“If there had been more regulations on homeschooling in the states in which I lived I would have been more aware of my success or failure as my children’s primary educator. We are taught as homeschoolers to protect our privacy at all costs. But so much stress would have been alleviated with more oversight.”
I was the homeschooled kid (K—12th grade) who grew up to become a homeschool mom; what they call “second generation homeschoolers”. I was homeschooled in North Carolina from 1983 to 1996. Homeschooling was all I knew. My parents were upper middle class most of my childhood; mother was a college trained educator and my dad was a successful business owner. Both were strongly religious and home life was strict but loving and happy.
My early homeschool experience was ridged, disciplined, and could only be described as very thorough. My mom planned, researched, and organized during every evening, weekend, and the entire summer; researching new curriculum, writing articles for our state homeschool lobbyist group, and shuttling us to lots of extra curricular activities. My only brother and I were getting a fabulous education and were quite well socialized. While my mom lived under constant misgivings over her ability to give us the best out there nonetheless, there is no question our education was stellar, causing our family to attract media attention and we were featured in TV and newsprint articles on several occasions about the emerging homeschool movement in America.
By the time, the 90’s came, the Christian Homeschool Movement (CHM) was gaining speed and branching out. No longer were all the conferences and magazines solely focused on educating your child at home. Steadily the focus shifted to “shaping minds and hearts”. Radical ideas on parenting from over a generation ago were being recycled with shiny new names like “Quiverful” and “Godly living” and “Courtship”. Suddenly, it seemed, homeschoolers were militant about attacking societal norms. And my family was right there with them.
My mother got a tubal reversal and had two more children in quick succession. Suddenly my jeans and shorts were replaced with jean jumpers and skirts. We started attending smaller and smaller churches. The extracurriculars ended. We moved out of the city and my dad sold his business. Our home and home education became a stifling and controlling thing. Michael Pearl books entered our house and regular beatings with them. I was 14 now and my life felt over. But even still, I was the pretty, demure little homeschooled girl behind the curriculum table, the perfect poster child for home education. Every few months when my family manned booths at Christian Homeschool conferences around the country. I convinced nervous moms that anyone could homeschool. I extolled my unique and exciting education and proudly used big words many of those moms didn’t even know. By the time they left my table they were sold, running off to drag their own little girls over to meet this “exemplary young lady”. It was all a lie. I was miserable and dying inside. But as long as nobody knew I felt my life could go on. I desperately wanted to be who I was expected to be! I never would be but I wanted to so badly!
Then suddenly I was grown and the man who had filled my dreams since I was 16 finally met with my dad’s approval and a quick and crazy, topsy turvy “Courtship” ensued. We were married when I was barely 19 and we were pregnant a month later. There was no space between raising siblings and having kids of my own. It all happened so fast.
I had been battling depression since I turned 13. I thought being blissfully happy and so in love would make me stop feeling depressed and maybe it did for a few years. But with the discovery of my 3rd pregnancy in less than 4 years everything fell apart. I didn’t want another child. At all. I could not understand why it HAD to be God’s will for me to be pregnant continuously, as I had been raised to believe. I was doing fine with my 2 kids before my second wedding anniversary, but 3? This was more than I could take. And with each passing day of my pregnancy I was more and more angry and more and more depressed. When my beautiful daughter was born the anger vanished, but in its place settled the darkest depression I had ever experienced. Honestly I barely remember that year.
When I was finally diagnosed with Postpartum Depression, my life was in shambles. Medication literally saved my life but within 2 years another baby joined our family. By now I thought something was wrong with me. I didn’t want to be the “quiverfull” ideal I had been raised to believe was my purpose!! I was terrified of pregnancy and desperately wanted to stop having babies! I tried all kinds of “Christian approved” barrier methods but I kept getting pregnant. Baby number 5 was the tipping point. I was now homeschooling my 2nd, 1st and kinder grade students (I began homeschooling the first in 2003, when we lived in Kansas). I stumbled through my days feeling like everything I did I failed at. My oldest could barely read despite being a brilliant child, my second child did nothing I asked her to do, and my third was so bright and constantly begged for more school work to do. All I did was put them off by throwing little workbooks books at them while the expensive curriculums I bought collected dust. I lived in constant fear that someone would realize how poorly I handled everything.
I hated every single thing about being a homeschool mom. I constantly looked for a way out. A way out of having babies, a way out of homeschooling, a way out of the isolation and depression that by now was never far from me. But the fear kept me rooted to the spot. I was at least pleasing God, right? I had that “full quiver” I was supposed to have. I kept them home with me and oh so safe and sheltered. We didn’t have cable TV. I frequently heard from other homeschool moms, “Don’t worry! You are doing the right thing. Even if your kids don’t learn the 3 R’s everyday, at least they are learning character!” . . . whatever the heck that meant. What, “character” like putting off an education is always an option? Or maybe “character” like having children around all the time makes parents constantly miserable so I have to “take care” of them in order to not feel like a burden?? What, like THAT kind of “character”?
