What it was Like to be Homeschooled: Dani’s Story

Stairs Covered in Vines

CC image courtesy of Flickr, JoshNV.

Editorial note: Dani is a homeschool alumni and  a junior at the University of Michigan.

“What was it like to be homeschooled?”

I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember, but I’ve been hesitant to write about my experience being homeschooled. I’ve been hesitant mainly because it’s so all-encompassing that I’ve never quite been sure how or where to start. And there are additional complicating factors: it’s not just homeschooling, it’s my family. My complicated family, with their mental illnesses, their fundamentalist Christianity, and the years and years of physical and emotional abuse. I grew up surrounded by all of this, and my education intersected and intertwined with it in ways that make it difficult to simply talk about my homeschooling without mentioning the rest of it. Also, to quote a character from one of my favorite books, “Rags to riches isn’t a story anyone wants to hear until after it’s done”, and I’m not done yet.

I’m not over it. I’m still mad as hell, still healing.

But, this weekend is commencement weekend at my university and this is all I can think about, and so it is time for me to talk about it. This is my experience with homeschooling.

It’s being five years old and your mother teaching you to read from an old McGuffey’s reader and taking to it like a fish to water. It’s taking the only standardized test you’ll take till your ACT (proctored by your mother’s old friend in her kitchen) and scoring at the 10th grade reading level in the 1st grade. It’s struggling to understand subtraction. It’s being so incredibly lonely because the only person you ever get to see is your little brother. It’s your mother telling you you’re not allowed to play outside til after 4 in the afternoon, because people might think you were truant. It’s your father refusing to help you read words you don’t understand, forcing you to sit there until you can figure out how to pronounce them correctly on your own. It’s your parents having a card from HLSDA on the fridge that tells what to do in the event CPS ever knocks on your door.

It’s being ten years old and your mother completely leaving you on your own in terms of your schoolwork. It’s having no parental expectations or guidance in terms of your education.  It’s getting yourself up at 7 am and showering and making your own breakfast and sitting down at the kitchen table to figure out what you’re going to study that day.  It’s asking for help with math and having your mother tell you “look it up in the score key and figure it out from there”. It’s still not understanding algebra. It’s begging your mother to leave him and put you in school. It’s having your mother refuse to get your high school work for two years, so you’re 16 and just starting 9th grade. It’s feeling like a fraud of a person because everyone thinks you’re being educated but you know you’re not. It’s dying inside a little every time you hear your father say that he will never send another child to school and knowing that there is absolutely no hope for you.

It’s having no escape, not even school.

It’s perpetually hiding out in your room because that’s as far away as you can get. It’s living your whole life in books that you’ve smuggled into the house and keep hidden under your dresser. It’s being the weird kid who has no idea how to socialize with people their own age (even though you desperately need that human connection), and getting bullied and rejected for it. It’s having a curriculum that tells you that apartheid was beneficial, that HIV is God’s punishment for being homosexual, that as a woman a good career choice would be to be a pastor’s wife.

It’s having no one to notice that you’re suicidal.

It’s secretly signing yourself up for your ACT and SAT and finding your own rides to get there. It’s being in a classroom for the first time to take your ACT and being so incredibly anxious because you’re nothing like these kids and you have no idea what you’re doing here. It’s still scoring better on the ACT than your private school cousins.  It’s not being able to study at home because your parents are always fighting with each other or screaming at you, and not being able to study anywhere else because you’re ashamed of your curriculum—it’s a joke. It’s grading your own work even though you’re not supposed to, because if you don’t who will? It’s never writing a single paper in high school. It’s getting an A on your English test and your father asking matter-of-factly, “didja cheat?”. It’s never getting to go to a dance or to a football game or on a date.  It’s your mother asking you to teach her geometry so she can teach your little brother, even though she never helped you. It’s the irony of the fact that she has a master’s in education, that she was a teacher before she had you. It’s never getting to go to prom or wear a cap and gown and receive your diploma. It’s seeing your cousins and your (very few) friends graduate and go off to college and leave you behind. It’s skipping your cousin’s graduation party because it just hurts too damn much to go. It’s having your whole extended family on your case because you’re not in college, why are you wasting your life in this dead end job, you’re too smart for this.

