Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Home-School Survivor

One important part of my life, as with all humans (except those who are in some way mentally handicapped) is social interaction. I love being around people regardless of their belief structures, personalities, or political leanings. I would rather be around a group of people that I disagree with than to be alone. I haven't always been this way though. There was a pretty bleak period in my life when I was home-schooled and social interaction with new people (or anyone outside of my immediate family) was impossible. My parents were well-meaning, but were also stiflingly overprotective.

When I was in the 5th grade, I was taken out of the private Christian school that I attended because my parents could no longer afford the tuition. Instead of doing the right thing, the thing that would have been best for me, my parents decided to take my education into their own hands. It sounded like a great idea; not having to get up early, getting to go play when I got my work done early, getting to stay up late. These should also be reasons that parents wouldn't want their kids at home all of the time. That great feeling of freedom from a structured school system faded quickly however.

My parents are fairly smart people. My dad has a degree in agricultural science and my mom, while not having a degree, was smart when it came to English. However, my family was poor. My dad worked all of the time and my mom stayed at home to teach me, even though her own problems with depression usually lead to her lazing about the house, almost as if she were uninterested in my education. That may not have been what she felt, but that was my observation as a child. When my dad did have time to try to teach me math or science, he would get so frustrated and annoyed that I would just turn off my ears and not ask questions for fear of being yelled at. My parents were smart people, but they had no business teaching anyone anything, much less being in charge of someone else's entire education.

What made this experience so unbearable was the crushing loneliness. It was just me and my mom. My sister by this time had already left the house (I can't understand why she would rather leave than stay under the watchful eye of my parents) so there was no one for me to talk to, no one for me to play with, and no new people to meet. It is amazing how fast a person in that situation can retreat into their own mind. There were programs at the time for home-schooled children to meet each other and have some sort of interaction even though it usually revolved around some sort of church function. However, the laziness that I described earlier prohibited such activities. Again, sheer loneliness.

After about a year of home-school, I had successfully removed myself from the rest of the world. I fantasized all day about a life that wasn't mine. I had plenty of time to do this since no one was making sure I was keeping up with my work, which I wasn't. My parents were supposed to be in charge of my education; it wasn't supposed to have been left up to the 5th grader. What child would police themselves and make sure their work was up-to-date if there were no deadlines, no tests, and no teachers to answer to?

Not being content with having me at home all of the time, my school material had to come from a good Christian institution which for our geographical local happens to be Bob Jones University. Not only was I alone and poorly educated, the education I was getting was skewed so hard by religion that I could scarcely tell my biology book from the Bible. I liken it to receiving an education about lung disease from the Tobacco Institute.

Herein lies the problem with home-school. There is no regulation as to what you teach your child. When the libertarians stand up and scream about abolishing the Department of Education, what they are saying is they want to decide what their children are taught on a level that the vast majority of them do not have the education to understand. I am sure there are some smart libertarians out there, but the vast majority of people who had that much control over their child's' education would end up like I did: getting a great education of how the Bible has all of the answers and science is wrong, wrong, wrong! There are standards and regulations of the education system (not enough, in my opinion) for a reason. Overall, most of the information out there is solid science, minus textbooks from Texas and Louisiana of course.

The other problem with home-school is the lack of social interaction. I am sure that there are some die-hard parents out there who are members of organizations that let their socially inept kids meet up with each other on a weekly basis, but they are in the minority from my experience. There is an institution set up that allows kids to interact with each other now; and amazing system called “Public Education”. There are standards that the kids have to adhere to and regardless of how I feel about the testing system or the way money is divided amongst schools in the affluent areas and the inner-city schools they work pretty damned well.

The education options for people are not perfect; the public school system has it fair share of inadequacies and private schools have loose standards and have to be examined carefully when choosing , but the home-school system is one that is in such a poor state that it shouldn't exist. I think the vast majority of parents who home-school their kids have no business trying to train a dog, much less teach another human being about the world. Home-school is a bad idea and the injustices that are visited upon the children involved amount to child abuse. Giving your children no other option than to sit at home all day and maybe get some work done all while retreating into their own imagination is not only wrong, but immoral.


  1. While I agree that there are many parents who have no business schooling their children, your premise is flawed.

  2. I agree with most of what you're saying; I was also home schooled, not just for a year but for my entire k-12 education. My experiences, especially in my science and history education, were almost exactly like yours.

    Even though home school kids are notorious for having poor social and science skills, don't they often outscore the publicly educated children on skills like reading and mathematics? Parents may not be the most effective teachers, but most of them are not outright neglectful of their children. Saying home schooling shouldn't exist is a little extreme, since that is based off of just your experience.

    I guess my take on home schooling is this: I personally dislike it; I think it should be regulated by the same testing system our public schools have (if a parent neglects to teach their children, they lose the right to teach at home; just like if a parent abuses their kids they lose the right to keep them); but I also think that freedom of thought and religion is too important to compromise by forcing everyone who is too poor for the private schools to go through the public schools. If a parent thinks that a religious education is more important than a science education, I disagree, but I think that is one of the excesses that a free society needs to tolerate.

  3. Wow. I think you need to look beyond your own experience before you imagine this majority of socially inept, undereducated, virtually ignored and abused homeschooled children lying about idly wishing their mothers cared more about them. Anecdotal much?

    If you were to go to a website like www.welltrainedmind.com you would find many mothers who aspire to give their children an education more rigorous than what the public school system provides.

    You should know that not only is homeschooling in general on the rise, but due to the inadequacies of the public school system secular homeschooling in particular is gaining popularity. That is to say, it's not all about religion anymore. It is often about a more rigorous and personalized education. It's about recognizing the learning styles, strenghts and deficiencies of each individual and giving them exactly what they need, not exactly what the average child usually needs within the budget of the public school system.

    Now that you see that people are homeschooling for reasons other than religion more and more these days, I'm sure you can also imagine that these mothers are not overprotective religious nuts sheltering their children from any interaction outside the church. (I'm sure it is still the case that some are, but your generalization needs to be updated.) There are many opportunities to socialize without going to public school all day 5 days/week or praising a deity, such as: 4H, boyscouts (I realize that one is religious, girlscouts, classes offered by museums, YMCA classes, social and educational groups and classes organized by homeschoolers, dual enrollment, classes offered by cities/communities, employment, walking down the street to your friend's house, community college classes....

    My own public school education experience was pretty awful. It was inadequate in about every way possible from middle school on. If I hadn't been motivated to learn a lot on my own I probably would have had to take a lot of remedial classes before going to college. However, I've heard about many good experiences people have had in public schools and so I am forced to admit that despite my own experience, it couldn't be all bad. My experience is just one.

  4. Will, I discovered your post when someone referred to it on my post on the same subject at Friendly Atheist. Regardless of arguments about what conclusions can be drawn from your experience, it was certainly a very difficult experience and an important thing for you to know is that in that difficulty you are certainly not alone. That was what the letter writer who is the subject of my post was wondering about him/herself. Check it out: