Reflections of a Homeschool Graduate: Part Three
Homeschooling: The Fall Out
When we first started homeschooling, we utilized a mixture of curriculum, beginning with Christ Centered Curriculum, Christian Liberty, and Saxon Math. In fifth grade, we switched to a new curriculum called Accelerated Christian Education, or A.C.E. By this point, my parents had been researching and were unhappy with the academic quality of the material that we had been studying. Research in the Christian Homeschooling world led them to settle on the A Beka Video curriculum, one that I know many in our circles considered too rigorous and too expensive. My parents settled on doing Program 2. This program entailed your parents doing all the grading, setting any deadlines, determining the calendar, etc., whereas Program 1 entailed sending all reports, grades, quizzes, tests, etc., into Pensacola Christian Academy to be graded and recorded. With Program 1 you were considered a satellite student and thus allowed to travel to Pensacola to graduate at the end of high school if you wanted to participate. We continued to do Program 2, however, until I graduated six years later. Given that the number of children in our family continued to expand, A Beka gave my mom more freedom to focus on the babies and toddlers, and required less hands-on time spent with us older children in school, as we could watch the videos, do the required work, and come to her only when we needed help.
For me, homeschooling was something that I loved and hated. I was a very self- disciplined child and an avid reader, so I loved the challenge academics posed. I loved learning new things. I loved learning to write. I loved every time I aced a quiz or a test. Most of all, though, I loved reading. I can’t even remember when I couldn’t read. I was the kid who would check out 40 books at a time from the library. I would read in the bathtub, outside in a tree, and under my covers with a flashlight late into the night. Every chance I could possibly find, I was probably somewhere with my nose in a book. History was fascinating to me, and I quickly developed an insatiable love for the historical fiction genre in the library. Granted, my choices were greatly censored to safe children’s versions, or Christian versions, but I didn’t care. I read every single book I was allowed to, and then read them again. If, however, I had to list out what hurt me the most and impacted me negatively through homeschooling, it would be a lack of structure, a lack of personal boundaries, a lack of accountability, a lack of educational opportunity, and a very biased education.
Today I want to focus on the first three.
A Lack of Structure:
I saw how kids who went to school got to have a set schedule every day. They had teachers available whenever they needed help. They got to socialize with friends every day, play sports, and do extra-curricular activities that I could only dream about doing. So many people like to throw out that homeschool kids aren’t socialized. The problem was not that we weren’t socialized – if your basic meaning of the word entails being around children your own age. We had plenty of friends and people of all ages that we interacted with socially on a daily basis. My parents worked hard at that time to maintain a social life for us kids, which then meant monthly outings with other Homeschool families, where we would go bowling, roller-skating, on a picnic, or to a church hosted pot-luck.
Every few months they might arrange a mini-conference, or an art clinic that we would also participate in. We attended weekly piano, voice, ballet, and tap lessons throughout my junior high years, and continued with piano through high school. We also had an in-ground pool, so we had friends coming over to our house all the time. The problem was we only socialized with people exactly like us. The only diversity I ever really encountered growing up were the extended family members and few friends that I knew who went to public school, most of whom also grew up in a small town in Texas, going to church every week, and living the typical Friday Night Lights life. It just so happened that my bubble of a world was even smaller.
In family as large as ours, there is very little room for an “I,” since for things to work, individual needs are frequently sacrificed for what is best for the family. Sports were out of the question, as it meant a minimum of driving an hour one way for practices and two-hours one-way minimum for home games. Packing up the entire family for that kind of rigorous schedule for just one kid was not an option, much less the cost involved. As far as a schedule, given my father was a pastor and operated a Christian counseling ministry out of our home, the only word for describing my family’s lifestyle growing up is flexibility. My father was also a private investor, for additional family income as well as his own personal business pursuits. With a Father who worked from home and a stay-at-home mom there was no schedule to build our lives around. The schedule could change at a moment’s notice, whether it was a sudden family trip, a decision to go spend the day with some of our closest friends, a homeschool group event, a church event, or a trip to the nearest city – the schedule changed frequently.
In order to allow for this kind of lifestyle, we did school on a calendar year, year-round. As long as we finished out the video curriculum by the return deadline at the end of the year period, it didn’t matter as much how strict our schedule was. This also applied in the daily school schedule, since when you have all day to do it and you are at home anyways with that large of a family – interruptions were frequent and easily found. This often drove my list-loving, black/white, rule-follower personality insane. I would create schedules, chore charts, and lists for my mom, thinking that if I created the perfect one the family would all fall into a system where I could feel a sense of stability and control – but they kept failing again and again. This is where my mom would ironically point out how it was probably great training for life as a military spouse in the Air Force, because if it’s one thing you can’t do in the military life with a husband in the flying world, it’s plan too far ahead or plan on a predictable schedule.
