’ve hesitated writing about this was that talking about homeschooling inevitably means talking about my parents. If there were problems with my education, my educators were responsible. And while many of those problems can be shifted onto the myths and lies my parents were being fed by the homeschooling culture (which I’m going to talk about at length), I don’t have multiple teachers, principles, school boards, or lack of money to blame. I do my best not to drag my parents or my family into my blog, because this blog is about my journey, but I can’t talk about homeschooling in the same way that I can talk about my church-cult.

I love and respect my parents. They were doing what they honestly believed– thanks to the HSLDA, Vision Forum, and the endless homeschooling catalogs and flyers and books and magazines– to be the best thing for their children, and they did their research. They rejected a lot of the more damaging concepts you can find in Homeschooling Today. We rejected the form of homeschooling we laughingly referred to as “the goat-raisers” (incredibly large families, “homesteader” approach). They bought the highly-recommended curriculum, and they sacrificed a great deal of money to get it. They celebrated my successes and encouraged my dreams. I value everything my parents gave up in order to get me a good education, and this series in no way is meant to criticize them.

There were some very good things about my education that you can hear from a lot of other homeschoolers– a love of reading, unbridled curiosity, and plenty of time to explore. However, even those incredibly positive, valuable things have their downsides.

I’m going to be brutally honest, and sharing my experiences is going to be complicated, and messy, but as nuanced and balanced as I can make it. Hopefully, talking about my “average” experience will help open the door to a conversation about homeschooling that hasn’t really happened yet.

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  • Having homeschooled for 3 years myself… I’m really interested to hear about it from a student’s point of view. I’ve known families who’ve done it really well, and families who’ve done an incredibly crappy job. I’ve known homeschoolers who were quite full of themselves, totally convinced of their own superiority, and those “homesteader” types who were raised in a huge family with 4H for a gym class. I’ve known unschoolers and traditionalists, so I think we have a similar range of exposure, except I’ve only ever seen it from a parent’s/teacher’s standpoint, not from a student’s. (My reasons for homeschooling were non-traditional- nothing to do with religion and everything to do with what my kiddos needed at that time.)

    One thing I think is true- homeschooling is no more responsible for abuse than organized religion is (as we’ve been discussing in a previous post), but I also believe that you made a good point- some parents DO use it to hide their abuse and neglect, and there ARE some pretty big loopholes in the lack of real accountability in many states. This is one area that I think does need more regulation and accountability. I’m the last one to call for more government interference in a parent’s right to parent, BUT basic accountability is important, especially in something huge like kids’ education. Of course, I also believe all parents should be required to take some basic child-development classes, but that’s a whole other topic.

    Personally, I like Pennsylvania’s way of doing things- there is a home school coordinator (I don’t know the exact title) who meets with families and goes over their curriculum and work for each term. There are standards which need to be met, and a system in place to hold the parents accountable for the education and quality of their children’s outcomes.

    Here in NY, I just had to turn in a quarterly report saying what we were reading and what we were doing, and meet NY’s standards for what topics we were covering. It was pretty lax in a lot of ways, and requires a huge amount of dedication on the parents’ part.

    Anyway… yeah there I go writing a book as a comment again… Just wanted to say, I’m really looking forward to hearing about your experience, because it’s something relatively new for me, so it’s interesting. And, I do think you need to share your voice, because parents do need to hear this stuff. And you know what else?
    WE are the next generation. WE are the church, going forward. WE are going to be the next round of leaders and the ones who will step up into positions of leadership in the church. It will be people from our generation who step into the roles that have been filled by the James Dobsons, and change the Church from the inside. It’s our responsibility to the generations to come, to keep learning and growing and finding our way. We won’t be perfect, any more than our parents were, but hopefully we’ll learn a few new things, and light some new beacons, and go a little further down a path toward truth. You, who’ve homeschooled as a student, and me, who has been a teacher. My kiddos, who’ve been students, but in a different environment, I think, than what you experienced. Other homeschoolers, other public schoolers, others who’ve all been part of the churches we grew up in… all of us together, are the next generation.

    Take care of you.

  • Wonderful. I’m looking forward to hearing about the myths & lies you were fed by your homeschooling culture.

  • I’ll be very interested to read this. Public school education in the USA is not very good. Outside of good neighborhoods in major urban areas, it’s usually underfunded and inadequate and the social environment is often toxic. And yet it is education. When it doesn’t completely alienate students (which happens moderately often), it teaches valuable skills, provides access to books (even now important), and provides the first experience of a social environment that is not a family environment.

    So I will be very interested to see about the advantages and failings of a different sort of education.

  • Tamara Rice

    I’m looking forward to this series too. I was homeschooled for almost a year, and not particularly by my parents choice. It was more of a default, because we were stuck in an unexpected move between two continents. Enrolling in school didn’t seem like a good idea, because we were supposed to move right away … but then “right away” turned into “seven months later” as we waited for my dad’s health to improve. That said, it wasn’t what my parents really wanted and it wasn’t what I wanted either. But what struck me the most about the experience was the loneliness. It was a stark, stark contrast to the social setting of traditional school. That said, I know some homeschool situations have more social interaction than others. They aren’t all created equal. But I’ve often wondered how many homeschoolers are either lonely or are depressed or acting out but can’t recognize that it’s because they are lonely (if they’ve never experienced a social setting like traditional school). I don’t hear as many talk about loneliness, when there were so many other worse aspects for some people. But I know for me it’s what I hated and I’ve wondered how many others felt it.

    • Colinde

      The most common sentiment against homeschooling that I hear (from others, not homeschoolers) around here is exactly that: social “issues” and the loneliness factor.

      From a personal standpoint I thrived in the HS environment I grew up in: I was homeschooled from K-12. My personality was the type that enjoyed the environment I was given – I got my social interaction from sports and church activities and “school” was shared with my younger brother (so not totally alone), but was mostly meant for “buckling down” as my mother would say – and studying. It was about the work. Then again I’m an Introvert and I think that plays highly into how the experience worked for me.


  • aklab

    I’m eagerly awaiting this series. I was homeschooled in a fundamentalist environment, and now I homeschool my own kids in a completely secular environment, so I’ve certainly seen both sides!

  • I would still describe my own homeschooling experience in glowing terms, because I think I greatly benefited from it. I suffered through two years in a good private school, bored to death, so I have a comparison.

    I tend to think of my experience as “average,” just like you, because it was fairly representative of the experiences of most of my homeschooled friends when I was a child. Obviously, there are plenty of exceptions, as we well know. My wife’s experience in a fundamentalist group was that of many kids – particularly the girls – not receiving a basic high school education.

    I had the advantage of a fairly mainstream, academically rigorous education. My wife did too, because her parents took education very seriously, and always intended that their children go to college. Our siblings, likewise, all completed college. None of us had any difficultly with the academics and felt we were well prepared.

    Another factor in my own education was that I grew up in a lower middle class to lower class predominantly minority neighborhood, so the available public education was truly dismal. I would estimate that a majority of those who did graduate would have required substantial remedial work before even attempting college. Some graduates would best be described as functionally illiterate. And those are the graduates. The drop out rate was dismal. I’m not saying this to bash public schools. I am glad we have them, and support efforts to improve funding to impoverished districts and so forth.

    However, I remain strongly in favor of homeschooling as an option for many, and believe that if it is done right, it will generally provide a higher quality academic education than the average public school.

    The problem, as you and others have noted, is that the movement has been largely co-opted by those with really nutty ideas.

  • Colinde

    Definitely curious to read your series!

    I feel guilty a lot when recognizing how much I don’t know about certain things. My mom really did her best and felt she was doing what God wanted her too. I agree. And given her situation she did an amazing job. So for me, I blame the texts and curriculum more.

    I’ve never known any type of public or private schooling and have often been a fierce proponent of my HS education… untiiillll recently when I realized I have so many holes in what I know, due to the fact that the uber conservative textbooks just didn’t feel the need to discuss various issues (nevermind evolution! HA!). Sure my math, english and writing were stellar – but history? Literature? Even Science? Bah… If they weren’t seriously lacking, they were dry as a bone and my brain tossed them in the trash as soon as I graduated.

