“Today as a public school educator, I advocate for strict oversight of homeschooling not only because of my horrible childhood, but also because I have been that typical homeschooling mom trying to do the best she can with little resources and support around her to daily keep her motivated.”
As a homeschooled student, I needed a system that would help hold my parents accountable for the type of education that I was receiving. Neglect and abuse reigned in our home because there was a lack of accountability. If educational standards had been in place and annual testing mandatory, it would have become apparent that my parents needed support to address the holes in my understanding. The abuse and neglect would have been addressed and my educational quality (as well as quality of life) would have improved.
As a homeschooling parent, I was aware of the holes in my education to a certain extent. I felt that I could do a better job and still give my son a sound education while avoiding the pitfalls. What became apparent was that my son was not going to get an education as I lacked the accountability of a structure to keep him doing school daily. I didn’t realize the issues that I was having in motivating my son to do his work were not his fault and slowly I found that “homeschool” was morphing into one long, never ending snow day.
After expressing concern, my husband and I placed our oldest son into public school. Not only did he thrive, we also discovered a key component to helping him succeed in life and that was his Asperger/ADHD/SPD diagnosis. Without the support and resources of the public school, our son would not be at near the level of achievement that he is currently.
Today as a public school educator, I advocate for strict oversight of homeschooling not only because of my horrible childhood, but also because I have been that typical homeschooling mom trying to do the best she can with little resources and support around her to daily keep her motivated. Further oversight and accountability are necessary to help these vulnerable children succeed. But they also are necessary because they provide the family with help, tools, and support when things don’t go as planned. Oversight and protections are a necessary part of all educational systems to ensure teacher and student success. Homeschools should be among them. For these reasons and many others, I support further regulation of home education.
Chandra B. was homeschooled in Missouri from 1986 to 1999. She homeschooled her own children in Missouri in 2008. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.
“At the time my parents were homeschooling us in the state of Ohio a certified teacher was needed to sign off that the children were being educated. They were supposed to look over the last year’s work to verify. The woman who did ours was also a member of our church and homeschool support group and never even looked at the stuff mom brought her, which wasn’t much. I even remember mom commenting that ‘P only cared about her check clearing.’”
I was homeschooled from 1988 to 1993, from 7th through 12 grade, by two high school dropouts. Kindergarten through 6th grades I went to both public and private Christian schools. My parents chose to homeschool us for religious reasons. They did not want us learning “worldly” things.
In the beginning Mom did a fairly good job educating us. I was easy, she just made out my lesson plans and I did it all myself from there. It was very boring, I’d read from my books and answer questions and then move on to the next subject. I was more focused on getting it over with as fast as possible than I was learning anything. Mom was too busy with all my younger siblings to really pay attention to me or my schoolwork. There was never enough money for curriculum either. Mom and Dad saw more importance in my younger siblings’ books than mine. They often would only buy the teachers edition of the books and make my work from that. Mom would carefully tape tiny slips of paper over the correct answers and make copies to make my tests. I was always able to tell which one she’d covered and always got the right answer, of course.
Now as a parent of two teenagers I see what I missed by seeing what they are learning. I feel like I really got no high school education to speak of. Not only was my education hurt, but also my emotional and mental growth was stunted by the isolation I experienced. As a teen everyone said I was very mature for my age but as an adult I feel very behind in just about every area of life. I looked mature because I was always caring for one of my six younger siblings. I’ve been parenting since I was 12 years old. As I got older and the babies kept coming my education became less about math, history, and such and more about “family living,” you know, keeping house, cooking, etc. College was never an option for me and was actually demonized. It was a scary, evil place where they taught lies like evolution and feminism. Even getting my GED was out of the question—a man at church implied that the GED test was linked to “big brother” somehow. And besides, I didn’t really need an education, I was just supposed to be a submissive wife who bore many children while homeschooling and catering to my husband’s every whim. That was “God’s will” for my life.
As bad as my education ended up being it was actually worse for my younger siblings. I at least had the basics from being in school through elementary. The younger kids started out being homeschooled. The next brother younger than me was very intelligent and began reading at age four, he got an okay education for the first few years. I’m sure in a school setting he would have been placed in a gifted child program and done great. Instead, as he got older Dad would take him to help with whatever job he was on at the time (he was a contractor). He was supposed to catch up on his schoolwork on other days but that didn’t really happen. So instead of being a gifted student in a real school he was busy out doing manual labor at a very young age. Soon the next brother after him, who tended to struggle with schoolwork, was out on the job with Dad too, and his education got put to the wayside as well. The last four children are girls and were in their early elementary years when my Mother announced she was leaving my father and all the kids were put in public school.