And you still have to keep up that lie, because you live in your parent’s house and you can’t get a better job without that diploma.

It’s finally having a chance and moving out before you even finish high school. It’s graduating the month before you turn 20. It’s having no one to help you with college applications or FAFSA or any of it. It’s having a massive panic attack the week before you start community college. It’s excelling at community college and having people tell you that “your parents must have done something right, look at how well you turned out”. It’s finding HA’s website and crying because now you know that you weren’t the only one, it’s not just you, and then crying because other people have had to feel this pain too. It’s finally getting into your dream school and failing stats your first semester because you were never taught math.

It’s seeing all these kids around you having fun and partying and thinking to yourself that you have never been that young.

It’s being 22 and a sophomore, and feeling the shame of that—the shame of being older than most of the seniors here. It’s telling people that you had a gap year, even though that’s not technically true—it was 2 years, and it was during high school, not after. It’s not understanding pop culture references because you weren’t allowed to watch tv or go to the movies or listen to the radio. It’s trying to catch up on these things but it’s so damn hard when you have full time school and 20 hours a week at work. It’s hearing people your age mock homeschoolers for being socially awkward, and feeling it cut you to the quick. It’s considering “you don’t seem like you were homeschooled” to be a compliment.  It’s seeing people your age already in law school, or with their masters, and feeling so inadequate. It’s wondering what you could have done if you had had supportive parents. It’s the fact that it never occurs to you to go to your professors for help, because you never got it from your parents and you didn’t need it at community college. It’s knowing that you could have been in law school already if you hadn’t been held back. It’s knowing that if it weren’t for your grandparents helping you pay for it, you wouldn’t be able to go to school at all.

It’s hearing that your father found out that you’re going to one of the best public schools in the country and his reaction was to say that you are being “demonized” and to tell your mother not to give you any money for school.

It’s explaining to people that you aren’t going home to your parents for the summer/the holidays/breaks, home is your place here with your cat and your roommate (but she’ll be at her parent’s). It’s watching your friends graduate and still having 2 years of school left. It’s being in town for commencement and seeing all the people walking around in their caps and gowns, proud parents in tow, and knowing that even when you do finally graduate you won’t have your parents there (and you wouldn’t want them to be).

It’s being proud of how far you’ve gotten given the hand you were dealt, but being bitter because you shouldn’t have been dealt that hand to start with.

That’s what it was like for me to be homeschooled.

25 comments

  • Yes. That’s what it was like for me too.

  • This is so similar to my story… I eventually left University for those reasons. Ask for help?! I didn’t know how… and all these years later I have soldiered on and done well, but I always feel a step behind. Contrary to what everyone believes it’s DESPITE my homeschooling not because of it.
    I am proud of you, no one will ever understand the pure guts and fight it has taken to get you this far. But it’s truly awesome and one day you will look back and think “damn… I did all this despite this craziness in my life” and you will know to be proud, that you have fought and won.

  • Loura Shares A Story

    I know a teen in a situation exactly like this, except said teen doesn’t seem to be aware they are in said situation. Or maybe they do…? My husband and I have made it clear that we will be the people to take said teen to SAT/ACT/GED testing, that we will tutor, etc. Ergo, teen’s family has distanced themselves and teen from us.

  • I can relate to SO much of this. It also hurt that my parents didn’t let me take AP classes, that I never really learned to use a graphing calculator, that I never got enough lab science or immersive experience in foreign language. I also was forced to start college a year later than everybody else, and it’s so awful. I feel like I have to lie about my age to fit in with everybody else, who are not only a year younger than I am, but who also have a ton of AP credits and who had opportunities and experiences I never had. I really wish people listened more to what homeschool alums thought of it, rather than just the parents (who would naturally be more biased in their own favor and say “homeschooling is great”).

    • Loura Shares A Story

      Just wanted to encourage you, the author, and another commenter who mentioned how inadequate/embarrassed they feel in college. You may not see it now, but in a few short years, your age and set backs will not matter to others in the workforce, and it is doubtful whether they would matter now to your fellow classmates. That is to say, that you are not inadequate, and you need not feel embarrassed. Very few people have perfect educations, and so many with seemingly perfect ones, wish they could go back and do things differently.

