“I believe oversight of homeschooling is a necessary starting point. I also encourage parents who are homeschooling to actively distinguish their roles as teacher and parent. I encourage them to learn about the effects of social contact on children’s brain development, and follow the recommendations of mental health professionals for each age group.”
Despite how hard homeschooling was for me, my parents sincerely tried their best. My mother sought external resources to supplement her teaching as I got older. I attended some classes offered privately for home schooled students. In what would have been my freshman year I attended two classes at a public high school. Unfortunately my mother was not comfortable with me making friends there, and though people asked me to hang out I never could. I started to avoid these situations so I wouldn’t have to come up with an excuse why I couldn’t. My two closest friends were both homeschooled girls like myself. We liked doing crafts and listening to the radio, picking our favorite bands.
Let me start by telling about the nearest success in my home schooled years. My craft of choice was beadwork—stitching tiny glass seed beads into fabric-like pieces. I made jewelry and small pouches out of these. After learning a new bead stitch from one of my homeschooled friends I started using beads to cover tiny glass bottles, the kind homeopathic remedies came in. For several years I’d participated in a holiday craft fair. One year I was placed next to a woman who sewed, crocheted, and beaded bags, purses, and amulet pouches. She had a full-time business and made her living selling what she made. We got along well even though she was middle-aged, and my mother asked her to mentor me.
We met once a week at my mentor’s house for about six months. She taught me how to contact the buyers of local stores and show them my beaded things. A New Age bookshop ordered a dozen beaded remedy bottles and I set to work filling the order. It took longer than I expected, and I was happy to deliver them and pick up a check. The bottles quickly sold out and the store contacted me to place another order. I wanted to fill the second order but I didn’t know if I could. My eyes were red and strained from so much tiny, focused work. I did not know what a business plan was and had not been taught to pay myself for my time. When I calculated my profits I turned out to be making less than $2/hour. No one talked to me about the possibility of raising my prices—or how to figure out what a reasonable price might be. My mentor was unable to advise me because her own business was in trouble as well as she faced competition from cheap imported goods.
None of the adults around me were able to discuss the challenges or issues that I encountered. My mother praised me but it fell flat because the problems hadn’t been addressed. She was unable to teach me to set goals, value my time, regroup, or look at the bigger picture. I did not learn case studies of successful companies. I was told only that overseas factories were both bad and run by bad people. It is not reasonable to expect parents or someone undergoing major business challenges to put the global economic situation in perspective for a teen. I don’t fault anyone for not having done this, but I do note that home schooling had no way of defining or rewarding success outside our family bubble.
At the time I was more concerned with finding social opportunities than running a business. My two homeschooled friends had gone to a concert of a favorite band and that I hadn’t been allowed to attend and I was devastated. I began pressing my mother to let me do more social things. She felt I did plenty already. I could not make her understand that I wanted a larger social life, and she decided my insistence was rebellion. I spent a lot of time alone in my bedroom. I imagined I’d be a cheerleader if I went to high school, but later I imagined I’d be one of the girls who cut class and looked cool smoking cigarettes in the parking lot. I didn’t have the opportunity to do either, or get any sense of my personality around others.
Although what bothered me most was the lack of social life, the business attempt and failure seems more significant. I was dejected about all of this. My mother tried to teach me both self-help and spiritual methods for dealing with it. While she had the best of intentions, her misapplication of self-help and spirituality was not appropriate. The problems I faced were real and solvable in the world. They did not originate inside of me.
The roles of parent and teacher are extremely different. I do not believe these roles should be the same. I am thankful to have had parents who cared about me and tried their best. Truly great parents know they can never be outgrown, and are secure in this. Truly great teachers enable their students to surpass them, they understand that a student who outgrows them is a sign of success. I did not realize this until I was an adult struggling to understand why my parents treated me as much younger than I was. It’s easy to write off high school traditions such as prom or graduation as meaningless, as I was taught they were, but I wonder if my parents would have benefited from these moments of growing up, and showing up, as I would have.
My parents started homeschooling me partway through first grade. My mother felt she was protecting me by homeschooling me. When I was seven and eight years old I asked to go to school and finally my mother agreed to let me “try” it. I spent the last few months of third grade and all of fourth grade in public school in Seattle. I sat in the front of the class with three other girls and we all did well: we raised our hands all the time, we got good grades, and we played at recess together. However my mother wanted to homeschool me again. Neither of my parents valued school, they saw only the negatives of their own experiences and were unaware of they ways it had benefited them or could have benefited me. My mother gave me a choice: I could get a puppy and home school to learn how to take care of it, or I could continue in public school. We had given away a dog when I was young and I’d wanted a puppy ever since. I chose the puppy.
My parents called themselves “liberal,” and while religious (Buddhists), they did not homeschool for religious reasons. If anything, a tension with and distrust of American society motivated my parents to keep me at home until my late teens. There was more emotion than politics in the way they talked about their views. Sometimes my mother would say we were “unschooling” when questioned, but this was incorrect. I was not directing my own learning; I was trying to manage my mother’s needs and my own.
She wanted me to succeed but she didn’t know how to prepare me for success. I was allowed to “try” school again for seventh grade, as a sophomore, and as an early college entrant at 17 years old. Fourth grade remained the only year I finished. Sometimes leaving school was my mother’s choice and sometimes it was mine. I was never encouraged to stick it out, but rather my decision to leave was always met with relief. The world outside our family made my mother uncomfortable. When I got to college I had no sense of time management or how to prepare for a test. Finishing things was difficult for me (when I finished things as a kid my parents and I would have to address what came next, a difficult question for everyone). I left the early entry college by choice—I was completely unmotivated to do anything but socialize. Several years later I applied to a college that specialized in art. I filled my first transcript ever with a year of good grades and then transferred to a general college that welcomed non-traditional students.
I feel lucky when I consider the opportunities I was afforded despite being home schooled. My parents had me take standardized achievement tests to keep up to my grade level in math and English, and they encouraged me to attend college. I believe oversight of homeschooling is a necessary starting point. I also encourage parents who are homeschooling to actively distinguish their roles as teacher and parent. I encourage them to learn about the effects of social contact on children’s brain development, and follow the recommendations of mental health professionals for each age group. Lastly, I encourage parents to do healthy and honest self-assessments of their own reasons for homeschooling at least once a year.
Katrina was home schooled in Washington State from 1988 to 2000. For additional thoughts and experiences of homeschooled alumni, see our Testimonials page.