All of them were years behind in their schooling. After years of struggling and academically and being bullied, four of my siblings ultimately dropped out of high school and only the two youngest graduated.
At the time my parents were homeschooling us in the state of Ohio a certified teacher was needed to sign off that the children were being educated. They were supposed to look over the last year’s work to verify. The woman who did ours was also a member of our church and homeschool support group and never even looked at the stuff mom brought her, which wasn’t much. I even remember mom commenting that “P only cared about her check clearing.”
I feel VERY strongly that if there was someone really looking at what we were doing and being taught it could have made all the difference in my siblings’ and my own education. If their early education had been better my siblings could have had a much easier time when they were put in school—perhaps they would have even graduated. It could have made all the difference in their lives.
As for myself, who knows what I could have become had I been given a proper education? I know being isolated causes long-term damage to a person—I suffer its consequences daily. I know that simple conversation can be absolutely humiliating when something you never learned comes up—something everyone else learned in middle school.
Homeschooling has its place and if done right can produce well educated students. But it can also be the perfect hiding place for a controlling, abusive parent, and even for parents who determine how much and what kind of education you get based on your gender. There has to be monitoring, safeguards in place to make sure children are really being taught, because all children have the right to an education no matter their gender or religious beliefs.
Theresa M. was homeschooled from 1988 to 1993, from 7th through 12 grade, in Ohio. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.
“I was constantly reminded that if I didn’t vouch for my family in the most favorable light, I could and probably would be separated from them. (I now recognize that to be another clear sign of abuse.) The fear of child protective services, and social workers in general (being agents who tore families apart), was both irrational yet deeply ingrained in me as a child.”
I’m a 33-year-old mother of three. I was educated by homeschooling from 1985 to 1990 in Illinois and 1991 to 1995 in Pennsylvania. From all outward appearances, my life is fabulous. I’m married, in a stable relationship, my husband and I own our own business, I have been educated to graduate level, I have healthy, vibrant, intelligent children. Yes, I have everything going for me. But lift away the layers and you’ll meet a deeply broken woman who struggles to meet life’s demands, its ebb and flow, with endurance, confidence, and the zest that is deeply a part of her core.
Growing up, I always knew something was wrong with my family. I felt like an outsider, I almost always felt afraid of my parents, and when I didn’t, the fear was replaced with an awkwardness I couldn’t quite pinpoint. Any attempt to establish my own identity was immediately slammed with extreme methods of dignity-robbing. Do I blame the abuse on homeschooling? No. I place the blame on my parents, adults who needed help they refused to recognize they needed. In my experience, homeschooling equaled intentional isolation. Isolation is very often the first sign of abuse.
Only in recent years (2009 to present), have I finally been able to name the abuse for what it was and, in part, understand my parents for who they were in my formative years: well-intentioned but entirely misguided. Through the extensive testimony of my experiences, my dad has been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, sex addiction, narcissism, and dissociative complex. My mother has been identified as having severe borderline personality disorder and narcissism. Any time in the past four years that a new diagnosis on the part of my parents has been revealed, I have gone through a period of severe anxiety, depression, and grief. Words on a screen don’t seem to relay the depth of my experience. I have often told my husband and close friends that my therapists’ shocked facial expressions have been the most validating therapy for me. Writing has helped. Various methods of trauma therapy have helped to an extent. But for me, what has been most healing has been human-to-human interaction and validation. And time. Lots and lots of time.
My parents decided to homeschool as a means of “protecting” my brother and I from the social and spiritual “ills” of secular society. But the vacuum created by the lack of healthy community, from my perspective defined as an integrated, wholesome, nurturing system of interaction, checks, and balances, was devastating. Sure, we socialized with people of the same religious persuasion as my parents. We even joined a few homeschooling groups for “extra” curricular activities and classes. However, and in retrospect, with my parents as sick as they were, my socialization was always carefully scrutinized and micromanaged. As an adult, I’ve learned that what I always suspected was quite accurate. It isn’t normal to have to repeat, word-for-word, conversations that occurred when parents aren’t around. It’s not normal to be given word-for-word conversations that are to take place with peers or on the phone when parents aren’t around to officiate.
I believed, being homeschooled through the elementary grades and some of middle school, that though my parents were “strict” I was basically fine. There were events I didn’t like but didn’t feel as traumatic until I hit puberty. My dad was hyper aware of his sexuality and went to great lengths to define the great difference between males and females. I was one of two children. I was the youngest and had a brother almost two years older than me. My dad involved me in his sex addiction by doing astoundingly inappropriate things.
