My first day of public school was my first day of college at 18 years old.
Not everyone can say this, but overall, I’m glad I was homeschooled.
I do have some criticism for how my parents went about it, though, and there are some definite lasting negative effects. This is mainly because of the church influence.
I say I’m glad because aside from church trauma, I had a happy childhood. I probably also would have been happy if I went to school.
But as a kid I loved homeschooling because it helped me learn how to be self-motivated as I could get my schoolwork done early in the day and have more free time. I liked spending fewer hours in a formal, structured setting. I got to learn hands-on and have unique experiences. My parents took us on field trips, cross-country road trips and camping trips during the school year. My younger sister and I would just bring some schoolwork along for the ride. I’m thankful for the flexibility and enrichment homeschooling afforded me.
We lived far from the schools and without homeschooling I would have spent hours each day on the bus. I lived in a beautiful rural area with lots of woods and beaches and I got to spend much of the day exploring, riding my bike, climbing trees and running along the waterfront because I was able to get my work done quickly.
I did have friends, and I participated in weekly kids activities that were a lot of fun.
I was a bit introverted and liked not having to feel too overwhelmed socially in order to learn. But in all fairness it’s a “chicken or the egg” situation – which came first? Homeschooling or my shyness?
I performed well academically and I scored high in annual testing (I believe it’s legally required in the US, but some homeschool families still don’t do it). I always tested above average for my age. When I went to college I got good grades, joined Phi Theta Kappa and graduated with honors, so I didn’t suffer there.
Now for the criticism.
Public schools and daycares were vilified in the community I was raised in. The way they talked about it terrified me, making me very thankful to be homeschool. Frankly, they made school sound like a weird mix of the military and an asylum – strict teachers, grueling assignments, mean bullies, cold dark halls, stiff clothes, uncomfortable desks, long hard days, not to mention being ridiculed for your faith and being surrounded with drugs and violence. Now as an adult when I talk to people who attended school as kids, most of them laugh and say this was far from their experience and that they loved school. Sometimes I still catch myself feeling surprised by their positivity.
The criticism I have here is the unfairness and inaccuracy with the way school was portrayed and how it led to unnecessary fear. I grew up terrified of not only schools but the kids who attended them. My sister and I called them “school kids” and we thought they were scary and mean. We could usually tell when we saw other kids if they were familiar fellow homeschoolers or “school kids”, who we usually avoided.
One of the biggest concerns I’ve heard from the general public toward homeschooling is a lack of socialization. Growing up, my sister and I were great at talking with adults and interacting with younger children, usually better than our publicly educated peers and my proud parents pointed this out. They weren’t wrong. But while we excelled socially with adults and littler kids, we struggled more with kids our own age, especially if they seemed different than us. I’ve seen this to be a common homeschool experience.
One of my biggest criticisms for the way I was homeschooled, is that all my friends, all the activities we did, all the people I ever interacted with, were also conservative Christian so I had zero diversity in my life. Everyone and everything I ever encountered closely was a clone of what I already knew. Even with the traveling and social activities, I was very much in a bubble. Every event during the week was at church or with church people. It was a form of isolation, but I think my parents truly thought they were protecting us.
I also had almost zero exposure to important cultural media or events. Even now in my 30’s I’m often still learning for the first time about things that profoundly shaped my peers and even our entire society – things like movies, music, kids TV programs, and even social, political or economic events that were a big deal. As an adult I’ve studied major world events that I lived through from a historical perspective because I didn’t know they were happening at the time.
We lived in a rural area but it wasn’t so remote that my parents couldn’t have taken me to programs at the library or enrolled me in art classes or sports at the local school. We went into town a few times a week, it could have fit into our lifestyle. We did participate in a weekly homeschool co-op that had a variety of fun activities that felt fulfilling at the time, but it was also part of the church and I realize now how narrow my existence was.
Being raised religious wouldn’t have had nearly the damaging impact on me that it did if I had been able to see different ways of living and thinking and know that our religion was one expression of many in a big beautiful world.
