Homeschool Reflection: A Parent’s Perspective

A guest post by Northstar

Libby Anne, I’ve been following your comments on homeschooling with avid interest. As a homeschooling parent, I was most interested — and terrified — by the anger I saw from young adults who had been homeschooled. I followed a few links to read their stories because I truly, truly wanted to know if my kids were going to end up hating me for homeschooling them.

To my relief, I quickly saw a pattern emerging. The young adults who were angry were almost invariably so because they had been cheated academically, taught with an intent to deprive them of information that might cause them to question the validity of their parents’ religious views. In our case, we were reluctant homeschoolers, pushed into it because public school didn’t want to deal with the inconvenience caused by my girls’ potentially lethal peanut allergy. After a terrifying ambulance run out of Kindergarten class, we felt we had no choice but to homeschool, if our children were going to survive.

And survive — and thrive — they have. The eldest has been able to zoom through academics, and started at community college at 14, earning solid A’s in tough courses like the chemistries and bio sciences. She wants to be a doctor, and I’m sure she’s got the self-directed drive to do it. Instead of a high school degree, she’ll have her first college degree at 18 and the ability to transfer to a 4-year college as a junior. Talk about saving tens of thousands in potential college debt! She’s also a talented fantasy artist, and writer, and has been able to pursue these interests in a way I’m sure she wouldn’t have had time to, had she been a traditional student. She’s always been able to integrate into classes, theater groups, writer’s groups, volunteering, and so on without trouble.

My second daughter has entirely different circumstances, but I’m equally grateful to be homeschooling her as well. Bright but extremely shy, it soon emerged that she has severe dyslexia. Putting a kid like that in school would have been extremely cruel; I saw how kids like her were tracked when volunteering at my daughter’s kindergarten. She would have been Special Ed all the way, instead of reading Shakespeare with us around the kitchen table. I’m sure she would have been the butt of teasing for her “stupidity.” With a wealth of audio and visual teaching materials, she’s a mature, well-spoken 13 year old who can converse about science, art, literature, history, politics and so on better than most adults. People are always astonished to find out she’s dyslexic: “Obviously,” they say, “she’s very intelligent!” And that’s what I want: a chance for her to be appreciated as she really is. But what about the shyness? Wouldn’t she have been better off with more “socialization?”

To that, I can only give a resounding “NO!” because I’ve been there. I am a shy person, always have been, even with the benefit of 12 years public school “socialization,” plus college. I remember my mother dragging me by the arm to meet a future teacher at a high school open house — in utter panic I pulled away and fled down the hall like a scared cat! “Socialization” as it exists in school only made it worse for a shy, smart, sensitive kid such as myself. School was very sad and lonely. Sometimes social phobia is just the way one _is_ rather than a result of one’s socialization.

In contrast, my very shy second daughter has blossomed into a soft-spoken yet assured young adult. She is fearless about stating her opinions, and standing up for herself — and others. Too shy to act in our community theater group, she quickly became a backstage manager with her confident assertions to adults about what prop should go where for efficient staging, adults who took her ideas seriously and appreciated her talents. Next year she plans to go to a local arts magnet high school; I think it’s a great idea and that she’ll do fine.

But is it all sunshine and roses with regard to socialization? No. I have a third daughter, elementary age. She’s bright, dyslexic, NOT shy. She craves the company of other children, and I just can’t give it to her. I’m not good at striking up friendships with other parents so she could play with their kids. (She also has potentially lethal food allergies giving another layer of anxiety to social mixing, naturally. Nothing like the potential of having your kid come home dead from a birthday party to put one on edge.) I’m trying to bridge the gaps but there just isn’t the day to day social interaction with which she would really thrive. But such is the nature of life, and homeschooling — if you choose one path, you cannot choose the other. Each choice has its advantages and disadvantages and you have to weigh the balance and see if the choices work out better, overall.

I read your blog, Libby Anne, in part because I have a sibling who also homeschools — an evangelical, who is homeschooling to limit her daughter’s exposure to non-Christians, and the science that conflicts with the young-earth creationism she and her husband believe in. When in school, my niece was considered academically gifted; now, I watch her dreams of being a veterinarian drift further and further out of reach as she is prevented from learning about biology and evolution( of course!) Her parents are tracking her into cake decorating as a profession, preferring evidently, a lifetime of her squirting “Happy Birthday” on sheet cakes in the back room of a grocery store to learning the science that would allow her to pursue her dreams. I find it heartbreaking. I can only hope she becomes one of the “angry ones” who finds her own path separate from her parents’ and fulfills her own dreams.

