Rebecca F.: “The physical abuse and neglect was obvious to me from a very early age”
“Although parents had to submit lists of textbooks that they were using for each grade as part of their report to the local school district, it became apparent that the school district didn’t know what to do with this, and didn’t read the reports at all.”
I was homeschooled from first grade through most of high school, and then went to public school very briefly after moving. Although homeschooling was effective in helping me get a very strong math and science education, and we were in New York—a state that, according to my parents’ homeschool group and organizations like HSLDA, had very “restrictive” homeschooling laws—there were many major gaps in my education that still affect me today.
As I grew up, I saw that these “restrictive” laws still translated into practically no oversight as to either the quality of the education or of the well-being of children who were homeschooled.
The physical abuse and neglect was obvious to me from a very early age: One little girl in our homeschool group nearly died of pneumonia at age four, due to her mother’s refusal to seek medical attention, even when she had difficulty breathing. She wasn’t taken to the dentist until age six, at which point it was discovered that her teeth were so decayed, she needed multiple root canals. Parents “spanked” their children all the time, which in reality often meant outright beating them with tree branches or plastic pipes. I clearly remember overhearing adults having conversations about how they hid these items, and what excuses they used to keep their children out of swim lessons or in long pants or sleeves on occasions that suspicious bruises would be visible. I remember children who were deprived of food for days, with their parents telling them that they had to eat a specific food item or part of their meal before getting any further food, even when the food they were being coerced into eating made them ill.
The next thing I noticed was the educational neglect. One family “unschooled” their children, which to them meant they counted allowing their children to play with American Girl dolls as “history” and handling cash while they purchased items at the grocery store as “math.” Although these children could pay for a purchase, by middle school they were lagging far behind their peers. I personally experienced this somewhat later: My parents had no idea how to write, and taught me English using a curriculum that only went to 8th grade, and past that, allowed me to read books and do nothing more for “English Literature.” I had no idea how to structure a paper or even what a “thesis sentence” was until a college professor actually sat me down and asked me what I knew about writing.
The lack of oversight was also quite obvious: Although parents had to submit lists of textbooks that they were using for each grade as part of their report to the local school district, it became apparent that the school district didn’t know what to do with this, and didn’t read the reports at all. Standardized testing was required, but parents were allowed to administer it themselves, in their homes, and there was no safeguard to ensure that the parents themselves adhered to time rules and didn’t assist their children. The quarterly progress reports we had to make were similar, and parents who didn’t feel like properly grading their children’s work would simply estimate grades or use a pass/fail system, making accurate estimates of the students’ progress nearly impossible.
As an adult, I also saw that there had been a near complete failure for children to be tested for learning disabilities or other developmental delays. I showed clear signs of autism from an early age, yet my parents were angered at a suggestion that I get assessed, and looking back I can remember many other children who showed clear signs of autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and more who were neither assessed or treated, whose parents were at best blissfully unaware, and at worst bragged about how homeschooling meant their children would have been “labelled” if they had been in a public or even private school, unaware of the resources that their children so desperately needed in order to succeed.
The last issue that I experienced was transitioning from homeschooling to the professional workforce. Due to a disconnect between the homeschooling graduation requirements and public school graduation requirements in my state, although I completed every class necessary to “graduate” as a homeschooler, I didn’t complete them all while homeschooled, and didn’t complete enough to graduate from a public school. As a result, I don’t have a high school diploma. I was discouraged from taking the GED, which has left me with no proof of having graduated high school. This has occasionally presented a difficulty when applying for jobs that want proof of high school completion regardless of college degrees. (I was able to attend college as a legacy admission.)
I strongly support better oversight of homeschooling—regular contact with mandated reporters, academic assessments that aren’t administered by parents—because for many years now I have seen that it would have helped uncover or prevent many of the dozens of cases of child abuse and neglect that I saw around me growing up, and would have left many of us homeschooled students better prepared for our own independent adult lives.
Rebecca F. was homeschooled in New York State from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.