Once Upon a Time, I Was Homeschooled

I was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school. My parents started out homeschooling me because they felt I was too young to be sent to school, and ended up homeschooling me for religious reasons. Over the course of my childhood, homeschooling went from being an educational option to being a religious mandate.

My parents were very active in our local homeschool community, which was quite large. They were on the board of a regional homeschool group for a while, and organized more than one large regional homeschool convention. For years now, new homeschool families in the area have been referred to my parents for direction.

I grew up involved in a variety of homeschool co-ops and classes. There was a music co-op at one point, a co-op which tackled a different subject each year, a field trip group, a speech and debate club, and an apologetics class. For a time I had a Latin tutor, and I also took piano lessons. This was all on top of AWANA (Bible club) and the church-based children’s choir we were involved in. In fact, there were so many activities out there that my parents were always trying to cut down to keep our schedules manageable.

Once I reached high school, I did all of my studies on my own. My mother would hand me a textbook and tell me to complete it over the course of the coming year, and I would. I taught myself math, science, languages, English, history, etc., all completely on my own. Depending on the subject, I would take the periodic tests that came with the textbook or curriculum set and then give the grades to my mother, who would record them and put my final grade in my transcript at the end of the year. Some subjects, like math and science, had textbooks. Others, like English and history, did not.

After high school, I moved on to college at a state school, on scholarships. I excelled academically. I realized that there were some serious holes in my curriculum – while I read a great deal and filled out numerous grammar workbooks, I had never actually taken a literature or English class, and while I had always studied history on my own time because I enjoyed it, there were wide geographical and chronological swaths I had completely missed – but these deficiencies never actually held me back. I also realized that my conceptual understanding of math and science had been stunted both by my lack of actual teachers and by my use of creationist textbooks. However, I wasn’t going into a field involving either math or science. Additionally, one thing that helped me achieve in college was that I was ready to ask for help when I, say, needed to write a research paper and realized I had literally no idea how to compose a footnote. There was also the value my parents had always placed on education, on lifelong learning, and my own innate hyper-motivation.

What was not so pleasant about the move to college was, well, everything outside of the academics. The school was quite a distance from home, so I lived in the dorms. Everything, and I mean everything, was a shock. The first year was extremely difficult. I broke down into tears more times than I want to remember. What rescued me is that I made some evangelical friends who, while they hadn’t been homeschooled themselves, were willing to humor my strange homeschooled ways. They might tease me for my ignorance on this subject or that, or poke fun at my fear of this situation or that, or be baffled by my complete and utter awkwardness and lack of any understanding of how to carry myself in common social situations, but all of that was combined with a sense of acceptance that I desperately needed at the time.

My parents did not go off the grid or keep me from every having friends. In contrast, we were extremely integrated into our local homeschool community and I had plenty of friends. Some years we actually had a different activity every night of the week. All of that, however, did not in any sense at all give me the social background and competence I needed to navigate college.

Yet in spite of this, during college and for some years after I touted homeschooling as the absolute best form of education, indeed, the only real legitimate option. I had always been taught to see homeschooling as some sort of magic fix for the problems children face in today’s world, and for the challenges besetting our educational system in a changing economy. I saw it as some sort of perfect panacea, and I was an uncritical devotee. This despite my social awkwardness and my educational gaps. But there were little things in the back of my mind that niggled at me. Why was it that many of my college friends were just as smart and creative and hard working as I even though they had attended public schools? Why was it that I never quite felt that I fit in, and always felt like the odd one out? And what about the stories I began hearing of homeschoolers who slipped through the cracks, or who were involved in their homeschool communities but simply didn’t receive the same quality academic education that I did?

At some point I began to delve into scholarly writing on the subject of homeschooling. I read Mitchell Stevens’ Kingdom of Children and Milton Gaither’s Homeschool: An American History. And then, later, I read Robert Kunzman’s Write These Laws on Your Children. I also began following Gaither’s blog, Homeschool Research Notes, and perusing the resources offered on Kunzman’s Homeschooling Research & Scholarship website. Through these scholarly sources I began learning things I hadn’t known before. The picture these books painted of the Home School Legal Defense Association, which I’d grown up in awe of, wasn’t pretty, and the critiques I began reading of Brian Ray’s numerous works of homeschool apologia, as well as his research methods, were unsettling. I was hearing voices outside of the homeschool echo chamber for the first time.

In one sense, my coming of age process was one of of removing things from their pedestals and subjecting them to analysis and criticism. I did that with patriarchy, and I did it with the purity culture, and I did it with the Bible itself. It took longer, but I was finally ready to step away and really look at homeschooling, to take my head out of the homeschool echo chamber and be willing to admit that the reverence in which I was taught to view homeschooling might possibly be misplaced. In other words, I was finally ready to listen, to think, and to possibly even change my mind. I was ready to stop putting what I read and experienced through a filter that sorted it into data I would listen to and data I would ignore based on how well it fit within my hail-to-homeschooling framework.

Of course, things never change in a vacuum. During this time, I set aside the libertarianism of my youth and replaced it with a social democratic understanding of social interdependence and civic responsibility. Along with this, I watched my daughter Sally thrive in daycare and preschool and got over my fear of her being taught by other people. Further, as I proceeded through college and university I came to have more appreciation for having my children taught by individuals who are actually trained, both in education and in their subject matter. All of this has conspired to turn me away from homeschooling and solidly toward the public school.

I know public schools aren’t perfect, I really do. However, I’d like to think that I will be able do more good for my community by working to better our public schools than I would by simply leaving them. I’d like to think that my husband and I can help fill in any academic shortcomings we might find without removing our children from the socializing effects of the public schools. And I’d like to think that the occasional poor teacher will be offset by the benefit of the many good ones our children will learn from and seek to emulate. And sure, I might get there and find out that I’m wrong about this, but I never said I have all the answers.

And that, quite simply, is the short version of the story of how once upon a time I was homeschooled, but now my children won’t be.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Meyli

    I find all the posts on homeschooling really interesting. I’ve thought about homeschooling my future kids,but not for religious reasons (or non-religious,I’m an atheist too). I want my kids to delve into whatever interests them, and not be held back by whatever stuff the whole class has to learn. Especially past elementary school, I remember hating English class because we had no choice in literature. We also never learned any geography as a subject (which would have really helped in history!)
    I realize the holes in my education aren’t the same for everyone. I just want my kids to get the most well-rounded education, and that might involve some homeschooling here and there.

