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