Once I reached puberty, my parents explained what was happening to my body to MY BROTHER. It was at that point that he started molesting me. He always did it when my parents weren’t around, and he always threatened me with physical violence if I told. I lived in constant terror. I didn’t know what being raped meant, but I now know that was my constant terror. I learned to love solitude. I was only safe when I was alone. It was blessing that we lived in the country where I was allowed to be out in nature alone. I feel that nature nurtured me in that time and gave me some life back in return for the time I spent out in the sunshine and with the trees. I would have been much worse for me had I not been granted that “freedom.” When I was almost sixteen I finally told my parents about what my brother was doing. It wasn’t as often as earlier in puberty and I had gained a bit of “rebellious” confidence, so, since he continued, I told them. The reaction I received was complete betrayal. First, they denied that anything had been going on. Then, they talked to him and since he denied any of my allegations, they accused me of trying to break our family apart. I have yet to get over and heal from the sexual damage that was done by my dad and then my brother.
These examples do not encompass the totality of my experience. They offer just a sample of the depth of damage that can occur when unhealthy, controlling parents partner up and isolate their children by homeschooling with no checks and balances in effect. I truly believe that my parents thought they were doing what was right. But it didn’t make it right. My mom was involved in many subversive forms of abuse because of her issues, but she isn’t excluded from the sexual abuse. I could write for weeks on end (and have in therapy) about the incredibly weird, outrageous, and abusive events of my homeschooling years. I’d like to switch gears and touch on the academic end of the issue.
For my elementary and middle school education, homeschooling with the popular textbooks available at the time was adequate and even excelled that of local public schools. When we still lived in Illinois, a neighbor had called the school district and reported my family for truancy. The school district’s superintendent visited our home, reviewed our work, and congratulated my mom on providing an excellent education. In higher grades however, my parents did not provide access to continued excellence.
At 12 years of age, the summer before beginning 9th grade (I had been pushed ahead two grades in order to study the same subject matter as my brother), I asked my parents to send me to school. They met my request with an INTERVENTION of homeschooling moms who had either attended public school themselves or had children they had pulled out of the public school system. I didn’t listen to half they said, it all sounded so horrible. The main point I debated with my parents was that I wanted to go to college (I was 12 years old, mind you), and that I wanted ONE high school on my transcript. They assured me that a homeschooling transcript was highly sought after by many acclaimed colleges. Additionally, the state law of Pennsylvania developed some oversight of our education by requiring regular testing and yearly portfolios to be submitted to the local district.
Well, in 9th grade, we homeschooled. In 10th grade, after my brother expressed interest in joining the football team of our local high school, my mother decided it would be best to just enroll him in classes and I quickly jumped on that opportunity as well. Being two years younger than everyone in my classes, I made some friends but had a difficult time socially, so my parents transferred us to a local private school after football season was over. In 11th grade my mom said she would homeschool me and not my brother but apparently was pressured by my dad into homeschooling both of us anyway. And then in 12th grade we attended the “school” at the church we were currently attending. My brother and I made up both the graduating class that year, as well as the entire high school. All of this to say that it wasn’t surprising in my freshman year of college, that my academic advisor laughed at my transcript and chosen major (premed biology) because he said all my peers in the same classes would have had AP courses and I just did not have the science background to compete.
It wasn’t easy, in fact I had to retake a few core courses, but I made it. I’m a doctor today, and though not practicing, I’m proud of what I accomplished. For the time being I am taking the time I need to care for myself, and my healing, while doing my best to raise my own family with an entirely new set of values. I’m attempting to leave an inspiring legacy and one of acceptance and love.
On the topic of regulation or oversight, I don’t know that any system would be effective with homeschooling families of the type I grew up with. I was constantly reminded that if I didn’t vouch for my family in the most favorable light, I could and probably would be separated from them. (I now recognize that to be another clear sign of abuse.) The fear of child protective services, and social workers in general (being agents who tore families apart), was both irrational yet deeply ingrained in me as a child. I do wish that someone had had the ears to listen and hear what I was going through, but I’m not convinced I had vernacular to describe it as a child, adolescent, or even young adult. For years, I just described my parents as super strict and weird. I now know it was much worse than that. I talked to a pastor after high school and parents of friends in high school (those friendships were shortly cut off by my parents due to “bad influences”) and they listened but, again, I don’t think I had the ability to truly communicate the depth of what was happening because I was still living through it and it was still “normal” to me.
