“When I was in regular school, I had several adults telling me that I was smart, that I was kind, that I was capable of producing good things and of being a good person. When I was homeschooled, the main voice I had in my life was telling me that I was nothing, that I was ‘too stupid to do anything right,’ and that I was bad just because I happened to be alive.”
My parents have always been prone to rage and impulses. My family has had large and violent arguments that began because “someone” (me or my brother) failed to replace the roll of paper towels in the kitchen before one of the almighty parents found that they had need of one. We consistently had different utilities disconnected for lack of payment. We had a truck and trailer repossessed, and my mom picked my brother and me up early from elementary school on days when she was tired or the weather was bad because she “didn’t want to have to go out again.” There was dysfunction.
Education was never important to my parents. In fact, they bad-mouthed and openly mocked teachers, school, and people who pursued higher education non-stop when I was growing up. They both had high school diplomas and believed that pursuing anything more than that was ridiculous and a waste of time.
Then they discovered homeschooling.
I was in fourth grade, and my best friend Alice invited me over to her house all the time. We spent a huge amount of time together, and my parents and her parents became friendly. Alice had been homeschooled previously, and was still required by her parents to do math out of a homeschool math book in addition to the math we were taught in our public school class. Alice and I were both GATE (gifted and talented education) students, and we completely enjoyed each other’s company.
Slowly, my parents came to be enamored of the idea of homeschooling through their relationship with Alice’s parents. During this period, they were becoming more and more fundamentalist Christian in their thoughts and actions, and more and more legalistic in their ideas about what was acceptable behavior for our family. Due to their own experiences of abuse as children, I think the idea of being disliked, ignored, passed over, and maltreated because they were Christians gave them something to cling to; their abuse wasn’t because of who they were, but who they worshipped.
Things slowly got even crazier in our house. It seemed like we watched a new Christian documentary about how the Occult was trying to steal and sacrifice Christian children every weekend. My parents became obsessed with the end times, and we watched all the Thief in the Night videos multiple times. In an effort to protect us from all of this evil descending upon us and to keep us close as the end times were near, they started homeschooling us when I started sixth grade.
This period wasn’t so bad, although I suffered my first major depressive episode from the isolation. We homeschooled under an umbrella school and my mom, my brother, and I attended monthly meetings that taught the adults how to do the school’s paperwork and the kids how to deal with social workers who wanted to take you away from your family and never let you see them again.
I learned during this period, but the books I learned from were suspect. I specifically remember the only mention of Joan of Arc in my eighth grade world history book said that she was simply a crazy person who wanted to be famous. No mention of her importance in French history, her military significance, or that the fact that a young woman even achieved fame during this time in history was amazing. She was just a crazy person who shouldn’t be remembered.
This really bothered me and I brought it to my mother’s attention. Joan of Arc was one of my favorite historical people at this time, and I was very angry that she’d been treated this way. My mother laughed it off and told me it didn’t matter.
During our time under the umbrella school, my mother wrote LIFE SKILLS in block letters across every Friday in her lesson plans. The “skills” we were learning were how to clean the house top to bottom for no apparent reason. Not only was this accepted by the school, they actually suggested that she do this. Unfortunately, it was a portent of things to come.
My mother had gotten into a car accident when I was 9 years old. As a result of the accident, she was becoming more and more physically disabled. She would eventually be unable to walk more than a few steps at a time and became wheelchair bound.
What I believe happened to her during this time, at least from my perspective looking back as an adult, is depression due to her medical condition and anxiety about loss of control. She was already unstable, abusive, and prone to rages before this happened. Now things were starting to get really dark and scary.
Ninth grade happened. Ninth grade remains one of my favorite and most wonderful experiences of my life. I went to a charter school that had independent study for some classes, so it was still homeschool, but I had friends and teachers and a fantastic opportunity for learning. It was amazing, and part of why I am not anti-homeschooling as an adult. This was a good school: they checked up on kids who hadn’t been seen in awhile, required weekly meetings with parents, and made sure we were learning. I would send my own kids there.
Then we got kicked out. Not because of me or my brother, who were doing extremely well, but because my mother refused to do the lesson plans or attend the meetings required of her. We weren’t “technically” kicked out, but the school sent her a letter “suggesting” that she put us in a more “traditional” school environment, as she was unwilling to comply with the mandatory parent participation rules.
That’s when my life took a drastic turn for the worse. I almost didn’t survive this period, and it still affects me in ways I don’t always realize. Thankfully, I had made some friends during my one year of good schooling that stuck with me through this time. Without them and their understanding, I know I wouldn’t have made it, despite how little I saw and communicated with them.
My mother’s medical condition had worsened when I was in 9th grade, to the point that she needed nursing care. My parents, rather than looking into what their excellent insurance would cover or reaching out to the community for help, figured that they already had a solution sitting right there in the house—someone who they wouldn’t have to pay, who could be on call 24/7 with no time off and be not only a nurse, but a maid, a cook, and someone for mom to scream at because she felt like it. Me.
