“I was terrified to make my own decisions, unsure of my ability to survive outside of my parents’ controlling framework.”
I was my family’s “first.” The first to learn to read at home. The first to complete K-12 without ever attending school. The first to fully benefit from this great experiment full of boundless potential and equally boundless expectations.
I was five when my parents pulled my older brother and sister out of school and started homeschooling. My mom, terrified, turned to God and Sing Spell Read & Write to teach me to read. I’m not sure about God’s involvement in my mastery of vowel sounds and that first deciphering of “Sam pet the cat,” but to my mom’s great relief I duly began reading within the 30 days allotted by the program.
My ability to read exactly on schedule became part of family lore. It boosted my mother’s confidence and confirmed what became two foundational beliefs of our homeschooling journey:
“Anyone,” in our case, was mom. A voice major turned liberal arts major who didn’t finish the last few credits of her college degree, she struggled with feelings of inadequacy as she eventually guided all four of her children through high-school graduation.
Thanks to her tireless efforts, willingness to outsource and a comfortable budget, my siblings and I had access to great books, private tutors, co-ops and homeschool classes. I was lonely, but I wasn’t totally isolated, either. I grew up around, if on the periphery of, a large and thriving homeschool community. For the most part, these parents wanted to give their kids a quality education.
In the culture wars of the late 80’s and early 90’s, my fundamentalist family and many of those around us viewed public schools as bastions of socialism, atheism and sex. North Carolina public schools also consistently ranked among the worst in the nation academically. And who could send four kids (like my family, although many around us had six or more) to a private, classical Christian academy that cost anywhere from $15,000 to $40,000 per year?
Educationally, my homeschooling was a positive experience. I attended a small Christian college, graduated with honors, flirted with law school, and found my way to financial independence and a stable career.
I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I grew up around kids whose moms were “chill.” I remember being jealous that they didn’t have to be showered, dressed, and at their desks by 8 a.m. sharp. That they maybe fit in a few hours of school each day. But I worried about the kids whose parents made even the structure of a daily shower optional. I remember seeing those kids of chill moms graduate or simply stop schooling at 18. Those who didn’t marry immediately seemed lost – unprepared for an adulthood that didn’t include babies or Christian ministry.
I support homeschool oversight because I believe that every child has the right to access an education that prepares them for financial security, social development and personal fulfilment on their own terms.
I also support homeschool oversight for different reasons.
In my observation, homeschooling tends to attract parents who value control. When your family is as dysfunctional as mine, home is not always a happy place. In fact, it’s usually a scary, unsafe place. And when home is all you have, you don’t know any different.
I first realized that my dad was abusive when I was almost out of high school. My parents were giving me Biblical counseling resources, so that I could counsel myself and my friends with Biblical Truth at college. Ironically, it was in these books that I stumbled across the term emotional abuse. A lightbulb went off.
I started going to bed with my iPhone, hiding under the covers, and googling emotional abuse. Check. Then spiritual abuse. Check. Then physical abuse. Do near-daily spankings with a wooden spoon or rubber belt until early teens count as physical abuse? What about when you’re hit until you cry real tears (because eventually you learn to fake cry so it’ll stop sooner)? Check and check.
By the time I left home for college at 18, I couldn’t wait to escape. I was also nervous. When I said goodbye to my parents outside my dorm, I threw up. I was terrified to make my own decisions, unsure of my ability to survive outside of my parents’ controlling framework.
When I came home from my first semester of college, my family wouldn’t stop talking about this “new Mary.” In just four short months, I’d found safe spaces and friends who patiently allowed me to come out of my shell of loneliness and fear. I’d blossomed.
It took me over five years after leaving for college to finally break free from my parents’ orbit of abuse and control. I realized that, if I wanted to continue earning their approval, I would forever need to give up a sizable measure of control over my own life.
I’d been trained to need their approval like I needed air. I still don’t know where I found the strength to assert my independence. Even then, I still wanted them in my life. But just like when they drove away from my college dorm, forcing me to do college on my own, they made the decision easy for me. They disowned me. I’ve grown to view that decision as the most truly loving act I ever experienced from them. In their last, most ferocious attempt to assert control, they unwittingly, finally set me free.
I support oversight for homeschool families because no family is perfect. Most families are less dysfunctional than mine, but most kids also have access to a world outside of the home. Every child deserves to know that there is a world outside that cares. With more oversight, maybe someone would have seen my loneliness, my desire to play sports and to socialize. Maybe I could have had access to career counseling, which certainly would have helped me feel less lost when choosing a major for college. And maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t have had to wait 18 years to start living in freedom.
Mary T. was homeschooled in North Carolina from the mid-1990s to the late 2000s. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Community Voices page.