Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Homeschoolers All Grown Up - Part IV


I am curious about what it was like to be homeschooled....so I decided to interview a bunch of former homeschoolers.   You can read the full introduction here.  Here is Part I, Part II, Part III.


Disclaimer:  This was not an unbiased interview process or anything.  There was selection bias in the people who I interviewed.  I asked around on a couple of Facebook groups to which I belong and on my personal Facebook page.   Most of the groups I belong to and most of my friends involve fellow Catholics/Christians and other people with similar values as myself.   I'm sure if I had asked on the  Angry Athiests Who Are The Former Homeschooled Children of Fundamentalist Christians, I might have gotten different answers.  But, I don't belong to that group. 

So, here are the fourth sets of answers with their made-up anonymous names.  All names have been changed to protect the privacy of those who responded.  To all my participants:  I apologize in in advance if your anonymous name is one you've always hated

Second Note:  These responses are unedited (other than for formatting).  I have left any grammar/punctation errors and original sentence structure intact.  I thought that was important, as it gives an idea of how well former homeschoolers write. (Spoiler: Most of them write very well.

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 *****Gretchen

1.       1. I was homeschooled from grades 6 through 11.  I returned to public high school for my last year so that I could graduate with a diploma, not a GED (this seemed like a lesser option to me, though friends went this route and had no trouble), have access to a full science lab, and have a different math teacher as I was struggling in this area and my parents weren’t able to help me. (This was 1995-99 so homeschool co-ops and programs for homeschooling families to attend high school part time were not yet common in our area.)
2.        
3.       2. My parents had two main motivations for homeschooling us which they did tell us when they made the decision to pull us from public school.  The first was the introduction of a sex education program in grade 6 which had been going on for a while, but which they were told about when my older brother got to that age.  They felt that this program was too detailed for the age group, took the information out of the context of family life, and focused too much on STDs rather than waiting till marriage.  Also, they just wanted to teach this stuff themselves and through our church’s very good youth group program. 

The second reason was that my dad, a former English teacher, was disgusted with our grammar and writing skills.  He was surprised that we were not being taught to diagram sentences and couldn’t spell very well.  Our public school district was supposed to be very good, yet these omissions made my parents look more closely at our school books and question what other weaknesses there might be. 

Finally, several families from church that we knew well had been homeschooling for a few years and liked it.
4.        
5.   3. I loved being homeschooled! I started when I was in 6th grade.  My older brother was in 7th, and our youngest brother was in 2nd.  I think having those years at home together made us better friends as we spent so much time together. 

We learned so much, my school books were actually interesting to read, and best of all, we were done with school almost every day by 1 or 2pm.  We knew that if we wasted time and slacked off, we would be working later into the day.  We lived around the block from one of the families who had first talked to my parents about homeschooling, so we were always trying to work more quickly to get over to their house. 

We could play the imaginative games we all loved but which would be made fun of in “normal” school, and we could go on fun field trips where we actually got to do everything because we were in a group of only 15 or 20 kids.

At this time also our mom went back to work part time.  She still was mainly responsible for the day-to-day of our schooling so with a more flexible schedule we saw more of her.  She is a great lover of nature, so she took every opportunity to get us outside, often with our school books. 

Lastly, and most importantly for me, homeschooling gave me the chance to read and read and read.  I read my school books like novels and I read so many novels!  I felt like I had time to think about what I was learning, to ask my dad questions, and then think some more about his answers.
6.        
7.   4. I was a shy child, so for me the daily interactions with the two other homeschool families near us, and the weekly and monthly gatherings with the larger homeschool group were just enough.  I had three very close and good friends and a large group of boys and girls of all ages that I was used to playing with in group games. 

      My parents put all three of us in sports – I took figure skating – both for exercise and to be in a group of different kinds of people.  I also tried basketball one winter but strongly disliked the team sports full of rules and a hierarchy I couldn’t understand and no one explained.  I loved playing football and other games with our huge homeschooling group at weekly meetings, but these were much less formal than the team.

I    In high school, I joined the youth group at church and there I really blossomed.  The families who participated were all like-minded in terms of values and how they wanted to raise their kids.  The parents talked and knew each other well.  The woman who ran the group was truly gifted not only in teaching and communicating the faith, but also in understanding people.  It was and is a unique program in the world of youth ministry.I can see now that my parents actively encouraged my friendships by befriending the parents and the whole family.  Also, they talked to me often about my friends and were interested in my activities with my friends.  I was not left to figure things out on my own, or to get stuck in situations where I would be unhappy and teased, as might have happened in school.  If a hard thing did come up (like the little jealousies than do happen with a group of friends), mom helped me work through them. 

