Education in America

I Was Homeschooled

Not only was I homeschooled, I was homeschooled in 1987, when pretty much the only people who homeschooled also had an action plan for the Rapture. This is the story of how I became a dirty liberal womanist heathen.

I did not attend school in my living room because my parents were afraid I wasn’t getting enough Jesus at the local public school.  I was sick a lot, and I missed quite a bit of school.  I was keeping up with my classes, but there was drama, and threats of failing, so my parents looked for another school.  Private school wasn’t in the budget, so my parents talked to some people at church who were homeschooling their kids.  And my high school education was born.

Nowadays, there are a gajillion (est.) curriculum options for parents who want to teach their kids at home, covering all sorts of beliefs and methodologies.  In 1987, there was not this selection. The only curriculum the parents could find was from a ultra-fundamentalist offshoot of Bob Jones University. They both worked, so I did school assignments while they were at work. I was a pretty sharp kid, so I could read enough to get the gist of most subjects, except math.

Were it not for my library card and modicum of intellectual curiosity, I would have graduated from high school without knowing a lick of biology and believing Christopher Columbus was on a mission from God to create America, instead of an arrogant dumbass with a bad sense of direction.  My 11th grade history text book had a three page section on why secular music made people have premarital sex.  (It’s the beat; the only music with a beat that matches a human heartbeat is of God. All the rest makes us fornicate and blaspheme. US History and God’s Plan for America tells us so.)

I was a skeptical little Baptist well before high school, but I played along, because I still wanted As and also to go to a good college that wasn’t Bob Jones University. I got the As, and into a college that wasn’t Bob Jones University, but I was completely and utterly unprepared for it academically.  I read all the time, about all sorts of different things, so I could keep up in any class that didn’t require me to 1. know math beyond the basics or 2. know anything about science. (“Cells are made of God’s love!” wouldn’t fly at the college level.)  I managed to get out of college without getting better at either of them, which I’ll admit gives me pause. Now I have a Master’s degree and I’m still secretly ashamed that I have no idea how to solve a two-variable equation or what the words sine and cosine mean. I’m proud to say I know more about science, but just enough to know I should keep my mouth shut and learn when other people are talking about science.

Aside from a somewhat shoddy education, being homeschooled had benefits.  I’m great at working alone, I have great time-management skills, I can research the shit out of anything, I can spot manipulative bullshit from 20 paces and I can recite all the bible versus that support the theory that Jesus was way more open-minded than a lot of the people who do horrible things in his name. Teaching myself made me a better teacher when I went into the field, and it made me respect and want to fight for our public schools.

I was weird before, during and after I was homeschooled, so I can’t speak as to whether or not it made me a social outcast.  That ship was already sailing. I always had friends, and I did plenty of extra-curricular things and group activities.  I made friends quickly in college, and I’m still close with several of them.

I’m fairly sure I would have still become the dirty liberal womanist heathen I am today if I hadn’t taken the path I did, and I may have gotten here sooner. I like to think being immersed in the Southern Baptist worldview for four years make my convictions a little stronger than they would have been otherwise.

I still wish I knew more math.


By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

12 replies on “I Was Homeschooled”

So interesting! Thanks for sharing your experience. My biggest concern about homeschooling is that a lot of the parents who choose to do it are exactly the ones I think shouldn’t, but obviously that’s not universal. I’m so interested in different models of education, and homeschooling is one I tend to be too dismissive of, I think.

It’s a good system for many kids, but only if the parents commit to it! One-on-one attention, personalized, tons of reading. I always bragged to my school friends that I could sleep in till 9am and that my “lessons” only took me 3 hours, some days less, which left the rest of the day to do sports, or read and write (of which I did quite a bit), or to do some work around the house. And my siblings and I always outperformed our school friends on the standardized testing (between the 95th and 99th percentiles, usually), even for math, so it’s not like we got a half-assed education.

I get worried when I see the parents who are homeschooling because they have some political or religious agenda that conflicts with public education but they don’t invest in the process of homeschooling. These parents ARE out there, you’re right. Those are the kids who have difficulty communicating with anyone who isn’t family, who can’t tell you about cell division (cuz’ that’s evolution talk!), and who reject any books that don’t appear in the Holy Book.

But really, for me and my family, homeschooling was quite wonderful, even in the bad old days when we were pretty much on our own with no curriculum or approval from the state.

SO INTERESTING, as in, I’ve know you for 20 years and this is the most you’ve talked about your high school experience. Was it the jaw drop and cocked eyebrow look I gave you when you first told me? Because I was not quite 18, so, you know, not the most gracious person!!