      Right now, you might be surrounded by foreign exchange students, by students from poor public school backgrounds, and others who are feeling out of their element. Don’t give up, and don’t be ashamed of things you couldn’t help.

      My husband was partially homeschooled during his middle school years, and never really recovered his initial love of learning. He is 33 and just about to finish a certification in community college, surrounded by classmates older, younger, and his own age. That is not quite the same as the university experience, I know, but age is just a number.

  • EXACTLY. omg. Everything.

  • Reblogged this on christianagnostic and commented:
    So sad…

  • Blown away. I had no idea it was like this for homeschooled kids. I admire your courage and your drive to fight for your education. Your strength and intelligence shines through this post.

  • My story is similar, but with a few differences.
    I’m 33.
    There was no religious angle.
    I had no siblings.
    I wasn’t allowed in the garden during school hours, and I wasn’t allowed out by myself ever.
    I had no friends at all, and saw cousins only a couple of times a year (most years, sometimes never).
    The only qualifications I ever got were when I was 25 and sent by the (UK) Jobcentre on a course – I got basic English, Math & IT qualifications.
    Being educationally and socially crippled means I will most likely never achieve anything in my life – and quite frankly, I don’t want to. I don’t want to hear what a good job my mother did, just like I did every time I scored well on an assessment, and had to admit to being homeschooled.
    If I ever somehow managed to succeed, it would just be used as a justification for what was done to me.
    I’ve gone my whole life with no support.
    No one has ever been sorry, or cared in the slightest about what has been done to me.
    All I ever hear is how great homeschooling is. No one seems to question it.
    This is the first time I’ve ever heard someone speak from my perspective.
    This is the first time I’ve ever opened up about it.
    “They” say 95% of homeschooled kids are glad about it (but strangely, only 85% would homeschool their own kids…). I am part of and I care about the 5% who’s lives have been ruined. Their childhood and their adulthood stolen.
    I have never had friends.
    I have never had a relationship.
    I still live with my mother.
    I have no hope for the future.
    I just exist, and no one cares.

    • Glad you said something, somewhere, here.
      It’s like you were disappeared and spent your life in hiding.
      I don’t know what the first step is. Money, probably. If you’re allowed to have your own bank account or job. Other people here would probably know better than I how to try to escape. But I know about still living with your mother and having no friends and no hope. I know about being isolated and having only one person be the only human contact you get, so you can’t leave them and have no hope. And I know about having a mother who encourages you to think that this is the only way for you to live, and the right way.
      The best way out is to find other people to help you. But I found that terrifying and making friends was kind of twenty steps further along the journey. The first steps are safety and privacy.
      No, I don’t know how to say it. But you need to escape, as surely as if you were locked up.

      • I’m sorry my earlier reply was rather self-absorbed.
        I’m not used to dealing with other real people.
        My fantasy life is obviously pretty one-sided, so I frequently tend to forget when I’m dealing with a real person.
        I’m very sorry that you too have suffered a life of isolation, and I hope that you have managed to escape and build a fuller life for yourself.
        If not, then I am sorrier still. I know and feel your agony.
        I can only say that I hope that somehow you manage to salvage something of your life.
        (To the best of my knowledge) we only get one life, and to have it ruined by the people who should have been doing their best to make sure you enjoyed it to the full, is just beyond comprehension – but all too common.

        Good luck to you, and all those like us – I’m sure there are many.

    • Admin Note: ForeverAlone, thank you so much for your bravery in sharing your story. I am so sorry for all the pain you have gone through and are going through. I believe you, and I hope you are able to one day escape.

    • Loura Shares A Story

      You are not alone anymore. 🙂

      I struggle to understand folks when they say they feel “socially crippled”. From my perspective, people have all kinds of backgrounds and that’s what makes life interesting. If we feel there is a deficiency, we can still learn via the internet, if nothing else.

      I encourage you to take small steps towards your independence and freedom, beginning with a “renewal of your mind” (counseling, learning to think differently), as the Bible says. You, everyone here, exists for a reason. You matter. I don’t always remember that myself, but it’s true.

  • Thank you for your response and understanding. It means a lot to me.