(I    I should tell you that my youngest brother was not so happy with the social situation.  He says that being at home all the time made him “weirder than even school-weird” and that he didn’t know how to talk to people, especially girls.  I think this is partly because, as the youngest by 4 years, he didn’t have the advantage of us older siblings doing things right alongside him.  Also, there were not so many kids his age in our homeschool group, just the way the families fell out.  And, my parents were older and maybe didn’t pay as close attention to him as they had done to us. )
8.     
    5.  Overall, I think my education prepared me very well for college and for life after.  My parents both directly shaped my thinking about the world, not just in morals but even how I think about our country’s history.  For example, I don’t think our schools today are turning out kids that love their country, but patriotism was taught in our house, starting with the good things we have done that are worth emulating. There was also a love of learning and excitement about mastering new areas of study that are still with me today that was fostered through both the content and the method of schooling. 

      There are weak spots, though.  My parents were both good at math and science themselves, but they were not such good teachers of these subjects.  I think these are two subjects that are changing so much, especially in science, that they just didn’t have the knowledge to share with me.  They did try to get me extra help with especially in science, but it didn’t really all click until I went to public high school.  Actually, I also took a math class at the community college the summer of my sophomore year of college and had a really excellent teacher who made 13 years of schooling fall in to place.  And even though I had a good teacher for chemistry in high school, I still feel like 3 years of lazily reading a science book at home just was not enough, so I feel a weakness in this area even today.

     The other area of weakness was writing.  So much of how we did school was through talking about a subject rather than writing it down.  However, I read so much and such good quality things that I had very good models of writing.  Again, in that one year of public school I had an excellent writing teacher who helped me put into practice the things I had been learning about writing and taught me the basics of writing from an outline.  In college, I got a lot more practice.  To this day, I feel like it takes me a lot longer than it should to put my thoughts on paper.  If I can, I revise many times before sending even a friendly email. We used Our Lady of the Rosary curriculum with some supplementation from Seton books.  It’s not a curriculum that is much used anymore, but we liked the old Catholic school text books, especially the history and literature series. All in all, I think my education suited my personality very well, and that is the conclusion I keep coming back to whenever homeschooling is a question for people.  Sure, it can help create a very good family culture, and safeguard your kids from bad teaching and bad influences while they are young and impressionable, but if it isn’t suited to what your child needs, then it will do more harm than good.  I needed lots of quiet, lots of time to process ideas, people to give me one on one attention and listen to my ideas and I got that with my brothers and my parents around me.  I had friends that tried it for 2 years and hated it. 
9.     

         I went to a small Catholic liberal arts college where I studied Literature and Latin, among other things.  After that, which was a very happy time for me and where I excelled in learning, I went to a public college and in another 2 years got a teaching degree.  I then taught middle school literature in Catholic school for 9 years. Now I am a stay at home mom to an infant and help my husband in his family business. I do a lot of the writing for advertizing and answering of emails.  I also take on part time writing jobs when they come up.  In all of this, I think the greatest advantage of my homeschool background is still that innate love for learning and delight in doing something well. 

      If there is a weakness from that background, it comes more from who my parents are; totally unworldly people who still go down to the public library to “use the email” once a week. I had to learn a lot about technology, money, getting through public college, job hunting and other life skills on my own and from friends.  I don’t know if a different schooling would have helped with this, but I suspect I wouldn’t have had to spend 6.5 years to get my teaching degree if I’d had a good high school counselor.  

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*****Katie

So I had a pretty unusual homeschooling experience, which is why I wanted to take part in your survey. There are good/right and bad/wrong ways to homeschool. I know people who had wonderful homeschooling experiences and turned out to be very “normal,” well-adjusted, productive people, and I’ve read all the same news stories about hillbillies in the mountains who homeschool their kids as a way to hide abuse and neglect. I think either homeschool, private school, or public school can turn people out for better or for worse. I also think that people can overcome bad education experiences and become great parents themselves. I think it’s important that both good and bad experiences are included in discussions to demonstrate the importance of putting the child’s needs first in education decisions.