Anyway, as far as math/science goes, I went to the same not-Bob-Jones U you did, and I got out with a whopping two semesters of math and science each. How is that even legal? I’ve always enjoyed the biology part of science (lots of hs science classes on my transcript). I didn’t really get math until I took my Montessori training course. And that’s only number-math, not algebra or geometry or anything like that.

Homeschooling is fascinating to me. And especially religiously-based homeschooling because it’s just so…incorrect. Did your book really say cells are made up of God’s love? Because I thought there was like…cell walls and stuff in there too.
I didn’t know you were homeschooled! But it ups your fascinating quotient.

It certainly prepared me for spending hours in front of my computer. : )

No, I actually did learn the cell parts in HS, but I think I could have gotten away with the God’s love quote on a test. I could have been a much bigger smart ass than I was, but I was much more obedient in those days.

I was homeschooled too, but in the 90s and early 2000s, so the environment was different. Also, we were pretty solidly in the John Holt/unschooling tradition, so “curriculum” was only an abstract word in my vocabulary without any concrete meaning for me. I also gleaned most of my education from reading (mostly novels, if I’m being honest) until I decided to start taking college classes as a teenager and moved on from there. I was fortunate enough to be in Illinois, where there are literally no restrictions on homeschooling (a good thing if you’re unschooling, trust me) so I could let my education take me where it will. I’m not a math/science person, but both of my brothers are, so I know it’s a “me” thing, not a “homschooled” thing.

It’s interesting to hear about the earlier generation of homeschooling, and about homeschooling with a more structured environment. I’m not sure it would have suited me well. I’m pretty passionately outspoken about how wonderful my education was, and about how having near-complete control over my own education has strongly influenced who I’ve turned out to be as a person, and ultimately a lot of my beliefs and ideas not only about education and child-rearing, but to a certain extent also about how to interact with the world and treat other people. But I think in my case, a lot of that has to do specifically with unschooling rather than homeschooling in general.

I’m really not going anywhere with this, I just like to talk about homeschooling.

I would love to write more about unschooling (I’m a fan, if you couldn’t tell,) if you’re willing to wait until sometime in August. I’m in the midst of a headfirst, 10 day immersion into my masters program, so thinking coherently about anything other than library science is impossible right now (and it’s questionable as to whether even the library thoughts are coherent right now.)

I was thinking about writing an article about this very subject, since I was homeschooled right about the same time you were and in much the same tradition.

At the time, though, I had Bob Jones AND Abeka for curriculum. Bob Jones *gag*. A good deal of what I learned was suspect (Catholics are APOSTATES, and so forth).

The level of my education was quite high, though–I learned real biology and sciences, for example. I think this might be because all my aunts homeschooled my cousins, too, and between all of them and my family, we cobbled together a curriculum of our own to share.

We also had tons of social interaction. We all played sports, we all were in band and drama classes, we even took Drivers Ed at the local school. The last couple years of high school I even participated in a homeschool cooperative and made even MORE friends. My school friends had no clue I was homeschooled until I told them (at which point, many proceeded to malign me, so maybe they weren’t true friends after all).

To me, the most difficult part of homeschooling was the discrimination we received at the hands of our local school officials. We paid our taxes to support schools like everyone else, and in my state, we needed the school officials to sign off and approve a few things before I could get transcripts and apply for college. We had plenty of objective testing, materials, and proof of my academic achievement, but the school officials always made my life as difficult as possible. They even denied a couple of my cousins the academic scholarships they had earned legally in their district; my cousins didn’t have the money to fight a legal battle with the school district, or they would have, on principle.

I’ve never felt harmed or hindered by homeschooling–other than the bias and stereotyping of others. Of course, it’s not for everyone, and many things become much easier for a child in a traditional school. For me, however, it was great!

My parents had some trouble, too. My curriculum came from an actual school, so that helped them meet the requirements for the state. I also did a homeschool co-op, but I was the only high school kid, aside from a boy with whom I had little in common. I belonged to an Masonic youth organization, and 4H, which happened to have a drama program in my area. There were lots of people my age in my neighborhood, too.
I feel you on the bias. Writing this felt really awkward, b/c I don’t normally talk about it. Lots of folks think it’s weird, and while I can own a certain amount of oddball, there are some conversations I just don’t want to have. Cool people are cool, like everything else, though.
I don’t think it would work for everyone, by a long shot. My fellow homeschoolers in this thread all seem pretty whip smart, with well-educated mentors who helped a lot. Not every kid can count on that, and it’s a huge responsibility for parents and caregivers.
One definite advantage: Since I had to write nearly every single assignment out, I am a master of the five paragraph essay. Also, artful BS padding. It’s not a tangent, it’s a sidebar.

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