Day of the Homeschooled Child
On children's rights, parents' responsibilities, and the advocacy of homeschool alumni
As a child in Colorado, I would often wake up early on winter mornings, pull on two pairs of socks to ward against the cold of the basement, and creep down the wooden stairs to start my day. At an elevation of 9,300 feet, we lacked oxygen, had few neighbors and hardly any traffic on our dirt road. It was always quiet, but especially in the dawn. Quiet enough to hear my own thoughts.
I liked starting school early because I worked better in the quiet. Before my younger brother started his own schoolwork, his mechanical pencil scratching and erasing in what sounded like a tempestuous battle with the paper. Before my mother sat at her desk and made grocery lists on her yellow steno pad for our weekly shopping trip out to the city, often reading them out loud to herself to make sure she didn’t miss anything. Before my older sister woke up and started whirring the sewing machine as she made another quilt. Sometimes my father would already be up, after only a couple of hours of sleep, working in his office. Sometimes he’d still be asleep, having only just gone to bed. He worked most of the time, with only small interruptions of sleep, in those days.
I also wanted to start my work early because school took me a long time. I felt that I was slow at finishing most tasks. This could be partly because I was a perfectionist. Am a perfectionist. I would use a ruler to diagram sentences neatly and precisely. Erase math problems over and over until I managed the exact answer. Read my literature assignments faithfully with a dictionary on hand until I gathered the meaning of every word on every page. Robinson Crusoe I hated. Little Women I loved.
Homeschooling was many things. Good and bad and all that I knew. I learned a lot, yet there was a vast world of knowledge I was never taught. Homeschooling in one sense was a sheltering, a keeping of us children away from “secular culture.” In another sense it was an indoctrination, a closed box of curated information to keep us on a particularly narrow path of religiosity.
In a way, I am who I am because of homeschooling. Self-disciplined. Nervous in large groups of people. Hard on myself. Inquisitive. Skeptical. Self-taught. Curious and a little sad whenever people talk about “picture days” or “yearbooks” or “prom.”
Homeschooling was all-encompassing, corseted to our Christianity. Even now in my thirties, when I spot an ant in the kitchen, I unapologetically sing, “Go to the ant, you sluggard, see how she works all dayyyyyy!”—the lyrics to the Judy Rogers song coming out of a safe deposit box in my mind, every word remembered. Even our music was based on scripture.
Here’s the thing: I can be grateful for parts of my homeschooling, angry at others. I can accept that, like most everything, there is no all-or-nothing understanding to be gained of my experience. I also know I would do things differently if I had children.
On April 30, the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE) started the first ever Day of the Homeschooled Child, a day to bring awareness to the reality of homeschooled children’s lives and advocate for better state regulations to protect these children.
More than 1.7 million American children are homeschooled. But state laws are severely lacking in regulating homeschooling, a lack which enables abuse and neglect. Here are some facts that CRHE has gathered:
In 48 states, it’s legal for registered sex offenders and convicted child abusers to homeschool their own children without any restrictions. There are no requirements for those at-risk children to have contact with mandatory reporters of child abuse.
In 11 states, parents aren’t required to notify education officials of their decision to homeschool. That means countless homeschooled children aren’t being accounted for in any way.
No state requires homeschooling parents to screen their children for medical conditions or ensure those children receive care. Abusive homeschooling parents can keep their children away from life-saving medical care without anyone to notice or intervene.
Millions of homeschooled children lack guaranteed access to child welfare programs their public-schooled peers have. That includes food and nutrition programs, age-appropriate sex education, mental health counseling and resources, and monitoring for child abuse and neglect.
This April 30 was our very first Day of the Homeschooled Child, and we made it a trending hashtag on Twitter. We told our stories. We raised awareness and started discussions about how to create a safer way to homeschool.
And I am so proud of us—homeschool alumni—we weren’t exactly given an easy path through life. Many of us struggled to transition to the “real world.” Most of us were isolated to an extent. Our parents wanted to protect us or indoctrinate us, or both. Many of us have stories of abuse and neglect and parentification.
We each have stories of figuring out our own way forward. We have persevered, and we are able to advocate now for other homeschooled children. In a way, I feel as if I am now the voice my younger self needed.
But not everyone seemed to understand the intent behind the Day of the Homeschooled Child. This was to be expected, I suppose. Some homeschooling parents argued that those from abusive homes were tainting the reputation of homeschooling. “Not all homeschoolers,” it seemed like they were saying. Others wanted to contrast how public schools aren’t that great either. Which felt dismissive. We’re not talking about public schools. I know there are areas of improvement for children’s education in all forms, but here we are talking about homeschooling. And if it wasn’t clear, it’s called “Day of the Homeschooled Child” not “Day of the Homeschooling Parent.”