I do not wish my experience on anyone. Yet, as seasons shift in my life, I become increasingly aware that as I heal from my trauma, as the pain changes to anger and grief and acceptance, I am more who I am because of what I lived through. So while I wouldn’t, at any price, want to live through my experience of homeschooling again, I know I am stronger, deeper, and more real to the people close to me today because of it. In the words of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
Megan P. was homeschooled in Illinois and Pennsylvania from 1985 to 1995. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.
“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?
Kimberly R. 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.
“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.
“I still believe in John Holt’s vision of a healthy, self-actualized society of lifelong learners, but I see nothing in Teach Your Own that says the lives of abused children don’t matter, or that taking basic precautions to protect against abuse is an unreasonable hindrance to the learning process.”
My mom likes to say she became a homeschooling parent when I was one year old, when she read John Holt’s Teach Your Own and became convinced she could give me a better educational experience than the public schools could. I was officially homeschooled from kindergarten all the way through high school, first through an umbrella school in California, then on our own in Arizona. We were part of both the large secular homeschooling community centered around Holt’s Growing Without Schooling magazine and some local Christian homeschooling groups; at various times, I wrote columns for GWS’s Susannah Sheffer and played with children whose parents worked for Dr. James Dobson.
Though there were some serious problems in my family, and homeschooling exacerbated those problems, I’m not convinced that any amount of regulation would have helped in my case. More importantly, being homeschooled was an extremely positive educational experience for me. I received an outstanding education, customized to my strengths and interests in a class size of one, from two parents who had three master’s degrees between them and who devoted most of their time to teaching and developing a curriculum for me and my sister. As a consequence, I was a very high achiever academically. I won several statewide academic competitions; I went to college on scholarship; I went on to earn a Ph.D. I credit the individualized attention and innovative nature of homeschooling, in part, for these academic successes. While I was somewhat isolated growing up and had some difficulties with socialization, after a rough first year in college I quickly learned the social skills needed to fit in with my peers. In my view, I was able to make up my social deficits in a way I would not have been able to make up academic ones had I not been homeschooled.
For a long time, I did not support regulation of homeschooling. I feared that regulation was the beginning of a slippery slope to an outright ban on homeschooling. I also worried that holding homeschooled children to a given academic standard would result in “teaching to the test” and would stifle the love of learning that characterized many of the homeschoolers I knew. Most importantly, I believed in the idealized vision that John Holt promoted: a childhood filled with learning and enjoyment, free of the confining strictures of teachers and grades, leading to a fulfilling and creative adulthood.
That all changed, for me, when I learned about Hana Williams and the other victims of child abuse listed on the Homeschooling’s Invisible Children website. While I knew that a few homeschoolers abused their children—you can find victims of abuse in every group, after all—I had no understanding of the ways that homeschooling insulated abusers and isolated their victims, keeping children away from mandatory reporters who could help them. I read about victims whose abuse might have ended in months rather than years, or in pain rather than death, had a teacher or doctor been permitted to see the child even once. I can’t imagine that John Holt, whose aim was to free children and to help them realize their potential, would have continued to support a lack of oversight if he had known it was directly contributing to child abuse. Nor can I believe that he or any other educational reformer would have put their philosophies ahead of the life of even one child.
At the same time, I realized that my fears about homeschooling regulations were out of proportion to the realities of American education. Notwithstanding the continuing perception in the homeschooling community that the freedom to homeschool is in imminent danger, no serious efforts to ban homeschooling have emerged in any state since the early 1990s. As for the regulations being discussed by the Coalition for Responsible Education and other organizations, not only are they only a minimal intrusion on the educational experience of homeschooling, they are in most cases things my family, and others, already did. Portfolio requirements? My mom always maintained a “school folder” for me and my sister consisting of a representative sampling of our academic work and our creative “non-school” activities, so that we could have a record of our achievements when we grew up. Occasional standardized testing? My parents administered the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills to us every three years, just to check on how we were doing, and of course we had to take the SAT if we wanted to attend college. Yearly meetings with mandatory reporters? That would be my regular yearly checkup at the pediatrician’s office to make sure I was in good health. These are not the sort of burdensome requirements John Holt and others feared would teach children to please authority figures rather than to learn for learning’s sake. Instead, they are common sense requirements that responsible families already follow.