    • http://mymusingcorner.wordpress.com Lana

      Consider homeschooling, just beware of the socialization problems. I don’t regret I was homeschooled; I just wi sh I hadn’t be told I was crazy when I knew I wasn’t socialized. I wasn’t. And we had a lot of friends, and were very, very involved in our homeschool group.

    • M

      I went to public schools my entire life (with the exception of two years at a private Catholic school in Japan, supplemented by correspondence courses since I didn’t speak Japanese very well). There are gaps, but involved parents can overcome them. I read a lot, and while I didn’t always like the literature we were assigned in school it wasn’t a big deal to read a few books I wasn’t enamored of. If a child doesn’t like reading, of course, it becomes a lot more painful.

      As for geography, public schools don’t teach it very well, but my parents did. We always had a globe in the study/spare bedroom, and played the “geography game” with my dad. He’d say the name of a country or US state and we’d tell him the capitol city. We also did mental math that way. My mom taught us what atoms and molecules were, to the point I stumped my 6th grade science teacher by asking her about the P, D, S, and F layers of electron shells. She also let us play with her old set of molecular models (basically magnetic spheres with straight “bonds” that would connect them).

      Basically, I think homeschooling is not the way to go. Public school with private supplementation (but in a fun way!) gets all the socialization benefits and at least moderately unbiased opinions benefits while still maintaining academic rigor.

      • Uly

        But it eats up a lot of free time, and that also has it’s cost as far as social development goes, and learning.

      • M

        Not really. It was never structured supplementation, just things that came up in conversation, or while we were in the car driving someplace, or over the dinner table, or during commercials while watching TV. We certainly didn’t have additional textbooks or anything, just grew up in an atmosphere that prized learning and thinking.

  • Evs

    I used to be very pro-public school. Funnily enough, now that my child approaches school age (in my country – 4 years old), me and my husband are strongly considering homeschooling him.
    It’s all great to theorise, but when it comes to it, if the choice is between a crap public primary school and a couple of years of homeschooling, the choice is pretty obvious.
    Socialisation is a complicated issue too, in my opinion it consists of 1) exposure 2) guidance. In a class with 40 kids there’s just not enough guidance for all the exposure to other children, so so called socialisation ends up pretty useless. In the same way, all the guidance with simply no other kids around is no great either.
    Another issue is religion – I dislike the idea of my child going to Catholic or Protestant school (and this is all the options here!). There’s a single secular school – Steiner school – which is fee-paying (an option if we continue to hold good jobs).
    So I’m not so pro-public school anymore.
    Obviously against bad homeschooling a good school wins every time. And against bad school good homeschooling wins. But it is just not that clear cut as “public school for everyone!” and “homeschooling for everyone!”.
    I assume your local schools are pretty good :)

    • Sarah

      I was strong suuporter of public schools, but my kids are now in a small private school .

      The thing about socialisation at school is that it’s not really supervised. My kids share a class with children I would neve arrange a playdate with, they suffer rejection and pain, which makes me sad, but it’s also teaching them really really important skills.

      • Evs

        What kind of skills do you think they are learning and why are they important? Don’t have to answer, it’d just be very helpful :)

  • http://mymusingcorner.wordpress.com Lana

    Posts makes me want to cry. YES YES YES. I remember driving home from college and playing Amy Grant’s Innocence Lost over and over because that’s what it felt. Everything was thrown on me at once. Sex education that I didn’t have, being an adult; a world where I didn’t have a real science education (only the creationists version), and where I thought religion and politics fit into a nice conservative box. And then there was the social aspect, the way I dressed and talked, I didn’t fit in.

    And like you, my parents did not keep me isolated. We had people over at our house literally every day, my mother ran the homeschool library; it was said that more people can by our house on any given week than any other family in the homeschool group. We also were very involved in church.

    Yet somehow I still had no clue about the real world. Because why I had not been isolated from people, I had been sheltered from the real world. I don’t even think it was all intentional.

  • http://pslibrary.com/ MrPopularSentiment

    As you say, though, public schools aren’t perfect. I was severely bullied – to the point that I ran away and skipped school frequently, and even considered taking killing myself. Academically, my experience was atrocious. In second grade, I was struggling with fractions, so I was raising my hand a lot with questions. Sometimes my teacher called on me, but more often she didn’t. Finally, she took me aside and said that because I was a girl, it was okay if I didn’t get it, but that she had 20 other kids and she had to focus on making sure all the boys got the material. As an introvert, I got so exhausted from being around that many people all day. I’ve also always been a self-learner, and I truly felt while I was in school that I was wasting my time – that was time I had to spend doing busy work instead of being at home actually learning things. That played out when I got to university and most of my classmates were struggling with the transition, while I had a fairly easy time – because I’d taught myself how to properly write essays, and because I’d taught myself how to properly read books, and because I’d taught myself to think critically about history.

    I totally get everything your saying, and the idea of staying inside the system to fix it is awesome. But I think that many of your issues with homeschooling are actually issues with the belief system of your family. For me, my son seems to be following in my footsteps – he’s very introverted, very “weird” (he prefers to stand apart and watch the other children play rather than actually joining in himself), and even at under 2years, he likes to just sit in his chair and look at his picture books for hours on end. That kind of personality does not, I feel, thrive in a classroom environment. So for now, we’ve rearranged our lives so that he doesn’t have to go to daycare, and we’re thinking of keeping him home from kindergarten. After that, we’ll leave it up to him whether he’d rather stay home or go to school, and we’re prepared to accommodate either choice.

    • http://ripeningreason.com/ Bix

      Can I just say I am so floored your teacher took you aside to tell you it was OK not to understand the material because you were a girl, and that she had to prioritize the boys? Good grief.

      • Tracey

        Where in the world were you that you were learning fractions in the second grade?

  • http://mymusingcorner.wordpress.com Lana

    Mr. Popular,

    I knew of five other kids at my small college who were homeschooled. They were ALL weird and only one fit in well. One was high pride annoying just like her quiverfull family. One was naive and innocent and everyone made fun of her for not having a sex education. Then the other was a misfit and stayed to herself, but we were good friends. People pitied me, and liked me anyway and some though I was mysterious and they loved me for it. Then there was the hyper talkative girl who everyone liked. But she also dated and kissed and dressed in cool cloths from day one (didn’t have to *learn* those things like the rest of us), so she was the exception to the sheltered rule.