Fear of public schools and “kids out in the world” was always in the back of my mind. When I finally hit rock bottom and couldn’t function anymore and went and enrolled my kids in our local public school I thought I would throw up their first day of school. It was the fall of 2007; we now lived in Missouri. I dropped them off and panicked the entire day. I paced. I cried. I watched the clock. When I finally picked them up I was shocked at how happy and excited they were. “BEST DAY EVER MOM!!!” they shouted as soon they yanked the car door open. I couldn’t believe it. They bonded with teachers, they made friends, they got to choose their own food in the cafeteria! It was all magical to them! Was it perfect? No. But slowly I began to heal. I began to come alive again. For the first time in many years I was finally making dinner, I was getting out of bed in the mornings, and for the first time ever I was on birth control! I felt like I had a whole new lease on life!
But the fear nagged, and the lack of control over our schedule, and knowing several mid-school year moves were coming up, made us go back to homeschooling after that year. I thought after a year break I was healthy enough to manage educating my kids again. But each year I had more on my plate. Even at my best, each child was only getting about 3 days worth of their curriculum done a week. No matter how we did the schedule I was constantly behind. There were no weekends. No real holidays. No summer breaks. No, all we did was try to get something done . . . every. single. day. I was back to hating my life and before long, stopped getting out of bed again.
Finally, after 3 years of homeschooling again, during the summer before my oldest turned 13 years old, he came to my room one day, clutching some papers in hand. “Can I talk to you Mom?” What he said rocked my world. He hugged me first, then said, “I think its time for us kids to go to real school. I love being home with you Mom and I know you try hard but we need to learn more. And I don’t think that’s going to happen here at home with you.” I gulped. He was right. Tears filled my eyes as I stared at my hands. “I’ve been doing some checking. There is a school not far from here. My friend from church goes to school there. Will you please check it out? I bet they have a website,” he said hopefully. As soon as I found the website, in big bold letters across the top it said “TUITION-FREE, CHARTER SCHOOL.” I read everything on the site in the next few hours and read reviews elsewhere online. By the time my husband got home I was ready to enroll them. It was 2011; we now lived in Texas.
It was a great year. A year that changed my life. I became a totally different kind of mom. By this time all 5 kids were school age and I bit my fingernails for weeks waiting to hear they were too far behind for the grades I placed them in. But instead they brought home good grades. They struggled a little but this school had lots of former homeschoolers so the teachers and staff knew what to expect and how to help them adjust. The youngest ones had no trouble at all and the oldest mostly struggled with a few holes in their education but for the most part rapidly caught up. When we moved again at the end of that school year I was committed to never educating at home again. And we based our search for a home more heavily on the school district. We settled in a place with great public schools and our kids again, thrived.
My world opened up. I went to my kids sports games and met other parents. I volunteered to help with decorations for parties, and became friends with my kids teachers. They were so much more knowledgable than I was and they found my kids strengths and celebrated them and helped them work hard on their weak areas. Slowly it dawned on me that my kids were going through the same things socially I was with adults in my life. The kids in public schools weren’t some mutant life form. They were just people; real, raw, growing people. And my kids were learning to love and accept people who were different than them and to stand up for themselves too. They were finding out about the world around them. And I was right there to be apart of that. My relationship with each of my children deepened. My depression ended. The weight lifted from my shoulders.
I am aware that some parents can and do homeschool well, like my mother did in my early years as a homeschooled child, when we lived in a large city and had a robust and thriving homeschool organization to be involved in. But as a parent, I wasn’t myself able to provide that or be involved in that. I am proof that not everyone can homeschool. And not everyone should.
If there had been more regulations on homeschooling in the states in which I lived I would have been more aware of my success or failure as my children’s primary educator. We are taught as homeschoolers to protect our privacy at all costs. But so much stress would have been alleviated with more oversight. Resources from the local school district would have been helpful, or at least having a state hotline where I could ask questions and find out about support groups in my area would have been good. Requiring testing every few years (as most states do for public school students) would have helped keep me accountable to stay on track with the curriculum. Plus would help identify weak areas in my students.
Pushing the government out of home education completely does not help the cause of homeschooling or the parents who attempt to do it. And it certainly doesn’t better protect children. Accountability and greater transparency can only improve the situation for everyone. It doesn’t limit rights, it simply brings to light those who are thriving and allows those who are struggling to get help. For me, letting go of a fear of our American school system and realizing that my personal involvement in my children’s education didn’t mean my only option was to homeschool was a huge relief! And opened a whole new world of educational opportunities for my children. I still believe homeschooling can be a wonderful option for education, but in order for its success to be known, we must be more open to accountability and minimal standards must be met.
Jane Morgan was homeschooled in North Carolina from 1983 to 1996. She homeschooled her own children from 2003 to 2011 in Kansas, Missouri, and Texas. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni and homeschool parents, see our Testimonials page.