Instead, our church and parents used an “us versus them” fear-mongering approach. Being “sent to school” was actually used as a threat to control our behavior. Every year as fall approached my sister and I were nervous about whether this would be the year our homeschooling utopia came to an end. My mom would make little comments about not being sure how long they would homeschool and it created an underlying anxiety for us. I remember clearly one time my sister and I were bickering in the car and my mom told us she was going to enroll us in school as a punishment and the teachers would make us behave. She actually drove us to a nearby elementary school and she said she was going to walk in and sign us up. We were horrified! At the last minute, parked in front of those big glass doors, Mom said, “I guess I’ll give you another chance, but next time you might not be so lucky”. I think the church’s intense emphasis on behavior control is probably what led her to think she had to use methods like that to keep us in line.
After teaching us the basics like how to read and write, our parents were fairly hands off with our day-to-day education. My mom bought us school books at a local homeschool bookstore and gave them to us and we were expected to go through them on our own. My dad would help us with math sometimes in the evenings but that was about it. I suppose this approach might have been because they trusted us and we didn’t take advantage of that. I did well and self-teaching is a skill I’m grateful for. I also acknowledge my privilege – not everyone could learn easily without a more robust support system.
Thankfully the curriculum I had growing up was mostly secular. I’ve heard horrific stories of homeschool “curriculum” that was basically just Bible verses and etiquette lessons or no lessons at all. My best friend had to teach herself how to read at age 9. I’m glad that wasn’t my experience. Some of my science books were Christian-based but luckily they was less extreme than some and the only glaring gap was evolution.
Math and science were my weakest subjects, which is common in homeschooling. I usually tested average or barely above average in those subjects while I tested much higher in everything else. I also had to work harder in math and science classes once I got to college. I’m honestly not sure if I’m less naturally inclined toward math and science or if this is because I was homeschooled. I do think the reason it’s so common for homeschool kids to struggle in those important subjects is because those are more difficult to teach to yourself, especially when there’s no tutoring support available.
I LOVED college, but I was still scared spitless when I first went. I’ll never forget what it felt like – it really sounded like everyone was speaking a foreign language because there was so much I didn’t know about the outside world. I learned how to nod along and laugh on cue and studied social cues to fit in. However this learned coping mechanism has a negative effect on me today, 15 years later, because it can foster shallower relationships and miscommunications.
That first quarter of college was a whirlwind – I gradually warmed up and was happy as a clam. I gained confidence and learned leadership skills and discovered what it feels like to be a valued member of a vibrant and accepting community. College is also when I first started my slow process of deconstruction. It didn’t take much to notice reality was more complex than I had been led to believe.
To conclude, I don’t hate homeschooling. I think it can be done well, or very poorly. Homeschooling when done poorly is a huge disservice to children, and frankly, child abuse. I don’t think homeschooling itself is the problem in a lot of cases, but rather the religious indoctrination that fuels it. Unfortunately homeschooling has been a favorite tool for abusive religion and a great cover-up for abusive families. I believe my childhood would have been perfect if I had been homeschooled free of indoctrination and fear and with exposure to other lifestyles and beliefs. Once again, religious exclusivity shows itself to be the problem behind many social ills.
I am my own. I know that now, but I didn’t always.
Fuck purity culture. Fuck being shamed out of wearing shorts, tank tops, and two piece bathing suits because apparently having knees, shoulders, and a torso is ok for men but not for women.
Fuck innocent friendly gestures being sexualized. Fuck the pastor freaking out at me for accidentally letting the office door swing shut for a millisecond. Fuck getting in trouble for giving a male student a ride to church.
Fuck those church bros leaping away when I try to give them a platonic side hug, as if I’m a walking disease, like my body is toxic and will contaminate them.
Fuck always being on edge, waiting for the next unwritten rule I might break.
Fuck being fed a male-centric view of sex – being brainwashed to believe every time I had sex I was being consumed by a man.
Fuck being injected with the nagging fear that I lost something and he took something – the idea that I was losing a part of my personhood, my identity, my soul; something too deep and ambiguous to pinpoint or define and therefore impossible to determine if it was actually happening or not. Fuck the intentionality behind that confusing chaos.
Fuck being told over and over and over again that I’m an object to be utilized, a product that could be spoiled – that I don’t have any agency over my own life and body, that I belong to my future husband, someone who may or may not even exist. But he could somehow own me and was entitled to a certain lifestyle from me, just because he had a penis and I didn’t.
