Homeschooling: My Experience

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As you may know if you’ve read some of the posts on my blog, I was homeschooled for the majority of my education. As a homeschooler, I used to get a lot of questions in my daily life about whether or not I enjoyed it, how I made friends, etc. I always answered those questions positively, but lately I’ve had some negative feelings towards my personal homeschooling experience, and a change of heart in how I think homeschooling should be treated by the government. I don’t think it should be banned, nor do I think that every family that homeschools does so for the wrong reasons. However, I might personally have benefited from going to public school in high school, or from being homeschooled in a different way. I can’t possibly cover all of the details of my entire homeschooling experience in one post (it encompasses the majority of my education, with the exception of 9th grade and college), but I’ll summarize what I remember and discuss my working opinion on it.

My homeschooling experience was pretty good in elementary school. My mother taught me how to read, and how to do math, as well as other subjects. While I did get a bit behind in math (I took forever to learn multiplication), I loved being homeschooled. I had plenty of close friends who were my age–most of them also homeschooled–who either attended church with me, or went to the same weekly co-op* classes.

Well into my elementary school years, but not quite at the end of them, my younger brother was diagnosed with dyslexia, and my mother began to focus most of her attention on him. While I probably didn’t experience as much educational neglect as some, even my mother will admit that she found herself focusing less and less on my education in order to help my brother learn to read. She also had to walk him through other subjects since he couldn’t sit down and read a chapter in a textbook by himself, or fill out a workbook without assistance reading and writing. His dyslexia was severe; eventually she realized he was beyond any assistance she could give him, and put him in public school. I don’t blame her for spending so much time with him initially in the hopes that she could continue to homeschool him. However, I am frustrated that she never really returned to me afterwords. Even after he went to school, she supervised my education about as much as a high school substitute teacher does.

Because I loved to read, I was reading–Nancy Drew and The Saddle Club, but from about fifth through 8th grade, I learned very little without teaching it to myself. How was I supposed to know what I should be learning about? My mother did give me educational materials, but because she barely supervised me, I excelled in the subjects that interested me and almost completely ignored the ones that didn’t. Thankfully, she found some decent math books (The “Key To” workbooks saved me from complete mathematical incompetency.) So I began to make up for lost ground in math. She also gave me books on ancient Greece and Rome, and I completely devoured the book on Greek Myths she gave me. I recently found a timeline she helped me make, which I never finished. It began with the creation story, and included such Biblical adventures as “The Flood,” interspersed with real historical events. There was a constant thread of Christianity throughout my education, and it invaded every subject. Even the Key To books were made by a Christian company.

9th grade was terrible. My mother decided she didn’t have it in her to homeschool me through high school (not that she was supervising me much to begin with), so I asked to go to Catholic school. The one I attended turned out to have a terrible administration, and a heavier workload than what I have in college right now as a senior. I was a straight A student somehow, but I was exhausted and miserable. Because it was a private school, my parents blew what little money they had saved for my future college education paying for it; (which shows they didn’t have much saved up, but still). In hindsight, I should have gone to public school. Seeing how miserable I was, my mother took me out of that school at the end of the year to homeschool me again. She told me public school was my other option, but I refused at that point. I didn’t think it could be any better than the private school, since that was “real school” too, and my experience had been so terrible.

Homeschooling for high school was very different from homeschooling for the lower grades. There are fewer people who continue all the way through those years, so I often lost my peers to traditional education. Another way in which high school homeschooling differs from other years is that for many families, the question of being able to get into college is a big deal. This means being more organized, perhaps even homeschooling through a school that provides a diploma (I used NARHS). This was a good thing, because for once I was keeping track of my courses, the time I spent doing them, and what I did. My mother got me involved with a Catholic homeschooling co-op too, thinking that would be a great way for me to meet more high school aged homeschoolers, and take some classes. The co-op involved families with children of all ages, and the year I joined, about two thirds of the high schoolers were about to graduate. I didn’t make many friends there, though. I quickly discovered that they were from a stricter form of Catholicism than my parents–something I hadn’t known existed.

I’m working on a page about this now, but basically, some Catholics refuse to acknowledge the decisions of the Second Vatican Council (also known as Vatican II), and insist on some rituals that seem antiquated to the more mainstream, Roman Catholics. Wikipedia describes this stricter group as “Traditionalist Catholics,” but I knew them as Tridentine Catholics–“Tridentine” referring to the type of mass they attend, which is always in Latin.  Since my experience with this group, I’ve heard them referred to as “fundamentalist Catholics.” While they aren’t Biblical literalists, that description and the negative connotation of “fundamentalist” illustrates the way I felt about many of their beliefs, even when I was a practicing Catholic.

