Mary D.: “Every abuse had a magnified effect on us”

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“My mother . . . read to us a lot and corrected our grammar constantly.  As a result, my siblings and I all have excellent literary skills.  However, both of my parents were sorely lacking in the area of math and science.  Since they were the only source of academic support that I had access to, I did not have access to a proper math and science education.  I was told many times in my childhood that boys are naturally better at math and science, and that I, being a girl could never excel, so I never tried.”

I was homeschooled in Portland, Oregon, between 1985 and 1993, from kindergarten until 7th grade.  The decision to homeschool was made the year that I would have started kindergarten.  All of my older siblings had gone to school, and I felt a huge loss when I was informed that I could not go to school.  My parents were evangelical Christians with a literal interpretation of the Bible.  They believed that the public school system was anti-Christian because of the teaching of evolution and sex-education, among other things.  They also criticized the schools for inadequacy in teaching academics properly.  I heard many horror stories about how many public schooled children did not know how to read.

My mother was our primary teacher.  She had no high school diploma or GED.  She read to us a lot and corrected our grammar constantly.  As a result, my siblings and I all have excellent literary skills.  However, both of my parents were sorely lacking in the area of math and science.  Since they were the only source of academic support that I had access to, I did not have access to a proper math and science education.  I was told many times in my childhood that boys are naturally better at math and science, and that I, being a girl could never excel, so I never tried.

The state of Oregon required that we take tests every few years to measure our progress in homeschool.  I scored highly on the reading and writing portion of the test, but barely met sufficiency in the area of science and math.  The science curriculum that we used focused a great deal on the idea of creation, and the various “scientific” proofs against evolution, neglecting basic information about cellular life.  I did not go to college until I was well into adulthood, when I was already raising children, because during my homeschool education I was always lead to believe that college was not accessible to me.

I went to public school in 7th and 8th grade. My dad acted like he was doing me a favor “letting” me go to school and had me sign a contract that I would abstain from a list of immoral activities and keep my grades up, under the threat that I would be pulled out of school. In reality, my mom was going to work, and my dad was going to be working from home, so it was to his advantage to have us out of the house, but the whole time I was in school, I felt under the threat of being pulled out at any time. By the time I got to high school, I was too overwhelmed and dropped out. My inadequate homeschool education made it hard to handle the academic demands of public school, and contributed significantly to me dropping out.

Despite the academic gaps in my homeschool education, the largest gap was social.  I suffered greatly from social isolation.  I was able to make a few friends in my neighborhood, but neighborhood children would come and go, so I had no lasting connections.  There were years that went by when I had no friends at all.  I had intense social anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem my entire growing up years.  We were taught a theology that human beings were depraved because of original sin, and that having self-esteem was a sin.  My father was physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive.  Every abuse had a magnified effect on us because there was no escape from our home environment, and every ideology taught by our parents had a manifold influence on us because we were isolated from the influence of other people.

When children are taught at home, they are left to the mercy of their parents.  If their parents happen to be educated, if they happen to understand child development and the need for socialization, then those are lucky homeschooled children.  But what if their parents are religious extremists who hold none of these characteristics?  What if my parents had not only been uneducated religious extremists, but also illiterate?  There are no regulations that would disallow these parents from schooling them in the way that they saw fit, so long as the children were tested every few years, and could meet minimally sufficient standards.

Public school may not be perfect, but there are certain elements of exposure that a child will be ensured in the public school environment.  None of this is guaranteed to the homeschooled child.  I was homeschooled against my will.  There was nothing that I would have liked more than to be able to go to school.  But my parents, out of religious zeal, were allowed to isolate me from the world and from a proper education.  This is the case because homeschool advocacy groups have fought for the rights of homeschooling parents.  The rights of parents are clearly advocated for, but what about the rights of children?  Do children not have the right to an education?  Do children not have the right to grow up free from abuse?


Mary D. was homeschooled in Oregon from 1985 and 1993, from kindergarten until 7th grade. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.

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