How Not To Homeschool Your Children: Judith’s Story, Part One

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

My parents started homeschooling me in the mid-90’s.

Recently I asked about the factors involved that led them to homeschool, something I never thought to ask about previously because I always assumed it was for the stereotypical reasons. Turns out, they were not ever “anti-public school”, nor was it a matter of “we can better educate them at home”– in fact, one of the reasons why they chose the home they bought was because it was in the “good” school district.

They were also not afraid of secular thought and stated clearly to me that their decision was not influenced by religious-based fears like evolution vs. creation or “liberal brainwashing” or any sort of dominionist thinking. Apparently they simply were exposed to the idea, gave it some serious thought, and decided to go for it. At one point in the conversation, the comment was made that they are glad they made that choice and are pleased with how things have turned out—and by that I assume they refer to the fact that at the time of writing this, one child has a master’s degree, two have bachelor’s degrees, and two more have associate’s degrees.

All of us are under 25, and there are still a few children at home, still being taught by both of my parents. They frequently receive comments about how smart and well-educated we all are and how proud they must be.

But in the process of “turning out” there was, for me, a lot of pain.

There were lots of tears. Nightmares. Crushing of dreams. A un-feeling stretch of depression. [cue creepy dramatic music]

I had lots of dreams and ideas when I was a small child. I wasn’t scared of anything (except large predatory cats). I assumed that when I grew up, I would be a mom, because that was the only adult woman role model I had in my life at the time—my mom. As I got older and was exposed to teachings about daughters staying at home until marriage and motherhood being a woman’s highest calling, this assumption was given even more ground to stand on. But I also had dreams of outdoor adventuring, sleuthing, going to a prestigious music college, becoming a famous novelist, creating stunning pieces of art. Being a successful business woman who got to wear fabulous office clothes. Being a ballerina. A Christian vocalist. Going into politics and “fixing” everything.

Aside from the music, which became my emotional release, I never pursued any of these dreams for a couple reasons.

The first was that I quickly became withdrawn and shy. My mom got swept up in the quiverfull/patriarchy fad that was making its rounds in the homeschool community, despite the fact my dad thought it was cultish (thoughts that apparently he never shared with her at the time), and as the babies kept coming she became more stressed and irritable. You never knew what would set her off, and you sure as anything could count on the fact that whatever you were doing, you weren’t doing right. And there was a chance that if it wasn’t done right, obviously it was because you were lazy and rebellious.

While only very, very rarely physical (not counting incidents of “non-abusive spanking”), my mom was quite verbally abusive and we would be made to sit and listen to long lectures and screaming tirades about how awful we were, complete with many shame and horror-inducing threats mixed with half-given, half-taken back apologies made in annoyed tones.

Obviously, this sort of environment does not prompt one to be open about their dreams and live without fear of mistakes.

The second reason was that my schoolwork got in the way of everything. I have never been officially diagnosed, but I am pretty sure that I had ADD (or something with like effect) as a child. I would continually swing from hyper-focusing on something that was insanely fascinating to me to being completely unable to focus on anything at all no matter how hard I tried to harness my crazy livewire thoughts and daydreams.

Schoolwork was not usually interesting, and there was a lot of it (we were the “bringing school to the home” type), but I was pretty smart and most of it didn’t require much thought or deep concentration of any kind. I could breeze right through everything except math– my brain would move on to something else within five minutes because as a whole, math was simply manipulating meaningless numbers into meaningless answers for no real reason at all, except, you know, college was in my future and I would need it for that. It was not difficult to learn how to solve certain problems or formulas, but I never learned why math worked the way it did, or what use it would be to me in real life, and so much concentration was required to get through thirty plus problems without making several stupid mistakes.

I couldn’t concentrate that hard for that long on something that boring.

At least in the other subjects, we used words instead of numbers, and words conveyed meanings and ideas that were much more likely to be interesting. So more often than not I would do my easy subjects during the morning and then sit down after lunch with my math book and a sinking feeling of impending boredom. And that one math lesson, that supposedly only took 45 minutes to finish, would take me the entire rest of the day.

This, of course, was not a good thing. The mantra in our household was “work before play” and work included school work. As it became more and more common for me to be sitting at the dining table staring blankly out the window all day long, one of the first casualties was my closest sibling, who tearfully confided to my mom that it wasn’t fair that I wasn’t available to play anymore.

Cue lectures on what a selfish big sister I was being.

My grades suffered. Cue lectures on how I should be getting excellent grades considering how long it took me to do things, and bonus lecture! Here’s a comparison of your poor grades and another sibling’s excellent grades (and academic drive)! Feel guilty, but don’t worry, we know that you two are not the same and we are not comparing you at all. But while we’re (not) at it, don’t forget that even your less intelligent sibling is getting better grades than you. Ah, now we will move you to a location where you cannot stare out the window, that will help you not be distracted. Erm, look, this is not a convenient place for you to be, we will move you to a desk in your poorly-lit room where you will spend the rest of your teenage-hood prior to college. A dark, dusty existence where we will occasionally come to yell at you for being rebellious and refusing to do your work. Wait! You are 16 now! You will learn to drive and I will spend the entire time that I am sitting next to you as opportunity to lecture you not only on every little driving error you may make, but also on how poorly you are doing on your schoolwork and how bad of a person you must be. Why are you this way? Why? Why? You don’t know? Let me tell you why! It is because you are a bad, selfish, miserable excuse for a human and your adult life will suck if you don’t get it together! By the way, you will also be fat when you are forty, because you are sitting around too much.

Part Two >

4 comments

  • Wow. We weren’t homeschooled, but private Christian schooled…not much different except we got to escape the house and our mother for a few hours each day. Take heart – you can still reacquire and pursue your dreams! I also experienced my mother crushing my dreams (nothing is ever good enough for you! you’re so picky/demanding/needy!, etc), but in my adulthood, I have found my dreams again and pursued them to great adult satisfaction. And you’re halfway to being a writer/novelist – keep writing this stuff down and sharing it. It will lose its power over you!

  • This gives homeschooling moms quite a bit to think about! Very well thought out and heartfelt ((hugs)) and just so you know it has made me consider how often I find myself fussing at my son (who is A.d.d). Thank you for being open and for allowing us to peer into homeschool through the eyes of a child who has had difficulties.

  • I have a list my mom wrote for me when i was around 17, detailing all my failings, and the inevitable consequences. one of the things on that list was “fixing your relationship with your father” since “you will never have a healthy relationship until you do”. someone please explain to me how a girl who has born the brunt of emotional, verbal and physical abuse for years would be able to “fix” that relationship????? It almost enrages me, but to this day, have trouble shaking it off, not believing what she said.

  • Pingback: How Not To Homeschool Your Children: Judith’s Story, Part Two | H . A

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