I fell into one of the darkest pits of my life. I spent my days answering my mother’s beck and call, being screamed at and called names continuously, scrubbing floors with toothbrushes, washing underwear by hand, and making gourmet dinners far beyond my skill level. There was no gratefulness. There was no escape. It just went on and on.
A typical day during this time looked something like this:
5:00 A.M. Be awakened by mom and dad flipping the overhead light on in my room and screaming at me to go in the kitchen and wash the dishes I left in the sink after my dad ate his dinner last night. Be screamed at continuously and told how lazy I am over and over. Since I’m up, I can make Dad’s oatmeal for breakfast. I had better not burn it, or World War III will commence.
5:30A.M. Dad leaves for work, Mom goes back to bed. I retreat to my room and try to sleep. If I’m not successful at sleeping, I’ll read some Wuthering Heights again, for the 18th time.
8:00 A.M. Mom wakes up. If I’m not awake, she runs her electric wheelchair into the door of my room, popping it open. She may then proceed to scream at me for being lazy and not being up yet, or may simply yell at me to make her bed and get her breakfast.
8:30 A.M. Breakfast gotten, her bed is made. She tells me I can do school now. I lay across my bed, a school book next to me. I am so tired, I can barely keep my eyes open. I try to focus, try to understand what I am reading. Then I hear, “Rai!” shouted down the hallway. I pull myself off the bed, exhausted and a little dizzy. My heart is pounding, but it does that a lot. I ignore it and hurry down the hall to my mom’s room. She says, “Hand me the remote control.” I fume inside as I look down and see that the remote is 3 inches from her hand. I hand it to her and go back to my room, filled with anger. I try again to concentrate on my book, but end up falling asleep.
10:00 A.M. I wake up, spluttering. My mother has told my brother to pour water on me because I fell asleep. She then tells me if I’m not going to do my schoolwork, I need to start cleaning instead. Today’s chore will be dusting her bedroom. Every item in her bedroom must be thoroughly dusted, which will involve removing every stupid tchotchke from every single surface and running a dust rag over the items and the surfaces, and then replacing every single item in its original place. This would be horrible enough, but she is going to sit on her bed and criticize me constantly for the entire time I am working on this project that I do every single week.
11:30 A.M. It’s time to make Mom’s lunch, so I will have to go back to the dusting later. She has decided she wants a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of tea. I make them and bring them to her. She yells at me because there are a few blackened spots on the sandwich. She makes me make it again. I have to make the tea again too because I put in too much soy milk the first time. I make it again.
12:30 P.M. Mom has laid down for a nap. I will finish dusting after she wakes up, but for now I have to do laundry. I have already washed the laundry, but I have to hang it out to dry on the clothesline. It’s towels, and it is going to take forever to hang them up. It’s so cold outside, I can see my breath. I’m not wearing shoes because I’m not allowed to wear them “just” to hang up clothes. I am freezing, my hands hurt. I’m trying to hurry as fast as I can to get back to the warm house. My hands are so cold, I struggle to pry open the clothespins. I have to open them up so they can fit over the thick towels, otherwise they’ll fall off and I’ll get screamed at. Dad refuses to buy a new dryer because, “Why do we need a new dryer when we have you?”
1:00 P.M. I lay on the couch in the living room, enjoying the quiet as I start to warm up, my hands and feet burning as they get warm again. As the burning fades, I drift off to sleep.
2:00 P.M. I wake to Mom yelling at me to get up, why am I sleeping in the middle of the day? “Get in the kitchen and start dinner! I want to eat at 4:00!”
I trudge into the kitchen. Terrified, I realize I forgot to take meat for dinner out of the freezer this morning. Mom didn’t tell me to, so I didn’t do it. I don’t know how to decide to do things myself because I am never allowed to do that. I have to do what I am told, always, no matter what.
Scared, I sheepishly creep into my mother’s bedroom. “Mom, I didn’t take anything out for dinner.”
“How can you be that stupid? You knew you were going to have to make dinner, why didn’t you take anything out?”
“You didn’t tell me to.”
“I shouldn’t have to tell you, you should know that you have to take meat out for dinner. For a smart person, you are so incompetent sometimes!”
I ask what she wants me to do. She tells me to just finish the dusting and then make spaghetti. I go to get a new dustrag, and try to take as much time as I can because I am trying with all my might not to cry. She is really mad, and I have to now spend another hour right under her nose, getting constantly criticized. I come back in the room, and I’m tearing up despite my best efforts not to. The worst possible outcome happens: she notices.
“You are such a drama queen. It’s your fault the dusting isn’t done yet, you’re taking all day on it because you’re too incompetent to even pull out meat for dinner. You see this?” she holds up her right hand, face full of contempt. She rubs her forefinger against her thumb and says, “This is the world’s smallest violin, playing for you. Stop crying and do what you’re told!”
