True Story: My Homeschooling Experience Was Nothing Like The Duggars’

As I skimmed my newsfeed last week I found myself absorbing another horrible headline about the Duggar family. ATI (Advanced Training Institute), the specific culty brand of homeschooling curriculum they abide by, was recently re-scandalized as the founder Bill Gothard was outed as a sexual predator, whose curriculum gives rapey, antiquated instructions to abuse survivors instructing them to “let go of bitterness,” “consider what they were wearing,” and “rededicate their body to God.” Having grown up homeschooled and acquainted with several ATI members, none of this garbage surprises me.

Unfortunately, because of the media shit storm and limited conversation about alternative schooling, when most people think of homeschoolers, or “no-schoolers,” they picture a Duggar-esque situation – a family intentionally disengaging from culture and the world at large, an umbrella of one narrow perspective that will ensure the children don’t stray from whatever ideology their parents prescribe to. Usually, they just make jokes about how dismally awkward homeschoolers are, which is beyond fair – I was acquainted with a homeschooled 17-year-old who carried a stuffed snake with him everywhere.

For me, however, when I think of homeschoolers, I don’t think of the Duggars or their like. I think of my friend Maggie*, whose dad was a truck driver and mom was a recovering alcoholic, who dated a 25-year-old firefighter at 14 and showed me choreographed dances to Eminem jams. I think of Grant*, who at 13 was kicked out of three schools for dealing drugs and getting into fights, and whose mom threw him into the alternative school in Seattle under the umbrella of “homeschooling,” as a last ditch resort. I think of Vanessa*, whose family were professed Wiccans, and her joking threats to cast a spell on me in 7th grade when we were science partners. I think of Julia* the pastor’s daughter who made necklaces for everyone for their birthdays, and liked The White Stripes and hoped she would marry an athletic man with curly hair.

My point here isn’t to dispense a laundry list of homeschoolers who can “hang,” but rather to shed light on the diversity of the community. A few years out of college, I can firmly say homeschooling saved me from losing my sense of curiosity, and despite fervent (and sometimes super true) stereotypes, didn’t render me a socially inept human horror (except when I get homeschool triggers and start snacking on bed-bug infested mattresses I find on the sidewalk)

In Seattle, and surrounding towns, it was required that you portfolio your learning to the state in order to receive credits and eventually graduate with a high-school diploma. For many, myself included this meant attending an “alternative school” a few days a week where we attended classes for a handful of subjects, which we’d then supplement with independent subjects at home.

The range of people clumped in these fake-schools was sometimes borderline cartoonish. I distinctly remember taking a math exam between a Mennonite girl who wasn’t allowed to listen to music and a boy who dressed like Vanilla Ice and tricked everyone he was a really popular male model, but “only in Chicago.”

These fake schools were all K-12th grade, and if you tested well or made a special request, it was permissible that you take classes a few grades above or below, as you desired. There were no classes separated by individual grade, each class had a three grade range, and if you were lucky like me, you’d take a German class with a 15-year-old boy who brought his mom to class and rested his head on her bosom the whole time (no, he didn’t have developmental disabilities, YES, IT WAS CREEPY AS HELL).

The point being, we were forced to interact and learn with a variety of ages, which immediately popped any insulated bubbles of being in a homogenous peer-driven world, and as embarrassing and uncomfortable as that could be, it forced me to learn how to communicate with adults and weirdos of all ages and backgrounds, because there really was no option of avoidance (you were stuck there with them forever, become friends or die).

My parents chose to homeschool my siblings and I for a variety of reasons, they wanted to be as intentional as possible about spending time with us and nurturing how we developed. They wanted us to be able to take control of our own education, pick which books we thought were interesting to read, formulate our own ideas and methods of learning, and not feel completely dulled down.

BUT MOSTLY THEY WANTED TO BRAINWASH US SO WE COULD GATHER NEW FOLLOWERS FOR THE ARMY OF DARKNESS, I LEARNED HOW TO READ FROM BLOOD SCROLLS, SHUT DOWN YOUR COMPUTER NOW YOU DUMMY.

Having a flexible school schedule was great in high school, because it gave me the freedom to work more jobs, watch all of “Cheers” (and sadly identify with Norm), write horrible Ramones inspired “punk songs” before noon, and naturally plan the overthrow of the lib-feminazi movement and all such heathen hellions.

Because the fake schools were so small, we had no sports teams and very limited music or arts programs. When I played soccer, I had to sign up with the nearby public school, for drama there were actually homeschool-specific theater productions, both the fake schools I went to had art teachers I loved, one of whom hooked me up with a job cleaning house for a rich hoarder who collected petrified wood.

I would be painting a false picture to deny a lot of homeschoolers have parents who are overprotective in an almost debilitative manner. I’m thankful my parents let me paint my eyes like “Night of the Living Dead” and listen to grindcore and tout corny and misinformed opinions, but they were largely the exception to a bigger rule of helicopter parenting, an issue too complicated to explore in this short essay.

Homeschooling and alternative schooling can look a lot of ways – it can look like the Duggars; it can look like a 17-year-old carrying around a stuffed snake; it can look like a recently emigrated family easing into the English language; it can sometimes from the outside look like a huddle of fearful people; but it can also be a format for learning that benefits free thinking and independence. And for that, I am very grateful.

*All the names in this article were changed for privacy purposes