Hello and welcome to my diary on homeschooling. I'm writing this after seeing a picture posted by my (arch-conservative, of course) uncle on Facebook created by a group called "Homeschooling/Unschooling". I'm here to tell you about the trials and tribulations one faces during and after homeschooling.
When asked where I went to high school, I hesitate for a second before responding. To this day, despite being asked this by dozens of people, I've never really felt comfortable discussing it. I've never figured out a way of conveying myself honestly on this subject without turning small talk into either a serious discussion or a dead silence where the other person is undoubtedly thinking, "... Oh." Most people who ask this question don't know me well enough to know that I'm an atheist, so it's likely that many think that I'm some religious whackjob who was indoctrinated by ultra-religious parents into accepting "facts" about evolution or abortion or other subjects popular with the reality-challenged community. Au contraire, mes lecteurs. Hell, I wish I had ANY facts fed to me.
Because, you see, my answer when asked about my high school is often to say this: "I was homeschooled. Sorta. It's complicated."
If you'd care to hear my account, follow me below the thingie. The orange thingie. Yeah, that thingie.
I live in Texas. It's very unfortunate, true. Only in Texas can something like this happen. Well, Texas and the several other homeschooling-friendly states in America. You see, Texas requires no accountability whatsoever to the parents of homeschooled children. You write a letter to the state informing them of your desire to homeschool, and that's that. No truancy officer comes a-knockin'. No social worker checks in. You don't have to submit any curriculum for approval by the state board of education or the local school board. Nothing, nada, rien, and zilch. You just disappear into an educational black hole, at the mercy of whatever your parents choose (or don't choose) to educate you about.
Which is how the most disturbing homeschool programs can be found legal: There's nothing to stop them being illegal. No accountability exists to ensure the child's educational well-being, and so really, anything goes. In my case, "anything goes" meant a program called "unschooling".
Unschooling, in its essence, is the theory that children can educate themselves. I am not trying to pull a fast one on you. People really believe this is true. Unschoolers think that children will not learn unless they are curious about the subject and are willing to take the initiative to learn about it. In unschooling theory, a child might see his father working on a car engine and ask, "Dad, how do car engines work?" Cue the parent instructing the child on the mechanics of revolving crankshafts driven by the explosive reaction of fuel causing a volumetric expansion of air against a piston housed in a cylinder which, through lubricated ball bearing action, turns translational energy into rotational energy. If you're curious, yes, I had this conversation with my very mechanically inclined father, and no, I didn't actually understand it until I went to engineering school and could augment his words with things like "volumetric expansion" and "translational/rotational energy", both of which would cause my high-school-educated father's eyes to glaze over. Not that he's dumb, mind you, it's just that his knowledge of car engines is much less theory-based than I find comfortable, given that his knowledge comes from decades of experience poking around under the hood. But I digress. This is not a diary about car engines.
My father took me out of school after the first few months of 6th grade. The public school in my neck of the woods was shameful and insufficient to meet my needs. (I did mention that I lived in Texas.) I'm not tooting my own horn when I say that I was a bright and curious child, eager to learn but highly discouraged at the snails pace one finds in K-12 education. If I remember correctly, it was my idea to do homeschooling. After begging and pleading and sharing stories about being discouraged from reading (this was true, mind you) and the general incompetence of the teachers and the general cruelty one finds among young children just starting to become pubescent, my father relented, and so the Great Experiment in Homeschooling began.
The original plan was not to do unschooling. En fait, my father wanted to buy me into some decent homeschooling plan that would give me some structure to my learning. Sadly, these things are expensive, and this was circa 2003 when the economy wasn't great for my father's line of work. (He started a dump trucking business in partnership with his ex-wife literally one day before 9/11. There was no money for construction of infrastructure or anything like that while we were busy ensuring the de-construction of Afghanistan and Iraq. Needless to say, it eventually went belly-up.)
The plan was for my mother, talented in English, to teach me reading and writing. My father, deeming himself more apt for mathematics, opted for that route. Without the aforementioned materials, though, my education lagged for around six months. Then my mother died, and my father, busy as he was trying to make ends meet in the Bush economy, had no time. And so the Great Experiment in Homeschooling became the Great Experiment in Unschooling, whereby I was taught nothing by no one.
It wasn't meant to be this way. My father insists that he wanted me to go back for high school. But by that time, my social skills - ever precarious, given my precociousness - had deteriorated to nil. I'd developed a strong agoraphobia which, though much less problematic, plagues me even today. (It is difficult to have social contact with one's peers when you don't go to school.) More begging and pleading ensued in which I decided that I did not want to go to high school under any circumstances. Dad, though he knew it was wrong, relented. Personally, I suspect that my mother's death had affected him in such a way that he just couldn't say no to me any more.
With that in mind, I'd like to invoke the "Home Rule" rule here on DKos and respectfully ask that any comments not include any withering criticisms of my old man. He did the best he could with what he had, and emotional trauma does bad things to people.
