Homeschool Reflection: Watching My Friends

A Guest Post by Christine

My homeschool experience is all at one remove. Several friends were homeschooled, as were some of the girls I worked with in Girl Guides. I have nothing against the idea in general, especially not for the younger grades. I know a lot of people who thrived academically through being homeschooled. I have two worries in general: academically I’m not sure that it’s good for special cases, and the socialization aspect will often be an issue.

I had a couple of girls in my Guide company who were homeschooled. They could barely read and write, in the 5th and 6th grade. I believe that their mother was a qualified teacher, and I think she pulled them from the school system when they were struggling, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they were better off. There’s a reason that special education classes are taught by specially trained teachers, and when a 12-year-old can barely read it doesn’t instill confidence in me in homeschooling, even if there are extenuating circumstances. (For comparison: my husband has a severe learning disability, by the time he started undergrad he was at about a grade 4 writing level, and he was more literate than these girls at their age).

Even something as simple as a child having a different way of understanding can cause problems. A friend who’s several years younger than I am was struggling with her high school math. When I sat down with her and gave her some counters to demonstrate the problem she picked it up immediately. My friend’s sister had learned the concept from their mother, but while the mother understood the concept, her lack of pedagogical training (and of higher math education) put her at a disadvantage when my friend was struggling at all.

This friend who was homeschooled through highschool went to college. She’s doing ok, and there are definitely reasons beyond being homeschooled for her problems, but she honestly doesn’t know what the real world is like. She’s used to everyone having a similar background to her. She has had the classic “wait, you mean there are people who don’t realize that evolution has been disproved?” shock. She, as an adult, was dismayed at discovering how annoying group projects can be (the one person who doesn’t get it/doesn’t do their share of the work/tries to take over/etc).

An even worse case: my husband was on the committee in charge of Sunday School at his church. One family had been homeschooling their children, and wanted to volunteer, which is great, but their reason for doing so: this way, if the church rearranged the age groups, the kids wouldn’t have to spend time apart from each other/apart from their parents, because they had never done so. Again, not something that’s entirely caused by homeschooling, but homeschooling really doesn’t help.

Even friends who are well-adjusted have said that it was a big shock for them – and this friend had parents who were obviously trying to minimize it, as half the reason they sent him to public school for high school was to socialize with his peers.


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. 

Homeschooling Parents Dismiss Alumni Voices Again
The Latest Threat to Homeschooling---a Citizenship Test
More Blatant Hypocrisy from Chris Jeub
A Letter from Jesus and Living in Fear
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.

  • Rod

    I am astonished that in 2013 a person actually thinks that evolution has been disproved. I can see their not believing evolution, but where does this disproving come from?

    • Steve

      If your told lies from early childhood on and culturally isolated you will believe anything.

    • yewnique

      I met someone who had never met a Christian who didn’t ‘believe’ in young-Earth Creationism and accepted Evolution. He was genuinely astonished and shocked. He wasn’t homeschooled (and probably thought it a bad idea), but he had been thoroughly indoctrinated nonetheless.

    • Christine

      I’ve met non-homeschooled people who honestly think that the weight of the evidence is against evolution too. We were talking with them, and she was upset (and probably horrified that we were all heretics) that we weren’t YECs, and explained that we were assuming this was a faith thing with her, but she believed in YEC for scientific reasons. Apparently they’ve never managed to go from single- to multi-celled life in the lab, there’s still missing links, and there is micro evolution, which exists while “macro evolution” doesn’t.

      I really do feel sorry for the professors of the friend I mentioned in the post though. Not only does she believe this, and her social skills are such that she will challenge them in class, but she’s a handful to begin with. Her need for a service dog is legit, and I can understand that her problems (and the fact that they limit her) make her cranky. But I think that the overly confrontational attitude (she actually challenged a professor in class because he was teaching evolution like it was a fact) wasn’t helped by homeschooling. And the fastest way to make someone resent the accommodations you need is to get confrontational about them. Not that it’s never ok to be confrontational about it, but it’s not a good first reaction.

