Social Issues

an average homeschooler: graduate school


I’ve talked a bit before about some of my experiences at Liberty. Overall, because I was in the MA English program, my experience there was a good step forward for me. I wasn’t living on campus so I didn’t have to do things like shell out ten bucks for falling asleep in chapel and I could ignore controversies like “what do you mean we can break the rules on just Valentine’s Day?!” (something about being able to hug people for longer than 3 seconds? Kiss? I don’t really remember).

I was also encouraged to do things like practice deconstructionism on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and I did a post-structuralist analysis of Edgar Allan Poe’s Eureka. Academically, the program was rigorous and challenging. I can’t speak for anything else about Liberty, but the MA English program was good for me. Actually being able to take a class called “Advanced Literary Criticism” when my only exposure to literary theory was that it was entirely philosophically bankrupt was amazing. Sitting in on an undergrad grammar class where the professor talked about grammar in a global context and saw English as one language among many instead of it being presented as subtly better (it’s the language of Shakespeare! Milton! The Bible!) was incredible.

Being at Liberty forced me to grow in a lot of ways.

One of the more dramatic ways was actually existing in a semi-pluralistic environment for the first time in my life. I was in class discussions with Catholics, Protestants of all stripes, an agnostic theist, an intense Neo-Reformer, socialists, feminists, conservatives … of course, we were still at a Christian university so it wasn’t as diverse as it could have been, but it was still way more diverse than anything I’d heretofore experienced.

And it was hard.

I can’t really explain how hard it was. During my first semester, many of the encounters I had with my new peers were downright humiliating. Thinking about those incidents still makes me physically ill. Some of the things I did earned me a huge amount of animosity from a lot of the people I had to work with. I created problems for myself with some of these relationships that lasted for the entire time I was there. Even my boss noticed and commented on it– although she phrased it “I’ve noticed you’ve had problems making friends.” That was also during the conversation where I came within an inch of getting fired because of the difficulties I had adapting to a place that assumed being a gigantic ass isn’t ok.

I was still at a pretty conservative Christian college, but all of a sudden I was drowning after being thrown into the deep end of the pool, and it was time to sink or swim. My first year in graduate school was probably one of the hardest times in my life– and that includes that whole time I was in an abusive relationship. I’m not exaggerating: adjusting to being at Liberty University, one of the most conservative places in America, was so difficult for me– emotionally, psychologically– that I can only really describe it in terms of trauma. I have the same trigger-type reactions to thinking about some of my experiences during my first year there that I do when I run into something that reminds me of my abuser.

Part of that is undoubtedly my experience growing up in a fundamentalist cult. I have no problems placing most the blame for these problems on growing up holding a mentality where I was right and everyone who doesn’t exactly agree with everything I believe is going to hell. Thinking things like that are going to cause problems for you when you actually meet someone who disagrees with you.

However, many of the problems that I had at Liberty can be directly attributed to the fact that I was a conservative homeschooler. Three of my professors pointed this out to me, actually– usually in conversations centered on what it means to be a college student and what is appropriate and expected. I was so oblivious to many of the problems I was giving my professors that they had to pull a 23-year-old adult into their office for a chat.

Many of the skills that seem to come naturally to many (not all) of my publicly-educated peers were so far outside of my grasp I didn’t even understand these skills existed.Things like work/life balance, how to prioritize work, how to do an appropriate amount of work … I also had to have conversations with several professors where they taught me some of these things– some had to be quite blunt and warn me that I was going to kill myself if I kept going how I had been.

I spent hours upon hours in my professor’s offices over those two years because I had to play catch-up all the time. My literary theory professor was incredibly gracious and met with me as much as I needed because he lovingly understood where I was coming from and that I needed that time and attention. My education professor responded to a ridiculous number of e-mails asking him for help for two years because I didn’t understand what it was like to be a student. My post-modernism professor was extraordinarily patient with me because it took me months to wrap my head around what post-modernism was (thank you, A Beka and Bob Jones, for nothing). People who weren’t ever my professors gave me permission to attend their classes because I didn’t have any concept of basic things like grammar.

Eventually I did figure some things out. I consider my grad school experience a success- mostly. I still cringe at the lot of stupid and idiotic things I did and said while I was there. I still flinch at some of the memories. I still hurt because of some of the things that happened. I wish I didn’t have to struggle so mightily in every class, that I wasn’t handicapped by my borderline pathetic education (although, by grad school that was just as much my college experience as it was homeschooling).