1. How long were you homeschooled and what ages/grades? 
I was homeschooled for three years - 6th, 7th, and 8th grades (I was 11, 12, and 13). I have one younger sister and my mom decided to homeschool us both.

2. What was your parents’ primary motivation for homeschooling (if known)?
We moved when I was in the 3rd grade and I never really settled into the new school. My grades deteriorated until 5th grade, when I actually started failing subjects. My 5th grade teacher was the straw the broke the camel’s back: my dream was to be a writer, but he told me I was stupid and could never be a writer. My mom was also disgruntled over a number of his poor teaching strategies and thought she could do a better job.

3. How do you overall feel about your homeschool experience? and
4. How do you feel about the social experiences you had as a homeschooler? Do you feel that you had enough friends, or enough opportunities for friendship?
The first year, it was awesome. My mom quit her job and threw herself into teaching us. She researched curriculum, sat at the dinner table with us and helped us when we needed it, signed us up for art and dance classes at local studios, took us to homeschooler playdates, and took us on field trips. We had lots of opportunities to make friends and plenty of social interaction. But then my mom decided she wanted to go back to work and still homeschool us.

The second two years, it was awful. My mom worked days and my dad worked nights. Every morning, she would go to work and my dad would be sleeping. He would get up in the late afternoon, do some work around the house or yard, make an early dinner, then go to work. My sister and I would be home alone for a few hours until my mom got home. She’d heat up dinner, we’d eat together, then she’d plop down in front of the tv and watch the news until it was time for us to go to bed.

About once a month, my mom would make daily school schedules for my sister and I to follow during the day while she was at work and my dad was sleeping, but no one ever followed up with us. She never checked our work, asked us how the day went, or even graded our tests. I personally did not do any school work. At all. Most days I never even touched my school books. I spent the entire day in my room, reading novels, writing stories, and day dreaming. One time when my mom was making up a schedule, she asked me to bring her one of my school books so she could see how many more chapters I had left. It turns out that I had actually been scheduled to finish the book a few weeks ago and she was assigning me chapters that didn’t exist. Even though she caught me red-handed lying and not doing work, she did not check a single other assignment. We had to stop going to art and dance classes, playdates and field trips, so my sister and I lost all our friends and had virtually no social interaction for two straight years. We didn’t even play with each other. I was deeply depressed and hated my life.

The summer after 8th grade, my mom announced that we could go back to public school. I am not sure why she decided to send us back to public school, but I am very glad she did.

5.  How do you feel about your education?  Do you feel you received an average, above average or below average education compared to same-aged peers in your community? It was a terrible education, significantly below average. I really did not even go to school for 7th or 8th grades. It was like I went from 6th to 9th, so you can imagine that transitioning back to public school was pretty difficult. I struggled in math and science and I had no idea how to interact with my peers.

But my English skills were significantly above average. I am still shocked at how advanced my reading/grammar/comprehension skills were after a curriculum of just reading books from the library. All freshman had to take an evaluation test in 9th grade English and my results said that I was reading twice as fast as the average person and at a 12th grade reading level. I actually ended up skipping a grade in high school and took college English classes during my senior year of high school. Eventually I did catch up in all subjects except math, which I continued to struggle with throughout my education.

6.  What did you do after graduation?  College? Work? How prepared did you feel for “the next step?”
After high school, I went to college and earned my Bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University in three years (yay, college credits in high school!) and with honor. I majored in English. I don’t think I’m a very smart person (I’d rate myself as having average intelligence), but I do think I’m a hard worker with an above average work ethic. My social skills also never really caught up, so it was easy for me to spend weekends in my dorm room making flashcards and studying notes.

I really struggled for a long time with crediting my homeschooling as causing anything positive, but now I do realize how much my hatred of it motivated me to push myself in high school, college, and real life. And I also recognize that it allowed me to read - literally - all the time, which gave me a huge boost in my English classes. It’s hard to say how much would have been different if I had never been homeschooled (after all, I liked to read before middle school), and I would never say the experience I had being homeschooled was worth either of those results, but either way, I can only work with what actually happened.

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*****Heather

1. How long were you homeschooled  and what ages/grades?  

I believe I officially started when I was five or so; because I had a sister 22 months older than me, I would hang out while she learned and learn things before my time. I graduated from twelfth grade when I was 18.

