A Homeschooling Adventure: Homeschooling on the Open Seas, Harmony’s Story

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I have been following Homeschoolers Anonymous for quite a while, after searching for a social group I could be part of that reflects some social issues I’ll expound upon below. I was really not expecting to find what was posted here — stories of abuse, religious restriction, brainwashing, even death. It has been an enlightening experience, and I would like to extend my heartfelt sympathies and support to everyone whose stories I’ve read.

It is because of the harshness and true struggle of these stories that I have refrained from trying to tell my story. How can it compare? How can I hold myself to the same standard as these brave men and women sharing their suffering? But I think it is important to share my story, as it illustrates a detrimental effect homeschooling can have on your later life, even if it is well-meant, non-religious, free-form, and even in a setting that still amazes people to this day.

I had grown up in Colorado until I was 10, and up to that point I had been going to public school, brought up by my Dad after my mother divorced him when I was three or four. I began by going to the local basic elementary school, but I didn’t like it, so the last few years I had been going to a normal charter school. I was not an exceptionally smart kid, but I had a great imagination, and no problems making friends and keeping social with my little group. But in 2000, when I was turning 11, my dad remarried, and retired from his job to sweep us all away on an adventure of a lifetime.

His plan was to sail down the Caribbean, in a 40-ft boat, and go through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific, and finally settle in New Zealand.

Even at 11, I was no stranger to travel, having been to Tahiti, the Bahamas, Venezuela, and New Zealand itself, as well as yearly camping trips to Utah or Grand Mesa in Colorado. So the idea excited me, as it would any young boy, and it was only with a faint inkling of what I was really losing that we hauled our way to Florida to begin the journey.

So, obviously, since we would be moving so much and so quickly, homeschooling was the only real option for our continuing education. Our education largely came from textbooks and workbooks, and some educational computer programs. There was no religious undercurrent — my dad had disliked going to church, and had not wanted to foist that on us as well. So we were free to read the Bible if we wanted and make our own decisions on that front. We largely taught ourselves, going through the books and doing assignments for about four or five hours a day (year round, no winter or summer breaks), going to our parents if we needed help understanding something. For extra-curricular activities, my new step-mother was teaching us Russian and art, and of course we had all the swimming we wanted.

In exchange, however, my social world had shrunk enormously.

People had been voicing their concerns to my dad (who was in charge of everything) about our social development, and he had simply voiced confidence that we would be stronger, because we would be free of peer pressure, drugs, alcohol, violence, all the dangers he had begun seeing grow in our world. I believed and accepted that rationale, and prided myself on skipping the rebellious teenager phase, and being a teetotaler until I was 23.

But the reality was that, without outside input, my development had simply been short-circuited.

There were indeed other children on other boats down in the Caribbean, and we would try to make friends with them. For the most part this worked out great, although in some cases we were forced to try to interact with people we didn’t like. But each and every one of us were going our own routes, and most friendships would only last a few months before our paths split again. So for the majority of those 5 or 6 years on the boat, we had a very inward-focused social world, and depended on the family almost entirely.

Eventually, though, our homeschool supplies became inadequate for continuing education, and it was starting to become time to think about higher education. We were about at Grenada, near the southernmost tip of the Lesser Antilles, one island away from the mainland of South America, when we decided to head back to the states. We stayed in Miami, Florida for a few years, usually at a marina or a dry dock as we restocked on educational supplies and tried to get a new, bigger boat ready for our next foray to try to get back on track.

The reality was that Dad had been growing older too, and he didn’t feel like he was in condition with growing medical concerns to risk sailing across the Pacific. If he didn’t feel like he had to be in charge, and train us and trust us to run the ship if he had to be helicoptered to a hospital, things might have been different, and I might be in New Zealand now.

But the point is to show how Dad, even if he wasn’t overtly religious, had still absorbed a lot of the patriarchal ideas from his parent’s church and his upbringing.

He had been passing that down to us as well, though we didn’t know it.

In Florida, things slowly got worse for our family. We stopped homeschooling, on hiatus while we tried to work things out, but we were more restricted than ever, because Miami was a hotbed for the peer pressure, drugs, and violence we had been warned about all of our lives. So going to normal school there was out of the question. My older sister and I got our GED’s, where I had my first glimpse of college and wanting to really feel like I wanted to go there. But we were stuck in limbo while Dad tried to work things out.

Long story short, we made a last ditch effort to make an art gallery in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and it failed. My family split apart with another divorce, with my older sister and my step-mother and her daughter remaining in Eureka Springs. I went to Tulsa with my Dad, because he had a friend there and it was a good place to continue my education.

