Bethany Brittain: “It didn’t take long for me to lose my excitement”

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“Oversight of my home education would have given me someone to see the severe authoritarian parenting happening in our home. The beatings that were handed to us daily as obedience to god. Maybe an agency of oversight would have missed the abuse. But I can tell you that not having anyone really paying attention to my education cost me years of having to make it up.”

I remember when the first box of school books came in the mail. Up until 6th grade, I had gone to school—normal school with desks, books, and a teacher. Now we were enrolled in correspondence school or home school. My mom would be my teacher. I was excited by the idea. I couldn’t wait to learn on my own terms. It didn’t take long for me to lose my excitement.

The books came from a Mennonite educational agency. They were to keep our tests, grades, and school records. The first problem I remember having was what to do when I didn’t understand something. We started somewhere around 1979 when the Internet wasn’t an option. If I couldn’t understand the book, I only had my parents to ask for help. Dad was pretty good at explaining what he knew. His explanations were long, but I usually walked away with the answer I needed. The downside of asking Dad was that he knew nothing about math, science, or history. I could ask my mom, but she couldn’t always help either. She knew more about math than my dad, but she often lost her temper. I remember long hours of trying to learn math from my mother while she screamed at me, “Why don’t you try?!” Tears ran down her beet red face. I learned to fake my work. It worked well to fake what I didn’t know because who looked over my homework?

Both of my parents were often busy with other “homesteading” activities. You see, we lived off the grid and isolated from outsiders. There was water to get from the creek, goats to milk, and property to manage. I spent a great deal of my childhood cooking, cleaning, and caring for younger siblings.

Our Mennonite overseers would never know the work I didn’t learn. Then there were the topics that even the Mennonites books didn’t teach me. Their science book was filled with religious doctrine. In a discussion on minerals, I learned that women often adorn themselves with gold which is a sin. I learned nothing about the scientific theory or any other helpful look into the world around me.

My parents constantly worried about outsiders coming in and meddling with there lives. Stories about fending off authorities with shot guns often came as dinner conversation. Yet if there was oversight, I would have had a well rounded education. Instead of excelling at writing and failing at math, I would have learned both. Instead of hating science and history, I would have been fascinated with these topics. How do I know this? Eventually I went to college.

My entrance exam scores were high in reading and writing and way below in everything else. Starting in beginning math, I worked hard. Eventually I aced college algebra and chemistry. You see, I loved to learn.

If my mother were reading this, she’d tell you how poorly the public schools were educating me. I agree public schools do have short-comings, but there is still oversight. No public school would allow me to milk goats, clean house, and mother a young sibling. Oversight of my home education would have given me someone to see the severe authoritarian parenting happening in our home. The beatings that were handed to us daily as obedience to god. Maybe an agency of oversight would have missed the abuse. But I can tell you that not having anyone really paying attention to my education cost me years of having to make it up.

I didn’t learn, really learn, until I went to college at 29 years old.


Bethany Brittain was homeschooled in California in the late 1970s and 1980s. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.

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