  • I look forward to reading this series from you. 😀

  • I was homeschooled from kindergarten to graduation and I quite honestly enjoyed it. Of course, A Beka material certainly has its downsides; major major downsides, but overall, I think I got an outstanding education and my grades in college thus far seem to back that up. I think I greatly benefited from my parents not sharing the hyper-conservative ideals of PCA. Yes, I had exposure to their stuff, but I didn’t really buy into much of it. I did end up having something of an existential crisis last year that has sent me into the post-evangelical wilderness, but I’m okay with that. It wasn’t a pleasant experience and it was certainly induced by some of what A Beka taught me, but I got through it and I am now in a good place theologically I think. The biggest problem I’ve had to deal with is the social aspect. I’ll admit that I didn’t talk to many people other than the professors at college for my first two semesters. I started working through that this semester and I think I have worked past the anxiety involved pretty well. I’m typically one of the more talkative people in class and I can carry on a conversation with someone my own age quite well now. So, all things considered, I think I came out of my homeschool experience with flying colors. I don’t know that I’d do it for my own kids if I have kids in the future, (If I did, I’d either find different curriculum or thoroughly explain A Beka’s faults to them.) but I don’t think that homeschooling is a bad thing in of itself.

  • Gloria

    I like how you describe your experience as an “average” homeschooling experience. If I had to describe it, I’d say mine was “average” with a bit of unschooling thrown in. My mom started with Abeka – I could keep up, but my siblings were different (as are we all). So our homeschool used Lifepacs (Mennonites) and Lightunits (Alpha Omega Publications) – mixture of the two as well as unit studies. I got a diploma from Alpha Omega Academy Online (which I am guessing a lot of others don’t). And we lived in NY, so its quarterly reports, IHIP, and standardized testing was – that’s the way it was.

    I also love how you’re trying to share your experience without coming across as criticizing your parents. It’s a fine line and a balance that I have not been able to find yet.

    Greatly looking forward to this series.

  • well, I’m looking forward to this series too but for a completely different reason to everyone else: as someone who literally cannot get her head around the fact that homeschooling is a thing that happens.
    I grew up going to a conservative baptist church, and that’s where the similarities between my experience in my home country (France) and your US experience ends. I don’t think there is even a word for homeschooling in France, and I’m pretty sure no one would ever consider doing it, I’m not even sure it would be legal. Separation of church and state and all that, means that school is completely secular and that’s the norm for non-Christians and Christians alike and we wouldn’t have it any other way. So the idea of removing your kids to educate them yourself? It never occurred to me that people in a first world country where free education is provided by the state would ever consider doing that. I can’t even begin to describe how utterly bizarre it seems to me, so I’m looking forward to learning about it!

    • Even as someone who has “heard of” homeschooling and private schools my whole life, and am from the USA, this whole world is foreign to me too. You’re not alone. I am the EmilyK who commented above. I didn’t give my reasons for looking forward to the series, because I guess my only reasons are the same as yours – curiosity, more than anything. Learning about what other people go through. I was raised fairly secularly – technically raised Catholic – but my experience is so different from so many people’s. I went to public school my whole life. I was never even close friends with people who attended religious private schools or religious homeschooling. (There are also secular private schools and secular reasons to homeschool too, though.)

  • I’m looking forward to your series. Homeschooling was nearly non-existent back in my day. It gained strength after desegregation and keeping teachers from forcing students say a public prayer. I came close to homeschooling my son due to bullying, but moved across town to get him away from the idiot asst. principle accusing the victim instead of the bullies. When I met with the homeschooling group I wouldn’t have used any of their materials. My father was a retired teacher certified K-12 and I was teaching, getting and using the public school texts and providing instruction wasn’t a problem. I chose relocation to homeschooling even though it was a financial hardship at the time. One dingbat who wanted to cuddle the predators instead of protecting the prey is and was not indicative of the entire school or system.
    I’m reminded of what the principle at the school I taught at in this time period. It is an inner city high school with a gang problem. Someone asked her if she was afraid of the students. She replied:
    “Last year we were state champions in football, soccer, girls basketball and track. Academic Decathlon, not only defeated to two large private schools to win state, but finished in the top ten at nationals, our bi-lingual coordinator won state in the history fair using non-English speaking students, obviously the school is going to hell in a hand basket.”
    My son was on the track team, and on the Academic decathlon team.