My Homeschool Story: Rapunzel’s Story
CC image courtesy of Flickr, flattop341.
HA Note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. ‘Rapunzel’ is a pseudonym.
I remember clearly the moment my parents told me that they had decided to homeschool my brothers and I. We were all in the car making our way out of the parking lot of my school. I was in 5th grade, 10 years old. My brothers were in 3rd and 1st. I remember being confused and a little scared. We already had a school, why did we need to be homeschooled? Why did it have to be right before I was entering middle school? Would I still get to see my friends? How does homeschooling even work?
My parents explained, very vaguely, that they didn’t like what was going on at my private, Christian school. I had the impression that there was some kind of scandal involving the high school students – looking back now I can only assume some of them were caught kissing, or maybe doing drugs.
They also explained that their decision was final and that they had done their research into how to go about educating us at home. After that we were busy rearranging our basement to include an elaborate school room, complete with a cute new paint job, three full-sized desks, a blackboard, and educational posters. They bought up textbooks and went to homeschool conventions and joined forum boards and signed up for local homeschool social groups. There was a lot of energy and enthusiasm about our new lifestyle.
Then I waited for ‘school’ to start. I was accustomed to the structured, scheduled, classroom form of education and was waiting for my mother to fill that role of the traditional teacher. I had a very naïve expectation, but so did my parents. Yes, I recall a few instances where she got out a textbook, instructed us to read through it and then do the accompanying work sheet. As children we were naturally reluctant to want to do anything involving work, so I don’t doubt we pushed back against her orders. Those attempts at structure were few, never lasted long, and disappeared entirely after our first year trying to ‘homeschool’. The rest of the time we did nothing all day, every year.
You see, my mother thought we were old enough to educate ourselves, at the mature ages of 10, 8, and 6. There were occasions when I would steel my courage to ask her why she wasn’t teaching us anything, and she would furiously blame me for not doing the work myself. The textbooks are downstairs, she said, you should be able to do it on your own. It’s not her fault I’m lazy.
I admit, if I am inclined toward any of the seven deadly sins it is laziness. No doubt if I had been a more studious and motivated 10 year old I could have figured out how to teach myself without any guidance. Unfortunately, my 8 year old brother could not teach himself penmanship, and my 6 year old brother could not teach himself how to read. It was for their sake that I became enraged. I went so far as to compose a letter to my parents because I was too afraid to confront them verbally. Unfortunately, my mother found it before it was finished, yelled for a while, and that was the end of that.
At some point my parents were introduced to the idea of unschooling and were absolutely enthralled. I suppose they realized if they adopted this label they could call whatever they wanted ‘school’. Dragging us along to the grocery store and throwing a few math problems at us was school. Going to local museums was school. Watching the History channel was school. Everything was school! And they didn’t have to lift a finger.
Fear about my future, and about my brother’s future, was never something that left my mind. Every day I knew that I had nothing more than a 5th grade education, and how would I get into a college with that? Every day I was aware that my growing brothers could barely read or write. How would they get through life? I tried to bring up the subject again, and my parents cheerfully assured me that we are being educated, we just don’t notice it because it’s fun. That’s how ‘unschooling’ works!
Their delusion that we were receiving a quality of education far beyond any available at a mere public school was never challenged, because we had above-average results on the SATs that we had to fill out every year. I could do the reading and comprehension sections perfectly well on my own, but struggled with math. My father would generally help me through each problem to the point that I really didn’t figure them out on my own. I have no idea how they managed to fudge my brothers’ results without completely doing it themselves. (That’s probably exactly what they had to do.)
I don’t know if they genuinely believed they were doing well, but I do know that we all did our best to keep up the illusion of perfection. Call it saving face, family honor, what have you. I was ashamed of myself, and of my family, so I tried to act like everything was fine. I loved my family, and still do, so I didn’t want anything bad to happen to us if people found out. I had been brainwashed that the homeschool way is the only way – even if my parents weren’t doing it right – so to talk about my negative experiences with homeschooling would be betraying the golden ideal, as well as all the other ‘good’ homeschool families out there.