I believe in protections for homeschooled children because I believe giving abused children a chance is more important than any educational philosophy, and because I believe the minimal requirements that would be needed for protecting abused children, if applied creatively and intelligently, will be only a minor inconvenience for healthy homeschooling families. I still believe in John Holt’s vision of a healthy, self-actualized society of lifelong learners, but I see nothing in Teach Your Own that says the lives of abused children don’t matter, or that taking basic precautions to protect against abuse is an unreasonable hindrance to the learning process. Ultimately, I believe that I can best advocate for homeschooling by advocating for regulations that protect homeschooled children; being a supporter of homeschooling and a supporter of homeschooling regulation are, for me, the same thing.
Jeremy was homeschooled K—12 in California and Arizona, 1989—2002. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.
“I was homeschooled … in Illinois, a state that has no homeschool regulation, no testing requirements, nothing. Unless a homeschooled child has been in a public school district before being homeschooled (which would require the family to notify the district as they withdraw the student), local officials and the state quite frankly don’t know you even exist if you are homeschooled.”
I was homeschooled from the 1998 to 2007, 5th grade to graduation, in Illinois, a state that has no homeschool regulation, no testing requirements, nothing. Unless a homeschooled child has been in a public school district before being homeschooled (which would require the family to notify the district as they withdraw the student), local officials and the state quite frankly don’t know you even exist if you are homeschooled.
I grew up in a fundamentalist family with a curriculum called Accelerated Christian Education (I’ll call it A.C.E from now on), a very pro-creationism system, and as with many such systems, it’s sorely lacking to say the least in teaching real science, and proper math skills. To this day (I’m 25 now), I’m still far behind in those subjects.
My mother was highly emotionally abusive well into adulthood, and physically abused me until I was about 11 years old. I haven’t had any contact with her since this December. Between the abuse, and a very long history of mental illness in the family, I started showing signs of depression as young as about 9-10 years old.
I became extremely withdrawn, gave up on trying to have friends, between my mother’s paranoia about other people not being “godly enough” according to her rigid standards, always finding fault with everyone, even where such faults didn’t even exist, and my complete inability to understand people at all due to the isolation.
I could relate somewhat to adults, but definitely not to people my own age, and I honestly didn’t have any friends until about 16-17 years old, when two girls from my church at the time, one of whom would go on to become my girlfriend of 3 years, and the other my best friend during for many years, wouldn’t give up on me and tried to bring me out of my shell.
Their best efforts though, didn’t prepare me for what came next: college.
I went off to Southwest Baptist University, a conservative Southern Baptist college, and despite being able to blend into the conservative culture there, I couldn’t handle the everyday stresses of college life. I had never been in a typical public school style classroom before, was not familiar with the ideas of lectures, mid terms, finals, etc. I had never even been able to make everyday life decisions for myself from the mundane to the important, it was overwhelming.
My depression went from lingering in the background, to setting in with a vengeance to attack, and extreme panic attacks hit hard, I had 15-20 severe panic attacks that year I was there at Southwest Baptist, and many smaller attacks. It led to me having to drop out, and come back to my family, to more misery back home.
Thankfully, I have moved into my own house now, and I am financially independent, working as a warehouse clerk. I’m rebuilding my life again, slowly but surely, and I have cut contact with my parents. I just wonder, however, that if sensible regulation and oversight of homeschooling would have been in place, if my life would have been different.
For example, if my family would have been required to send me for standardized testing each year, or meet with local educational officials or social services workers to make sure we were complying with regulations, hopefully one of them would have saw the signs of the abuse and dysfunction in my family, or at the very least, noticed that I was depressed and isolated, and said something about it.
My life could have been much different had just one person spoke up for me, but I’ll never know, because without regulations, many more children are probably right now going through similar situations or worse in homeschooling families, because in states where regulation doesn’t exist, the state doesn’t know about your existence. Abuse can go on unchecked, with no one being to speak up for these children, because they’re not exposed to the outside world, to people like teachers and coaches who are covered under state mandatory abuse reporting laws.
I want to see that change, now.
Jamie G. was homeschooled from the 1998 to 2007, 5th grade to graduation, in Illinois. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.
“Upon settling in Pennsylvania, which has regulations that are generally seen as “stringent,” my parents refused to report, having not reported previously. I met other homeschooling families who followed the laws and their children usually participated in a co-op or other activities with other homeschoolers. . . . I was not aware of any educational shortcoming in my friends—even the large families used evaluators and spent a lot of time DOING school.”
I was homeschooled in the United States from 2004 to 2008. My family moved around Maryland, New York, and New Jersey, finally settling in Pennsylvania in 2006. My parents homeschooled all their children. They were drawn in by various seminars as young people and newlyweds, especially by Raymond and Dorothy Moore, whom they heard of via Focus on the Family.