    I love living outside the box. The reason my parents decided to homeschool me for a school year (that ended up being 12) was that I had not sat still in kindergarten, and my mom wanted to work on my reading. I complained about school regularly in kindergarten. And I hated the box just as much as an adult. In truth, I just can’t imagine what my life would have been like if I had been in public school. But there’s a good chance I would not have liked it.

    What I am saying is it doesn’t bother me if people want to homeschool, but don’t dismiss socialization as a problem of sheltered families. Its not.

    • http://pslibrary.com/ MrPopularSentiment

      But the examples you give are kids who were harmed by their parents deliberately withholding information. Lack of sex ed is clearly not intrinsically tied to homeschooling (heck, my son isn’t even 2years old yet and already knows the word “penis”).

      In comparison, I’m weird and awkward, and I rarely feel comfortable in social situations, yet I was in public school from age 4-18, and before that I was in daycare from the age of 6months.

      So, clearly, this isn’t a homeschool vs public school issue, but rather a problem where there’s a disconnect between a) the child’s personality, b) the parents’ ideology, and c) the method of education.

      • http://mymusingcorner.wordpress.com Lana

        I’m still a fan of a big fan of homeschooling. Just something to watch out for.

      • http://pslibrary.com/ MrPopularSentiment

        Absolutely. Especially since I’m an introvert, my natural inclination would be for the two of us just to chill together all the time, which I do know is not healthy. So I force myself to take him out to playgroups, and make sure that he gets that interaction.

        I have quite a few online atheist friends who homeschool, and they join homeschooling groups so that the kids spend a couple days a week in the company of other kids. Some of them also sign their children up for extracurricular activities so that they get to experience having a non-parent teacher, and being around non-homeschooled children.

        It’s definitely something to be mindful of. But I think that if we’re comparing religiously-motivated homeschooling, where the parents are deliberately trying to shelter their children from Teh Ebil, and normal public school, we aren’t being fair. Tons of homeschooling parents are doing it because their children have special needs that aren’t being met by their schools, or because they feel that they can do better academically. These parents are not trying to shelter their kids, and what I’ve seen so far from the homeschooled kids I’ve met is that they are doing just fine in the socialization department. I don’t think it’s as big a deal as traditionally thought, and I think that becomes obvious once we start to divorce homeschooling from a particular kind of ideology.

  • Elise

    You know, bad teachers can teach us things just like good teachers. How do you deal with an unpleasant adult? When do you tell on an adult and why? How can you find the good in something? All of these are important lessons for kids to learn.

    Now, the overcrowding of schools, bullying, etc. That’s another issue. I was also very very bullied–but I was also being abused at home and didn’t know how to act. I also participated in after-school activities and did a lot of reading by myself that filled in academic gaps.

    As an educator myself, I am a huge proponent of school reform–and that starts with a rehabilitation of confidence in teachers and the importance of public education.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Bad teachers taught me plenty of things. Bad teachers taught me that asking questions (which I had to do in math since I have little natural ability in it) was for stupid people. Bad teachers taught me that loving to read and doing it well didn’t mean as much as completing my reading workbook pages in the proper manner. Bad teachers taught me that precocious, articulate, well-read children are uppity little weirdos who deserve to be bullied. Bad teachers taught me that they could say all manner of verbally abusive things to us all day and that nobody would care or believe me anyway if I spoke up about it–and that nobody would care if I tried to speak up about the bullying that was going on in my school, which had driven one girl to “snap” and make death threats–she was solely blamed of course. Bad teachers taught me that standing up for what was right meant nothing and would do nothing. Thank God I didn’t learn everything bad teachers had to teach me. They’re nothing to be sneezed at.

      I’m also a proponent of school reform and I passionately believe in the IDEA of public school as a concept, although I hate so much of what goes on in public schools. I love School, I hate schools. (Which is perhaps why I’ve worked as an educator in non-profit settings for so long and am only now considering becoming a public school teacher for practical reasons–it’s taken me this long not because I worried I couldn’t handle the kids but because I worried I couldn’t handle the other adults. I’m still worried which is why I’m not at all settled on this idea and am considering a few others.) I would love to rehabilitate “confidence in teachers” but the teachers have to deserve it and, although as a nice liberal, I’m not supposed to say this, frankly, lots of them don’t deserve confidence. I instead support a rehabilitation of confidence in the teaching profession–make it harder to become a teacher, make it better paid. Make it so that not just any schmuck can become a teacher and the ones that do make it into the profession will truly earn those higher salaries. Both of these things need to happen. A good teacher is one of the most important people that will ever be in a child’s life. The good teachers of today don’t get nearly the respect or the pay they deserve. A bad teacher can be one of the most damaging people that will ever be in a child’s life. The bad teachers of today get way more respect than they deserve and shouldn’t be in the profession to GET paid to begin with. (For that matter, you shouldn’t be able to be mediocre and be a teacher either. There are quite high standards for teaching at the tertiary level, why not at the primary and secondary levl where it arguably matters even more?)

      The people I have had the admiration in my life have been teachers. I strive to be like them. The people for whom I have had the most contempt for in my life have been teachers. I strive to undo their damage. That just goes to show you how powerful teaching is. Time for society to acknowledge that. Treat the profession with respect, and the people in it will be worthy of respect.

      • http://pslibrary.com/ MrPopularSentiment

        I’m glad you brought this up. I definitely had more than my fair share of horrendous teachers. And for all the talk about how it’s important for kids to learn to deal with those sorts of people, fine, true, whatever, but wouldn’t it be better if a parent could be there to provide advice and guidance? When I was dealing with bad teachers in elementary school, I had no idea that they were bad teachers – I thought that the problem was me. So, of course, my parents had no way of knowing what was going on, and no way of helping to mitigate the damage. By the time I got to bad teachers in high school, the only tool I had for dealing with bad teachers was to “check out” (either by skipping school or by just not participating in class and failing everything). Once again, the problem was me – I was rebelling, I was misbehaving, I was not toeing the line, I was not paying attention in class…

      • Elise

        Philosopher: You are right that there is a whole lot of damage that comes from bad teachers. Home is important, but a single person can make a huge difference in the life of a child–despite the bad teacher. A crap adult and how to deal with them (with or without parental guidance) is a very important lesson to a child. Even Sesame Street included Oscar the Grouch.