And a commentator had a question as well — what about the homeschool parent? Good question! Since we were pushed into homeschooling, it wasn’t our chosen path, just one we had to take. Oddly, I’ve never really thought about what was in it for me, before! An artist by nature, I was in advertising by profession, a high pressure, demanding career. I loved earning money and using my talents, but hated the constant anxiety the pressure caused. Homeschooling has allowed me to follow the scholarly bent to my nature, learning along side my kids. And as they’ve gotten older, they’ve encouraged and supported me in pursuing my artistic side again; for the first time since college I have my own framed artwork on the walls. It had been lost to me, all that time. So homeschooling has allowed me, as well as my kids something really important — the time and chance to find and be who we really are.

———

Homeschooling has become a very polarized subject. It is my hope that the Homeschool Reflections series, made up of stories of actual homeschool experiences, both positive and some negative, may cut through some of the hyperbole. I have asked the respondents in this series to be analytical and to discuss both the pros and cons of their experiences, but I have not censored what they have written. My posting these stories should not be construed as endorsement the opinions expressed therein. What you read in this series will vary, but it is my hope that each installment will be thought provoking and have something positive to offer to the discussion. 

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.

  • Kate

    I identify SO MUCH with the part about being naturally shy despite all attempts at socialization — I always have been, and I probably always will be. I went to public school through 8th grade, and after some serious harassment from a teacher, my parents (who aren’t evangelical/Quiverfull, or even Christian at all, for that matter) and I jointly decided to give homeschooling a try. I’m a senior in high school now, and while homeschooling hasn’t been the easiest path for me, I’m ultimately glad I chose it. Public school only served to dig me deeper and deeper into a hole of social anxiety that I’m still struggling to get out of. Pushing me into situations I didn’t want to be didn’t bring me out of my shell — it only made it worse. I hate talking in front of large crowds (I remember the last presentation I had to give in 8th grade; my hands shook the whole time, my voice was so shaky that I could barely talk, and I cried when it was over), I hated being called on when I didn’t know the answer and embarrassed in front of the class, I hated hanging out with my shitty group of friends just so I wouldn’t be made fun of for being a ‘loner,’ I hated doing group projects when I could do them myself faster and better than with people who couldn’t pull their own weight, I hated gym class because I had to deal with over-competitive douchebags that only cared about winning, etc. There is literally nothing good that came out of the social aspect of public school for /me/.

    With that being said, I want to homeschool my kids if/when I have them (though I’m open to public/private school if it doesn’t work out), and I used to scoff at the ‘socialization problem.’ But after reading your posts, Libby Anne, and others where people have suffered socially and feel like outsiders, I realize my situation is kind of a rarity, and I understand the concern a lot more. It’s still not reason enough for me to ditch homeschooling, though, because I think there are ample opportunities for socialization as long as you’re open to them and not aiming for complete societal isolation like some Quiverfull families seem to be.

    • The_L

      I went to small private schools from K-9, then a magnet school for the remaining 3 years. I moved a lot, I was shy, I was accelerated, and I had severe ADHD. This is not a good combination, no matter what schools you go to.

      But i don’t think homeschooling would have made things any better or worse from a socialization standpoint. I had the bad luck never to have neighbors with children my age; occasionally there were neighbors with kids my little brother’s age, but not often, and he always made lots of friends at school anyway. I never did. I’m still not sure how much was the acceleration, and how much was just me being an introvert who moved a lot.

      There are a lot of variables involved.

    • Lizzy

      Do you feel that homeschooling has in any way improved your sever social anxiety? Do you feel comfortable with giving presentations in college or in a career setting?

  • Antigone10

    Socialization is important. But, the longer I’m working with children, the more I think that we prioritize socialization over everything else. I deal with 3-6 years old- for them, 3-4 hours per day, MAX would be good socialization time. 8+ hours per day? Some up to 11 hours per day? This does not lead to well socialized children. This leads to, on average, children who are not learning adult behaviors*- it is someone who is getting too much time stagnating with development.

    My memories of school, and many of my friends, also recall school as a place where you learned to be a bully, victim, or a bystander. I wouldn’t inflict that on my children (not that I have children).

    *”Adult behaviors” doesn’t mean “sex”. It means things like “not interrupting” and “eating with mouth closed”, and other basic polite behaviors. Children don’t know these. Adults tend to. When children are around other children, they don’t know why they are important. When they are around adults, they learn pretty quickly.

  • Sarah-Sophia

    I disagree that socialization isn’t important. All my life (27 years) I’ve never really had any close friends and I have never been able to have a boyfriend or have sex. (And the fact that I can’t stand the taste of alcohol is also a damper on a possible social life). Most of the time I’m able to deal with it by keeping my mind busy but sometimes I will still go through bouts of depression. Also, anyone who thinks being attractive is all that is needed to get a boyfriend is wrong. One time I had a really hot guy flirt with me but I was so nervous I left when I was able to. It’s one thing to be shy when you are young but by the time you are older it is assumed that you have gotten over it.