Talking about these experiences is complicated, because not everything, obviously, can be chalked up to “welp, I was homeschooled”– and that hasn’t been the argument I’ve been trying to make. However, being homeschooled the way I was (and the way that many children still are) gave me certain weaknesses that I’ve tried to expose here, by telling my story. Like all stories, mine is messy, and nuanced, and there isn’t any one thing to point fingers at. However, homeschooling was a part of my experience. It is one of the reasons why adulthood is still a struggle for me.

My conservative religious homeschooling experience was not entirely awful, and hopefully that’s been apparent all through this series. But, if homeschooling hadn’t been a part of my fundamentalist experience, I can’t imagine how different my life would have been. If I’d had friends who were different than me. If I’d read great books written by women. If I’d had teachers who could have encouraged and developed my passion for science. If I’d heard of ideas from the people that believed in them instead of just the straw man versions.

I can’t help thinking it would have been better.

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  • There’s so much here… I can’t even begin to touch upon it all… Nor will I try, because I need more time, to absorb, to re-read, and to understand.

    In the few moments I have today (It’s the final week… I have about 10 essays due because I’m behind and I’m going to go straight out of my mind at any moment)…

    I will just say, gently, gently, because you are SO right. A sheltered upbringing absolutely DOES make the college experience difficult. I met you… or people very like you, during my own college experience, and remember thinking… Are these people for REAL?
    Though I hope the words I actually spoke were kinder and more compassionate.

    I just can’t help but bring up one point… That you did go on to get into a Masters program. Your intelligence wasn’t stifled, and you’ve moved on into a place where you can think for yourself. Those are all the good parts of a homeschool education.
    I say this as a Mom who has children who have been damaged by their public school experiences. Both my kids are dealing with depression and anxiety. One is on medication.

    Would you have had a better time if you’d been public schooled? I have no idea. Would you have come out of it scarred? Undoubtedly, but you haven’t escaped homeschooling unscathed, either.

    I guess what I’m getting at is… You’re absolutely right. Our life’s experiences do shape us all. I’d like to validate what you’re saying, while I also want to defend your parents, who, it sounds like, did what they thought was right with the resources they had at the time. Did they do everything right ?Nope. No one does, no matter how much they love their kids. And I’m glad you’re sharing your story, so glad, because even if it hurts me as a Mom to read it on some levels, it’s Truth, and truth must always be spoken, never hidden.

    You’re doing a good thing.

    Annnd now I have to fly, it’s time for Baby Girl’s appointment.

    Best to you, and if I don’t “see” you again before then… Merry Christmas.

    Ps While reading, this quote came to mind, from a book I reviewed years ago:

    “I found a pen; another person found a scrap of paper; a third person, the words. “Dead End,” we wrote and left it on the side of the road for the next traveler to find and perhaps turn around in time.” -For Sarah, by Annie Harmon

    • Thank you for your support here.

      I just wanted to gently point out that while I did get into an MA program, I disagree that my intelligence wasn’t stifled, and that somehow homeschooling is connected to me thinking for myself. My intelligence absolutely was stifled by my homeschooling environment (see my high school post) and I can think for myself in spite of my homeschooling experience, not because of it.

      • Sorry didn’t see this comment before…
        I didn’t mean to imply that homeschooling was inherently a positive experience… I understand where you’re coming from and can definitely see that you missed out on some aspects because of being limited by the nature of your schooling. What I meant was, you wouldn’t necessarily have had a “better” time in public school. Not all public schools are created equal, either. If you’d attended my own hometown small school, you would’ve had similar limitations in the areas of science- My guidance counselor couldn’t help me choose a college because I’d chosen to major in a biology-related course right out of high school.

        Point being, essentially, I agree with the commenter who said that yeah, you had some negative experiences, but you’ve overcome and come out really well. And I was trying to say, but didn’t articulate well, because I was in a hurry (and am again this morning because now I have to go wake teens and get on with the day), that your experience, and perception of your experience is absolutely valid, and you’re enriching my, and others’, understanding by sharing this way.
        Please understand that when I share my own experience, it’s just that- sharing, comparing scars, letting you know you’re not the only one, not trying to set up an argument against what you’re saying. Others’ different experiences do not, in any way, invalidate yours. I hope you didn’t take my comments as “Oh, don’t be silly, homeschool is awesome” because that’s absolutely not what I meant to convey.

    • “Would you have had a better time if you’d been public schooled? I have no idea. Would you have come out of it scarred? Undoubtedly, but you haven’t escaped homeschooling unscathed, either.”