        I wish you wonderful luck as a teacher. I really enjoy your comments and posts, and I know for sure that you will do so much good.

      • Anat

        Bad teachers taught me that they could say all manner of verbally abusive things to us all day and that nobody would care or believe me anyway if I spoke up about it

        What do you feel should be the limit of how teachers talk to students? I had teachers that were sarcastic and used offensive language, but they also knew their stuff and did an excellent job transmitting information and cultivating skills. I had a physics teacher that often made sexist remarks – and as a result got better performance from the girls in class. He ended up being quite well liked – not at the top of popularity, but still rather high up.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        If by “offensive language” we’re talking about swear words, I don’t give a shit about those, really. :-P They’re completely arbitrary. Sarcasm can be fine too. It’s part of some people’s personalities (including mine) and I certainly find that I am a more effective educator when I bring my personality to work and don’t instead try to fit myself into some Generic Adult Authority Figure mold. Of course, if sarcasm is being used to demean or humiliate individuals, that is not acceptable. The normal rules of “don’t be an asshole” apply here. As for sexist language, no, that’s not okay, and I don’t care if it pushed the girls to perform better. There are better ways to inspire kids to achievement than by making clear that you have lower expectations of them because of some group they belong to. Would it be okay for a teacher to say racist things if it caused students of color to step up their game? I don’t think so. The end does not justify the means. And I can’t believe that the effects of such behavior on a child could be all positive either, even if does cause some of them to perform better out of what is basically spite. Does it really make anybody’s life better to know that people who have power over them consider them less-than?

        Anyway, the particular teacher I mostly have in mind verbally abused my middle school bio class in a pretty unambiguous way on a daily basis. We got told on all the time that we were worthless and stupid and lazy and the girls were singled out in particular–told that we couldn’t study bio because we were too busy spreading our legs for the boys after school and that maybe we should put some things in our heads instead of our mouths, haw haw. Etc. etc., I coud go on. I’d had enough towards the end of the year and exploded “You can’t talk to us this way! You’re abusing your authority as a teacher.” And some other stuff. I think I called him “tyrannical.” (Hey, I was 13, this was pretty dramatic to me.) As I recall, he pretty much just laughed at me and said I wouldn’t be having a problem if I didn’t have something to be ashamed of and that he could talk to us anyway he wanted. What was I going to do about it? Luckily I managed to get out the classroom door before I burst into tears of frustration which would have ratehr spoiled the whole effect of my righteous rage (my friend followed soon after in solidarity).

        He was right, of course. He COULD talk to us anyway he wanted. Nobody cared about anything he did until it was discovered years later that he’d been having inappropriate contact with a 14-year-old female student (surprise!), at which point he lost his teaching license. That’s what it took.

      • http://equalsuf.wordpress.com Jayn

        “As for sexist language, no, that’s not okay, and I don’t care if it pushed the girls to perform better.”

        Two words: Stereotype Threat

      • Paula G V aka Yukimi

        Wtf teachers do you have?? No teacher could have gotten away with any of that without the Parents Association kicking hir ass in my small town. At most teachers could be a bit dismissive but in my experience of spanish public schools, it was the students who had all the power nad the poor teachers had little recourse.I guess this makes sense of why in the Harry Potter books, Snape wasn’t ever fired despite such awful treatment to his students…

  • hillary

    As you consider your past and the negatives (and positives, you’re always good to point out the positives) of your upbringing, I’d like to reassure you that the “muggleness” feeling you describe is common for teens as the leave high school and enter college.

    From my public school experience I knew not one of my high school friends who did not have a jolt when they left the nest. Some more serious than others, but all faced problems either socially or academically, or both. Right or wrong, we were furious (they called it acting out) with our previous lifestyles, feeling as if we missed out.

    For example, the most popular, well-connected, culturally relevant girl of our flock ended up running naked through freshmen dorm rooms and then landed in federal prison for selling drugs. The honor student who couldn’t handle 300+ sized classrooms flunked out, never to return to college. The socially awkward, inept I’d-like-to-be-invisible girl (yep, even with all that socialization throughout elementary, middle, and high school) committed suicide her first year in college. (In fact, within the first two years of our high school graduation 4 of my friends ended up using suicide to escape their unhappiness.) For me, my rage was directed at the sorry public education system which I had come through. I felt robbed of a quality education. And, like you, I chose to address this problem by using its polar opposite to avoid the problem in my children’s lives.

    Since you are a young mother and are passionately embracing a different highway for your family (driven with perhaps as much energy and zealousness as your parents?) please take caution to remember your choices may offer as much pain for your children as homeschooling did for you. You write that you know public schooling is not perfect, yet, just as we of the public school mindset tend to gloss over homeschooling weakness, your background may hinder you from understanding just how bad it can be in the public school system. Homeschoolers would be unwise to disregard the warnings in your posts; you would be unwise to disregard ours.

    • Tracey

      Hillary, *every*.*single*.*person*. in your high school had problems going to college? How extraordinary! My high school graduating class was nearly 600. Our 15th reunion was last summer and I went to catch up with the people I hadn’t seen since high school graduation and had fallen out of touch with. Probably a dozen who went to college dropped out. A handful had been arrested and spent time in jail. Most had either gone to college and gotten a job, or joined the military and made a career of it (most getting their college degree through their military career). A few women got married out of high school, stayed home, and then gotten divorced. I have to say, there didn’t appear to be the epidemic of every single student combusting the way they did in your school. I wonder what the difference was?

      • hillary

        Tracey,
        No, not all of my graduating class, but the ones who were in my circle of friends had a difficult transitions. At the time, we didn’t think of our freshmen year chaos as life-changing, but as we have talked at reunions and over FB we have nailed it down to that time frame.

        Why? I don’t know. Maybe our situation was unique, I don’t know. Maybe we were all weird. Maybe we held it together so long in order to be popular or well-liked, pretending to be someone we weren’t and it all bubbled up in the 2 years after graduation. I really don’t know. I don’t consider my life as “combusting”, but I can trace my change of mind about education back to that year. I didn’t “act out” in any particular way, except to reject the core of my parents’ upbringing. (They were both educators.)

