My Homeschooling Experience
How It Started
by Dan Zen
I went to a public elementary school in California for kindergarten through 6th grade. I was then homeschooled from junior high through high school. My parents had been somewhat interested in the idea of homeschooling before I started, but it didn’t take hold until junior high school.
Prior to the beginning of the 7th grade school year, my parents and I were taken to an orientation for the new junior high school. This orientation boiled down to the school officials explaining how they would prevent me from becoming a drug addicted gang member with numerous children, from several different mothers, before moving onto high school. It was a less than encouraging experience for me at 10 years old, and my parents must have been shell shocked. On top of the orientation, this school was severely overcrowded. It was educating approximately twice as many students as it was intended to.
And so, a few days later my parents sat me down and asked me if I was interested in being homeschooled. They outlined the basic idea, the pros and cons, and then waited to hear what I had to say. I more or less instantly responded “YES! When do we begin.” I had no special attachments to most of my classmates. There was really only one other kid who I would have missed a great deal, but he happened to be my neighbor, so it wasn’t a big loss in my eyes. I had zero interest in the new school after that awful orientation. And my education at the elementary school was absolute garbage; they had ruined my knowledge of math, and were more interested in giving us “just say no to drugs,” “eat healthy,” and “don’t have sex until marriage” presentations than anything else. It sucked. And so, the homeschooling began.
The Education Process
by Kev Gilmour
First, let me mention that there was a lot that went into my homeschooling. Enough to probably write several articles on the subject. Subsequently, here, I am just providing a very brief overview of how it worked for me, from my perspective. So don’t take the following to be the sum total of my home education.
I have always been self motivated as long as I have a clear goal I am working towards, and I see regular progress being made towards it. So my parents setup an environment in which I was given numerous resources and a regularly updated, comprehensive list of topics I was to learn. And I was then free to pursue learning those topics in whatever way benefited me. This involved everything from textbooks, the Internet, my parents, and countless other outlets that I never wound up using much as those first methods were plenty. I would then be required to prove that I was advancing through status reports, homework, and tests on a semi-daily basis. My parents were very on the ball in terms of making sure I was advancing, and ensuring that I not only met, but exceeded the expectations of public school kids my age. I was subjected to high expectations, but allowed to reach them in ways that suited me.
In addition, once I reached a certain point, I began enrolling in college courses to supplement my homeshooling. At the age of 14, I was taking English, math, and more at a local community college instead of from textbooks at home.
Level of Education
My experience, in terms of education, was phenomenal. As I mentioned above, my elementary school did a lousy job of teaching me the fundamentals of education. I went into homeschooling completely screwed up in my knowledge of 6th grade math for example. Fractions were, the pure invention of Satan and their only purpose was to confound kids like me. I couldn’t manipulate them if my life depended on it. VERY early on in my homeschooling, that was straightened out. All of the previous education that was screwed up was straightened out.
Also, in addition to the core topics, I was taught about other, less typical school subjects such as finance. I had money invested in the stock market and was capable of managing budgets and finances by the end of junior high school.
At 14 I started taking college classes. I enrolled in college level math and English to begin with and began moving up the ranks. I was not only capable of keeping up with the average college student, but excelled. I had a 4.0 GPA for a very long time.
In college, I am not lightyears ahead of my peers though. Things have balanced out in terms of education level for my age. There were two major contributions to this. First, I started with the lowest level classes and worked my way up. Most students pursuing a lengthy degree such as engineering would take placement exams to get out of taking basic math and English classes unless they needed it. I did not go this route. I believe this was important as it gave me a more gentle introduction to college rather than being thrown into the deep end. However, as my chosen major requires every math class offered at that community college, I had many years of math. 6 years worth if I took a math class every full length semester.
I was also unsure of a major at the beginning and thus didn’t begin the higher level classes for my major until later on. So I dabbled in a bunch of fields before settling on a definite track. The benefit is that I had a broad education. This is how my interest in computers began. But, the combination of starting from the bottom and jumping around kept me from plowing ahead to an advanced degree at a younger than normal age. And so, I am pretty much on par for my age.
Overall, I was, and still am extremely happy with my education. I received a much better education than my former classmates who went to public junior high and high school. I was allowed to pursue topics at a pace set by me, allowed to access any available resource needed until I learned it, was exposed to practical life skills, and got a jump start on college. During homeschool, I was expected to meet a higher level of education than others my age, and during college, I was expected to have a work ethic and dedication above that of my fellow students. This culminated in, at the age of 16, taking and passing the California High School Proficiency exam, which is a state administered test checking that the student meets the knowledge requirements to graduate high school. This exam gives the student the equivalent of a California high school diploma. I then began college full-time.
Teenagers are a pain-in-the-ass. I don’t have any children. I don’t have personal experience raising or taking care of teenagers. However, reflecting on my own attitude as a teenager and observing that of other teenagers, this is obvious. I’m sure I exasperated my parents many times with my ‘tude, though I was often too self-absorbed to acknowledge it. And they exasperated me in the average teenager ways. There were times that being in such close proximity all the time wasn’t easy. Sometimes, even if you generally get along great with someone, you just need to get the hell away from them.
But, I believe whether this is ultimately tolerable or not is dependent on the parents and child. My parents were… are great. They weren’t overbearing, abusive, or anything else. They were very supportive and gave me enough personal, emotional, and physical “space” to make it work out okay in the end. Add to this that I have always had a higher than average maturity level, which ever so slightly dampened my teenage temperament, and it wasn’t a big deal. Not everything was smooth sailing; however, the fallout from any clashes was mild and short lived. Ultimately, I believe our home life was okay. However, everyone won’t necessarily have the same experience.