Luckily for us and our family’s charade we were clever kids. We could out-talk adults on subjects we actually knew about (usually Christian theology, and usually adults with no more than a high school level education) but Heaven help us if someone asked me something about history or science, or to do a division equation. Or if they wanted my brothers to read something. Which, somehow, no one did. If someone ever did ask something I didn’t know the answer to – what grade I’m in, what curriculum my parents were using, what I had been studying recently – I would find a way to tactfully evade the question or just flat-out lie.
I lied to protect my parents from the consequences of their neglect of my brothers and I. My parents lied, too. My grandmother had to spend several months with us one year, and after a while she asked my mother when we do our schooling, because she hadn’t seen any of it yet. My mother waved the question off, saying that we did all of our school work while grandma was taking her afternoon naps.
I didn’t just lie to adults, I lied to people my own age. Why would I want them to know that I hadn’t learned all of the things they had? I didn’t want them to think I was stupid.
Not that I had many friends. There was a small handful early on, but people moved away, or we simply stopped visiting. We stopped going to church, so I couldn’t meet anyone there. We had our monthly social events with other homeschool families, but all of the children were younger than me. My brothers had plenty of neighborhood boys to play with, but somehow no one on my street had any pre-teen children, let alone girls. I began my teenage years alone.
When I was 13 I became interested in writing my own fantasy novels. As I wrote I began to realize that I had no idea how to do anything. Thankfully, by then I had access to the internet. I searched how to properly write dialogue, how to use semi-colons, what passive voice is, how to develop characters and plots. I had finally begun teaching myself, and for the most part I think the things I learned through my own curiosity and Google has served me better than a high school English course would have, but I still wonder what my life could have been if I had stayed in school. I remember as a child I had a keen interest in science, especially geology and astronomy. I suppose we’ll never know.
The years dragged on, I met one friend through a homeschool group but she lived a little too far away to visit frequently. I still didn’t tell anyone, including her, about my family’s ‘homeschooling’ problem. My family joined a new church, and the pastor recommended I apply to a local Christian college. I didn’t see myself having very many options, with my impressive 5th grade education, so I did just that.
I decided, with very strong urging from my mother, to be an English teacher, and my first class that year was a creative writing course. I was terrified. Absolutely filled with dread. Somehow I did well, better than most in the class. At some point in their late teen years my brothers began to read more, and they’re both literate now. For my youngest brother’s last year of high school he has been enrolled in a ‘homeschool co-op’ which essentially follows the format of a very informal private school, but the teachers are parents and it isn’t held to the same government standards a real school would be held to. He has no plans to go to college, however, and I do not blame him.
Things are far from perfect, but they are not looking quite so dismal as they had seemed when I was younger. I do still believe my parents cheated me out of my education, and absolutely robbed my brothers of getting a decent start in life. I resent the years of lying, of not even opening up to my best friend about my struggles (it turned out she had similar experiences), of having to pretend that everything was fine and I’m a normal person.
I resent feeling like I have to protect, even defend, the homeschool movement. I’m done defending something that ruined my childhood, and came close to ruining my life. I realize there are many parents out there who do an exemplary job of educating their children. Unfortunately, I’ll never know how many children I met who were actually being taught and how many were faking it, just like me, out of shame and fear.
I’d like to say I’m done protecting my parents, but there’s a reason I’m writing this anonymously. Aside from being afraid of the repercussions for myself, that is. I’m still ashamed. And I don’t have the heart to ruin my parents’ reputations in that way. They are good people, though they have serious flaws. I do love them. I don’t want to hurt them.
Yet, I can’t forgive them.
Not long ago, the older of my brothers said to our father that he has to admit, he never taught us anything. According to his retelling, Dad was offended at this. He was offended that my brother would suggest that he hadn’t received a decent education, let alone an education at all.
I could forgive them if they would just admit that they made a mistake. If they could admit that they had wronged us, I would forgive them of all the hurt they caused in an instant. But they can’t do that. They’re still stuck in their delusion. They still get angry at us when we suggest that we were neglected. They still can’t admit that they messed up.
And for that reason, I cannot forgive them.