      There are many millions of public educated children who came out of the experience unscathed. I’m one of them. My daughter is another. My son was scarred. Because he was scarred did not, nor does it now, change my mind about public education. Parents need to be involved intimately with their child’s schooling experience, and have a responsibility to recognize and encourage the uniqueness of each child. (My son was on medications for years, by the way.) I know several home schooling parents, my best friend among them, and I can say with certainty that the fundamentalist moms are fearful of the world’s influence, and choose curriculum that will, first and foremost, keep their children from “false” ideas. That fear is the first consideration. The quality of the actual curriculum is secondary. Just my own experiences, here. All of the stories and comments are anecdotal. I would never try to tell Samantha that she is wrong about her experiences.

      • That was kind of my point- not telling her she’s wrong, because she isn’t.
        We’ve done both actually, home and public school, but for very different reasons from fundamentalist homeschooling, so it’s interesting to hear from a more “traditional” homeschooler’s point of view.

  • Perhaps the must frustrating thing about your blog is that your best posts are split into series, making the entire series something that’s difficult to just share with people. I want to point people to series like this one and tell them “Just…just read the whole thing” but that’s hard to do. That said: please, please keep doing what you’re doing. It’s great stuff.

    But maybe an index page for series like this or the Bitter Waters series would be great, so that I could forward it on to people?

    • notleia

      She did make up a page with links for the entire Bitter Waters series (, but yeah, I think it would be helpful if there were things like “Part 1,” “Part 2,” etc links across the top/bottom of the page, like they what they do at Homeschoolers Anonymous. I think that system is pretty convenient, and that’s also a WordPress-hosted site, so surely there’s an app or something for that.

      • I’ve thought about doing that… but… I’m so very lazy. 😀

    • I am planning on doing that once it’s finished! Hopefully only another two days or so. 🙂

  • Margaret

    Thank you for sharing. I probably learned the most about how to think for myself in graduate school. for me, that happened when I was turning 50, when my kids were almost grown. In some ways, I just didn’t need to before that. But, now, I feel like I just woke up, and there’s a lot of life to live and ideas to explore. I look forward to learning more.

    I appreciate your courage, and determination, to keep moving forward, to keep seeking new truth, to keep learning. I’m thankful we can share pieces of the puzzle of life with each other along the way.

    And remember to take breaks, and rest up along the way!

    • Can I say how much I love you? Because I do. You’re an awesome MIL.

    • I’m 58, and still appreciating the fact that there is always so much more to learn and to explore! Great comment.

  • “I can’t help thinking it would have been better.” Hmmm . . . it’s a tricky business, deciding exactly what is “better”. If you had not lived the experiences described in your posts you would not be the you that has come out on the other side. A unique you with with the weaknesses and the strengths and the wisdom and the insights that make you the invaluable person who can write this blog and touch others so deeply. As far as i can see, YOU are the very essence of “better” my dear, never–for a split nanosecond–doubt that.

  • Sounds like your undergrad university was not very good. I have a BA in English, and I have no English in high school but my undergrad caught me up. Our critical theory class was rigorous, and we definitely studied poststructuralism. We had to take linguistics that covered grammar. Everything was advanced. I attend a rigorous graduate school in the humanities where all the students have straight As in their undergrad major coursework, so I can now say that my university did prepare me well. But I think your undergrad degree wasn’t in English, right? There would naturally be some learning curve there.

    I think a lot of students have trouble grasping poststructuralism. I just spent an entire course on poststructuralism, reading entire books by Foucault et al. It’s not easy on those of us who did study it as an undergrad. But my interests are poststructuralism and 20th century continental philosophy, so it was just my favorite seminar in the world.

    Your comments about working too hard is sooooo familiar. In fact, there is one other student in my program who always works hard and even turns in her work early. I knew she was a homeschool grad just from that. I never do anything but study. I think personality type does come into this, but it is still funny too.

    • You know, I always turned my work in SO LATE in my undergrad years. I never learned the concept of a deadline, because my mother never enforced deadlines! I was always like, “As long as you get it by ___, will it be ok?”

      • I did not have deadlines either However, I paniced when I had too much to do, so always turned in things early.

  • Am I the only one that finds it slightly hilarious to hear someone blaming their inability to turn things in on time in college on their mother’s lack of discipline?

  • Btw, I sympathize, as I also suck at deadlines. Freelancing has made me better. No work, missing deadlines = no pay = no food. lol