Joan T.: “My dysfunctional and borderline emotionally abusive home was my school.”
“I believe to this day—as I did in childhood—that I should not have been homeschooled, at least not all the way through high school as I was.”
For fifteen years, I was a princess in a tower.
I was homeschooled for my entire childhood and adolescence. My parents, as they proudly told everyone, picked their own textbooks to patch together their own curriculum.
I love my parents dearly, and to this day I don’t harbor ill will for them. They are both well-intentioned, well-educated people who genuinely believed they were doing the right thing. My sister struggled with bullies and academic issues, so my mother pulled her out with dad’s support. She did much better, so naturally my mom assumed that my brother and I (we are close enough in age that our parents treated us as a unit) would reap similar benefits. She pulled both of us out of preschool the following school year.
I was too young to realize it, but that decision sentenced me to a prison I’d never escape. I could never leave home for school, where an outsider could notice my condition and get help. My dysfunctional and emotionally abusive home was my school, and vice versa. Most, if not all, of my memories of home are of constant chaos and screaming matches between any two or more people at a time. Every time I could, I would hide in my bedroom, lock my door, and cry in the closet until I couldn’t breathe. I feel physically sick whenever I think of going back there.
I spent all day, every day, in that home, leaving only for weekly Sunday services or for pre-approved, homeschool-only activities. My mother was obsessed with treating my brother and I the same because she assumed (falsely) that I was also autistic; this obsession only worsened after my sister left for college. She had us do the same curriculum, go to the same activities, and receive our religious rights of passage together. If I protested, she would guilt me into accepting her way. My mother soon became so distracted with my brother that I had to teach myself everything and my academics stagnated beyond repair, beginning at age eleven (I became suicidal around that same time). My mother blamed me for my “laziness” if I struggled in school, even though it was her idea to push me to do homeschool debate team, which consumed all my time. She then forced me to stay home an extra year while I watched my peers graduate high school. I was essentially gaslit into failure.
How did all of this go under the radar?
Texas is the “Wild, Wild West” of homeschooling, largely because advocacy groups like the Texas Homeschool Coalition and the Home School Legal Defense Association fight like hell to keep it that way. Nevertheless, my parents still worried about CPS taking us away. We were thus told to hide anytime the doorbell rang, and we were not allowed to go outside or leave the house until after around 3 P.M., lest curious outsiders ask if we were in school. Secretly I prayed that someone, anyone with authority would save me.
Nobody ever came.
I believe to this day—as I did in childhood—that I should not have been homeschooled, at least not all the way through high school as I was. That said, if the state had more rigorous measures in place to help students like me, my experience might have been less negative.
These measures, at the very minimum, are necessary where they are not already in place:
1. Require more strict enforcement of curriculum requirements. Parents should annually submit their curriculum for approval, detailing specific subjects and textbooks, to ensure that their plans align with minimum standards. Parents must also comply with regular standardized tests administered by a qualified third party. If students show substandard progress, they must receive further evaluation and assistance; parents may face temporary probation, or lose their license to homeschool if they refuse to comply.
2. Require comprehensive criminal background checks of anyone requesting permission to homeschool. If one or both parents have a criminal record (e.g., felonies, substance abuse, or any child abuse/neglect), their files must undergo further review and authorities might visit the home to make sure homeschooling is not being used as a means to hide abuse or dysfunction.
3. Require that professionals privately interview children on a regular basis about their experiences and about whether they consent to homeschooling. Parents don’t have to live with the consequences of homeschooling for the rest of their lives, but their children do. What I ached for most as a child and adolescent was a chance to privately go to a third party and tell them how trapped I felt and how I wanted to go to school outside the house like a normal child. Professionals must look for explicit, affirmative, and voluntary verbal consent from the child, following the same standards we expect of sexual consent.
I wasn’t fully aware of my support for homeschool oversight until I started college, where most of my peers came from public or private school and were immensely successful. Many were valedictorians who enjoyed all the major rites of passage like prom and graduation. They had AP credits that gave them the freedom I could only dream about. They had extensive lab science and mathematics that empowered them to pursue their own true dreams, not just whatever their parents forcefully pigeonholed them into. They participated in real-world extracurriculars that my parents prohibited. The more of them I met, the more I realized how thoroughly alienated I was from everyone around me.
I don’t live in that tower anymore, but it follows me everywhere I go. No matter how far I progress in my post-secondary education, I never feel like I’ve made up for the education I missed out on as a child. No matter how much I break away from my painful past—moving far from home, shearing off my once Rapunzel-length hair, or questioning ideas I once blindly parroted—I never feel like I’ve escaped. I will always be the sheltered, under-educated child that most people pitied and few people believed in … because the tower of emotional abuse in which I grew up now lives inside me and haunts my every thought. No child should suffer that.
Joan was homeschooled in Texas in the 2000s and early 2010s. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.
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