  • Christine

    I’ve been thinking about homeschooling since I sent this in to Libby Anne (largely because of her other guest posts, as well as some of the blog posts she’s linked). I’m beginning to think it’s like doing all your post-secondary education in one place. At first I was just thinking in terms of “well, it’s not ideal, but sometimes there are good reasons, and it’s not a the end of the world”. But the analogy is actually a fairly detailed one. In both cases one of the big problems lies in not getting exposed to others ways of doing things or other ways of thinking. There are, in both cases, the potential for abuse of the system, for credentials to be granted in appropriately. And the longer you do it the more of a problem it is. Going on exchange in undergrad is considered a bonus – it’s above & beyond. It’s not really a problem (although not really a good thing) to do a master’s degree where you did undergrad. And even getting a PhD at the same institution can be mitigated not just by “well they’re the only group with the equipment to study this” or some other extenuating circumstance, but also by involving others from outside your institution (on your thesis committee for example).

    Disclaimer: my husband and I with (hopefully) 5 degrees between us have attended a grand total of 1 university. There are various reasons for this. So, as you can see, I’m often fairly sympathetic towards homeschooling, I’m just really skeptical about if it is/can be done well in a lot of cases.

  • AnyBeth

    I once had a boyfriend (D) who was homeschooled. The family was religious, but they weren’t homeschooled for religious reasons (though I can’t speak as to the curriculum). The three siblings were pulled from school shortly after the parents were informed (rudely, he was told) about the youngest’s developmental disabilities and the school system’s services (he’d have to go to a different school, as the district didn’t have appropriate services at every elementary). The parents pulled their kids from public school because they were offended. And kept them homeschooled even when they moved to another district.

    I know the eldest got more academically. Didn’t deal well in any but the most homogenous groups, though. D was ok socially, but horribly deficient academically. (He thought himself stupid, but I suspect he didn’t have much of a chance to learn well. His “homeschooling” mainly consisted of going through textbooks himself and then doing the same workbooks or computer quizzes his sister had done the year before–and she was more than happy to “help him out” whenever he had trouble.) Both of them had trouble when they went to college. No idea how to schedule, take notes, study, etc.

    “Homeschooling” the youngest, the one with developmental delays, really bothered me (and I wasn’t disabled then). As far as I could tell, he got no services and very little explicit education. At 13, he might could read a little. His motor skills seemed average then. He could play the heck out of Lemmings (which isn’t easy).
    But he knew precious little social skills or ways to take care of himself because he was allowed precious little independence. I mean, when they were out at a restaurant, he wanted to order for himself and cut his own food (with a butter knife, btw). He wasn’t allowed to do either, though he was quite capable of both. I’d bet that with appropriate services, the kid could’ve grown up to hold a job, likely even have his own residence (given help with certain tasks, like dealing with bills). He was a LOT brighter and more capable than he was given credit for… but his parents unwittingly chose to keep him from growing into a more self-sufficient young man.

    It bothers me that this state has no way to prevent parents from taking their kids out of school and instead, say, locking them in the attic. I mean, these parents didn’t literally lock up the child with disabilities, but he wasn’t permitted services, wasn’t allowed out as much, and was prevented from gaining independence–a state intended to last all his life. (The family had an understanding that he’d live with the parents until they died, at which point he’d live with one of his siblings, who’d take care of him.)

    The lack of regulation this state has on homeschooling scares me. Afaik, the difference between a homeschooled child and one chronically truant is whether a parent has signed a piece of paper. So you get some “homeschooled” children (like D’s brother) who aren’t really taught anything at all. And currently there’s nothing whatsoever the state can do about it. That really bothers me.

  • http://Love,Joy,Feminism Northstar

    It’s a point I’ve made before, but it’s a point worth making again: sending a child to traditional school is no guarantee of an adequate education. In my (considered) good, suburban school system the test results just came out: by their own measure, 16%, not a typo, of the kids are tested as “proficient” in the basic science ideas at their grade level. They do have a little better than 50-50 chance of knowing how to read proficiently… and these results by the schools’ own measure, and trumpeted in the headlines as “improving!” (Until one reads the appalling actual results. ) Are homeschoolers — even evangelicals — going to do that much worse? And is this the system of the vaunted “State” I should leave in charge of my children’s education?

    Just as a contrast, and as a brag: my 16yo HOMESCHOOLED by this completely UNQUALIFIED PARENT just scored a 790 on her SAT II Bio exam… (out of a possible 800). The chem and literature tests likewise had excellent scores…

    I once read an interesting study… there was public concern about allowing people to homeschool as it apparently facilitates the concealment of abuse. The study found that if every homeschool child was caused to attend school, the death rate would actually be *higher* than the death rate caused by abuse — because of the statistical frequency of fatal accidents on the way to school! The upshot being, at some point the State has to trust the integrity of parents to want, in the vast majority of cases, the very best for their children, while knowing full well that this understanding fails in some cases, both home- and traditionally-schooled.