Junior high was a difficult transitional phase. My mother and I continued fighting over school– some weeks, on a daily basis. Part of this was due to the fact that I’ve always been ferociously independent. I’m what my husband calls a “dirty rotten little rule follower,” but part of what that means to me is that I like to be left alone. You can trust me to do what I’m supposed to be doing (most of the time), and I intensely dislike being monitored. That came to the forefront, and something my mother and I struggled with all through 7th grade was my insistence that I can do this by myself. She was also dealing with my younger sister hitting 4th grade, and this is when my homeschooling experience radically changed– and when, in my impression, many homeschoolers make the same transition.
Junior high or early high school is when homeschoolers start teaching themselves.
Granted, this is not always true, but in my experience, it almost always is. There are as many reasons for this as there are homeschoolers– some of us come from huge families, and it’s impossible for parents to give older children the attention they need. Sometimes it’s because of situations like mine, when we start feeling that we can handle it without our parents. I think my reaction is a natural part of child development– I was, after all, 13 in 7th grade. However, in homeschooling culture, rebellion is not permitted to exist, and the natural independence that children start exerting around 13 is conflated with rebellion. For many of us, our teenage years were incredibly stifling— although many of us didn’t recognize it at the time. I certainly didn’t. I was extraordinarily proud of how I wasn’t going to be “one of those teenagers” who “think they know better than their parents.”
The only way my “teenager” stage was allowed to come out was in this way– in taking over my education. I started doing all of the work by myself and occasionally going to my mother with questions. This is enough of a pattern in homeschooling that some of the major homeschooling curricula distributors have created entire programs around it.
In 8th grade, we started using the A Beka Video school, although we chose not to use them for accreditation. It was insanely expensive and my parents could barely afford it, but it seemed to suit what I needed, and it had an incredibly good reputation among homeschoolers. At first it was amazing, and I ate the whole thing up. Toward the end of the year, though, the program was brutal and exhausting. The videos are not set up for homeschooling the way we were doing it. In order to really make the videos work, a teacher needed to be there with you– doing the reviews, checking homework, administering quizzes– or you’re just going to be sitting in front of a TV for six hours.
Eventually, I grew incredibly bored with the videos. When I started fast-forwarding through all of the homework checks and the quiz grading on the tapes as well as the classroom work sessions, I realized that there was rarely anything on the tapes that was actually teaching me anything. I stopped watching any of the videos for English and math, preferring to do the work on my own, and only watched the lecture portions of history and Bible (which, anyone remember Mr. McBride’s history classes? The day I met him I told him that I would save the best lessons and watch them during sleep overs. Seriously. We did that.). In short, by the spring quarter, the videos turned out to be a gigantic waste of money for us.
It also convinced me that I would absolutely hate school– that, along with taking the 7th grade standardized test, which I got extremely good marks on. My reading ability tested out of the park, and everything else was well above average. Those, combined, fed into what I believed about homeschooling compared to public schooling– homeschoolers are smarter, better educated, and more free-thinking than public school students. Public education can only result in stifling a child’s creativity, destroy their intellect beyond repair, and give them nothing more than socialist indoctrination.
So, we turned to Alpha Omega Switched on Schoolhouse for 9th grade. That turned out to be a disaster. The science for that year was physical science of some stripe, and they were trying to teach me how to convert units– except the units in the homework problems frequently weren’t measuring the same things– seriously, you can’t convert a unit of force into a unit of volume. I was so confused I asked my mother to look at it– she rolled her eyes and we stopped using the program in the middle of the year. My mother purchased other textbooks and I spent the rest of 9th grade playing catch-up.
Junior high, though, is mostly when I started understanding how much pressure I was under. I realized that one of the reasons why homeschooling is considered superior to all other forms of education is that homeschoolers are “better-educated” and “smarter.” We test better. We’re better-read. We’re more articulate. We can socialize with adults better. We spend a lot of time de-bunking homeschooling “myths” and “stereotypes“. We write whole tongue-in-cheek pieces answering “common questions about homeschooling.” And, in junior high, I became one of them. Suddenly, it was my job to convince everyone that I was fantastic. I had to get better grades. I had to read more books. Every single time I left the house I had to be ready to mount a defense for homeschooling.
All of that convinced me more than it convinced anyone else. It wasn’t that homeschooling and public education have different strengths, different weaknesses. Homeschooling had to be better in every conceivable way. And I had to be an example of that.