2. What was your parents’ primary motivation for homeschooling (if known)?

My parents desired to give their children a firm foundation in the faith, as well as a good education, and saw homeschooling as the best method for their family of doing so.

3. How do you overall feel about your homeschool experience?

I never regretted being homeschooled, and I don't expect I ever shall. I feel grateful to my parents. That said, I don't think I had the "perfect" educational experience (who does?)

4. How do you feel about the social experiences you had as a homeschooler?  Do you feel that you had enough friends, or enough opportunities for friendship?

I had ten siblings, and they, and the folks at our little church plant, were my "social experiences". Six years after graduation, my siblings are still my best friends, and while I recognize the many deficiencies in my social life growing up, I also recognize that for my personality, being what many people would consider "under socialized" was far more conducive to being healthy and unstressed than being over socialized. One great benefit that I am enormously grateful for is being able to converse easily with any and every age group, newborn to deathbed. I think that is something that children with peer-based friend groups often miss out on.

5.  How do you feel about your education?  Do you feel you received an average, above average or below average education compared to same-aged peers in your community? 

I feel like I received anywhere from average to slightly above average education, partly due to my own initiative and love of learning. I feel that if, in the older grades, I had at least had discussion groups for many of my subjects (we were mainly self taught for the upper grades), the knowledge would've stuck with me longer.

6.  What did you do after graduation?  College? Work? How prepared did you feel for “the next step?”

After graduation, I divided my time between living with my parents and helping educate my younger siblings and run the household, and volunteering as a nanny for 1-3 month blocks of time for family members. While I was well prepared for the work involved in all this, I was not necessarily well prepared for the changes relationships go through as self-differentiation occurs. Thanks to the help of some older siblings who gave me the space and respect I craved, I became "my own person" in time, and was able to successfully able to live with my parents as such, despite an overly patriarchal environment. I would say that educationally, I was well prepared for life as it develops outside the classroom; spiritually, I was adequately prepared (I think it was far above average, however, at least for the niche in Protestantism I was raised in); and emotionally, I was poorly prepared

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*******Cristina

1. How long were you homeschooled for and what ages/grades?

After 9th grade, my parents and I planned that I would homeschool for grades 10-12. This soon turned into a combination of deschooling and attending a few college courses at the nearby state school as a non-matriculated student (age 15). The next year (age 16), I applied for full-time status and was accepted starting in the spring semester.

2. What was your parents’ primary motivation for homeschooling (if known)?

Age-based school was a bad fit for me. I'm part of a longitudinal study of people with ratio IQs over 160. This developmental difference just cannot be accommodated in school, educationally or socially, without extreme adjustments. I attended a selective private school for students with IQs above 115 or so, and each grade had three ability groups. This may seem like "adjustments," but it's not nearly enough for this developmental difference.

My parents grew up in a time when acceleration was routine. They each started school a year early. Today they say that they didn't really understand until very recently how much this had helped them, how much they'd have suffered both academically and socially without it, and how many of their classmates had also been accelerated.

When I was a child, my parents' unthinking acceptance--characteristic of their war-baby generation--that of course everyone has to (a) go to school and (b) do exactly what the school people decide is best...caused increasingly severe difficulties at home. What Stephanie Tolan wrote (http://www.stephanietolan.com/open_letter.htm) about two other such children could equally apply to me:

"By the spring [of first grade] RJ was no longer a warm, outgoing, happy child. He had become grumpy, difficult, argumentative and prone to temper tantrums. Our interactions at home became more and more negative until we were fighting almost all the time.... When school was over at the end of the first grade year, it was as if someone had pushed a magic button. The RJ we knew was suddenly back! Gone were the grumps, the temper tantrums, the constant conflict. We finally understood that the culprit was school--educationally, socially, in every way....

"[Jason's second grade] teacher didn’t allow him to read when he finished his work, and tried hard to 'help' him fit in with the other children.... At home he clearly showed his rage at his parents for continuing to send him off to what he considered torture five days a week.... It can be said fairly accurately that only twice-a-week therapy got Jason through the second grade without serious and possibly permanent damage."

By the time I was about 12, I felt the problem was my parents, one of them felt the problem was me, and the other was torn between us--a la /My Name is Asher Lev/ ;) (anyone who's read that book will remember the title character's "Brooklyn Crucifixion" painting depicting such a torn parent).