        The point I was trying to make was that it isn’t unusual for freshmen to rebel or reject or question the choices about their lifestyles, just as Libby has done with her upbringing. My note was meant to show her that, although her situation has been unique, the difficult transition is shared by many. I’m sorry I didn’t make myself clearer.

      • Tracey

        I went from 13 years of public school (K – 12) to college. I loved college, as did most of my friends. Unlike high school, in college you could pick out the classes you wanted. Unlike high school, in college you could set your own schedule–don’t like 8 am classes? Don’t take any; it’s just that easy. My mega-high school started at 6:48 am (gotta have time for football practice after school!) and the first of several lunch periods started at 8:25. In college, I didn’t eat breakfast until 9 am. There was just so much freedom–I played on my dorm’s co-ed rugby team my freshman year, I was backup singer in a band my junior and senior year.

        I thought about what you said. Was college a transition? Yes. Did some take it harder than others? I’m sure. In my college of 14,000, someone in my dorm committed suicide. Maybe I just didn’t know a whole lot of religiously secluded people?

  • CLDG

    My almost 6 year old daughter just started K at our public school, which I would call very good for our state and pretty good nationwide (so we’re lucky that it’s a good option). Her teacher is awesome. So, all in all it’s going very well, and my parents who are very ideologically pro-homeschool have done well at respecting boundaries about our decision. I’m really glad she is getting the socialization at the right age and will have common experiences with other people in her age group as she grows up and as an adult. Although I spent most of my years in small Christian schools, my parents were very invested in sheltering from “influences” and prided themselves in being outsiders and not participating in the wider culture (except for things they liked, ahem). I HATE being an outsider and I’ve spent my adult life becoming integrated with my cohort and my communities.

    That said, I do a lot of thinking about homeschooling later, particularly middle school – for feminist reasons mostly. My daughter is already picking up cultural b.s., and I see a flood of it coming down the pike from older kids we know. I am wondering about the value of stepping away from the worst of it, the age when girls are taught to compete and tear each other down for male attention. Who knows what we’ll do when the time comes. What I’m hearing from my friends with high-schoolers, ugh. And I’m not even afraid of the same things as my parents. One thing is I will never allow my child to be emotionally abused every single day the way I was in Christian schools, whether that means starting a firestorm in the school or homeschooling. Although schools seem to have a COMPLETELY different attitude about bullying than was common a generation ago, but we’ll see how it plays out.

    If I’ve learned anything as a parent, it’s that (once you are in the realm of “good parenting”) there is just no such thing as the perfect decision. You have to go with what works best for all of you in your particular situation and there are downsides to everything. Right now the downsides of homeschooling far outweigh the downsides of the public school, but that could change.

  • Sarah

    I don’t have children yet, but I’ve enjoyed reading the blog of Leo Babuta (zen habits) and his thoughts on un-schooling. His theory is that all of us had to learn to teach ourselves as adults, so why not start sooner? He and his wife have a gaggle of kids at different ages, and they live in San Francisco, where there are lots of museums to visit and parks to explore, and they let their kids explore the topics that interest them.

    • Saraquill

      I can see that crashing and burning with some children. There are some people that really need guidance or extra help in various topics, and are unable to learn it on their own. I”ve been an adult for many years and I still seek out instruction if I feel I need it.

    • “Rebecca”

      My worry with this mindset is that if the free-learning goes on too long, it can damage a kid’s ability to make herself do things she doesn’t want to do. That’s an essential adult skill. I would really hope that with an education like that, there are other forms of responsibility and structure going on, or that a more disciplined approach would start during the teenage years.

      • Tracey

        I can see what you’re saying. We started homeschooling our child in high school to take advantage of college dual-enrollment. We’ve joined several homeschool groups and met some lovely people, but have often been frustrated when trying to do things as a group because there’s a real majority who can’t be assed to show up on time/come prepared/respect the activity. For example, in the fall we joined a group at a museum where one of the docents gave a talk specially to our group. The talk was supposed to start at 9; about a third of the group showed up late because the children simply didn’t want to wake up in time. During the talk, some of the kids talked among themselves and one just got up and wandered away because she was bored…and her proud mum just smiled fondly.

  • Jessica

    I’m not sure any education system is perfect. I went to public school for elementary and high school, private school for sixth grade, and homeschool for seventh and eighth. Homeschool was exactly what I needed at the time. I was very shy in elementary school, and academically advanced to the point that my teachers would let me read novels in class because I already knew the curriculum. Elementary school was a mixture of friendships and being picked on for being different, and ended with me getting very good at negotiating with kids who wanted to copy my homework. Sixth grade, at a very small evangelical Christian school, was horrible. I didn’t fit in culturally or socially, though the academic work was much harder. My parents weren’t keen on the amount of time the school spent telling us about our sins and forcing their particular (literal Calvinist) views on us kids.

    So then we homeschooled, me for two years and my sister for four. I was basically in charge of my own curriculum and loved it. Yes, there were gaps (like evolution), but also subjects (like cooking and marine biology) that I wouldn’t have had in public middle school. And for the first time, I made friends who were shyer than me. Homeschooling allowed me to come out of my shell. There were social problems with it, too, but it was MUCH better than my later elementary school years or sixth grade.

    By high school, I was cautiously ready to go back to public school. I’m glad I did; I was able to grow socially (now having a better skill set from homeschooling), and many of my teachers were really good and prepared me well for college. But it was still a very mixed bag. I also had to deal with an art teacher who sexually harassed female students, a science department that had 30-year-old textbooks, and an administration that prized sports and the students that played them over everything else.

    I excelled in college like Libby Anne, by being curious and open to filling the gaps in my education, but I certainly didn’t fit in every respect and it took time to figure things out. I think that is pretty normal . . . .

    I don’t intend to homeschool my children (in part because I work full time and in part because I think that children benefit from being taught from a number of sources), but I would be open to the possibility depending on the circumstances.

    • Carys Birch

      Like you I was awkward and uncomfortable in public elementary school. My parents pulled me out my freshman year in high school and put me in a VERY small private school. I stayed there until halfway through my junior year and went back to public high school by my own decision. My academics suffered a little bit due to the transitions and the very evangelical curriculum at the private school, but I desperately needed that small tight-knit group to find my feet socially. I think it was the best choice my parents could have made – both to pull me out when they did, and to let me go back when I was ready.