Upon settling in Pennsylvania, which has regulations that are generally seen as “stringent,” my parents refused to report, having not reported previously. I met other homeschooling families who followed the laws and their children usually participated in a co-op or other activities with other homeschoolers. Other homeschooling parents griped constantly, but followed the laws and each year got their mandatory evaluations “out of the way,” trading “terrible evaluator” horror stories and sharing the ones they had proven to be lax (or just less demanding or thorough). I was not aware of any educational shortcoming in my friends—even the large families used evaluators and spent a lot of time DOING school.
All of the families I met and knew were religious. Most were some form or Protestant, but a handful of Catholics in the northwestern part of the city often got together, having theater productions and classes together. Religion was one of the main reasons cited by all of the families for homeschooling, academics coming in a short second.
My education was stellar, as my mother was very specific about her subject matter and spent hours putting together lesson plans and correcting and grading our work. My younger siblings had less time (decreasing with each additional sibling), and while she reused many of her lesson plans some of them will definitely not get the time, effort, and attention that I and my older siblings received. However, they have received much more outside activity participation, as my parents are now allowing them homeschooled (gender segregated) soccer, volleyball, and even church-sponsored events.
A family we knew who had 14 kids, who had defected from another state because they had been reported by family members for failures in homeschooling and because their family didn’t support them homeschooling, were also not following the laws. The older boys worked to help support the family and the older daughters did so much child care that they literally did no school. They were 15 times more strict than my family, but not religiously so. My mom lent them schoolbooks. The oldest daughter (then 14) had a passion for math and had done only up to multiplication. My mom gave her an old copy of our Saxon 7/6 and pre-algebra and she acted like she had been handed the moon.
I and my siblings suffered mainly from religious, psychological, and emotional abuse. We were constantly chastised for our failing and spanked as children following the methods of Michael and Debi Pearl. As we got older the punishments became less physical and more psychological. We were made to write essays about our faults or failings, derided for hours, or made to find, copy, and recite bible verses that highlighted our sins. Eventually, removal of computer and internet privileges and grounding from any or all outside activities became the chosen method of punishment. The younger siblings are still spanked, but other punishments are also doled out such as added chores or a special, shameful chore like scrubbing the trash cans.
I think increased oversight for homeschooling in the state of Pennsylvania has already been accomplished. Unfortunately, they are considering adding a “religious exemption” clause (like Virginia has) allowing parents to opt out of all requirements.
My parents broke the state’s homeschooling laws knowingly. I think outsider participation on our homeschooling would have caught my brother’s dyslexia faster, would have given my mother accountability when her curriculum was not all that superior, and would have integrated us with our community and state much sooner. Following laws is not an option, and I think that having contact with the children is vital for families as cloistered as ours. I believe that increased oversight would have lessened the religious abuse that gave us PTSD. In our home, my father was God, and God doesn’t have to follow orders. Seeing an evaluator in a position of power and authority over him would have definitely put his attitude into check and had a significant affect on all of his children.
Jennifer P. was homeschooled in Maryland, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.
“I was a homeschool poster child. When proponents tell skeptics about homeschool alums with soaring test scores, stellar credentials, and successful careers, I’m one of the examples they cite. After being home educated K—12 in California and Idaho, I pursued my passion—history—at an Ivy League college, graduating with highest honors and moving on to a Ph.D. program in the same field.”
I was a homeschool poster child. When proponents tell skeptics about homeschool alums with soaring test scores, stellar credentials, and successful careers, I’m one of the examples they cite. After being home educated K—12 in California and Idaho, I pursued my passion—history—at an Ivy League college, graduating with highest honors and moving on to a Ph.D. program in the same field. My always-homeschooled younger sister also excelled, getting a fine arts degree from a respected liberal arts college and using her skills to launch her own business. As children, we were both featured in more than one pro-homeschooling article, and I have heard from hometown friends that my story is sometimes still cited to defend homeschooling.
There is no real “however” to my personal narrative, no hidden dark side that I am about to disclose. I’ve identified some minor problems with my homeschooling experience, but overall, I’m immensely grateful for the supportive upbringing and solid academic foundation my parents gave me.
