Homeschool Reflection: Learning Together

A Guest Post by Emily

My parents didn’t set out to homeschool. The fluke of my birthdate put me either the youngest or the oldest of my class, and after being the youngest in kindergarten my parents decided to homeschool for a year before first grade. That year went so well that they homeschooled for another, then another, reevaluating each year. My mom thoroughly enjoyed the experience and my dad supported it wholeheartedly, though was not often involved in hands-on teaching. I have one younger homeschooled sibling, but I’ll focus on my experience. In 4th grade I started doubting my academic competency due to lack of comparison. I spent a half a year in public school for 5th, and after discovering that I was, indeed, on track academically, begged to come home. We homeschooled through middle school and I entered public high school in 9th grade. I went to a private Christian university and a public university for a master’s and PhD. I’m midway through my PhD.

First, I want to point out some social-location factors that positively frame my homeschooling experience. The big ones include my family’s upper middle class economic status, my parents’ education, our family size (2 kids), large suburban location, and Christian faith. Had those variables been different I would be telling another story.

My mom homeschooled as a Christian but I missed out on the quiverfull/CP, Vision Forum, etc. My parents decided to avoid those circles. There is a family story of going to a homeschooling event where a couple of the other dads talked seriously to my dad (whom they had just met!) about the small size of his quiver. His snarky response was, “Actually, my quiver is full! It’s a two-arrow-holding quiver.” Early on, we used some Bob Jones and Abeka history, but that got ditched, especially as more homeschool resources were made available each year. I got my fair share of gender roles at church, but it wasn’t Christian Patriarchy as such.

I will start with what I see as strengths of my homeschooling experience. First, we were often not at home. We had season passes to the aquarium, the zoo, amusement parks (yep – when other kids were at school!), tickets to anything appropriate for kids at the city’s performing arts center, state parks, library programs, art, science, music camp. Plus, my dad’s work requires travel to cities around the country and we would all go along and tour each city’s historical and cultural landmarks during the day. My parents’ approach was “180 school days per year, distributed as necessary,” so we didn’t follow the public school calendar and continued through summer.

I thrived in self-directed, participatory learning. I’m reading Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed this week and I missed out on what he terms the banking model of education, where the student is an empty account into which the expert teacher makes deposits (till high school and college, at least). In contrast, my mom always talked about how we all learned together. I often participated in setting the agenda, and she provided the resources and helped guide the investigation. It was that way as far back as I remember. Clearly, there was stuff I just had to learn, like cursive and long division. Still, I had the freedom to say if a method wasn’t working and I wanted to try it a different way. I read like a girl possessed, mostly uninterrupted, completely uncensored. If it was at the library or Barnes and Noble, I had access to it. I was well-prepared for honors and AP classes in high school, the SAT, then the honors college, on the GRE, and now in a PhD. No academic regrets.

Socially, I largely avoided some challenges and my parents orchestrated good opportunities to form relationships. I got a very low dose of the girl-on-girl relational violence of adolescence. Given my social location, this was a real threat. Since I was relatively chill during the day I had lots of energy for after school activities. I participated in competitive soccer, Girl Scouts, a children’s chorus, church activities, and community theater. When I did enter public school in 9th grade, it was new and fresh. I didn’t develop senioritis and I wanted to get to know all kinds of people. I didn’t have as many labels to apply to others as my peers did. Also, with our homeschool peers, there was no age hierarchy for building friendships.

There were some things I had to compensate for later. In a word: algebra. Saxon Math was awesome for word problems, critical thinking, and the basics. Except later, I really needed someone to explain how to solve for X and my mom’s skill set didn’t extend there. Math in high school was a battle. That said I am now proficient in statistics, which I am constantly using in my PhD studies. I will never catch up from missing the peer-to-peer sexual education that happens during middle school. For example, I only know, like, four words for semen and I realize there are about a thousand in current use. I don’t consider this a deficiency. I know I miss some social queues.

Transitioning to a 2,300 student high school was a big adjustment. Here’s what was hard: asking permission to go to the bathroom and having requests denied, stopping in response to the bell, even if the algebra question on the board was left unanswered, the sheer noise of the lunchroom, hallways, etc., bomb threats and lockdowns (this was Columbine-era), learning how to respond to different teachers’ expectations and methods, academic competition, watching discrimination happen, being “made” to do stuff by authorities (like fundraise for a new football field house), and the amount of wasted time. I came home really tired each day. That said, I’m so glad I did it. I really enjoyed many of my teachers and the new subjects I took, as well as the friendships I developed. Playing soccer was fantastic, as was my involvement with the FFA.


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. 

HSLDA on those "Radically Atheistic" Public Schools
Homeschooling Parents Dismiss Alumni Voices Again
A Letter from Jesus and Living in Fear
The Latest Threat to Homeschooling---a Citizenship Test
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.

  • Gary in FL

    Emily, you present a happy and well-thought-out home-schooling experience. I’m very grateful to Libby for giving you this forum for posting. You exemplify something I have said for a long time: there’s a difference when homeschooling is a CHOICE and when it’s a CAUSE.

    We home schooled our eldest daughter for two years, and found the results similarly satisfying. My then wife used the freedom of homeschooling to take my daughter to Art museum and the zoo, which is again, similar to your experience. During that period, my daughter got to socialize with other home school kids, and there was a LOT of play dates set up, as well as group “field trips,” organized by the mothers. I didn’t participate in that aspect so much, but I did keep monitoring my child’s progress, and she was doing very well. She has excelled academically her entire life.