      I tend to talk about a lot of the things I think my parents did wrong on this blog, but I think they did right by me, education-wise. (Right up until the point where they let me go to Christian College.)

  • Susan

    I was homeschooled through till college. I’ve seen both sides of this issue, my husband was schooled for religious reasons, while I was homeschooled because my parents didn’t like the type of socialization that occurred in school. Currently my husband and I are both biology PhD programs, he’s in biochemistry and I’m immunology and virology. I would agree that homeschooling isn’t for everyone. There are families, I’ve met who saying they want to homeschool, it makes me cringe. However, for me being homeschooled was a positive experience. I got to explore a lot of interests that school simply wouldn’t have allowed me to pursue, trips to see places, spending time learning about equine behavior, ect…

    I found college very challenging, not for the reasons that this article describes. The material was dreadfully boring since I was farmilar with most of it. I learned very little until I got I was in my senor year since I had material that was designed for collage classes all through high school. It drove me insane to go from an environment where I was treated as smart capable person to a place where I was child. I found it challenging to relate to me peers since they spent their time rebelling from their parents. My homeschooled friends and I compared note (we were mostly homeschooled for non-religious reasons and went to a range of college) and found we observed that the other college students seemed struggle to be themselves. They either struggled to be different then the mold that schools had put them in or to fit in. I also felt to me that the joy of learning was squeezed out of them. It almost seemed that they went through a detox period. I found that I related much more easily to adults then I could to my peers. I found that the students just out of high school had a fakeness about them. They formed shallow friendships with other people in a way I’d never experienced before.

    My husband had a very different experience. He had no friends growing up because of his parents worry that they would be bad influences and he had religious schooling that taught him very little. He also really regrets that he never got the chance to play sports. For him school probably would have been a better experience.

    I think that it is unwise to treat socialization as a homeschooling issue. I think socialization is just as much an issue for children who go to public school. The type of socialization children get in public schools is extremely abnormal for human societies so treating it as the norm makes little sense to me. We group children with only their age group and an all powerful adult. I think it’s profoundly pathologically to raise children who are taught that they have no say in their education and that the adults around them are always right. The simple fact of having a group of children with one adult creates an authoritarian power structure that is unwelcoming to diversity. Also children can’t easily learn from each other if they spend most of their time with children in only their own age group.

    So the questions I want to ask of parents who send their children to school are these. How will you teach your child to questiono authority? How will you teach your child that he or she has a right to say no even to authority figures? How will you teach your child that it’s OK not to fit in and that she should stand up for people who are different? How will you teach your child that she doesn’t have to tolerate cruelty when she or he can’t leave the classroom? How will you teach your child that learning is more than just getting a grade?

    • Anat

      How will you teach your child to questiono authority?

      It’s her natural state. Teaching her that authority maters at all, that at least for expediency she should occasionally defer to it was the hard part.

      How will you teach your child that it’s OK not to fit in and that she should stand up for people who are different?

      The school teaches this actively. They have youngish counselors that work with groups of kids, they learn about being different, being themselves. It’s in the literature they read and group-exercises teachers do with them.

    • Christine

      Even if you’re homeschooling you need to be careful to ensure that the environment you raise your children is sufficiently anti-authoritarian. The same measures are more than sufficient when you send children off to school. (Just make sure that before you take the teacher’s side you check the whole story – but that’s somewhat of a given if you’re working to be an anti-authoritarian parent). If I was right and my teachers were wrong, my parents backed me all the way. (Ask me about using American spelling textbooks sometime…)

      And frankly, I’m more concerned with teaching my children to follow social mores than to be different. I’m enough of a jerk as it is, and I had all the peer pressure you get at school. It’s also good conditioning – with how often we are told in today’s culture that it’s ok to be yourself, being different is good, etc, you need to get a balancing message of “there’s nothing wrong with liking things that are popular” “you don’t have to do something just because it’s different” and the like. Without that message it becomes very difficult to think for oneself.

      • Anat

        If I was right and my teachers were wrong, my parents backed me all the way.

        Oh, that brings memories. Not my own, but my brother’s. His elementary school didn’t have a librarian for a while, and parents volunteered to take up the slack. And because of lack of time to do things properly they ended up having a system where kids write down a list of all the books they’d like to read at some time and the volunteers would make an effort to get them books from their lists. My brother was annoyed that he sometimes got books in a series in the wrong order and sometimes get books that were not on his list at all by mistake (and thus miss out on books he wanted). So one day he wrote a letter detailing his complaints. He asked our mother if that was OK, and she said that if that was how he felt then yes, he should write the letter and send it. So the volunteer librarians were livid with him. They asked him if his parents knew what he had written, and when he said they did the volunteers called him a stinking little liar (because what kind of parent would knowingly let their kid be so disrespectful?). I can’t remember if the situation was resolved at all, but my brother had his mother’s support all along.

      • Anat

        Oops! Sorry for the formatting fail. Only the first sentence was supposed to be italicized.

      • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com Basketcase

        “need to get a balancing message of “there’s nothing wrong with liking things that are popular” “you don’t have to do something just because it’s different” and the like. Without that message it becomes very difficult to think for oneself.”

        Agreed! I’m finding as an adult, that you often get derided for liking things that are popular. Its insane! Because its “hip” to “not like things that are popular”, or at least pretend to, even if you do like them. We should be able to teach our children to like what they like, regardless of its popularity, and not feel they need to apologise for liking something. Much better if they can say WHY they like things, be they popular or not – teach them to make a coherent argument in support of things they like.

  • Abigail Gorton

    Socialization, from an employers point of view: It might be bad luck but I had issues with the 3 home schooled young adults I have been manager of. In all of thus my comparison is the other new grads / interns that i worked with.

    The homeschooled kids – that’s what they felt like – were polite, bright and very good at the tasks they were given. But they fell to pieces in the face of conflict. If a manager or coworker was in a regular, normal, socially acceptable funk, the kids could not deal. It stressed them, they took it completely personally, they stopped work and even left the building. If they did something that needed to be corrected, something completely normal like create a report that needed to be reviewed, they found it very hard to take feedback as just feedback. It wasn’t the end of their employment but they received it like it was. They also had problems showing up on time and lasting out the whole work day. I know, I know, it might be just these 3 but that’s the way it was.

