Maria M.: “I’m still playing catch-up”
Ultimately, it is me who pays the price. I’m now 25 and I’m still playing catch-up. My Math and Science skills are at an 8th grade level and I’ll have to spend a few years in remedial classes that government aid won’t cover.
Homeschooling in our family didn’t start off as a choice at first; it was more of a necessity.
In 1991, shortly after I was born, my older sister was diagnosed with a devastating life-long illness, of which there is no known cure. She was in elementary school at the time doing extremely well in the gifted program of the local public school. My parents felt the school wasn’t cooperating very well with the demands that someone with a newly diagnosed disease needed—like more time and patience adjusting to her medications, weakness, etc. At the time, my sister could barely walk. It was then that my parents decided to homeschool.
For the year my sister was homeschooled, she did awesomely. My parents felt confident they could teach elementary-level coursework and my sister was well-behaved and took her work seriously. Homeschooling worked so well for her, that by the time she had her condition stabilized, she returned to public school a year ahead. My mom and dad never went to college. My dad had a full-time job and my mom was looking to find one also. This is why they returned my sister to school instead of continuing homeschooling.
When I was ready to go into kindergarten, my parents decided to try homeschooling with me. It went great before with my sister—surely it would go great with me! I can imagine that was the thought. In reality, I was unruly, didn’t want to do work, and didn’t take my parents seriously as teachers. I just wanted to play all day! I was homeschooled the entire school-year but not much kindergarten-ing got done!
My parents wisely noted that I did not have the right personality for homeschooling. I was entered into a private Christian school, where I would stay up until 7th grade. For 8th grade, money in our house was tight and my parents felt I needed a dose of “the real world.” So I went into public school, which was an incredible culture shock. Nonetheless, I not only survived, but thrived. I was on the National Honor Society, the first ever editor of our middle school newspaper, a member of President’s’ Council, and won a seat in the varsity band. At the end of the year, I won our school’s equivalent of valedictorian.
As my parents researched the local high school I’d be going to, they became more and more worried. I’d be one of approximately 3000+ students—much different from my class of 5 in private school or even the 800 at my middle school. The graduation rate was an abysmal 50%. The high school was known for gang recruiting and activity. There were metal detectors and security officers at the main entrance each day. My mom specifically was worried I was starting to lose my faith in Christianity due to public school influences. However, my parents decided to take a chance and remain optimistic as there were aspects they liked (like having a JROTC program).
Personally, I really hated my high school and I started doing very poorly in my classes. I felt my teachers didn’t care about me, they never helped me when I asked (or even when the entire class asked in unison). I fell further behind in Science and History classes while I did great in English and Math classes. In the middle of freshman year, my parents figured the best course of action was to pull me out of school to try homeschooling again. My parents still kept in touch all this time with our local homeschooling community. They helped us with the transition and at first everything went fairly smoothly.
My mom got really into the Charlotte Mason method, so that is what I would be using for the remainder of my education. My mom believed in shunning the use of workbooks for almost everything. Instead, I was given mounds of “living books” to read (a living book is a non-fiction book written by one author who is passionate about the subject). I loved these books and learned a lot from them. This was done for English, History, and some Science. For Math, I was given educational math computer games to play and my parents hired a private tutor for me. I also was required to read poetry everyday, and practice dictation. Each day of schooling was about 3 hours, 5 days a week, and I had no “summer vacation” that year.
That first year of homeschooling actually went really well. My mom made time to teach me, I loved my books, lessons with my tutor went well, and we were all enthusiastic and excited. However, by the middle of 10th grade, things started going downhill. Both of my parents were still working two jobs each so my school time got shortened to only 2 or 3 days per week since they were so tired. Funds were tight and I had to stop seeing my math tutor. By the time 11th grade rolled around, I was schooling only one day a week. There was no Math or Science being done—my parents didn’t know how to teach me those subjects. I was picking out my own living books for English and History. This is pretty much how it remained until I graduated. I “graduated” in 2010 but I didn’t receive my diploma from my parents until 2012 because they “just didn’t have time.” I spent those two years begging for it until finally my mom said she would order me one to “get [me] off [her] back about it.”
I never took any testing during this time. I never took the SAT or ACT. I didn’t even take the driving test (I still don’t have a license to this day!). My parents only ever kept track of that first year of homeschooling so I have no educational portfolio (or “proof”) of any work I did or books I read for the rest of high school. At the time, I didn’t think of any of this stuff. I was just a teenager and I was like, “Less stuff to do? Great!” You don’t think about these things and their consequences until you’re older and you suffer for them. But then, I shouldn’t have had to think about these things. My parents should have been responsible for it.
My parents were not bad parents and they were not purposefully educationally neglectful. Like a lot of homeschooling parents out there, I think they did the best they could and got overwhelmed. Instead of reaching out for help or re-enrolling me in school, they didn’t want to feel like they “failed” at homeschooling; so they kept us on this path even though it probably wasn’t the best path for me.
Ultimately, it is me who pays the price. It took a long time for me to decide to go to community college—I was extremely nervous about being in a normal school setting again and I was afraid I wouldn’t be up-to-par on general studies (which I wasn’t). I’m now 25 and I’m still playing catch-up. My Math and Science skills are at an 8th grade level and I’ll have to spend a few years in remedial classes that government aid won’t cover.
Compared to some of my friends, however, I feel like I am one of the lucky ones. My friend, “Lydia,” to my knowledge, did a good amount of schoolwork that she compiled entirely herself. Her parents never really cared. She has never gotten her diploma. When approaching her graduation date, her parents would threaten to not give her her diploma over her not “loaning” them money or other similar cruel things. My other friend, “Caitlyn,” to my knowledge, never did any work when she began homeschooling. Her parents were also homeschooling their two youngest children and Caitlyn hated schoolwork. She just wouldn’t do it or would run away for a few hours. Since Caitlyn’s mom is disabled, there wasn’t much she could do about it. Caitlyn is now also 25 and has been studying for her GED for the past few years but still doesn’t feel very confident.
We all live in Illinois and there is practically no oversight of homeschooling at all. Homeschooling in this state is categorized as being a “private school” and separate from the interference of the government. The law says we should be learning at the pace of public schools but there is nothing to prevent anyone from doing otherwise. There are no visits required, no testing required, no education portfolios required. As long as our parents give us a diploma, that means we are graduated, whether we have done the proper work or not. And if we are unlucky enough to have parents who, for whatever reason, don’t give us a diploma, then we are considered not graduated, regardless is we did do the work or not.
I can’t even image how different all our lives would be if there was any type of educational oversight in our lives. Maybe my parents would have been more motivated to work more with me in my last years of high school. Maybe I would have had some testing done, saying I was behind. Maybe my friends would be enrolled in regular schools and not be taken advantage of. I’m sure I would be much more confident in myself now, that’s for sure! I often times I feel dumb or inadequate around others my age. I also fear there are many children in my state being abused under the guise of “homeschooling.”
I am a strong advocate of CRHE because of my experience and that of my friends. All children deserve a proper education in our country and to have our communities looking out for their best interests. We need our laws to reflect the rights of our nation’s children and their safety.
Maria M. was home schooled in Illinois in 1997 and 2006-2010. For additional thoughts and experiences of homeschooled alumni, see our Testimonials page.