In Eureka Springs, ostensibly I had more freedom than ever. I had a car I could drive, and a whole town of people I could socialize with, if I wanted. I had nothing but time on my hands, and nothing to do except go to town and help with the gallery every now and then. But I was more isolated than I’d ever been before- I was forced to stay in a camper in the back of a pick-up truck, because my mother and sisters had rented an apartment that didn’t allow pets, so I had to stay there with the dogs and the cats. But I hardly ever went out- I kept myself confined, worrying about the dogs, not having any motivation to leave. I was by myself most of the time- Dad was hired as a trucker to supplement the gallery’s income and keep it afloat, so he was away for weeks at a time, and my sisters lived in town. But I just couldn’t leave the camper except to get food.

When Dad and I moved to Tulsa, it was actually worse.I stayed in the trailer for a year while we waited for residency to get into college, too afraid of that peer pressure/drugs/violence world out there. When I finally enrolled for classes, at first I could not even talk to the teachers- though the homeschooling now apparently paid off, as I was literally steam-rolling through the classes, only getting B’s in Composition because I had never heard of and didn’t know how to use MLA format. But even though I was doing great academically, I was still suffering socially. I didn’t make a single friend, as I just didn’t have the courage to talk to anyone, and I had no connection to them.

I often felt like I was a time traveler, as I had missed so much of what was integral to everyone else’s development and frame of reference.

And I was dismissive of them too- it seemed like all the girls were dressing like sluts, all the guys were idiots, the teachers were liberal scum. I even refused to write a paper for a sociology class about the gender/orientation spectrum, protesting that it was complete nonsense.

From these last few sentences, you can see that I had pretty much unthinkingly adopted my dad’s point of view. Growing up in that homeschooling environment, so inwardly and family focused, had denied all other points of view. And even though Dad wasn’t aware of it, he was one of the only guiding points we had available. He was unconsciously passing along his parent’s strict, conservative religious teachings to us. It was only after I finally decided on archaeology over paleontology, and studying anthropology, that I began getting a global perspective.

I had dismissed sociology as just liberal propaganda dressed up to look scientific to push their agenda- but anthropology gave me the tool of cultural relativism to realize that Western notions of right or wrong weren’t necessarily the right one. I learned about how other cultures express sexuality, religion, and family relations. I learned more about how people worked, in a sense of all of humanity, not just Americans.

Slowly, I began to change my accepted views. I saw how ethnocentric right-wing politicians really were, pursuing an agenda focused solely within their Christian-political world-view. I explored my own sexuality, coming to terms with it and even completely changing my gender identity.

I also began seeing the need for my own independence. I needed to get out from my dad’s apron strings, and begin learning how to do things on my own. So I moved from Tulsa to Norman to attend OU, to attempt to make it on my own. But I still find myself secluded- I stay in my room, lacking the incentive or energy to go out, even to see my other room-mates. I have gone to several campus organization meetings, but most of the time I find some excuse not to go. Like before, even though my intellectual development expanded again, my social development still lags far behind.

So many homeschool parents intend the best for their children. They want them prepared for the world that they see, to be good, upright people, or to protect them from the evils of the world. But, as hopefully my story illustrated, even homeschooling in the amazing setting of the Caribbean can give much different results than you could imagine, and how parents can rarely foresee the outcome of what they are really doing.

12 comments

  • Interesting story. Sailing the Caribbean is on my bucket list, but the pacific would be too strong for me. BTW, I had never heard of the MLA format before college. The professor should have explained the format. We were all taught how to do it – not sure the public school students really knew it either.

  • BTW, I don’t go anywhere either. As one who was homeschooled and who was pretty isolated as a child, I will say that my social skills got much worse after having lived overseas. The overseas experience made me very different than other people. So you may be experience it on both ends.

  • I relate to this experience so much! My parents started homeschooling me in 2nd grade so that we could travel around the country. My father owned his own business and wanted to be able to “vacation on his own terms.” When we were home, we lived in a secluded area outside town, and my parents didn’t like the “obligation” of taking us to sporting activities so we mostly stayed at home to do chores. I absorbed this southern mentality of a woman’s “place” and detested that so I wanted nothing to do with homemaking, motherhood, or anything feminine. When I went back to public education in 10th grade, I felt like everyone was “immature” and “irresponsible,” and I wanted to separate myself from them. I felt the same way about everyone in college. I never wanted to leave the my dorm, and I wasn’t interested in joining social groups. Now that I’m almost 25 and have moved away from home, I feel like I’m going through all the social development I missed. I’m also detoxing from this idea that being feminine opens me up to being someone’s “property.” I’m still embarrassed to go out to bars or wear dresses but I’m hopeful those things fade, and I can become more social.