    My personal conclusions were that they just hadn’t been around adults who had an agenda that had nothing to do with them. Regular folks have regular funks from time to time at work. Sometimes the whole firm is under a miserable deadline and we all just have to deal. It’s not personal! (Sorry for the cliche, but that was the problem) they took unrelated events personally. They also hadn’t suffered through one or two years of K12 with a sub par teacher, survived it and realized it wasn’t the biggest deal, that corrected work is an opportunity to improve next time. (Cliche again, but that’s the point. Cliche to us, new territory for them) They hadn’t had to attend an institution, stay there all day and learned to show up, stay, cope, make the most of it, just cope with getting through a day on someone else’s schedule. Learn to make the most of a long and boring day out of their own territory.

    • “Rebecca”

      I was homeschooled from first grade through high school, and I have to agree with this. I had a really bad time adjusting to my first couple entry-level jobs, because I had no idea how to deal with bosses who were indifferent to my personal life and feelings. When I got upset, they didn’t care. When I wanted a bunch of days off, they didn’t care. They didn’t have the time to hand-hold me as I tried to learn the skills involved and I had a terrible time adjusting. I lost both jobs quickly.
      Obviously I know this isn’t the case for all homeschoolers, as I have some homeschooled friends who did well in college and are making good headway into their professional lives. But I urge homeschool parents to please, please, please consider giving their teenagers at least a few years of classroom education. Or some other type of situation where they need to demonstrate long-term accountability to neutral authority figures. Please don’t leave your kids high and dry in the real world. (Yes, I said it. THE REAL WORLD.)

      • http://www.mymusingcorner.wordpress.com/ Lana

        Agree with Rebecca. Every job I’ve had, other than teaching, has put me in tears. I’m actually good at conflict and would stick up for coworkers who were being abused. But I HATED the box. If the box was wrong, it was wrong. For my work, efficiency was more important than relationships, and I grew up where relationships were more important. It was a box that I could not stand. In the end, I’ve decided to be self-employed and travel the world instead. I couldn’t spend 12 years of my life teaching myself and being free all day and then expect me to sit in the office desk all day reporting to a boss.

      • Rosie

        Some of that may be personality also. I was public-schooled the whole way through, and while I’m in some ways fantastic at fitting in “the box” for any job, doing so for any length of time makes me extremely depressed. I’ve decided to go the self-employment route also. I spent enough of my life being dead; no reason to continue it now that I have a choice in the matter.

      • Abigail Gorton

        @Rosie, I do not think it was the personality of the workers,or their knowledge and technical abilities but their skill set for dealing with the day to day happenings of what was ‘just’ an entry level job, a short term situation. As you say, your personality was not suited to ‘the box” but your human interaction experience and skill set enabled you to be ‘fantastic at fitting in “the box” for any job’.

  • J.

    I’ve got a friend who runs in patriarchy/homeschool circles, and she says that there have been numerous studies showing that homeschooled kids excel in all academic areas compared to kids who went to public schools. Do you know if that’s the case, Libby Anne?

    • Julie

      I can’t speak to the accuracy of this statistic, but I can comment on my experience as a homeschooler. (Was homeschooled K-12 and went on to attend a top-10 university). For the huge deal that the homeschooling community makes of supposedly being educationally superior to the public school system, it was striking how few of my homeschooled peers went directly to four-year colleges. Some went to community colleges, others worked for awhile, but very few had degrees four years after finishing high school. For what it’s worth, the “public schools are awful” mantra more frequently comes from people who homeschool for religious/values reasons than from those who homeschool because they genuinely want to provide an innovative educational experience. Even since I was homeschooled 5-10 years ago, many more educationally-oriented homeschoolers have entered the scene; I think this is a good thing.

    • http://Patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      No, it’s wrong. I don’t have time to dig up a bunch of links right at the moment, but the most of the studies claiming that either (a) use volunteers rather than actually getting a representative sample or (b) don’t control for homeschool families income, race, etc., and are thus comparing apples and oranges when comparing homeschoolers to ALL public schoolers. Also, most homeschoolers will point to the research of Brian Ray (of the National Home Education Research Institute), which is basically a research arm of homeschool advocacy group HSLDA. Ray’s research is shoddy and not generally taken seriously in scholarly circles. That all said, I haven’t looked at every study and it’s a complicated subject. Your friend’s assertion that its cut and dried is wrong.

      • http://kathrynbrightbill.com Ryn

        When I was in college–so somewhere between 1999-2003, I took part in one of Brian Ray’s studies and even as someone who has next to no social research background (and even less of one at the time I took Ray’s survey), I was appalled at the shoddiness of the whole thing. If I recall correctly, the study was supposed to be measuring the success of homeschool graduates, but it was entirely self-selected. I can’t remember now whether I got the link to the survey from an email my mom forwarded from HSLDA or if I got it from a message board, but in either case there was no effort whatsoever to account for selection bias. Grades and test scores were entirely self-reported, and the majority of questions were clearly phrased in a way that was designed to produce an intended result. Of course, once the study was released, the glowing results were widely touted, and even as someone who participated, it was impossible to convince anyone of how much a joke the study was because all that mattered was that it reflected the results they were hoping for.

        I. personally, had a great homeschooling experience and didn’t have problems transitioning to college, but those kinds of dishonest surveys help convince people who have no business whatsoever homeschooling that they’ll be fine.

  • http://AztecQueen2000.blogspot.com AztecQueen2000

    I’m part of a religious community (Orthodox Jewish), but I’m homeschooling my kids to give them a chance to make it outside of this community. To that end, I’ll probably handle all the K-8 on my own, and have them take all their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) classes at a community college for high school. This will give them classroom experience, real teachers for these crucial subjects (don’t kid yourself–math and science classes in public school are not always taught by qualified people), and a better education than I, with my humanities background could provide. This way, college and the real world won’t be such a culture shock.

