“I am sharing my story now because I have seen the society that I live in repeatedly fail its most vulnerable members, those who have no volition over their own lives. I have seen my neighbors’ children endure substantially increased abuse and neglect due to homeschooling during the pandemic, and others just not attend school at all because our government and its protocols of red tape and bureaucracy seem more concerned with protecting the rights of the adults abusing their children, than of the children being traumatized.”
Content Warning: This testimonial contains graphic descriptions of child abuse, and a brief mention of sexual violence against children.
I do not think my story is rare or even exceptional. In fact, in recent years, thanks to the power of social media, I have learned that my story is actually quite common among those who were “homeschooled” as children.
I am sharing my story now because I have seen the society that I live in repeatedly fail its most vulnerable members, those who have no volition over their own lives. I have seen my neighbors’ children endure substantially increased abuse and neglect due to homeschooling during the pandemic, and others just not attend school at all because our government and its protocols of red tape and bureaucracy seem more concerned with protecting the rights of the adults abusing their children than of the children being traumatized.
I am the oldest of four children. I was born and raised in West Palm Beach Florida by evangelical parents. It’s my understanding that both of my parents dropped out of high school and later went back to get either diploma equivalency or GEDs. My mother met a woman at church when I was about 6 years old. At that time, I was attending public school and while I didn’t love everything about school, I enjoyed it for the most part. This woman began to encourage (or what I now see as unduly influence) my mother to homeschool her children. My mother was filled with fear of the public education system by this woman and others, fears of all things secular and “worldly”. This woman also “encouraged” my mother to leave our mainstream denominational church and we began attending her small “non-denominational” church. My father blindly followed along to appease my mother.
This new church also had many homeschooling families. At this church I was bullied by my peers and adult Sunday school teachers. I was publicly humiliated in front of my peers repeatedly, and my brothers were sexually abused by the music ministers’ sons. Instead of going to the authorities, my mother “submitted” our family to the Pastor’s council, hich was “boys will be boys” and not to bring it up again. A year or two later we followed that same woman to a different non-denominational church. Although this new church was less toxic, the undercurrent of homeschooling families and church as the be-all end-all for life-altering decisions continued.
The church encouraged corporal punishment for children, with the parents swapping tips on how to avoid CPS intervention. I distinctly recall one conversation where a church member told my parents not to use a belt anymore as it could cause internal bleeding. Among their suggestions for a replacement was a large wooden paddle or the turning implement for window blinds. My mother loved to use scriptures such as Proverbs 13:24 or 23:13 and Ephesians 6:1-3 to endorse her physical abuse. To be clear we were hit with a wooden dowel, as well as being slapped across the head, face, or body. My mother laughed that we “did the rod dance” as we would scramble to get away from the beatings and had to be held by the arm so we could not run away. My father spanked us as well, but his were restrained. He talked to us before and after about why we were being spanked, he also hugged us afterwards and attempted to comfort us. My mother, however, seemed to take sheer pleasure in beating us. She frequently flew into rages and her face would suddenly switch. She enjoyed inflicting pain on us and would often smile or smirk during and after. I genuinely feared for my life on numerous occasions. We were also verbally abuse, stupid, and idiot were her favorites insults. We were hit for spilling milk or for not being able to follow instructions with one prompt. On numerous occasions we were left with welts or bruises on our backs or bottoms.
To pile onto this, my parents fought violently. My father never hit my mother, but his rages would destroy doors, plates, and walls. My mother frequently taunted my father and provoked him almost as if she wanted him to hit her. Only in my 30s did I realize it was domestic violence (since he never actually struck my mother). Because of this I was extremely parentified, often barricading my siblings in a room with me during the fights or whispering across the hall to them to stay hidden until it was all over.
During all this, our homeschooling was self-taught. The small effort my mom put towards education was on my younger brother who struggled to learn to read. My mother purchased textbooks secondhand. There were no lesson plans, no curriculum to speak of. We had books for various topics and a few computer programs (later when I was older), and we taught ourselves. My mother spent the majority of her time caring for my youngest sibling, or on the phone. She also left me to watch the siblings while she went to clean houses for extra money. When I came to algebra in early middle school, I was not able to teach myself. My mother was not capable either and she hired a tutor through the church, and he tutored me once a week. I made some progress however was not learning or implementing anything outside of those weekly sessions and 1–2-page homework sheets he assigned, as there was no oversight on my day-to-day work. At one point I was grading my own work using the back of my books or the teacher guide. I now can see how the trauma I was experiencing daily prevented me from learning as my brain was in a constant state of hypervigilance. I could not feel safe in my own home, so how could I possibly take in such complex concepts–and with little to no instruction to boot? I can’t remember what year I stopped taking the state-mandated annual compulsory test, but no one from the state or department of education ever followed up when I did.
Our social interactions consisted of church 3x a week and an all Christian/homeschooling 4-H club. My mother did everything in her power to keep us away from influences she feared. She was technically a member of a Christian homeschool organization and we did attend those events on occasion. However, since they cost money, it was not very consistent.
Around the age 10 I begged my parents to send me to private Christian school. They said they couldn’t afford to send us all, so that meant no one could go. Although I now know we were so poor I would have qualified for some type of scholarship or assistance, my mom didn’t even look into it. Around age 13 I begged again to attend high school. Most of the homeschoolers I knew were being allowed to attend public school. My mother stated our school district was too dangerous, with gangs and violence and she refused to use a relative’s address for me to attend a better school. It was around this time that I gave up on trying to teach myself at all instead I babysat full time for church families. My goal was to get as much money as possible, take the GED early and get out of my parent’s home ASAP. I eventually was approved to take the GED early (on my second request) and completed it right before my 17th birthday. My mother had no idea how to track credits or even apply for a HS diploma, so this was my only way forward.
Due to my experience as a “homeschooler” I am now passionate about advocating for more regulation and accountability for children. If I had been in school, I would have had a haven (even if only for part of the day) from all the abuse and neglect I experienced. I struggled my way to a bachelor’s degree, an accomplishment that I am proud of, as I didn’t even know what an essay was when I enrolled in college. My hope is that no more children will have the experience I had. I firmly believe children need a diverse peer group as well as numerous adults interacting with them to support them and be able to watch for signs of abuse and neglect, which an insular community cannot provide.
Candice was homeschooled in Florida from 1986-1997. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Community Voices page.