    • Paula G V aka Yukimi

      I sympathize about the alcohol part, it really is a problem not to like the taste of alochol in our society. I had the incredible luck of getting together with a guy who barely likes alcohol (and he is pretty awesome and nerdy like me). That said, I didn’t even realised he was hitting on me because I thought no guy would ever be interested and because I knew nothing about most social interactions because I’m bad at it. But it really it’s a learning curve.

      I agree with you on socialisation, I’m a pretty socially awkward girl but I really learnt to socialize in HS (although I was bullied in middle school) and by the time I got to college I was weird (still am) but I had learnt A LOT and got a nice group of friends (luckily, I do have the same cultural background that msot people in my area). I wish you good luck in overcoming it nad getting a life you find great!

  • Anat

    I am very happy for you that you found a solution that worked for each of your children. And obviously I am not in any position to know how your school district handles special education. However I would like readers to know that being a special ed student all the way from K to 12 is neither an academic nor a social death sentence. Many of the kids make wonderful progress. When my daughter was in the early elementary school years I volunteered at her school and helped with reading support. Some kids who were struggling in grades 1-3 ended up receiving awards for academic achievements by middle school. The schools I know work on stamping out bullying of special ed students and of acceptance of everybody. (Anecdote and parental brag: When my daughter was in 7th grade I was surprised to hear at a school open house that she had spent some significant time helping 2 disabled students put up a play.)

  • http://truthspew.wordpress.com Truthspew

    The more I learn about public schools in my area the less likely I’d ever be to put any child of mine in them. And the Catholic schools are astronomical in price – my alma mater is $13K per year now!

    I say this because through happenstance I ended up doing several program reviews in local schools. I was appreciated as one who gave a different insight to the reviews because I wasn’t afraid to ask the questions that needed to be asked.

    Good example, a class where they were learning about Microsoft Excel. They were doing a payroll spreadsheet and the teacher had them going to a crib sheet for the tax rates. So I asked the teacher if there was any intent to teach the kids about Visual Basic for Applications or VBA. With that you could automate the tax calculations.

    The response from the teacher showed me just how much I dislike public schools. She said that for programming you need advanced math. Um, no. One semester of Algebra one is probably the most stringent thing you need. And sure knowledge of other number systems like binary, hexadecimal and octal are helpful too. But advanced math? I don’t think so. Even said so on my review.

    But like this post I strongly disagree with home schooling for religious reasons.

    • Kate

      I really would have benefited much more from learning how to balance a friggin’ checkbook than from making 39843 graphs in my math classes, that’s for sure.

  • Tyro

    I have AS and a borderline-genius IQ; public school did me few favors & much harm :-(

    • Anat

      Did you have any accommodations for anything AS-related? Were you able to have any advanced or expanded curriculum in any subject? With some awareness parents can work with schools to create a better environment for their child. Though not all schools are willing to accommodate, if there is a formal diagnosis they have to at least make an effort in that direction.

      • The_L

        I can tell you flat-out that in some rural areas, nobody knows what to do about exceptional children, especially gifted children, and nobody knows what, exactly, constitutes an appropriately “expanded” or “advanced” curriculum. 20 years ago in Coffee County, AL, there were no gifted programs in the public schools yet, the local Kaplan facility didn’t know how to deal with preoperational* learners who still take every question you ask literally, and the only other private school was run out of the local Church of God (I’ll let you fill in the blanks regarding that one, and yes, I did attend that private school).

        Basically, when I’d finished my first-grade work, the only way my teachers could get me to sit still was by giving me a high school geometry textbook and telling me to read it. (I was the only 5-year-old who knew all the kinds of triangles.) I spent almost every afternoon in detention during primary school for disrupting class, because nobody knew how to deal with ADHD students outside of medicating us.

        Making an effort doesn’t mean it’s necessarily effective, or that the child is being challenged in any way. I coasted through K-12 with very little effort on my part, and probably drove every one of my teachers crazy. The PACE system, for all its faults, did at least allow me to learn about long division, Baroque music, and painting at a speed I could absorb, without inconveniencing the teachers or the other students, and was moderately entertaining. If only I knew of something non-Religious-Right out there that had a similar self-directed setup, I’d buy it in a heartbeat, because I know that if my children share my gifts it’s going to be an uphill battle. 5th and 6th grades under PACE were tolerable, because I wasn’t being bored stiff; the entire rest of my school years were endless tedium and teasing, and I grew to hate school very quickly.

        * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piaget%27s_theory_of_cognitive_development#.28Pre.29Operatory_Thought (I was 3 at the time.)

      • Uly

        If Tyro is older than 27 or so, it’s pretty much impossible for him to have had formal accomodations. Asperger’s only entered the DSM in the early 90s.

      • Liz

        I had a very similar experience to The_L (ADHD and gifted) but I lived in an upper-middle-class suburban/urban town with a “great” school system. We even had a gifted program, but going to the library one hour a week to have a teacher tell you to solve a puzzle and do a project at home really didn’t help. I did the minimum needed to get by, since the work was too easy and useless to be worth putting effort into.

        The most effort I put into anything in high school was petitioning the guidance department to let me learn math on my own and take tests to prove I knew it. Or even to take math through a distance education program. They said no.

        Honestly, I think going to a “good” school made it worse because they couldn’t believe that the work wasn’t challenging or that anyone could find the educational quality lacking in general.

        I always wanted to be homeschooled… no idea if it would’ve worked.

      • Anat

        Not having an appropriate program sucks. I guess we are spoiled here, in my not-that-big suburban school district, with self-contained all day gifted programs, multiple self-contained special ed programs, a public alternative school and a public homeschooling support program. The kids from the gifted program end up one or two years ahead in math a year ahead in science and ready for honors classes in English and social studies.

  • http://www.foodalyst.com Ruby Leigh

    I was raised evangelical, but went to public school. Despite this, I was pretty socially awkward, and teased pretty much the whole way through. I only had small group of friends who really just felt obligated to be nice to me because we went to the same church. And because I was in advanced academically classes, unlike them, they were never there when I needed to pair off for classroom project. I was often left alone. I will say that when I got to college, things were better and perhaps in part to the harsh socializing teacher that was public school however I think my peers were just nicer and more mature. Libby Anne talks about going through a rough socializing period during the beginning college which sounds hard (honestly!).. but I’m not sure enduring that same thing throughout most of high school was necessarily superior.

  • BonnyieLB

    I’m another one who never benefited fom all those years of “socialization” in school. If anything, I learned a lot of coping behaviors that helped me survive at the time, but have made things worse long term. It’s great to stretch out of your comfort zone sometimes – but a shy introvert in school spends 7 hours a day for 12 years wishing desperately for a comfort zone.

  • http://www.kisarita.blogspot.com ki sarita

    I am naturally an introvert yet even an introverted child can often find a small circle of people she can relate to, if placed in a diverse and supportive environment. Sadly those environments don’t always exist.
    On an academic level, the best schools usually promote a childs creativity initiative and individuality. The more average schools attempt to herd the kids as a flock and keep order as best as possible. However religious based home schooling is not an improvement over this, because it seems that religious based homeschoolers often try to shoo their kids into a different sort of box.
    Also, not all parents are cut out to be teachers- not even of their own children. This is no condemnation- not everyone is good at everything. One must realistically analyze one’s own capabilities as well as the kid’s needs.
    I experienced much of the culture shock that Libby Anne describes, although I was not homeschooled- I belonged to an extremely sheltered community an went to a parochial school in that community- and a very mediocre one at that. My school experience was terrible. My socialization suffered due to being culture clashed, not to being home schooled. But homeschooling would not have been better for me because the problem was the sheltering itself.
    Basically what I’m saying is that this is generally a very individualized decision, but one thing I categorically do NOT suupport for ANYONE is deliberately trying to keep their kids away from general society.

  • http://www.kisarita.blogspot.com ki sarita

    I think homeschooling ideology is problematic in general because the point is not to meet the kids needs but to allow the parent to exercise their predetermined ideology.

    • Rilian

      Unschooling! Unschooling is about meeting the individual’s needs, instead of following a standard recipe.

    • Uly

      I think that this is a potential problem in ALL systems of education for children, but not an inherent problem in ANY of them.

    • Pauline

      Maybe you’re only familiar with a certain type of religious homeschooling? There is A homeschooling ideology that’s problematic in exactly the way you’re talking about, but there are any number of other reasons why parents would choose to teach their children at home. One of them is if, in their particular situation, they feel they can meet the kids’ actual needs better than the other school options available to them where they live.

    • JBH

      I am someone who, like Northstar, was not planning to homeschool but did so for a time because my child’s academic needs were not being met by her school. The whole point was to meet my child’s needs, and I pieced together a curriculum that did so until we found a school that was a good fit for her.