  • Tashi

    I was homeschooled by my parents through 5th grade, after which I spent 6th-8th at a private Christian school, and finished up with high school in the public school system. My homeschooling wasn’t as overtly religious as the experiences of some, and from what my mother says, her reasons for homeschooling related more to the quality of the public school system in our district. I’ve often been curious how much my experience is reflected in the stories of others: beyond academically lacking (specifically in science and history) when I entered private/public school, the greatest source of bitterness I currently hold towards my homeschooling experience is the inability to divide my memories up into relatable chunks.
    I’ve asked friends who attended public school how they relate age to school grade (ie, when I was 8 yrs old, I was in Xth grade…when I was in Yth grade, I was 10 and so on ) and realized that I do not have that ability in the slightest. I do not remember what being 7 years old was like because I don’t have parameters that act as bookends (so to speak) for each year. I couldn’t tell you from memory what I did or learned when I was going through the 3rd grade curriculum.
    Is this common amongst those that homeschooled (particularly if you were homeschooled during elementary years)?

    • “Rebecca”

      I know what you’re talking about, Tashi. Some of my memories are connected to distinct events that I can point to by year, but there is definite blurriness. Our homeschooling wasn’t very structured and we kids were often “behind” or “ahead” a few grades, so when strangers asked me what grade I was in I could only stare at them blankly.

      • Tashi

        This sounds very similar to my experience. There wasn’t very overt structure to my homeschooling education either, and we tended to work through materials in the summer as well, so I (and my sister) ended up getting ahead a grade for my normal age group. When people ask me how old I am/what grade I’m in, I get the standard “wow, you’re young” and I generally just pretend I skipped a grade to avoid explaining the homeschooling.

    • Steve

      I went to public school and I can’t really connect age to grade either. At least not in the middle. I can do it for end and beginning, but not for the parts inbetween. However, I can generally remember what I learned in which grade.

      • Rosie

        I remember my childhood traumas (which largely happened in school) by grade level, for what that’s worth. :P

      • Rosie

        Hmmm…the smiley thing doesn’t work like I expected. I thought I input the tongue-sticking-out one. Le sigh.

  • Karleanne

    I was homeschooled through middle school, but by parents who did so to provide me extra opportunities, not to shelter me (though we did happen to be Christian). I then went to a private prep school and state college, where I did extremely well. So academically, I’m totally on board with the potential of homeschooling depending on the parents. But one thing I’ve come to realize (and it took me until college to understand it) is that the kind of homeschooling I experienced came from a place of great privilege. I come from a family of scientists, engineers, teachers, and lawyers. My dad is a chemical engineer. So not only was I not subjected to the anti-science attitudes that sometimes pervade Christian homeschooling, I had a lot of educational resources available to me. We were also financially privileged. My mother stayed home and dedicated a lot of time to my education, and not in that weird “a woman’s place is in the home” kind of way. When I wanted books, I got them. When I wasn’t doing well in math, we tried four or five different math systems until we found the one that made me really good at math. We didn’t just read history books; instead, we took trips all over the country, sometimes multiple trips a year (and I was encouraged to travel abroad with my friends in high school). I had my ballet lessons, my harp lessons, my language tutors, my horseback riding lessons, my ceramics classes, my drama classes. I’m not saying that a family has to have all these resources to successfully homeschool, but I think it’s naive of me to endorse homeschooling across the board based on my experience without coming to terms with the fact that I was gifted with an exceptional education.

    I think one thing that often gets ignored in the “socialization” debate is the personality of the child. I’m not a super outgoing person–I have no problem networking or making friends, but I just tend to prefer deeper relationships with a few people over trying to maintain relationships with a gazillion people. I really had no problem transitioning, but every time someone would notice that I can, at times, be shy or get overwhelmed by crowds, they’d go off on how it was because I was homeschooled and not properly “socialized.” I find this a little offensive. Why can’t I just be myself? It’s not like I have trouble functioning (except at a mall at Christmas. I must admit Christmas shopping crowds get the better of me). I think that I probably am better off because my mother worked very hard to place me in diverse groups (“school” kids as well as homeschooled kids) that were still relatively safe. Having the friends I made literally in preschool gave me the stability to start forming other kinds of friendships when I got older and went to school.

    • Rosie

      I agree Karleanne. I’m also shy and introverted by nature. I guess one could say I got “socialized” at public school, but it took four years of sheer hell and a stroke of unbelievable luck after that, and I’m still not very good at…socializing.

      Some guidance beyond “to have a friend, be a friend” and “just ignore the teasing and they’ll tire of it” (they didn’t) would probably have helped, whether I was removed from the situation or not. At the time I just wanted to be anywhere other than in that school.

      I get that homeschooling can certainly have problems, and it’s absurd to not take those into account if one chooses to go that route, but the same is also true of public schools. And the personality of the child plays a HUGE role in how easy or difficult a time they have in school.

    • Anonymouse

      I agree that there is certainly great potential success to homeschooling. At the same time, there’s great potential for disaster. Not every person is cut out to be a great teacher.

  • Elizabeth

    I can’t help thinking that the solution to all of this is to give kids more rights and more choice in their education (admittedly not something our society generally supports). Homeschooling is not the problem–homeschooling is just one way that some parents control their kids. It’s also a method other parents use to give their kids much more freedom than they would have in public schools (which I consider a good thing).

    To me, the best thing a parent can do is give their child a choice in how they want to pursue education. If you have a choice between public schools, let your child be involved in that choice. If you can afford private school or homeschooling, let them know that those are options, too. And if they’re persistently unhappy in their current environment, try to find alternatives besides just toughing it out.

  • pagansister

    Having been raised in public schools and then sending my 2 children to public schools, I found that for the most part, my children got good educations. They had a few teachers who weren’t great, but then there are probably many parents who aren’t either when it comes to “educating their children”. Have often wondered if all parents are actually qualified to “teach’ their children. What requirements do they have to meet? Who supervises them to make sure the children are getting the required subjects?

  • http://myjournalkohn.blogspot.com/ Kristie

    “Why was it that I never quite felt that I fit in, and always felt like the odd one out?”

    Having gone to public school my entire life, I know for a fact that feeling socially awkward and having that sense of feeling left out are not prevented by an education in a public school, nor caused by being home schooled. The idea that children who attend public school are better “socialized” than kids who go to public is ridiculous.

    • http://myjournalkohn.blogspot.com/ Kristie

      Sorry, that should read:

      The idea that children who attend public school are better “socialized” than kids who are home schooled is ridiculous.

    • David S.

      Going to public school all your life doesn’t give you a statistical understanding of universe of public schools and homeschooling. There’s going to be a lot of noise, way, way too much for any one person to dismiss the conclusion as ridiculous based on personal experience.

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