Homeschool Reflections: Correcting Deficiencies

A Guest Post by Rae

The local Christian school was too expensive, the nearest private school too far away, the public school too depraved, and the Catholic school too, well, Catholic. So when I was six years old and legally required to be enrolled in some kind of formal education, my parents decided to homeschool.

Up through about sixth grade or so, this was a good experience – my parents enrolled us in private music lessons and community swim lessons. We had plenty of friends through our church and our homeschool group, which largely overlapped at the time.

Junior high school was when my social life died: Very few of my grade-school friends continued to be homeschooled past this point, and by that time, those that did all went to different churches. There were few people in my neighborhood who were within two years of my age. I became entirely out of touch with pop culture and what “normal” life was like.

In high school, my academics started to suffer. It was all self-taught: English was reading lots of famous books, economics was reading a couple books on economics, language was a computer program, history was taught from an extreme right-wing dominionist perspective, I don’t even know what my parents claimed I did for civics, and health was a book from Bob Jones University that didn’t even have any information about the hormones causing my menstrual cycle but did contain several pages concerning how a young woman should choose the best hairstyle for her face shape and body type.

Fortunately, my parents both loved science: They had chosen the most rigorous math and “Christian” science cirricula they could find in several fields and I just burned through them so enthusiastically that I had a total of five or six years of science after three years of high school. I read anything else scientific I could find: I had read Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene by the time I graduated high school, and could explain the differences between Darwin’s and Lamarck’s theories of evolution even though my parents had taught me young-earth creationism.

Through all this, I obtained perfect scores in every kind of standardized test I took, save the SAT’s where I scored in the 700’s, so the public school district officials were perfectly satisfied with whatever my parents were doing.

After three years, I had legally finished all my required courses for graduation, and decided to try public school for the sake of taking AP classes. My parents didn’t object – I personally felt like they had run out of energy and resources to homeschool me for another year. I loved being able to use all sorts of art supplies that my parents could never have afforded, having Flash and Photoshop on the school computers, and doing science labs. I also began to have friends, who did things like take me trick-or-treating for the first time and loan me their Coldplay and U2 CD’s.

In college, the deficiencies in my education became clear: I had little concept of history, and my attempts at academic writing were appalling. I didn’t know much about history, had no idea what sociology even was, and my writing professor spent a lot of time helping me (successfully, in the end!) during office hours once she discovered that nobody had ever even told me what a thesis statement was before, much less given me any further direction in academic paper-writing.

I was also fortunate enough to meet some amazing friends during this time in college, and with their help I went from being horribly socially awkward to being perfectly able to pass myself off as “normal” – well, “normal” for a scientist. I was also lucky enough to be invited to anime club, and be introduced to a circle of people for whom “geek” was a badge of pride, not an insult.

Today, people ask in surprise, “You were homeschooled? I’d never have guessed!” Although my education was stellar as far as math and science (the fields that I’m currently in), it did take me several years to get over the social and academic setbacks that had occurred in high school and junior high school. The biggest thing that still follows me today is my lack of a high school diploma or even a GED; I’m still encountering difficulties applying for jobs because HR people have no idea what to do with someone with two college degrees but no evidence of ever having graduated high school.

After all of this? Through primary school, I think that homeschooling can be a good, perhaps in some circumstances even the best, choice for a child. But, I don’t think that there’s any substitute for a private or public high school, with teachers who have high levels of knowledge in their specific fields, and access to resources like art supplies, athletic equipment, computer software, science labs, and theaters that wouldn’t be feasible for most homeschoolers.

—————

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.

  • Christine

    I’m shocked that they care about you not having a diploma or GED. Generally all they care about is the evidence that you have the highest level of education that they’re asking for, and assume that the university made the appropriate admissions decision. My resume hasn’t included my high school for years, I dropped it in the middle of undergrad.

    • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com Basketcase

      When I was a new graduate from University, I applied for jobs in another city. Because they had never heard of my high school, I was completely looked down on. (Its a city where “where you went to school” is about the single most important thing, they are very parochial)…
      So, its not unheard of that employers want to know about that, even with a qualification.

  • RMM

    Yeah, my resume doesn’t have my high school on it either. But many online applications for jobs have required me to include that information, and me being able to provide it may have been why that wasn’t an issue.

    • Christine

      I’m going to go out on a limb then and guess that this crops up largely in jobs below your education level. I’ve only ever seen online applications for jobs where having a high school diploma or GED may well put you into the better-educated portion of the workers (if for no other reason than by being old enough to have one).

      • Rae

        You’re both actually right on that one – I have been applying to jobs below my educational level because the job market here is just so rough, and it comes up in every online application I’ve ever filled out, including the ones that are for my level.

  • Noelle

    I totally want a copy of that Bob Jones puberty book.

    I like this homeschooling series. Any ideas on how to reach families on these important what not to miss subjects? I’m guessing your parents figured they had their bases covered because you were doing so well in what they considered the big subjects of math and science to an AP level, that it never occurred to where to put in academic and research writing. That is not an intuitive skill. It’s not easy to teach oneself without critical outside feedback. It’s used in so many courses that I forget who taught me what exactly during my years in school. Mostly English class, but also history class and anything else where I needed to bang out 5-10 page reports. You know when you know algebra. You know when you know chemistry. You either have the correct answer or you don’t. You need well-trained someone else to give you writing feedback.

  • Rebecca

    Haha, my sex ed book was from Rod & Staff, a Mennonite publisher! My mother went over it with me when I was nine and it gravely warned against the evils of winking at boys…and I had literally just winked at a crush of mine a few weeks before during a church service. I felt like such a brazen little hussy!