  • “parents can rarely foresee the outcome of what they are really doing” <– yup.

  • I only learned about MLA in Community College. My first English class had very specific requirements with spacing, font size, etc to help us get into doing it.
    But then, in the internet age we have Word 2010 with an automatic bibliography and easybib.com for immediate links….

    Ps: I am 24 going to college and working full time. I wont ever make friends because I dont have time for anything except work, school, eat, school, sleep, eat, work, sleep….ad infinitum

  • Sorry to interject here as someone who went to public school, but… this isolation you are speaking of isn’t solely a homeschooling experience. Over 30 years ago now, my parents would send me every summer to stay with my grandparents on the farm. There was one family of kids nearby, and I wasn’t allowed to cross that busy road to play with the,.

    During the school year, in our small town, I had missed the off-school times to make friends, and no one was allowed to come to our house after school or on weekends (presumably because Mom didn’t want anyone waking my father, who worked 3rd shift, up… but there wre other reasons too).

    Granted, I did make one friend eventually… we’ve become life-long friends. I’m still nervous about making new friends… I’m in my 40s. It’s not just your father’s choices, but the personalities involved… It’s your father choosing the life he wanted to live for you all, not recognizing that perhaps you weren’t all suited for it.

    I say this because… of public school experiences, we chose to homeschool our child… then eventually decided on multi-faith private school because he needed people so very much and the play groups just weren’t working… and… well, now we 1/2 & 1/2 at a secular private school because each child is different, and… our son needs people and he needs us and time to travel and to experience the world, and…

    What can I say? A lot of military families go through this… and in a small enough town (my graduating class was the biggest our school ever had by that time.. 86 people… and I’d known most of them since kindergarten… forced to be friendly with people I didn’t like who didn’t like me… sounds a bit like your description of time in the Caribbean…

    Guess what I’m saying is… what you experienced was very sad, but it wasn’t because you were homeschooled. I dearly hope that you (and I) find the strength and peace of mind to make some more friends in the world.

    • Actually it WAS because the author was home-schooled. The author specifically describes a normal social life while attending school. This is not a generalised statement: “all homeschooled kids are isolated, all schooled kids are socially active”. It is one person’s testimony about their own experiences.

      • My bad for mis-reading, but beyond it not being a blanket statement about all homeschoolers, the point should be made that being homeschooled does not necessitate being isolated from other kids or being forced to associate with kids that one hates. Indeed, the cinematic and modern literary worlds are full of examples of these as part of a so-called “normal” life for kids.

      • And you know, I’m sure it was really hard to not be allowed opportunities to make friends. I don’t want to minimize that, that’s a really unfortunate way to be treated.

        But it’s also worlds away from literally frequently not seeing or interacting with people outside the family.

  • I’m going to chime in on the homeschooling vs public schooling isolation thing. I was also very isolated in public school. The isolation was a result of me being different – my parents were divorced, which was very uncommon in the 1970s suburbs; i was a welfare kid with a mother who lived on disability payments, and living in my grandmother’s suburban house meant i was a poor kid among middle class kids; my mother was pretty severely mentally ill, including clinical depression, pychotic breaks, shock treatments, suicide attempts, disassociation and forgetting my existence for 2 years, which meant i had experiences which other elementary age kids could not relate to.
    I didn’t have good social skills. How would i have learned them? I was withdrawn, and even the adults around me didn’t react with compassion. My 2nd grade teacher described me as ‘scary’ because i was so quiet. (Thanks Mrs. Hill. I’m feeling the love. Maybe you should have noticed the big scar on my moms neck from trying to kill herself, and given me a break.)
    I was isolated because of family dysfunction. To some degree there was some societal dysfunction in there – making fun of kids on welfare was OK, as was making fun of the mentally ill. The kids in the neighborhood knew that my mom got on the ‘crazy bus,’ the transportation to day treatment for the mentally ill.
    Most of the stories here on HA lead back to family dysfunctions – control issues, anger issues, inability to bond, social anxiety, ect. Dysfunctional religious systems can exacerbate – and i think in some cases even cause – parental dysfunctions.
    I don’t think anyone on HA is saying that homeschooling per say is bad, but many are reporting why in their case it was bad. This is very valuable information – homeschooling is becoming more and more popular, and learning from the first generation is important.

  • Admin Note: Some comments from this thread have been removed for containing ableist language and language that promotes the abuse of children.

    For more information please see our comment policies.
    https://homeschoolersanonymous.org/forum/

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