To make a long story short, these people were Catholic versions of the Duggar family. The average number of children in a family was somewhere around six or seven. It would be higher except for those families with low fertility or who married at an older age. I knew one woman who had birthed twelve children naturally. Another mother at that co-op told me that Catholics need to have lots of babies because Muslims are having more babies than Catholics, and it’s important to maintain a Christian majority. Most of the Tridentine women also followed what they referred to as “Vatican Modesty Guidelines.” I had to do a bit of searching to find what they were talking about–something about necklines and two fingers…but I found this page here, and suddenly understood why they all dressed like they were from the wrong decade, while the boys dressed normally. (The Duggars dress a lot like them, if you’re curious as to what that looks like.) The Tridentines had sexist habits too, for example, they always asked boys to lead prayer if there were any on hand, even if the only one available was six years old and not particularly good at leading prayer. Not only did I not fit in in my jeans and t-shirts, but I was also a woman. I soon discovered that the preferred Tridentine options for my gender were between perpetual baby making and joining a convent, neither of which appealed to me. I wanted 2.5 kids and a nuclear family, a fairly conservative aspiration, and for that, I was strange.

After two years of not learning much at co-op, and rebelling a little, my mother sent me to my local community college to take classes. It was a fantastic decision. I earned transferable college credits that wound up saving me time and allowing me to take more courses that interested me when I became a real undergraduate. I also learned real information. I took a chemistry course–my first well-taught science course, perhaps in my entire life. I also took intro to psychology, a course I recommend to everyone. Aside from my time at the community college, most of my homeschooling experience in high school was useless as far as learning is concerned. I was thoroughly under prepared for my college major (English) because I read very little cannon literature in high school, and did little to no analysis of what I read. My mom didn’t know what was typically required and didn’t bother to research it for the most part (or didn’t implement what she’d researched). I took two years to finish geometry, and the same amount of time to finish biology, and can’t remember much. I taught myself algebra II, and wound up retaking it in college. I taught myself physics, inventing my own labs, and I’d be lying if I said I actually learned anything. The best I could do was memorize. I couldn’t really apply much of my knowledge. Lucky for me, the tests weren’t hard.

One of my biggest complaints about my homeschooling experience is the quality of the educational materials with which I was supplied. My mother, like many of the Christian and Catholic homeschoolers we knew, believed that Christian publications were the best option, since they proclaimed God-centered facts. The problem she didn’t anticipate was that in order to do this, they often had to teach false or irrelevant information. Take the American history book that was forced upon me in high school, for example. My middle school years had been filled with trips to historic sites in places like Williamsburg and Philadelphia, so I had a clear sense that America had more protestant than Catholic influences, but this book begs to differ. In it, I learned a version of American history that emphasized Catholic contributions to US history above all others, and frankly stretched some facts upon further examination.

Perhaps the worst texts I ever used were the LIFEPAC high school health workbooks from Alpha Omega publications. The name of the publisher alone gives away the bias, and boy did it have one. It was a fundamentalist health text that spent way too much time on spiritual instruction and skipped sex ed altogether. It also contained tons of outdated information that even I, sheltered and under instructed though I was, noticed.

I did graduate with a high school diploma. I did finish my work. The paperwork says I was educated, but in hindsight, I beg to differ. I’ve spent every year of my college education playing catch-up in my classes, and in my social life. My home education did not prepare me for life outside of home. I prepared myself for that life with little assistance in far too many areas.

Because of my experience, I support legislation that would set some regulations for homeschooling. I’d like it to remain legal, but there needs to be a system in place to prevent educational neglect, while still giving parents the freedom to help their children learn at their own pace and in whatever learning style that best suits them. I personally believe that homeschooled students should be evaluated about once per year, maybe twice. They should have to show that they’re actually doing work. I strongly feel there should also be legislation preventing parents from using propaganda textbooks. Sure, teach your kids your religion, but don’t corrupt their education with it by refusing to teach them anything else. I’m fine with parents choosing their texts as long as the options are all actually good, factual ones. Currently, there are way too many pseudo-educational texts, and homeschoolers use many of them.

The problem I have with homeschooling isn’t homeschooling itself. It’s the fact that so many families choose it in order to shelter and indoctrinate their children. I was hardly exposed to non-Catholics prior to college. I didn’t learn how sex worked until I was 15, and many of the “facts” I was given about it at the time were incorrect because I learned them from another high school kid.

This sheltering and indoctrination is what I often jokingly refer to as homeschooling “on the wrong side of the closet.” It’s a serious problem though. Some children enter the world having no idea that a fair number of the people they’ll meet in the working world will not follow their exact form of Christianity, will not be straight, will not be white, and will not be republican. It shocked the heck out of me when I first realized as a college freshman that the majority of students in one of my classrooms thought the legalization of gay marriage in the US was inevitable. I agree with those people now, but I used to think it couldn’t possibly be true; everyone I’d met before then, except for a handful of people, supported DOMA. I was so sheltered that I hadn’t been exposed much to democrats. I don’t want future children to be as unaware of reality as I was, or to grow up without ever being taught important facts. I want them to be more prepared than I was for everyday life outside of their parents’ watchful over protection.

What are your thoughts on homeschooling? Have you had an experience with it? Feel free to comment. All opinions are welcome, just be respectful and think through your comments before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

 

* (In homeschooling “co-op” is when a group of parents who live near an area, often but not always subscribing to the same religious beliefs, get together regularly with their kids, and the parents take turns teaching classes to groups of the kids in subjects that they’re good at. A parent with an art background taught art, one with a chemistry background would teach chemistry, etc. It’s as close to traditional school as homeschooling usually gets.)

 

 

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