Fuck having no where to turn when I was sexually assaulted because all anyone wanted to know was “what were you doing alone with him?” Not even realizing for years what happened wasn’t okay, that it wasn’t actually my fault for existing in a space near a man who wanted me.
Fuck all the fear and the shame and the missed opportunities and the dampened experiences and the panic attacks and the nightmares and the insecurities with my loving and committed partner. Fuck it all.
Purity Culture can die and go to hell.
I am not the problem. I know that now.
Contrary to popular opinion, God did not make a mistake when creating my body.
I am not a temptation or a stumbling block. I am a human being.
I am good. My body is good. My identity and value aren’t in how or with whom I choose to share my sexuality. I’m not forever tied to past decisions or still connected to anyone I don’t want to be.
Fuck purity culture and fuck purity rings; those little finger-sized handcuffs.
And for the biggest “fuck you” of all – I’m happy. I’ve struggled free. I’ve learned to manage the residual effects. My life is my own. I make my own decisions without the smallest consideration for what the oppressors think.
I know now that my body is a temple for the light inside of me. I am my own. I bought back my life at a price. Therefore I honor my needs, my authenticity and my divinity with my body.
I am my own. I know that now.
When reputation is currency, privacy is only afforded by the elite.
Reputation is used to buy status within the community, but the high price to be paid is autonomy and individuality.
Evidence is needed for a “good” reputation, and thus forced accountability, intrusive questions and betrayed confidence are the norm.
Reputation is often traded like stocks – church leaders covering for each other and defending one another, or tearing apart someone who stands in their way.
So many rules – each one serving a carefully crafted outward appearance.
Hundreds of do’s and don’t that are never really about God.
Instead its always “Put on a jacket! You don’t want anyone thinking you are a loose woman, do you?”
“Make sure to write your name on your tithing envelope so the staff doesn’t think you’ve stopped giving.”
“You can’t carpool to youth group with your guy friend, that will look scandalous.”
“Don’t loiter in the parking lot, people will think you’re making trouble!”
God knows the heart, but reputation earns your ranking among men.
When reputation is currency, life is spent grasping at water and chasing the wind; trying to control what is not in your power, trying to hold onto something that was never yours – because reputation lives in someone else’s mind.
Reputation is at the mercy of whims and moods of strangers and friends. It grows and dies based on whether they like you or not, how they interpret your actions and words, and what they choose to say behind your back.
Your reputation might be just the thing someone needs to depreciate in order to boost their own equity.
When reputation is currency, people are only a means to profit. The congregant is a low wage worker and the church is the CEO.
An entire childhood spent pursuing fleeting favor – never fully at rest.
Finally – a young adult. College meant a slightly longer leash. I didn’t notice at first I could breathe easier.
It was my first ever event with a college campus ministry when I heard the speaker say “Reputation is who people think you are, and character is who you really are. Focus more on your character than your reputation.”
Awe and respect flooded through me. In two sentences this man had summarized the church problem that had plagued my childhood and simultaneously provided a solution for a healthier way forward.
I instantly felt safer in this community that seemed to have its priorities straight. Finally there was a better way, or so it seemed.
But in time I would find out those words sounded fancy but rang empty. This new vehicle too, ran on the fuel of reputation.
As a ministry intern I wasn’t allowed to drink alcohol, even in moderation, even when off the clock – because of what other people might think.
As a ministry intern, I was never really off the clock, because the game of other people’s opinions doesn’t run on set hours.
Each week I drove a complicated maze through town to make sure that when taking students home, I never ended up with a male student as the last one in the car. Not because our male students were dangerous or because I had inappropriate intentions, but because there were rules designed for what others might think.
My best friend was failed and held back in ministry credentials training because of her bubbly personality. She was informed the decision was made based on what guys might think of her, and what other pastors might think of her supervisor.
I once accidentally freaked out my male pastor by stepping out of the room briefly to take a private phone call. Why? Because that left him alone in a room with a female intern and the door unexpectedly swung closed behind me. This was a problem not because of anyone’s intentions but because of what other people might think. It “looked bad” and now it was my fault. I sucked in my breath, afraid to go back inside. It was just another day of always feeling on edge, wondering what other people might think.