      While I agree that evangelical Christian homeschooling is about a predetermined ideology, that is only one type of homeschooling. In my rather secular area of the country, I only met one family homeschooling because of religion. Perhaps you could argue that some secular homeschooling families have predetermined educational ideologies, but so do schools. However, I met many homeschooling parents that spent a lot of time researching and figuring out creative ways to best meet their child’s needs.

  • http://itsbetterthanyours.blogspot.com AndersH

    Living in a country where home schooling is banned (Sweden), I agree with our tyrannical policy against it. The two reasons for this are, firstly, that although parents have great privilege over their children, I believe that children should first and foremost be seen as having certain rights as citizens of the state, one of which is the right to get a good, factual education; parents should have no rights to deny it to them. As such, I think all children should be required to go to educational institutions that are under strong supervision by the state (of course, that puts me somewhat at odds with the state of voucher schools in Sweden, where I think there is a massive failure to consider principal-agent issues, among other things). Of course, “good education” also means that we have to be willing to pay for it, including people with difficult allergies and learning disabilities.
    Secondly, I am against indidvidualising social issues – if we have a failing public school system, and people with the most capital have the option of either work to improve it or leave the system (either in favour of private schools or homeschooling), the latter option will almost always be easier for them, leaving those with the least capital (and thus the least ability to improve the system) in a school system in a downward spiral. If it’s not obvious, homeschooling is on the systemic level not that high on my list of priorities if I could run wild in the US school system.
    Of course, reading this post, it’s pretty obvious that Northstar and their daughters would suffer significantly if homeschooling was straight up banned without any other reforms to the school system, and obviousl we shouldn’t throw a bunch of students with special needs into schools who are not ready to take care of them, but in the end, my ideal school system would not include the possibility of homeschooling.

    • Paula G V aka Yukimi

      I agree with you. The problem is that, as you’ve hinted, it’s not that easy. For example in the US, there are veyr rural zones where people live very far ones fromt he others (even fairly isolated), some school disctricts are awful without any chance of more money getting into them (Swededn is so much better at that), etcetera … Although I would prefer that there was no need for homsechooling and my perfect system would be a bit like yours I kinda like how it is that part in my country where you can homeschool with a special legal exception and they ahve to evaluate your individual case and why it is necessary.

    • http://www.kisarita.blogspot.com ki sarita

      homeschooling parents should be required to have state evaluation of their academic program and medical exams to make sure their kids are ok, but if that is going well I think it would be a violation of personal freedoms for the state to insist that kids be sent to whatever institutions. Of course the US and Europe have different cultural traditions regarding personal freedoms.

      • Rilian

        Who gets to decide what every person of a certain age should know, and why?

      • http://itsbetterthanyours.blogspot.com AndersH

        The state, based on the decisions of elected representatives and government bureaucrats. In other words, the same way we decide everything that should be on a structural level. Note that this is a minimum requirement, anything apart from that that parents teach their kids is entirely up to them.

    • Rilian

      “I believe that children should first and foremost be seen as having certain rights as citizens of the state, one of which is the right to get a good, factual education;”

      But forcing kids to go to “school” isn’t about them having rights. The right to something is not the same thing as being forced to something.

      • http://itsbetterthanyours.blogspot.com AndersH

        Good education is a positive right that all children have. A system of compulsory education (most industrial states, including the US, has a system of compulsory education, though having an educated work force rather than children’s rights was probably the motivation for the start of the system) which puts an obligation on parents to send their children to school and in various ways puts pressure on the child to attend is in practice the least intrusive (which doesn’t mean it’s not intrusive) way of doing that in a way that assures that the education is good for all.

  • Mary

    I’m an american libertarian, so I’m generally on the side of as little government intervention as possible. I do think that there’s a balance between the our government’s responsibility to stay out of personal liberty and our responsibility as a society to protect our children. I do think that regular testing and basic health exams should be a part of legalized homeschooling, but I’m never going to be against homeschooling as a whole. My siblings and my experience with homeschooling (we were all homeschooled until college, which for us was up until 16-18, depending on the kid) was positive. We had speech/debate (with other homeschoolers) and sports, orchestra, music lessons, and science labs. (NOT necessarily with other homeschoolers) My parents started out with the idea of sheltering us from an ungodly culture, but because they also gave us a liberal education and plenty of contact with the outside world, it didn’t work all that well. =) I don’t think I would have done well in public school- where we are there are limited programs for gifted kids, and I think I would have been bored out of my mind. Homeschooling also gave me the option to finish high school at 16 and spend some time working on my piano skills and applying for music scholarships. Interestingly enough, I only plan to homeschool my kids while they’re little, though that may change as I see some of the same issues in them that I saw in myself.

