“If not for the Religious Exemption clause, my parents would have had to, at the very least, turn in my standardized test scores to the county officials. I think it would have strongly encouraged my parents to educate me better.”
Let me start off by saying I do not hate homeschoolers or homeschooling. It’s possible to homeschool children in a healthy way, with quality education, care, and socialization. It’s also possible to teach your children after your own beliefs without forcing them to agree with you. Rather than shame them into agreement, if you instead give your children freedom of belief, they will genuinely respect you as they grow. They will be able to actually consider issues themselves, becoming confident in their sense of personal identity.
Sadly, for hundreds (perhaps thousands) of children, homeschooling causes harm, from poor socialization to various forms of abuse. I think the only good thing that came out of my home-schooling was that my mother encouraged creativity in the realms of art and make-believe. Because I was allowed to escape into my worlds of playing-pretend, because I was allowed to become absorbed in creating fantastical stories, I somehow survived.
My parents decided to homeschool for religious reasons. They wanted to raise as many children as possible to become “strong Christian leaders.” In addition, they were concerned about safety, wanting to protect us from the bullying, violence, and early sexual encounters common to public school. Ironically, my siblings and I were not saved from those things. Rather, we were trapped in a closed environment that fostered these dangers.
Bullying? I had to watch one brother be sadistically and systematically bullied by another brother. Violence? Besides abuse from my brother, my mom threw things, broke things, frequently threatened to injure me, and occasionally followed through. (I won’t even go into the spanking topic.) How about early or inappropriate sexual encounters? Yep, we had incest and sexual harassment in varying degrees. My parents had the ability to stop these occurrences, but let them go on instead. So you see, I wasn’t protected at all.
There are plenty of things my parents did wrong by choosing to homeschool, but I’ll just briefly note two. The first is emotional abuse, mostly by my mother. The second is lack of good education: academic in some areas, and basic life knowledge in others.
In terms of emotional abuse, I suffered more than my siblings because of my curious, independent nature. I didn’t act ladylike enough, I asked questions, I dared to form my own opinions, and I complained when things were unfair. Therefore, I was punished, shamed, and manipulated by my parents until I hated myself so much that I truly wanted to die. The shame they fed me on was the only thing I had to define myself, as my parents also discouraged us kids from developing our own identities. We were supposed to be a singular unit, The Christian Family, led by the Patriarch and never disagreeing with what we were taught. The teachings were often morally disgusting (racism, bigotry, sexism), and there even problems with the way they tried to teach basic Christianity.
What do I mean by that? Well, plenty of people learn about their family’s faith without being forced into it, but I was not so lucky. My purpose was decided for me before I was born; in mom’s words, I was to be “a strong Christian influencing the world”, no matter what I thought about it. The fear tactic was used a lot, too. I had to live in constant terror of demonic possession, of accidentally sinning, and of God’s punishments.
If that isn’t bad enough, possibly the worst thing my parents did was intentionally isolate me. In order to preserve my morality, in their eyes, they kept me away from nearly all outside influences. I never remember not being lonely. Even the rare “friends” I was allowed to play with came from conservative homeschool families like mine. I could never open up to them because my mother obsessively watched us, never letting us leave her sight. I can still feel the frustration, confusion, and despair.
If you ask them now, my parents might claim that they didn’t isolate me intentionally. But there’s no doubt about it: no matter how I begged, I was not allowed to have friends. Only in college did I learn the real meaning of having a friend. That isn’t something that happens to a kid by accident.
It would take too long to write about all the educational deficits in my upbringing. To give you the general idea, though, all the textbooks for history were Revisionist. (That means the writer tried to make history seem a certain way by meticulously choosing events selectively, and/or just writing lies.) Because of their freedom under Virginia’s Religious Exemption clause, my parents only focused on teaching a handful of subjects: reading, writing, math, and a very inadequate introduction to science. I learned some history, but was never tested on it. Other important subjects like basic geography were left out entirely.
Let’s not forget the deficits in my education about “how to survive in the real world.” I had social phobia for a long time because I was never given the chance to practice dealing with people. As a result, I didn’t know how to order food for myself until very late, I would have panics over making simple phone calls, and I had no idea what was socially acceptable to say. Also, I was never taught how to budget money. I was never given a sex education, either.
Finally, let’s imagine how things might have turned out if there had been sufficient oversight of my homeschool education. If not for the Religious Exemption clause, my parents would have had to, at the very least, turn in my standardized test scores to the county officials. I think it would have strongly encouraged my parents to educate me better. Proper oversight may not have stopped abuses from occurring in my home. However, the abuses could have been openly discussed, and perhaps minimized, if only someone had ever come to check on us.
In public school, there are often resources available for someone concerned about abuse; at the very least, there are more people around, such as teachers, which a child could open up to. This is not the case for homeschoolers—at least those excused from all supervision by laws like Religious Exemption. We need to have more oversight in place. For example, a social worker could visit and interview a homeschool family once a year or so.
That’s just my two cents. I hope this honest testimonial helps shed some light on the issue of homeschool oversight.
Lynne A. was homeschooled in Virginia from the 1990s through the 2000s. Her family homeschooled under the state’s religious exemption clause. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.