    Then came the day when we re-evaluated what our family needs were, and decided it would be be best to enroll her and her younger brother in the public school near us. While that decision worked out great for our kids (no difficult transition at all), you’d have thought we’d declared allegiance with Satan. The other families with which we’d grown friendly through the home school cooperative group now saw us as betrayers to the “cause.” How could we put our precious children in public school? Didn’t we realize the irreparable harm which might come to their faith by letting professional educators guide their educational development? Couldn’t we see the danger in having our children mix with children with non-Christian upbringings? Needless to say, those loyal home school parents soon wanted little to do with us.

    Which brings me back to my point, which is one I think your family’s experience validates: for some families home schooling is a CHOICE, and for others it’s a CAUSE. In our family it was always a choice, and while the choice was working for us, we were glad to go that route.

  • Staceyjw

    I love this series, and am always interested to read stories of HS families that aren’t fundamentalist. My kids are still very young, but I am already thinking though what we can do for them educationally. My DH is against HS 110%; the only example he has seen has been a family of 7 that we lived with, where they kids were far behind, and obviously getting a very substandard education. They also had no friends, were isolated, and never left the house. He looks back at school fondly, and doesn’t want to deny the kids the fun he had. I had a good time, but don’t like the prison like atmosphere of many schools (especially in poorer areas, where we are likely to live), always think of how school sucked the love of learning right out of me with it’s arbitrary set of rules and related nonsense, and of course the access to drugs and other dangerous stuff. Quality HS is attractive, even with it’s possible flaws.

    One thing always stands out to me when I read positive HS stories- these families usually (not always, but often) are privileged. From being able to have one parent at home, and having that parent well educated enough to be able to effectively teach, to having the extra funds to do things like museums, camps, extra curriculas, etc- all the enrichment activities that make HS a good choice. Sure, there are a few free days, and scholarships, but one cannot depend on freebies. If you are lacking in something as simple as transportation, you probably cannot afford the quality curriculum and extras either. When I see a story with 2 educated parents, and a middle to upperclass home, in nice, a safe area, I think their educational success had little to do with which route they took. The kid would likely have done well in the local schools as well. Could a family like this do it wrong? Of course, but it’s also so much easier to get quality education with money and educated people there to help. When you don’t have these privileges, looking at educational options is, quite frankly, depressing. The kids that would benefit most from one on one education are the ones least likely to get it in quality form.

    One other thing I always wonder about, is whether choosing HS in order to avoid some of the perils of the teen years works. I haven’t heard HS stories about druggie kids that drink and party, but I am unsure if this is because the stories are self selected, if its because its just very rare among those that would choose HS, or whether HS itself influences the chances of kids using alcohol/drugs/sex. I would love to know if/how HS effects these choices, and the opportunities for kids to get into bad habits. I know not every kid does drugs or has sex (most do not), but since both me and DH did quite a bit of both, I have no desire for my kids to do the same, as they could be predisposed to abusing them. I would be willing to trade some social awkwardness for a few more years without the pressures of these things, as a college age person has more ability to think such choices though than a teen does. I know how permanent these choices can become, how much damage they can do long term, so I would do just about anything to lessen the exposure/availability while my kids are young. Isolation from other teens, and supervision have plenty of negatives, but there are also positives. I am curious about the balance.

    • M

      I can only speak of second-hand knowledge, since I was never homeschooled. I met some homeschooled students in college, several of whom are still friends. Some were homeschooled for religious reasons, some for academic reasons.

      They were awkward. They couldn’t socialize very well. We had the Collegium V lounge (honors lounge) where a bunch of us made it our mission to gently socialize the homeschooled kids and Aspies. It was a safe place where you could ask about any aspect of culture or social interaction and people would answer nonjudgmentally and as fully as they could, because even those of us from public school were still the nerdy ones. Even with that help, some people couldn’t handle the transition. Some of them went wild with freedom and wound up drinking too much and/or completely mishandling their time and failed out of school. On the other hand, some of them did very well and adjusted to college with few more hiccups than anyone else. It depends on the person, the specific situation, the support network, and a lot of other factors.

      Overall I think homeschooling was negative for the people I’ve met. The CV lounge is fairly unique, and even with that buffer the homeschooled students suffered a lot for no good reason.

      • Karleanne

        I had a very similar homeschooling experience to Emily’s–upper-middle class family, large city setting, parents who were deeply committed to education and learning together, very high levels of academic achievement (probably the most significant difference is that I went to a private Christian high school, instead of public, and then continued on to a large state university).

        Whenever I hear this whole “I wasn’t homeschooled, but I know homeschooled kids, and they turned out super awkward” thing, I wonder if it’s mostly bias guiding that perception. Are there super awkward homeschooled kids? For sure. I know lots of them. But when I went to high school and university, I found out that there are a lot of awkward private schooled kids and a lot of awkward public schooled kids, too. But because we don’t have a widespread social narrative questioning the social fitness of school kids, we treat those awkward kids as individuals. We don’t necessarily treat them nicely, but we don’t assume that awkwardness results solely from their method of schooling. With homeschooled kids, on the other hand, it’s easy to just chalk it up to their lack of “socialization” (whatever that really means) and be done with it, instead of looking at what specific mix of personality and environment produced less-than-desirable social skills.

        Interestingly, I saw a bit of a parallel within the homeschool/private school communities I experienced in the suspicion felt toward public school. Whenever we interacted with misbehaving children or underachieving students, it was all normal until we found out that kid had gone to public school. After that, the kid turned into an illustration of the dangers of the public school system–never mind that a homeschool/private school kid might have acted in the exact same way or experienced the exact same learning problems.

        Clarification: I’m not trying to accuse you of actively perpetuating a bias or anything. I’m just musing on the role preconceived notions play in the way people process anecdotal evidence about homeschooled kids.

  • Staceyjw

    Sorry for the wall of text! I should have used more paragraph breaks.