  • Christine

    I have Aspergers, but I was diagnosed as an adult. I don’t think my school would have accommodated very well – they didn’t deal with the gifted programme that I was in, and that was through the school (one day a week). My mom tells me now that, based on how I was bullied in school at the time, that if homeschooling had been as common then as it is now that she would have taken me out of school. I know I suffered, but I’m glad that I did it then. I learned tricks for learning to judge if I was acting overly oddly (I have nothing wrong with being odd, but expecting other people not to react badly when I’m behaving in a completely unexpected & unpredictable way is a bit much). I learned other ways to relate to people. I learned a lot of things that would have been harder to learn as an adult, if I could have learned them at all.

    • Anat

      Christine, nowadays many school districts have programs for children on the autism spectrum. If a child has a formal diagnosis and based on that has an IEP (Individualized Education Program) the school district is required by law to make accommodations for the child’s disability. This can be done either in a mainstream classroom, in a specialized classroom or some combination where a child spends some defined part of the time in a mainstream classroom and some in other environments (a dedicated classroom, one-on-one with a specialist etc). Some kids have an aid accompanying them in a mainstream classroom. All depends on the individual case. The input of parents can be very useful to identify what aspect of a situation might be causing a problem as well as finding what kind of solution is likely to work. Maybe a child needs a reminder before a transition between activities, maybe there are situations where a child needs a more quiet environment. There are specialized curricula intended to teach children on the autism spectrum how to read facial expression, how to make a face that matches their emotions, how to express their emotions appropriately. Also programs to teach conversation skills and friendship skills.

      I’m not saying each and every school has all of these – sometimes a child might need to move to a different school in the same or even a nearby district that has services that suit that child’s needs. I know my district has various programs for children with ASD – depending on the severity and the main areas of disability (some kids need help with learning skills, others more with behavioral or social issues). OTOH I know of families that had a hard time finding a school that had the right services that suited their child’s needs and had to go to court to enforce their child’s IEP.

      • Rilian

        Why go to the trouble of all these crazy accommodations? Because oh noes we have to make this kid as “normal” as possible?
        BTW, my brother’s elementary school didn’t do anything to “help” him, unless you count sending him home practically every day for an entire school year until my mom finally just withdrew him.

      • Christine

        Rilian, I’m sorry that you don’t think that teaching me how to navigate the outside world is a worthwhile goal. Not all of us have the same abilities, and so to reach the same ends some of us require more assistance. Just leaving someone to their own devices is a lovely ideal, until the part where it results in someone who can barely leave the house. Had I not had as much help as I did, my daughter would be suffering even more. (I got diagnosed right around when we got married, so even if you belong to the “spectrum individuals shouldn’t have kids, for the good of society” school of thought, I get a by). School should not be one-size-fits-all. I understand that you believe in unschooling and homeschooling instead, but I don’t see why you want to prevent public schools (which some people will require no matter what) from offering the same level of individual attention to the students’ needs.

        My school board (I think this was province-wide, but I’m not positive) required that my school accommodate my IEP. This meant that they had to let me go to the withdrawal gifted programme (1 day a week), and that I wasn’t supposed to miss anything important. I didn’t take phys ed for three years because it was scheduled on the same day as gifted. I missed half of music. Etc. etc. etc. They didn’t care. (The best was the ski trip – they felt that spending a day on a bus and then learning yet another winter sport, specifically an expensive one, was important enough to discourage students from not going, and when we did a combined activity with the English class, the other grade 8 teacher actually asked “why weren’t you there?”, despite it being scheduled on a day that I was at a different school.) My husband has a severe learning disability and is gifted. The Special Education teacher ignored the specialist’s advice and tried to teach him to spell (“it’s bad enough that it’s not worth teaching him, there are accommodations for not being able to spell”), and didn’t put him in gifted. Just because someone has an IEP that the school is required to follow, it doesn’t mean that it will help. (Court only does so much good. It might have resulted in me being transferred to a school that did offer social skills training, but it wouldn’t have made a difference in my school not accommodating properly.)

      • The_L

        Rilian, the school is accommodating the student, not the other way around!

        Yes, different schools have reached varying levels of success at actually helping students with exceptionalities. My school did a horrible job with me as well, because they were focusing less on helping me reach my potential and more on “how can we make her fit in and be as non-disruptive as possible?” but that is a failing with MY individual school, not with special-education laws in general.

        You and your brother had a bad experience. I had a bad experience. That doesn’t mean that the idea of accommodating students with disabilities or other exceptionalities is a bad thing. Do you honestly think it’s better to be forever stuck on the outside, looking in, unable to have normal social interaction with people?

      • Rilian

        Christine: “you don’t think that teaching me how to navigate the outside world is a worthwhile goal”
        Hey, I didn’t say that! I do think it’s a worthwhile goal, if you want it.