One evening, a few of us female interns and a male intern went downtown to grab food and we were sternly warned by a staff pastor to “be careful” with the male intern – because others might think we were up to something.
I almost got fired for one of the most Christlike things I’ve ever done. I let my boyfriend at the time sleep on the floor in front of the heater at our community house, after all my roommates said it was okay with them. There was no working heat where he was staying and it was a dangerously cold winter night. I almost lost my job after 7 years of proving my character, because of reputation. Clearly one mattered more than the other.
It’s unpredictable really, what other people might think. It’s all up to their mood, the kind of day they are having and their own unique backgrounds that we can never fully know. Carefully planning all my answers and actions based on expected reactions is exhausting and never foolproof. Its not if, but when you get burned.
I watched helplessly as a handful of female interns had full-blown panic attacks over whether or not my non-alcoholic amaretto flavored ice cream could sit in their freezer for about an hour in between errands, in a strictly “dry” household. These young ladies weren’t afraid the ice cream was sinful, they were afraid of what their leaders might think. Once again, I was unintentionally at the center of the chaos, involuntarily stirring the pot.
When reputation is currency, we buy all the wrong things. The earth is dying, children are starving, and people in our own neighborhoods don’t know how they will keep their electricity on this winter. Yet, here we were, worrying about the legality of ice cream?! I couldn’t do this much longer.
Year after year was filled with one reputation disaster after another, each one pushing me closer to the edge. I so badly wanted to be successful in this rat race, I wanted to be beloved. I desperately tried to do the “right” thing, but I never could by the constantly shifting standards, opinions, and “convictions” of others.
Finally, I withdrew my balance and closed my account. I stopped showing up to their nine-to-five. I could no longer buy or sell in most Christian circles. Perhaps reputation is the real mark of the beast.
When reputation is currency, our investments are worthless and our relationships are fake. We aren’t real people, we are actors.
When I pulled my reputation out of the ring, I lost my place in the running, but for the first time I owned myself. My personhood was the prize.
At last, I could breathe.
Why was I the one who got away?
Was I somehow special?
Was I just lucky to be exposed to a different viewpoint? No…I’ve seen others presented with the same information and respond differently.
Why did I leave?
Was I different from birth?
Is there something in my genetics that makes me question everything? Something that makes me less likely to follow blindly? No… my sister has the same genetics and she continues to dive deeper in.
Why did I have the epiphanies?
Did an outside force change me along the way?
Did something happen in my childhood that made me realize something wasn’t right? No… My sibling and I shared most of the same childhood experiences and I’m the only black sheep.
Why did I wake up to the inconsistencies, harsh judgments and lies?
Am I more compassionate? Certainly more than some, but no… that’s not it – I know plenty of compassionate, misguided people.
Why did I learn to think for myself when I was trained not to, and the cost was so incredibly high?
Am I wiser? Bestowed upon by the Spirit? No…that doesn’t seem right. I’ve seen many people ask God for wisdom, yet come away with different conclusions.
Why did I rebel when I was always so obedient before?
Was I chosen? By whom? No…I doubt it. Certainly there are others more capable who could have been called out and enlightened. Those with more bravery, charisma, charm…
Why did I escape?
Where did I find the strength to willingly lose everything? How did I gain the resolve to pick apart my entire reality? Perhaps I was equipped by the God I was accused of rejecting. But no…It doesn’t make sense for God to rescue me and not the others.
Why was I given a second chance at life, even while I was so narrow-minded? Where did I learn to start again from scratch?
Am I following my true calling now? No…I’m not doing anything grand – just taking care of myself and my loved ones and trying to be happy.
Why do I now have this life I call my own?
Why do I get to finally say I am safe? Scarred and broken, but free?
Was it just some random happenstance? A meaningless coincidence? No…I feel a sense of purpose deep in my bones, and though my life isn’t impressive somehow it is still enough. Back then, I was never enough.
Am I special?
Am I lucky?
Am I different?
Am I chosen?
Am I called?
I will never know
I will always wonder