I support basic legal oversight of homeschooling precisely because I know what it took to make my experience a positive one. Growing up, I watched my mom spend her days planning lessons, scouring curriculum catalogues, piling our sagging shelves with books she purchased and borrowed, gleefully unveiling the latest math games and science experiments she’d found, organizing elaborate learning activities and field trips for us to do by ourselves and with other homeschooling families. She also found outside enrichment options for my sister and me, including choir, dance, figure skating, piano lessons, and volunteering. When I hit high school, she recognized her own limitations. Despite her B.A. in child development and my dad’s master’s degree in communications, she knew they couldn’t teach me everything—nor could I self-teach in all subjects—so she outsourced much of my later home education. I took the SAT in eighth grade to qualify for correspondence courses through Johns Hopkins University; learned French and calculus from co-op tutors; took online AP courses in English, history, and economics; and self-studied for other AP exams using prep books my parents purchased. All this demanded my parents’ patience, knowledge, dedication, financial resources, labor, and time. Even when I personally chose to go the extra mile—writing plays and short stories in my free time, self-studying for tests, painstakingly polishing college application essays—it was because my parents gave me the right resources and created the right environment, one in which learning seemed possible and lofty goals seemed reachable.
The law required my parents to do none of the things I’ve described. In California, we filed a yearly affidavit as a private school and made sure we completed a minimum number of “school” days (a rule no one outside our family enforced, and which we interpreted loosely). We knew other homeschooling families who did neither of these things and faced no consequences. In Idaho, one of the least regulated states for homeschooling, we didn’t have to notify anyone that we were homeschooling and didn’t have to meet any standards. In other words, my sister and I were invisible. All of my parents’ planning, researching, and resource acquisition—and all their efforts to make sure we were on grade level by having us take yearly standardized tests—were voluntary.
If all homeschooled students had the same experience that I had, then oversight would be unnecessary—though it still would not be detrimental, since my parents went way beyond anything that basic oversight would require. Indeed, growing up, I met many homeschooled peers with parents just as caring and competent as mine. Unfortunately, I also met families in which this was not the case. I knew bright homeschooled peers who struggled with basic math and spelling well after they should have mastered these skills, others who thrived in their younger years but in high school could not either be taught by their parents or self-teach and lacked the external support that I got, still others whose parents denied them college opportunities because of extremist ideologies. It’s only more recently that I’ve begun learning about the truly horrific cases of homeschool abuse (which tends to be well-hidden when it’s happening), but even as a homeschooled student, I sensed that I was one of the lucky ones.
My support for basic oversight stems not only from having known poorly-homeschooled peers, but also from the zealotry and lack of introspection I saw in many corners of homeschooling culture. During my teen years, I often represented or defended homeschooling to outsiders, which included being coached on anti-regulation arguments that I now recognize as specious (and found dubious even back then). At an annual lobbying event where homeschoolers visited our state capitol building, I steered legislators toward shiny bar graphs that showed homeschooled students outperforming their public schooled peers, even though I knew the sample was incomplete and self-selected. (I also had seen parents darkening the penciled-in bubbles on the answer sheets, assembly-line-style, after the annual voluntary testing, and occasionally correcting students’ answers.) When legislators asked whether some homeschooled students did not thrive the way our lobbying contingent clearly did, I deflected by bringing up failing public schools, as I’d been advised. (This was a red herring fallacy, as I’d learned through homeschool logic lessons.) As I chatted with one friendly and thoughtful legislator, a local homeschool leader pulled me aside and warned me in hushed tones that this politician was “anti-homeschooling,” meaning she did not support unchecked parental rights. This puzzled me—how could basic oversight of homeschooling be “anti-homeschooling” if speed limits and seatbelt laws were not “anti-driving”?—but I noted the warning and resumed my conversation with a warier attitude. I now thoroughly regret these interactions—the way I served as an unwitting weapon against protection for my more vulnerable peers—but, as I reflect on them, they also help clarify how my experience differed from others’. Even as my own family emphasized adventure and curiosity about the world, we moved in circles that embraced extremism, paranoia, and a willful blindness toward the possibility that homeschooling could ever fail. This was a culture deeply unequipped to self-police.
When I was in my late teens, an obscure magazine named me one of “America’s Top Ten Outstanding Homeschool Students.” The article’s headline read “Homeschooling Works!” I now find that headline misleading. More accurately, it would have indicated that the way my family homeschooled worked—for me. The choice to homeschool, in itself, guarantees nothing; in some cases, it is deeply damaging. Oversight won’t fix all of those damaging cases, but it will help stop some instances of abuse and give basic structure to families who need it. Additionally, I’m optimistic that oversight could help foster a culture of accountability in some homeschooling circles and temper the culture of fear. (As my fellow legal historians like to note, law and society shape each other!) Most of all, I hope that one day all homeschooled children will receive an education like the one I had, preparing them to flourish and reach their full potential in a world they’re ready to explore.