    Seriously, though, I completely understand what you mean about having to make up for the deficiencies in education thanks to homeschooling parents…My formal education was over by the time I was fifteen besides whatever fit into the future my parents saw for me, like taking an herbology course and attending a midwifery seminar with my mother and sister. I loved the algebra I had done and begged my mother to allow me to take geometry but she kept saying I would never use it in my future as a wife and mother and besides she had hated geometry in high school and didn’t want to go through the work of checking it. I checked out books from the library on upper level math courses and books on teaching oneself Spanish to try to better myself but I didn’t get much from them. People today tell me that my parents must have done a pretty good job homeschooling me since I did so well on the ACT and got scholarships to a rigorously-academic college, but it was in spite of them. I also never wrote a term paper until I went to school and studied history and English. And I found out that I actually knew nothing about my major since I had been fed Christian revisionist stuff my whole life!

    • Rae

      Oh, yeah, my history was seriously revisionist, too! The “Sundays with the Christianists” series at Wonkette actually went on a 24-part review of a textbook I used one year, and I highly recommend heading over to their website and checking it out – just search the tags for “christian textbooks”

  • http://wideopenground.com Lana

    Interesting thoughts. I’ve thought of this too because of the gaps I had in my education. However, most gaps did not matter, and of all irony, the gaps were in my mother’s specialty. My mother is good at science and math, and my dad has degrees in economics and accounting. Yet I did not take geometry in HS, and I took very little science, all my choices (my sister a year younger than me studied all the maths and sciences, deep enough to CLEP out. Her choice). Both of my parents dislike English and grammar. Because of their distaste and lack of knowledge in it, I read almost no literature books in school, did little formal writing, but I have a honors degree in English. Of all irony, the fact that I didn’t have a teacher or any guidance in those things never mattered a day. This is because I had a natural gift at writing (and desire), and I was a voracious reader, so I could read anything. I was familiar with a thesis statement, however.

    I do wish I had gone a little farther in depth in science, and I wish I had studied a foreign language. I am bilingual today (reading, writing, and speaking), and I studied a third language in college. In the end, learning to think was more important than learning content. But I do feel for the lost years of teacher instruction, particularly science, that I could have gotten in a high school setting.

  • Rosa

    This really highlights the main weakness I see in the educations of homeschooled kids I know, from the highly successful tothe drastically undereducated: parents (like all teachers) tend to value and overemphasize their own strongest areas, and underteach their own weak spots. When kids share naturally share their parents strengths and weaknesses, the effect is even stronger.

    With varied teachers and curriculum planners, schooled students usually get a wide enough array of influences to mitigate that problem.

  • Kat

    “[H]ealth was a book from Bob Jones University that didn’t even have any information about the hormones causing my menstrual cycle but did contain several pages concerning how a young woman should choose the best hairstyle for her face shape and body type.”

    I realize this is not at all the point of the post, but WTF? This is “health”? Are you telling me I have been wasting money by paying both a doctor and a stylist, when in fact their fields overlap like this? Just… wow.

    As far as the actual point goes, I think your last paragraph hits the nail on the head. No matter how bright, well-educated, and dedicated parents are, they just don’t have the same resources that an actual school does. Granted, I see that as just one factor in the decision-making process, which could theoretically be outweighed by other concerns, but it’s something that I think always needs to be at least considered when making schooling decisions.

    • http://AztecQueen2000.blogspot.com AztecQueen2000

      Depends on the school. A middle-class, suburban high school with a course catalog that spans the length of a small magazine is certainly more qualified than 80-90% of parents resource-wise. A school where each grade is taught in a “block” and electives are unheard-of…not so much.

      • Anat

        Also, there are ways for homeschooling parents to gain access to such resources, if that is what they want for their children. My school district operates one of its buildings as a resource for homeschooled children – some 100 students in a district of ~8000 are registered there, almost all in grades K-6, but there’s a handful in later years. I don’t know if this arrangement requires any supervision of the homeschooling families

  • http://LyricalPolyphony.blogspot.com mary

    Also- parents can, at least in Texas, look up online what kids are supposed to know for each grade and make sure they do it. I think it’s pretty easy to do a balanced curriculum, particularly- and this is a kicker- if you’re preparing your kids to have a well rounded education and to be able to take their pick, boys and girls, of jobs/careers/colleges, instead of preparing them to be a homemaker or an entrepreneur, not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things. There is also standardized (voluntary, unfortunately) testing that can give you an idea of your kids’ strengths and weaknesses. I plan on doing this sort of testing with mine when they’re a little older- right now my oldest is six and in second grade workbooks, so we’re not worried for now, but I plan to have the kids evaluated later in elementary at the very least to make sure they’re on track. This is one thing that worries me about homeschooling- I want to make sure there aren’t gaps for my kids. I do a lot of research on what kids their age/grade should be doing, but I still worry. :)

  • Alice

    I was so far behind most of my peers in college. I had never written any papers before (much less an academic paper), a lot of the history I had learned in high school was dead wrong, I struggled with pre-algebra, and I probably had a 5th grade understanding of science. I managed to do well in most of my classes by working hard all the time, taking a few remedial classes, and going to tutoring for hours per week. I felt embarrassed, anxious, and stupid for being so far behind, even though I knew I shouldn’t compare myself to my peers.

    Then when the university awarded me for my academic achievements, my mother bragged on Facebook about how awesome and effective home-schooling is. *Headdesk* I wonder what percentage of “homeschool success stories” are similar to mine.

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