Life has taught me there are two sides to every coin. Flexibility and finding the serenity to let go of controlling every detail of our lives is a challenging quality to develop in a healthy way. I am thankful that I learned from a young age to embrace change quickly, even if I didn’t always like it. However, for a child growing up in that atmosphere, I also learned too easily how to sacrifice my own feelings and needs for the greater good, believing that was the only option.
A Lack of Boundaries:
When I talk about a lack of personal boundaries, homeschooling for me and many other kids I knew meant that an individual child’s needs often suffered or went completely unnoticed for the greater needs of the family. I never learned how to say no or to express an opinion without first validating it by either saying “I feel that God is leading me…” or pointing to someone else and attaching my need to theirs. Personal space in a house with that size of family was also a rare luxury. I didn’t even know what it meant to have healthy personal boundaries, or that it was ok to need and want personal space. I have learned the hard way that for a child to have a healthy development into adulthood, they need to begin learning how to establish and articulate their own likes, dislikes, personal preferences, and wishes at home. This means they have to be able to feel safe to express an opinion, draw a boundary line, or even say no. While it may seem best for a young child to be wholeheartedly compliant, never learning boundaries and never learning how to be an individual within the safe confines of a loving and healthy family environment translate into a lot of heartache later on.
In sharing this, it is not my intention to ever minimize the good that I experienced growing up, because I know that my story could be far different. My parents or siblings never abused me physically or sexually. I was a happy child for the most part, who loved my family, God, and life, and saw everything in life with an undeniable optimism. I have read story after story of others like me who endured far worse, and I would never want to portray my experiences as anything else than what they were. My trials and pain came more after I left the home. Those ingrained traits of selflessness, unquestioning submission, and my desperation to please and be liked—turned into seeds for some of my hardest lessons and greatest nightmares as an adult on my own.
Having little individual development as a young adult coupled with self-hatred, insecurity, and a belief that being a girl severely limited my role in society at large meant I left home with no clue as to who I was, what I wanted, how to say no, how to establish healthy boundaries, how to trust my own decision-making abilities, or how to value myself. I was powerless, having been taught to only be a submissive child and female completely dependent on men. I transferred that submission and unhealthy levels of co- dependency to mentors, to church leadership, and to men that would come into my life – never realizing that for years I would be a walking doormat and frozen at any sight of conflict.
Growing up with the belief that for me to want something on my own was wrong meant that (as a young girl) for years all I knew to do was to want what other girls wanted. When my older sister got a horse, I wanted one, too. When my cousin started playing the violin, I wanted to learn, too. When someone did something different then me, lived differently then me, or pursued an interest different then me – it would only cause me to further buy into the lies of comparison. Who I was and what I wanted on my own was not only not allowed, but also never good enough. This is why I easily fell into the traps of first copying, and if that wasn’t allowed, then judging and mocking. It was easier to criticize and set myself up as better than others than to deal with the ache of wanting to know why I couldn’t be like them.
My parents and I have discussed this at length. I know that, as a parent, it would be hard to realize the messages your children are internalizing, especially when they don’t communicate them to you. I know now that the community and the spiritual teachings we fed on at that time played a large role in making me believe I had no right to voice what I was internalizing. I am sure it also played a role in why my parents never thought to question if I was hiding my true feelings. The entire family structure was often a subject of sermons and teachings, and many of these teachings centered around what proper familial roles entailed. It meant a strict patriarchal and complementarian view of marriage, where the man is the leader of the home and all decisions defer to his wishes and judgment. So, as a daughter, I was raised in an environment that taught me that my wishes were secondary. They were to be subordinate to my parent’s wishes, as it was our role to honor and obey our parents unquestioningly. They were secondary because I was female, and daughters and wives did not question what the father or male leader in their life wanted. They were secondary because I believed there was no time or room for individual wishes with a family so large. Lastly, they were secondary because, as a Christian, personal wishes were highly subject to being classified as selfish and self-serving.
In effect, a message that was perhaps at one time or in certain situations begun on some level as basic consideration for others – I internalized as a far more violating message:
Your opinions do not matter.
Your wishes are selfish and wrong.
You are a girl and thus your voice doesn’t count.
In believing these, I began to try to kill my desires and dreams by telling myself things like:
Your love for school and academic achievement is a source of pride, so not getting to pursue education further is the cross you must bear.
You would probably love your friends and activities too much at school, and thus become selfish and too easily influenced by peer pressure to sin – so not getting what you want is God protecting you.
Your family needs you too much at home, so for you to want to leave them and to secretly wish for things like graduation or a prom is selfish, worldly, and wrong.
So the struggle to hide only grew stronger. The web of comparison, lies, and self-hatred spread everywhere. The harmful reality of these messages, doctrine, and beliefs hung my family out to dry a few years later when my sister’s marriage was destroyed. As I have mentioned in previous posts, for my family, choosing to support her divorce meant losing a community and lifetime of friendships. We never realized how debilitating our doctrines and beliefs concerning women were until they left my sister at the mercy of protecting reputation and enduring abuse for the cause of Christ. The mere fact that those who claim to follow Christ can then twist and use Him as a reason to protect abuse in any situation makes my blood boil to this day.
It has been a journey for all of us to process through, grieve, recover, reexamine, change, and move on. It has now been almost eight years since our world fell apart, and I am so grateful that my siblings today are receiving a completely different childhood experience. I know that not every kid or family gets a second chance.
A Lack of Accountability:
As far as a lack of accountability, given how many children there were and how much my mother had to divide her focus between so many children – homeschooling placed a huge responsibility on me as a teenager to be self-disciplined, self-motivated, and studious. If I had wanted to skip subjects I could have. If I had wanted to look up answers I could have. I often graded my own quizzes and tests. By high school, I was largely on my own when it came to my education. Granted, I actually enjoyed school, and I was a Pharisee about following the rules, so the thought of trying to cheat was contemptible. Yet, I know other siblings of mine, and friends in similar situations, who found ways to work that system and missed foundational parts of their secondary education, if they got a high school-level of education at all. I know girls my age that were lucky enough to get to an eighth grade education level, as college was considered unnecessary and a waste of money for girls. I myself only completed pre-algebra, geometry, and a consumer business math elective in my math high-school classes, and so had to retake several preparatory math classes to be able to complete College Algebra once I got to college.
In high school I remember crying after every local high school graduation ceremony I attended because I knew I would never have one. I carried that pain with me through my college years, and the day I walked across a stage to receive my college diploma felt like someone had given me a pair of wings. College for me was a gift I will treasure forever. It sparked a flame, and I am still not done. Now I am in the midst of obtaining my Master’s Degree, and, knowing how much I love school, it probably isn’t the end.
Education is an investment that will never give a bad return. Through college I have found that I thrive in a classroom setting where there are clear expectations, accessible help, accountability, and competition. I wish I’d had that as a child because I know I would have done well.
As an adult, I have developed a love for running. It makes me feel powerful. It helps me de-stress and produces tangible results I can see in increased strength, discipline, and endurance. I have also found a community, inspiration, and well of encouragement in running with other women. Knowing how good it makes me feel has made me wish, on more than one occasion, that I could have discovered it sooner through something like track or cross-country, as a young girl, with other girls my own age.
I know that many parents today, mine included, find it hard to hear voices like mine point out how homeschooling failed us. For those parents who made this decision with the best of intentions and hearts full of love, I know it’s hard to see something you thought would be so good lead to your child’s confusion, heartache, and pain. However, what must be remembered is that it is equally as important for me, and others like me, to be honest about homeschooling’s failings–even if it means being painfully honest.
Consider how you respond.
Do you automatically reach for conversation stoppers? Consider how, if you respond defensively, refuse to listen, or respond with “but it wasn’t all bad” or some version of “don’t write it off altogether” it comes across dismissive and leaves little room for the conversation to go anywhere. Suddenly, the focus is again on the adult child taking care of your needs, your comfort level, your emotional stability, understanding your decisions, or protecting their relationship with you—instead of it being about honestly communicating what they have experienced and how it has affected them.
Love and healthy relationships grow with truth and vulnerability. It’s not easy to listen to where we have failed each other or how we see, interpret, and experience things differently. It takes courage.
Nathan Pyle, when writing about his relationship with his son and what he has learned about parenting, couldn’t have put it in a more beautiful way when he said,
“No parent gets it perfect. For all of our best intentions and best efforts, we will create wounds in our children. We have a better chance of avoiding paying taxes than we do at not creating a wound, or thirty, in our children. It is going to happen. I’m not beating myself up over this. Nor do I think I am overstating my impact as a parent. I’m just being honest about what is so. I need to tell the truth about this so that I can begin the internal work necessary to hear him tell me about his wounds. The key isn’t to try and become the kind of person who doesn’t create wounds, the key is trying to become the kind of person who helps heal wounds – even the ones we inflict.”