Arielle G. was homeschooled in California and Idaho. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.
“In New Jersey, things fell apart. Without oversight, there was no need to think about compiling a portfolio. Without state standards, there was no benchmark for my progress. We still tried to follow the Pennsylvania guidelines for high school (3 years of math, 3 of science, 4 of English, etc.), but no one was there to check up on us or offer help as I entered harder subjects.”
I was homeschooled from kindergarten through twelfth grade, from 1991 through 2005. I’ve experienced both regulated and unregulated homeschooling, and the differences are profound. From kindergarten through eighth grade, I lived in Pennsylvania and was subject to state regulations: annual reviews by an evaluator, periodic standardized tests, and basic curriculum standards. In 9th grade, however, my family moved to New Jersey. There were no formal requirements for homeschoolers. As far as the state was concerned, we didn’t exist.
My kindergarten through eighth grade experience provided me a mostly balanced, interesting, and engaging homeschool program. We switched math books until we found one that suited me, and I learned verbal skills through voracious reading and daily writing. Every year, we submitted a portfolio to our licensed evaluator and she interviewed me. She was a retired schoolteacher, so she was able to compare my progress with her former students realistically. The portfolio consisted of tests (graded by my mother), samples of my written work, and photos of field trips. There was no question of falling behind in grade level, because homeschooling produced competitiveness in most families I knew. We were all obsessed with being ahead of public schooled kids, and the best measure of that was taking on material meant for older kids. In every subject but math, I frequently studied a year (sometimes two) ahead of my grade level. We interpreted the state standards as minimums that we had to beat.
In New Jersey, things fell apart. Without oversight, there was no need to think about compiling a portfolio. Without state standards, there was no benchmark for my progress. We still tried to follow the Pennsylvania guidelines for high school (3 years of math, 3 of science, 4 of English, etc.), but no one was there to check up on us or offer help as I entered harder subjects. I spent one entire academic year with my geometry book propped up on my dresser, open to the same page. By this time, our homeschooling friends had sucked us into a culture that told us girls’ education wasn’t valuable anyway, that I should be learning homemaking skills and preparing for a life of obedience to my husband. (We would never have been exposed to these ideas if we hadn’t joined a homeschooling group—we were ordinary, moderate Christians when I was in kindergarten.) Homeschooling had become a moral mission for my mother, such that putting me in public or private school was no longer an option—even if it meant I did nothing instead. My expected graduation date passed and I became suicidal. I was convinced that I was stupid and a failure for not being able to teach myself geometry or chemistry out of a book.
My break came when my mother decided to have me enroll in community college for the last credits of high school. I thrived on the classroom environment. It was almost comical how eagerly I approached the remedial math class the college taught out of a trailer in the parking lot. I took philosophy, psychology, earth science, American literature, and that remedial math, and, with those credits, graduated the following summer (a year late, which embarrassed me for many years).
The basic regulations in Pennsylvania gave my mother and me a yardstick for measuring our progress and a sense that we weren’t going it alone. I looked forward to visiting my evaluator and being praised for working above my grade level. The state framework fostered ambition and provided rewards. The absence of regulation in New Jersey, however, meant that I was cut adrift. There was no one to ask for help with geometry, no one to give my mother realistic warnings about my declining performance. Had we stayed with the evaluator, she might have helped us find a solution so I didn’t spend a year paralyzed in fear and depression about my inability to tackle difficult subjects.
More profoundly still, oversight might have kept me thinking about the rewards of performing well in school. Between ninth grade and my year in community college, I received no encouragement to pursue further education or a career—every single adult in my homeschooling group worked against the idea that women should be full participants in society. When my mother mentioned something I’d done in school, I watched other women bristle and talk over her about their sons’ achievements. It wasn’t until I was a junior in college that I started to believe I was actually smart, that my ideas mattered.
I am the only girl in my circle of friends who has graduated from a four-year college. Most have never worked and are now married with several children whom they are also homeschooling. They are raising their daughters to be homemakers, to believe their education only matters as practice for homeschooling the next generation. This is not what a revolutionary, high-achieving population looks like. Groups like HSLDA convince parents that government regulation holds children back from their full potential. From what I’ve seen, the absence of regulation does that far more effectively. It was only under the supervision of my evaluator, regular testing, and the close mentorship of my professors in college that I realized I had any potential at all.
Caitlin T. was homeschooled in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.
The Coalition for Responsible Home Education empowers homeschooled children by educating the public and advocating for child-centered, evidence-based policy and practices for families and professionals.