I get angry. I tell her that I dust this room every week, and it’s so stupid to take every knickknack down every single week. I tell her that she never told me to take meat out, that it’s not my fault. We argue for a while, maybe 15 or 20 minutes. Finally, she says, “Get out of my sight, I don’t want to deal with your attitude anymore. Go get the towels off the line and fold them and then make dinner. Do what you’re told and don’t give me any stupid excuses.”
I go and check the towels. I decide that she can yell at me for not folding them later, because they’re still wet. Something like that is inconceivable to her. After checking the wet towels, I go into the kitchen to start dinnertime. I hate dinnertime. It’s the beginning of this agonizingly long process that can sometimes last until 2 AM. I have to wash the lunch dishes and clean the kitchen first. Then I make the dinner. Then I serve the dinner. Then I wash up from dinner all alone.
This wouldn’t be so bad if it was a normal way of doing these things. After dinner, I have to not only do the dishes and clean the surfaces, which is normal, I also have to take all the burner covers off the stove and clean them. I have to scrub the kitchen floor with a toothbrush tonight because I talked back to my mom. Then I have to make my dad’s lunch for tomorrow, which means I will be here for awhile because my dad is having a chopped salad. I am 15 years old. I don’t have very good knife skills in the kitchen yet, and a chopped salad takes forever. I also have to heat up my dad’s dinner and serve him when he gets home, and then do the dishes after. If I am very lucky, I will still have some energy left to read a little bit before I go to sleep. I ache for the moors of England, so far from this hell I am living in.
11:00 P.M. Finally everything is done, and everyone’s in bed. I read for a little while, and then fall asleep, exhausted.
3:30 A.M. I wake with a start. I heard banging on the wall. It’s my mom’s cane that she sometimes uses in the middle of the night when she’s trying to be quiet and not wake up my dad. “Rai, get up.” she whispers, “Make me some cinnamon toast and tea. I’m nauseous.”
I drag myself out of bed and do as I’m told. I’m so tired, I can’t bear to be yelled at again today. Sleep isn’t that important anyway, right?
I lived like this for 3 years. I learned absolutely nothing. My mother had found a crappy charter school willing to take us that had no parent requirements. They sent a teacher once a month to our house to collect my work. The night before each of these visits, I stayed up all night long copying out of the teacher’s answer keys to produce about 5 pages of work per subject. I fell asleep and fell out of my chair on three separate teacher’s visits during these three years. I graduated from the “school” in 2003 with honors.
There is much more I could say about how long it has taken me to recover to the point that I am not completely debilitated not only by my lack of common book and logistical knowledge, but also PTSD and severe social and generalized anxiety. I am finally in college and pursuing the education that will lead to me living up to my potential, but I am 33 years old. That is 15 years I could have been already pursuing my education and career that have been stolen from me, not to mention the 3 years of schooling that were lost to my parents’ abuse and educational neglect. I think that homeschooling can be wonderful, but my experience proves that it can be absolute hell when unstable, irresponsible people aren’t held accountable for the work they say they are doing for their child’s education.
Having experienced three different types of homeschooling as well as having attended public school for the first six years of my education, I find that I am in the unique position of knowing what it’s like to be abused by one’s parents regardless of where you’re being schooled. I was bullied terribly in third grade through the entire year, and that was a nightmare in and of itself. I have no intention of downplaying bullying when I say this, as it’s a terrible, terrible thing for anyone, especially a child, to endure, but I ask you this: what if your bully was always at your elbow? What if they sat across from you at the dinner table? What if they were in complete and total control of your entire life? What if you had no one to protect you from their rages? Not just that no one will stand against them, but that there is literally no one to stand up for you in the first place? What if that bully intended you to be their slave for life and had everything at arm’s length that they needed to try and make that a reality with very little possibility that anyone would notice or help? That’s what it’s like when you’re homeschooled by one of them.
They bully, of course, when you’re in regular school too. But there are limits to what they can do without it being noticed. Also, when I was in regular school, there were 6 hours of my life 5 days a week when I could be a child. When I could laugh without fear of punishment. When I could ask questions and read without being put down for trying to be “smarter” than my mother. I was allowed and encouraged to learn by my teachers when I was in regular school. When I was homeschooled, my mother was there every moment of every day criticizing everything about me and telling me how stupid it was that I wanted to learn anything because it was all just “worthless.”
When I was in regular school, I had several adults telling me that I was smart, that I was kind, that I was capable of producing good things and of being a good person. When I was homeschooled, the main voice I had in my life was telling me that I was nothing, that I was “too stupid to do anything right,” and that I was bad just because I happened to be alive.
I don’t know that I’d take my bullying experience of third grade instead of what happened to me through homeschooling, but I will say that neither is what should be happening to any child, ever. It is my opinion that a child should be schooled in the way that’s best for their education and emotional well-being. If a kid is being tortured in school, their parents can choose to homeschool them, and I think that is wonderful. But here is the thought I leave you with: what about the kids being tortured at home? What are their options?
Rai Storm was homeschooled in California from 1996 to 2003. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.