      • Rilian

        The_L
        I don’t like it because the “accommodations” seem to ALWAYS be about trying to make the “weirdo” not seem so weird. Why did my high school have a room where they stuck all the physically/mentally disabled kids together so they could make things out of construction paper all day? Wouldn’t those kids have been better off at home or at a completely different kind of school or at a daycare? I don’t think the schools are concerned with helping the kids who have “special needs”, I think they’re just concerned with cramming everyone in somehow. Ugh, I don’t know how to explain this right. It’s like … like coercing someone into studying math just because YOU value math, even though the person would like to study music and could excel at it if you’d just let them. Most people seem to value graduating from a “normal” high school, so they try to make everyone do that, even if it’s really hard and not the right thing for them. And most people who say the normal thing isn’t the right thing for someone are implying that the person is stupid or something because they assume that the normal thing is the best thing. But I don’t think there’s one best thing. I hope this makes any kind of sense.

      • Rilian

        Christine

        “if you belong to the “spectrum individuals shouldn’t have kids, for the good of society” school of thought”

        HOW did I give the idea that I would think that? I don’t think individuals should be sacrificed to society. That’s why I have a problem with “mainstreaming”.

        “School should not be one-size-fits-all.”
        I agree.

        “I don’t see why you want to prevent public schools (which some people will require no matter what) from offering the same level of individual attention to the students’ needs.”

        No, what I want to prevent is people trying force “normalcy” on others.

      • Christine

        Sorry, I didn’t think you were saying that, I was heading it off in case you brought it up.

        Rilian, I don’t think you understand what “accommodation” means. It means that the individual’s strength’s and weaknesses are taken into consideration. A lack of accommodation would mean that I would be called rude for not making eye contact. You don’t get to redefine the words that other people are using and then pretend that we would understand you.

      • Anat

        Rilian, have you spoken to the kids in the special ed program? Their parents? How to you know they aren’t making tremendous progress, or the crafts you see them doing aren’t part of their therapy?

        The programs I know seek to teach kids skills that help them either transition to mainstream education or to post-school life. There’s a program for kids who need help with behavioral issues. The kids work with therapists on understanding their emotions and communicating in socially accepted ways. They also learn friendship skills – how to make friends and how to keep them, how to solve problems with peers – in addition to a full academic curriculum. There are 3 adults working with 6-9 kids, it’s an expensive program. Once kids make sufficient progress they start mainstreaming in one subject, then another, until they are mainstreamed full time. That’s just one program among several, each intended for different subsets of the population.

        This isn’t about forcing people to be neurotypical when they aren’t, this is about making it possible for non-neurotypical kids to function in a world that is geared towards neurotypicals, as indeed the world of higher education and the workplace is.

    • Noelle

      Christine, I’m glad to hear you are doing so well.

      Rilian, why wouldn’t I expect the school to accomodate my 8 year-old with ASD and ADHD? I am paying them for that service. That’s what’s my tax dollars are going for. And no, I don’t expect them to make him “normal”. Hell, I’m not so normal and I’m fine with that.

      I’m impressed that some people are able to homeschool their ASD kids. My husband and I are not trained to do this. His school offers him ST, OT, SW, Special Ed, a personal aide, and a regular mainstream classroom. I pay for his psychiatrist and medication, and that’s already very costly. I can’t imagine paying for and coordinating all the other services as well. And why should I, when I already pay for all these people who happen to be in a public school building in town? We are in touch with his teachers on a daily basis with a journal we send back and forth. We meet monthly to review his progress. He’s been sent home a handful of times this year when they couldn’t control him. He is learning, though it’s difficult to compare him with his same-age peers. Some subjects he does very well in, some not so much. We keep working at it. He’s made a lot of gains that I don’t think we could’ve done without the school system. He also needs to learn to live in the world without his parents at his side constantly. And the world needs to learn to live with him. Isolating him wouldn’t be beneficial for either side.

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

    I am one of those former homeschoolers who blogs about the socialization and indoctrination problems in homeschool. ( I still haven’t recovered from my missocialization.) I think homeschooling can be done right, however. There’s nothing like getting to study what you want — that is, if your parents are censoring your reading.

