“Early in my childhood, my mother was diagnosed with major depression and generalized anxiety disorder; throughout the homeschool years she struggled to function as a mother, let alone as an educator. . . . My mother also exhibited traits of borderline personality disorder and was unpredictable and frequently intrusive, hypercritical, and explosively angry.”
I was homeschooled in Texas from 1995 to 2002, from 5th through 12th grades. My parents were motivated to homeschool me because of their fundamentalist Christian beliefs, stemming from a traditional, conservative Southern Baptist culture. My father was not very religious but deferred childrearing decisions to my mother, who wanted to isolate and protect me from secular influences in the public school environment. She believed that homeschooling would save me from harmful experiences such as teasing and drug use, as well as spiritually dangerous ideas such as atheism and biological evolution. My father worked in vocational education and my mother was a stay-at-home mom, despite financial difficulties in the family. Both my parents are college educated. Aside from my mother’s struggles with mental illness and their lack of social life, my parents may have seemed like responsible-enough homeschooling parents when they began to consider withdrawing me from public school.
My mother supervised my education for the first few months of 5th grade. Following her lesson plans, I was instructed to read textbook chapters and fill out workbooks. Initially, my mother checked these books and assigned grades. After a few months I was given assignments but my work was not graded. By the following year, my mother was not supervising my education at all, despite buying new textbooks each fall. I feel I was given an inadequate homeschool education because I received no formal education from 6th through 12th grade. While I read novels, found educational articles on the internet, and occasionally filled out workbooks on my own, I did not have an opportunity to participate in discussion with another person, write papers, or take exams. I did not participate in activities, competitions, sports, or lessons of any type. When, at 17, I realized I needed to study for the GED in order to seek college admission, I used the math curriculum to teach myself algebra. At 18, I struggled to gain fundamental social and educational skills while attending college full-time and working retail part-time.
In fact, I have struggled for most of my adult life to move past my abusive childhood. My parents physically abused me with excessive corporal punishment from age 3 or 4 until age 9 or 10, usually by hitting me with a hard object or beating me with a leather belt. My parents also emotionally and verbally abused me in several ways throughout my childhood. My father was withdrawn and rarely displayed affection to me. He had problems managing his anger when I was too loud or accidentally broke something. Early in my childhood, my mother was diagnosed with major depression and generalized anxiety disorder; throughout the homeschool years she struggled to function as a mother, let alone as an educator. My father decided that, as a child kept at home all day, household tasks such as cooking and cleaning were my responsibility. My mother also exhibited traits of borderline personality disorder and was unpredictable and frequently intrusive, hypercritical, and explosively angry.
Although my mother initially kept me involved in a local home educators’ group, after age 13 she withdrew us from social activities. Thus, for approximately six years I did not have substantial contact with anyone, adult or adolescent, outside of my family. I suffered severe depression, suicidality, and disordered eating during my later teenage years; my parents did not seek help for me as they labeled my behavior “sinful, teenage rebellion”. The physical abuse stopped before my parents began homeschooling me; however, the imposed isolation allowed my parents to perpetuate and hide their neglect and emotional abuse until I turned 18.
My family environment was clearly abusive and dysfunctional before homeschooling began, but oversight might have improved my homeschooling experience in several ways. In the school district where I lived, parents were not required to register homeschooled children and were simply asked to file a vague letter of intent upon withdrawal. Registration with the local school district would have required my parents to face school officials and engage in dialogue about their rationale and preparations. My parents failed to educate me, perhaps valuing my separation from a secular environment over the quality of my education; annual lesson plan approval and testing might have encouraged more earnest academic investment on their behalf. At the very least, such measures might have brought attention to my situation. My parents believed that children should not be allowed to have a voice in regards to their education or psychological wellbeing; contact with other adults might have provided me access to a person who could have listened to and respected my thoughts and feelings about my situation or my mental health.
My mother’s aim with homeschooling was to restrict my education and socialization to the point where her religious extremist ideology and emotional needs were satisfied. Any type of interaction with an education agency might have helped break down the barrier my parents constructed between my adolescent self and mainstream society. Throughout my homeschool education, my parents ignored my needs and interests in order to satisfy their own ideas and compulsions. Oversight might have allowed me to better develop knowledge and skills necessary for adapting to mainstream society—ultimately, for surviving as an adult.
My inadequate homeschool education and abusive childhood was never acknowledged by anyone within or outside of my family. No adult in my immediate or distant family intervened, nor was child protective services ever alerted to my condition. Some level of oversight needs to exist for homeschooled children because family members cannot be depended on to identify and report educational neglect and abusive behavior. Turning a blind eye is easier for many people than dealing with a difficult person or sacrificing the perfect family image for a child’s rights.
Homeschooling is a dangerous plan when abuse, isolation, and dysfunction already exist within a family. Homeschooling is also a unique challenge when parents or children already struggle with mental illness. Even minimal oversight of homeschooling would help identify high-risk families and situations of on-going neglect and abuse.
Lana Martin was homeschooled in Texas from 1995 to 2002. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.