    Like Dani, I find it very difficult to express my situation, because it is just so big. It all fits together in such an intricate way that piece by piece it doesn’t seem to mean anything.

    I’ll add more detail:
    At age 23, we moved just down the road from my grandparents.
    It was here I made my first tentative steps towards some kind of independence, and something vaguely approaching a social life.
    I would spend each afternoon at my grandparent’s, and with varying luck, hope some of my cousins would drop round. I really enjoyed their company, but I was always awkward and quiet. I earned the nickname ‘Weird one’. I learned my place in the family – the joker.
    It’s easy to hide your shyness and awkwardness when you’re a clown.
    It’s better to be a joker, than be left out of the game.

    Every evening when I left, my mother would tell my grandmother to watch me down the street and call her to let her know I was coming, so she could watch me to the house. I was 23.

    At 24, my 16 year old cousin moved in with us for 5 months – including my 25th birthday, the first since my 5th that I’d had any cousins to share it with, the rest being spent with just my parents.
    It was wonderful. I enjoyed her presence so much. It was like having a little sister – someone to talk to and hang out with. Someone to see what my mother was really like.

    Before long, my mother ruined it and my cousin left. I was alone again.

    Not long after, my mother caused a massive family breakup (and dragged me into the middle of it) and I’ve seen little of my cousins since.

    Now aged 25, I was told I needed to get a job. I struggled through the social anxiety of Jobcentre courses for 2 years before finally finding work. During this time I finally became more independent, and came and went as I pleased.
    The reins were finally broken.

    At 27 I got a job and began getting more comfortable around people. I never made any real friends, but I had some out of work contact with a couple of people. Wallflower/Joker was my character that I struggled by with.

    I left that job a 32. I’ve had very little contact with any of them since, and haven’t seen any in person.

    I don’t have the money to leave.
    It doesn’t really matter anyway.
    I’m too afraid of real life.
    I know I’ll never meet anyone who understands.
    I’ll always just be shy, awkward and weird, and nobody will be interested.
    I’m not sure I even care anymore.
    All I really want is a girlfriend.
    One that can understand my situation and make allowances for it. Fat chance.
    Back to my fantasy life I go…

    • you have value, you have worth.

      • Thank you for your kind replies.
        This has been a strange and cathartic experience for me.
        I’ve suffered in silence for the past 26 years – since I first felt I was being robbed of something, since my desire to join a social group when I was 8 was crushed, since the tears I cried when I saw the deer at our local animal park (“my only friends”) for the last time before we moved yet-again when I was 9, since I started falling into a pit of depression and loneliness.
        I’ll never get my first 33 years back, and I don’t think I’ll get much out of what’s left, but it helps knowing that there are actually people who care – even if they are few and far between.

  • Me, well I am 17. I have never been to school. I scored above my peers on an English assessment this week despite never having finished primary/elementary school. I have a job which I love, my mum hates the fact I work. My parents don’t want anything to do with me because I left home last year with my ex-boyfriend. I have 11 siblings who are a lot worse off then I am. I find comfort in HA because I was not the only one, your all like my family because I cannot see my siblings. I plan on catching up my education and refuse to get tutoring and will work on it myself because I will feel embarrassed that I need the help at my age. My mum loves Gothard, So Much More, Duggars, homeschooling, and anything to do with large, overly religious families.

    • Loura Shares A Story

      I am a tutor of English, reading, writing, study skills, etc. Most of my students have been your age. Please do not be embarrassed to find a tutor if you feel you need one. We love to help, and we don’t question ages. Everyone struggles with something.

  • I’ve just started home schooling my children. Your stories break my heart….

  • I am in this situation right now. I have never set foot in a school. I’m 16. Probably seventh grade level, not sure though. The only reason I’m that high is because I found a few websites that I can learn from. My parents will not let me or my siblings go to school, or even register with one so we’re legal. My parents wont teach me. Were all so far behind. So, I can honestly say I know exactly what you’ve went through.
    If you happen to actually read this, I’d love yo speak with you. It’d be nice to talk to someone who knows what this is like.

  • I just realized, that this isn’t your story, Wende (meaning it isn’t about your experience) sorry for all comments.

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