  • Betty

    Thank you for such an inspiring story Northstar! My hubby found Libby’s blog a few weeks ago and I was horrified by her story. I homeschool a bright, energetic and creative 6 year old daughter in South Africa, whom I want to give the best possible education. Both my hubby and I are atheists and have always been aware that our views and her upbringing without religion would make her an outsider. While we expose her to different religions and read her stories from a wide spectrum of religions, (plus she has a small, strong core of close friends who are Muslim and Christian) Libby’s story made me extremely anxious that by giving her a life experience so different from most children (minus church, minus traditional school and being an only child), we are setting her up for extreme psychological damage. I began to question whether or not it was the right choice to home school. Then I read Libby’s back story and a few other similar stories (plus some inspirational stories such as yours) and I felt better because we encourage our daughter to be open minded and to question everything. We have told her time and again that she can make up her own mind and choose to believe whatever she wants, so long as its her choice and not something that she is coerced into believing. (Plus we have told her that it’s her choice if she ever wants to go back to traditional school some time in the future.) We sent her to Montessori school for three years just before her third birthday, as I wasn’t confident enough that I could teach her to read and write. However, during her third year at a lovely, small Montessori school, she was psychologically bullied by two girls who were younger than her. Her teacher informed me that the problem was that our daughter isn’t at all pushy or “bitchy” and is very co-operative by nature, so other kids see it as a weakness and want to dominate her. So we took her out of school and started homeschooling earlier than we intended and it has been absolutely wonderful. It took just 6 weeks for her to learn to read (obviously building on her Montessori foundation) and after a year, is reading at Grade 3 level. She starts Grade 1 next week. My daughter used to be extremely shy and would take at least an hour to pluck up the courage to play with kids she didn’t know. Now that she is home alone with me every week morning, she uses every opportunity to strike up friendships with children she meets when we go out. Every Friday we have an outing day, where we go to museums, art galleries, science centres, parks, beaches, etc. As soon as she sees other kids, both older or younger, she immediately goes up to them, introduces herself and asks if she can play with them. She belongs to an ice-skating club and has private coaching lessons twice a week, as well as swimming lessons. The girl next door is the same age as my daughter and they play together most afternoons after school and sports, and she has regular play dates and sleep overs with her closest friends. So for us, socialisation isn’t such a big issue as mornings are for exploring and learning anything her heart desires without distractions, limits or pressure and afternoons and weekends are for exercising, socialising and more learning and exploring. However, there is still the concern that she isn’t being exposed to the insights, thoughts and experiences of other kids in a learning environment. Obviously, Libby’s story still resonates with us and we thank her for raising very important issues that every homeschooler should think deeply about. As our daughter grows and develops, Libby has given us much food for thought to keep tabs on how her untraditional upbringing will impact on her both emotionally and psychologically. Perhaps a future topic of conversation could be ways we can smooth our homeschooled kids’ transition to more mainstream and social interactions such as college and work?

    • http://Love,Joy,Feminisim Northstar

      Betty, you’re welcome! It was such an odd feeling seeing *my life* up on a forum, and people discussing it! You’re the first one who seemed to see I was sitting here behind the screen, biting my nails over all the responses… Yes, even though there are days I’ve wished wolves would just burst through the door and eat us all, and days where I should have been SO fired had anyone hired me for this life, overall homeschooling has been an incredible, irreplaceable experience and I am so incredibly grateful I was given the push into it. It has been an amazing journey. Talking with the kids about it today, they — comparing themselves to other teens they know — say they are probably more *themselves* than they would have been with a lot outside conditioning and pressure. (And they pointed out how the 8yo is happy to enjoy “boy” toys and activities, instead of being conditioned into “girly” ones. )

      You wrote: “she uses every opportunity to strike up friendships with children she meets when we go out. As soon as she sees other kids, both older or younger, she immediately goes up to them, introduces herself and asks if she can play with them.”

      That is my youngest to a “T”!

      I have a feeling that much of the trouble relating to the “outside” world has more to do with homescholers coming from an evangelical/fundamentalist background than from homeschooling. I was surprised once when a friend introduced me as a homeschooler – but not one of those “crazy fundamentalist homeschoolers.” I never thought about it that way before, but it’s true — fundamentalists live in a world so steeped with God that the rest of the world considers them, well, more than a little crazy. I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to transition from that upbringing.

  • Didaktylos

    Maybe I’m showing my ignorance here – but why must home-schooling v state=provided schooling be an an all-or-nothing proposition?

    • The_L

      Do you mean all-or-nothing for an individual child, or for society in general? Because I don’t see anyone arguing the latter, and the system isn’t exactly set up to allow for an individual student to have some class days at school and some at home.

      • Rosa

        a lot of students go back and forth semester by semester or year by year, though.

    • Rilian

      I think being allowed to go to a school or something like it sometimes for some subjects whenever you feel like it is a good idea. People have homeschooling organizations for that reason.
      And there was a boy at my high school who was homeschooled but came to the school for one period a day to take german. Because he decided that was how he wanted to learn german.


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