In short, for the time that I'd ordinarily have spent in middle school and high school, I had no formal English or mathematics or history or social studies. Given that I had a computer, an internet connection, and a lot of free time on my hands, I spent a lot of time being raised and educated essentially by the internet. My English skills were honed in forums and through the fiction books I'd buy from time to time. History came mostly from Wikipedia. Social studies through the political debates I engaged in frequently online. (Incidentally, you can thank the internet for taking me from my original Christian conservatism to liberal atheism.) If my "education" gave me anything, it's the ability to read, write, and debate extremely well - reading and writing all day has a tendency to do that. I've gotten compliments on my argumentation skills from very many people, even some on the "other side". So there's that, I guess.
Suffice it to say, this continued until I was 17. The plan all along had been for me to go to college. I've known what I wanted to do with my life since before I even left school. Aerospace engineering was where it was at for me. Now, luckily the State Board of Higher Education in Texas doesn't really regulate the universities in this state - the universities expect quality, and so they don't just let in any Tom, Dick, and Harry. Turns out that one needs either a high school diploma or a GED just to apply. So the goal became, "pass the GED".
It wasn't hard. The GED test is a lot like the SAT, except the math part is less abstract and the other four parts mostly just test your ability to read and write. With some mild effort in an algebra book - a subject I'd never studied until that time - I was able to pass the math portion barely and ace the other four parts without sweat. So that obstacle was down. But in retrospect, the math part was disturbingly easy. Any high school student who didn't sleep through algebra could've passed it. (Then again, my opinion of others' math skills is mostly shaped by the engineering students I've met in college, so take that as you will.) But I struggled with it. And here I am, wanting to be an engineering student!
So of course, I didn't even bother to apply to Texas A&M or the University of Texas. I applied at the local community college to get my basics out of the way and catch up on mathematics. I did very well there, but since I didn't take any physics or chemistry or calculus, my application to A&M was rejected. So I spent another year at another community college doing calculus, physics, and chemistry. I did well there, but nothing special. Somehow, after asking a couple professors for letters of recommendation, I got into all three schools I applied for. Cue me in the summer/fall of 2011 finally going to the University of Texas, my dream school, for aerospace engineering.
Funny thing about UT. When you go there, you find out that everyone is smarter than you. This is doubly so in my case, given my deficiencies from high school. My lack of foundation in the basics troubled me for a very long time. For instance, I've never taken a geometry class in my life. Everything I know about geometry has come from my own intuition and by noticing tricks and techniques in lectures, examples, and books. For all the beginning engineering students reading this diary (there are loads of you, I'm sure...), trust me when I say that geometry is your new god. You can't do anything without an exceptional command of geometry. I'm lucky in that I have an intuition for geometry, but for the first few years of college, it plagued the hell out of me.
While I can write like crazy, my style is mildly haphazard, prone to errors with the finer points of grammar (for instance, commas plague me), and isn't well-suited for academic-style essays. To this day I struggle with things like MLA citations (or, in my case, AIAA-standard citations). These are the kinds of things that would have been ameliorated with a high school English class or two.
I currently speak two languages, English and French (hence the name and the random French expressions strewn throughout my diaries). Prior to last year, I was monolingual in English. This is unfortunate, because I happen to greatly enjoy learning new languages. It's a passion I only recently picked up, since it was only recently that I had an opportunity to study a foreign language. (Note that my entire family is your stereotypical monolingual xenophobes.) If I'd had the opportunity to study French in high school, it's possible that I could be trilingual now in either Dutch or Spanish, two languages I hope to learn after French.
These academic challenges are bad enough, but the greatest damage from homeschooling is the social aspect. As I alluded earlier, homeschooling in such an isolated environment left me socially damaged. I struggle with it to this day. It's a problem I doubt I'll ever fully recover from. I even had a psychological evaluation in which the initial conclusion was that I was an aspie. (This was later determined to be a misdiagnosis. My isolation did bring on many of its symptoms, however.)
Socially, I'm probably at the level of a fourteen year old, despite being twenty-two. Conflict resolution is difficult for me when in a verbal conversation - but given that I spent most of my formative years on the internet, text-based conflicts are usually no problem for me whatsoever. Being randomly greeted is a challenge that I've only recently programmed myself to deal with - a random "hey [Le Champignon]" might elicit an awkwardly phrased "hi" or a simple nod of the head because I'm too tongue-tied to respond properly and enter a conversation. Needless to say, for a long time, forming real friendships was difficult. It still is, though I've recently started having some success. Group settings, especially school-based ones involving projects, are awkward nightmares. This problem will almost certainly hurt me in the job market. Everyone wants team players. No one wants awkward engineers who don't fit into groups.
To sum it all up, homeschooling left me academically and socially marred compared to my peers. I acquired few advantages and many disadvantages that only a lifetime will undo. I can only imagine how much worse it would've been had my father been inclined to give me a religious education. It's one thing to be intellectually starved. It's quite another to be given intellectual junk food. It's a travesty that states like Texas would allow this.
I'll close with this. If the local schools are too low quality for your standards, then do what I plan to do with my future children: Supplement their education. As an engineer, I feel like I'll be able to greatly supplement my children's mathematics education with after-school tutoring using an incentives-based approach. Try something like that with your children, if you have the time and the energy. At the very least, you'll get to spend more time with them. But for your child's sake, don't homeschool them. It's not worth the damage done to their psyche.