One of the best things about homeschooling was also the worst. A lack of socialization. I am an introvert. My parents are introverts. I am, and have always been perfectly capable of functioning in social environments, but throughout my childhood and adolescence, social activity was excruciatingly uncomfortable and stressing for me. Being homeschooled was very relaxing and comforting as I did not have to interact with others as far as schooling was concerned; however, it reinforced my social anxiety with a vengeance. To limit the scope of this isolation, I was part of a small group of homeschooled kids and, when given the opportunity, I was encouraged to be a volunteer sailing instructor on the weekends. But even with these social outlets, I dealt with people far less than I would have in public school. And this was a double-edged sword.
The absolute best thing about this is it all but eliminated peer pressure. I was always a level headed kid, I was never interested in drugs, alcohol, or worse. Quite the opposite actually. But adolescence is an awkward time where the opinions and pressures from one’s peers can be enough to override judgment. By being homeschooled and having a somewhat limited and overall more positive exposure to those peers, I was able to navigate this awkward time with fewer pitfalls than most. As such, I focused on my education and came out of “high school” with good grades, a solid educational foundation, and a more adult outlook on life. Which has helped immensely in college, and I believe was integral in lining me up for what I believe is a good path for the rest of my life. If I wasn’t homeschooled, I doubt I would have dived into anything horrible. As I said, I was level headed. However, I can guarantee that peer pressure would have had some affect as it was already doing so in elementary school, and continued for a short time at the beginning of homeschooling, while I still hung out with my old school buddies.
But this seclusion is also bad. First of all, screwing up as a kid does have some benefits. Within reason, the consequences of mistakes are more mild and short term before becoming an adult. So doing stupid stuff then, gives you the life lessons without the negative side effects. Being sheltered from this pushes off life lessons further into your life where learning them can affect jobs, education, relationships, et cetera.
Second, this leads to having little in common with most people your age once you leave homeschool and enter early adulthood. I am 23 years old as of this writing and have more in common with people 3 and 4 times my age than other 23 year olds. This is wonderful in terms of maturity, both perceived and actual. But, it makes finding friends and dating difficult. Instead of bonding with others, you feel more like you’re sitting on the outside looking in. All the people your age are just now coming out of the teenage years, and still have some of that attitude. But you have seemingly skipped over that portion of your life and are missing that attitude and outlook. As an introvert, I am largely okay with this. I usually don’t want to socialize with most people my age. However, even introverts occasionally want friends or dates, and it is harder to find those.
Religion and Politics
It is quite common for homeschooling parents to have a certain religious or political belief that they feel public schools do not convey adequately to their children. This was true for mine. My parents are Christian and conservative, and they very much wanted to pass that on to me. Growing up I was heavily exposed to this mindset and belief system. Being homeschooled allowed that to continue and actually increase. It evidently worked as I am both Christian and conservative.
However, I do feel that it is crucial to point out that I was not sheltered from contrary beliefs and theories. Just as an example, let’s take creationism as taught by a literal interpretation of the Bible versus the big bang theory and evolution as taught by the sciences. As a Christian, creationism is the prevailing belief for for my parents and I; however, I was still taught about the big bang theory and evolution. Admittedly, there was some bias against those theories, but all of the details were still presented.
This exposure to different theories was absolutely necessary in my opinion. Unless I was to be isolated from the world for my whole life, I was going to encounter people with different opinions. As lifetime isolation did not pan out, understanding and being prepared to deal with other opinions is something I use very frequently. I do not get a form of culture shock whenever I read Internet comments, or have to lock myself in a closet whenever I open a biology textbook.
My Tips For Prospective Homeschooling Parents
- If your child is naturally shy and socially withdrawn like I was, then make sure they get lots of socialization. My working as a sailing instructor on the weekends worked wonders for me, and was integral in ensuring that I can fully function in social situations, even if I am slightly uncomfortable. But it doesn’t have to be anything official. Simply hanging out with friends, joining a group of like minded people, or some similar outlet is plenty. Just don’t let them completely indulge their natural tendency to withdraw. Force them to interact with others.
- Give your child space. Since you will be spending a great deal of time in close proximity, it will be easy for you to hover and micromanage every aspect of their lives. This is fine in moderation, but if you take this too far, it will lead to a great deal of strain on your relationship. Think about how much time and space they would have away from you if they went to public school, and strive to give them a similar level of freedom. How far this goes is, of course, subjective and dependent upon the child. But if the child is largely well behaved and responsible, then step back a little. If my parents hadn’t done this with me, homeschooling would have been a much less positive experience as it would have been mired by my own adolescent rebellion and the subsequent arguments and tension. Try and remember what it was like for you at their age. Did you want your parents hovering over every detail of your life?
- While a chief reason for many to consider homeschooling is to teach a specific ideology or belief that public schools don’t cater to, be careful about taking this too far. Instead of isolating the homeschooler from subjects that you don’t believe and don’t want them to believe, expose them to it, and then explain why you don’t and they shouldn’t subscribe to that belief. Education is about expanding ones understanding. That can be done without eradicating a belief system. If you don’t expose them to it now, they will have a hell of a time dealing with the real world and maintaining their beliefs later on.
There are both valid criticisms and benefits to homeschooling. I can virtually guarantee that homeschooling would not be effective for every child. It requires a certain perspective and level of dedication both on the part of the child and that of the parent. However, for those whom homeschooling would benefit, I strongly support and recommend it.