This pushback sparked a very old feeling I’ve held about my parents since I was pulled out of private Christian school halfway through kindergarten. The feeling of they don’t know what it’s really like; they keep saying they know what’s best, but how can they possibly know? Parents cannot really understand what it is like to be a homeschooled child, not unless they were homeschooled themselves. And back when I was a kid, homeschooling had barely become legal in the US, so most of us children were rather like experiments.
I remember feeling like my parents could never understand what it was like for me. They’d gone to public school. They’d grown up around children their own age. They had no idea what it was like to be educated at home by one’s own parents. And that is why it is so important to listen to the people that homeschooling affects most: children.
When I was a kid being homeschooled, much of the talk I heard in our community was about parental rights, about the government being overbearing and wanting to “take away our kids,” about being afraid of Children’s Protective Services. It was all about the parents. No one asked me what I thought. No one asked if I liked homeschooling or gave me an option. No one told me that I had rights, not even after I turned eighteen.
I shared more of my thoughts on this on my Instagram, how homeschooling led to me staying in an abusive environment at home until I was twenty-five and found a way out:
I was homeschooled for 12.5 years in Pennsylvania and Colorado. In PA there were some regulations that required my parents to record academic progress, but regulations were looser in CO. Not once in the homeschool community did I hear parents talking about children’s rights. Instead, the running theme was to keep children out of public schools and avoid government interaction as much as possible. We weren’t spanked in public so the neighbors wouldn’t call CPS. And HSLDA was created to protect parents, not children.
Of course, we were told this was for our protection, our safety. Not having worldly friends would protect us from drugs and sex and evolution and the liberals. We didn’t need to socialize—we had siblings.
For girls like me, a homeschool education was to bring me to a “high school level” so I’d be able to have intelligent conversations with my husband. I was supposed to focus on skills like cooking and sewing, and even though we had academic study, I know now it wasn’t very good. I understand now the term “educational neglect.”
When I didn’t like science, my parents said I could skip it. When I got old enough to read and understand the teacher materials, I was given the answer keys to grade my own work.
Abeka. Christian Liberty Press. Canon Press. Veritas Press. Little House on the Prairie. Creationism. Latin in 1st grade. US Constitution. Stories of the martyrs.
I did not meet any mandatory reporters, except for the occasional doctor visit. I did not receive any sex education. I was taught that slavery benefitted Africans. I was told psychology was a hoax and that my depression was sinful.
When I turned 18, I didn’t know that I had rights as an adult. I didn’t know I could leave. I was forced to stay home because college wasn’t for girls. I was meant for marriage, nothing more.
When I finally got out at 25, I had to write my own high school transcripts just so I could apply for community college.
It’s difficult sometimes to see homeschooling as anything other than a weapon that held me captive. But I know my story isn’t the only one that matters. I know homeschooling can be the best option for some children. And that’s why I am advocating for a better homeschooling system in the US. Children deserve better.
So . . . what can you do?
Learn more about current issues with homeschooling. If you’d like to learn more about children’s rights in homeschooling, please check out the Coalition for Responsible Home Education: https://responsiblehomeschooling.org/. They conduct research around homeschooling and advocate for homeschooled children.
Understand the context of the current homeschooling environment. The Kitchen Table Cult Pod has been releasing a multi-episode series on the history of parental rights. This quote from the first episode has really stuck with me: “Children have rights. Parents have responsibilities.”
Follow these homeschool alumni advocates:
R. L. Stollar: https://rlstollar.com/
Heather King: https://twitter.com/hcarolineking
Eve Ettinger: https://www.eveettinger.com/
Kieryn Darkwater: https://mxdarkwater.com/
Jessica Dulaney: https://twitter.com/hullojess
After months of working with my editor on developmental edits . . . my manuscript has officially been accepted and is in production! I’m so grateful to make it to this point. Over the winter and early spring, my editor helped me shape the book into something more than I thought it could be, and I’m so thrilled with it.
At one point, I was sitting on the floor of an Airbnb cottage up north in a snowstorm using scissors to cut my manuscript into sections and then taping it back together in a different order. And somehow it is now a complete book.
Seventy thousand words. Seven years of writing off and on. Many tears and many doubts. More revisions than I can remember. The truth on the page and a great relief. This book of mine.
Right now, all the pieces of book making are in process: cover design and copyedits and subtitle discussions and marketing preparation. Until I started working in the publishing industry, I didn’t realize how many people (besides the author) actually work to bring a book into the world, and I’m so grateful for each person who is helping me with this memoir.
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