So in 7th and 8th grades I researched and chose a boarding high school to get away from that environment. My year as a 9th grader there taught me that while personality conflict was indeed part of the problem, the root of the problem was a disastrously poor fit at school. In addition, another student there happened to lend me /The Teenage Liberation Handbook/ by Grace Llewellyn--a John Holt-inspired book that tried to convince teenagers to unschool. I did not actually read all of it ;) but, again, I'd learned from experience that for me, the problem was school. I came home wanting to homeschool.

3. How do you overall feel about your homeschool experience?

It was a necessary deschooling experience. An extremely developmentally inappropriate curriculum and/or social environment damages a child. Some recovery time is necessary.

4. How do you feel about the social experiences you had as a homeschooler? Do you feel that you had enough friends, or enough opportunities for friendship?

My previous developmentally inappropriate social environment in school is what reduced my opportunities for friendship. While unschooling, I found developmentally appropriate friends online (as a side benefit, this also improved my writing skills). At that time I was still too damaged by my school experience to be interested in other opportunities for friendship.

5. How do you feel about your education? Do you feel you received an average, above average or below average education compared to same-­aged peers in your community?

Much better, but that's only because I was a self-motivated learner. That's unschooling: You learn what you want to learn, and you learn it well; you don't learn anything else. Unschooling is necessary for some, but I know it doesn't work well for everyone.

6. What did you do after graduation? College? Work? How prepared did you feel for “the next step?”

When I enrolled in college, I immediately started taking CLEP subject exams, and wound up with two years of credits (as if I'd started college at 14). I didn't study for these--I just chose the subjects I'd been interested in over the years. It just turned out that my "for fun" reading had taught me these subjects. (See? Unschooling works! ;)

Since I attended a few college courses while otherwise unschooling, they obviously prepared me for the college environment. When I first started taking them, I had to adjust from the "fishbowl" private school environment to the more relaxed state college environment--no one noticing/complaining about late work until you get the bad grade at the end. I can imagine that a homeschooler might have a similar adjustment; I just want to point out that you might have the *same* adjustment if you *do* have school experience but it was at a *private* high school! Oh, and for driving, I went to a driving school instead of taking driver's ed at a high school--this worked fine.

I felt unprepared for some things in later life, but based on both my own experience and also the ongoing publications of the study I'm involved in as well as other similar studies...I believe this is the result of developmentally inappropriate treatment in school and the community.

What do I mean by "developmentally inappropriate treatment"? Well...

One mom I know mentioned how her son would write enough in response to writing prompts that it was clear he needed to begin learning to separate his writing into paragraphs. But in school, just producing this amount of writing at all was far ahead of the rest of the class; he would receive an A and no additonal guidance. As a result, he developed a habit of ignoring topic shifts, writing very long pieces with no paragraph breaks. When the class was finally taught about paragraphs, he had trouble because he had years of bad habits to unlearn.

This type of thing also can happen with social expectations. You may learn that you are expected to behave in ways that are not natural to you, that have not been natural to you for years. Having memorized this "babyish" set of behaviors, you don't then grow out of them when others do. Kids grow out of natural immaturity--they don't grow out of "immaturity" they've been taught to fake. You need to learn to take turns (or whatever) when *you* are ready to learn, not be allowed or encouraged to get away without taking turns for years because other kids aren't yet ready.

This is a problem I had that was caused by school, not homeschooling. The classic, research-supported ;) solution to this problem is grade-skipping within a school. Homeschooling seems like it could also prevent this problem. ;) By the time I was unschooled, though, it was obviously too late to prevent it for me.

Overall, my "unschooling year" was necessary and helped me a lot, but I'd have been better off if the necessity for it could have been avoided. I personally feel I'd have been happiest if I'd just skipped grades earlier on. High school is iconic in American culture. My experience taught me very thoroughly that there was nothing for me in high school when I was 14, so I don't "wish I'd stayed in high school." I do wish I could have gone at an age when I could have appreciated it. In my case that would have been about age 10-14; I may be an odd case, but I know there are many others out there who could go at more like age 12-16 and be very happy.

That said...these days American high schools are so strongly focused on busywork and on going through the motions rather than mastering the concepts...that right now I would personally be extremely hesitant to send any kid in my charge to high school.

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Whew...those were some interesting interviews.   These are the last of them.  Here is my follow-up post with my thoughts. 

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