A few weeks into talking to people about interviews for posting up every Friday, I realized that I had made a classic mistake that I see fairly often. I had been asking other parents and experts about their views of homeschooling, and not actually asking anyone who was homeschooling what the experience was like for them.
Compared to the number of blogs that I read by parents, there is a relatively small number of blogs by the people actually going through homeschooling themselves. It was completely natural for me to reach out to Paslilith for this interview, as from the very first time that I read one of her articles, I was captivated by her honesty of thought and how she is so clearly someone who knows what she wants and what it takes to get it.
She has done me the honour of being equally honest here and I hope that that is something that everyone can appreciate. By the end of the interview I felt like I had gained a much better understanding of Paslilith and also insight into resources and reasons for homeschooling – most of all I was left full of respect (even a degree of awe) for a clearly smart person taking ownership of her own life and shaping it her way.
Why did you decide to start homeschooling?
I have actually always wanted to home school, even before I knew home schooling existed! On the first day of kindergarten, I remember being bored and frustrated as I realized that nothing we were learning was all that challenging for me. The few things I didn’t already know were taught in such a boring way by such a bitter person that there was no way I could enjoy going to school. Add to that the fact that I had no friends, and all of the things that are supposed to be fun and great about kindergarten for kids became stressful and frustrating.
One day, I remember asking my mother (who I no longer live with) why school was necessary. I was told that in order to make it as an adult, you needed to go through at least thirteen years of public schooling. This really confused me. What was so complicated about the adult world that we needed to spend thirteen years in stuffy classrooms being lectured at in order to succeed in it? I looked around at the adults in my life and it didn’t seem like any of the things they did on a regular basis would take thirteen years to learn how to do. I remember suggesting to my mother that instead of sitting through school for thirteen years of my life, I should just ask every teacher to tell me everything they knew and thought that I should know. Once I was done, I wanted to stop going to school. When I was told that there was just too much information for that to work, I wanted a list of all the information I needed and a library card to go look it up myself.
My family of origin was very anti-homeschool. They had the attitude of “oh good for them, their mommies give them straight ‘As.’” A couple of years ago, they stopped having custody over me (which I think was right) and I moved in with someone who lived in an entirely different state. My guardian thought that the public schools around where she lived would be too “rambunctious” for me and that they had a bad track record of supporting kids with trauma or other unique mental health-related needs. So…I went to a private school and the entire educational structure worked differently from what I was used to. Everyone there seemed to have studied Algebra in sixth grade, while my home district started it in ninth (which I hadn’t even gotten to yet). On the flip side, my English class covered books I had already read and the teacher would just say “well read it again” which felt like a waste of my time. In short, I was behind in some areas and ahead in other areas but there was not a single class where I felt like I really got to be me.
I visited a couple other schools – a Montessori one and then a regular public high school. The Montessori school was surprisingly depressing since that’s supposed to be the new thing in enlightened teaching. There was a younger girl in the front office who was messy and dirty like she wasn’t really being taken care of (I think this place was K-8 so there were younger kids there too) and she reminded me of myself a few years back. People in the office were shouting at her and just treating her like a nuisance, when really I think someone should have been helping her. The public school was even worse. I walked by a counseling office and this boy was being talked to about his “at-risk” behavior and the counselor lady just sounded like she didn’t have any hope for him or even care about him at all. Given my own past, I really didn’t want to be in an environment like that.
I thought that since all the options were lousy I might as well stay at the private school. Luckily, late last semester my guardian met a man who was homeschooling his younger sister, who was in his care. The girl was in a similar situation to mine where she was behind in some areas, ahead in others, but just generally bored and improperly accommodated at “normal” school. It was interesting to see how her brother did it because he mostly used curriculum found online or that he wrote himself that utilized free online resources. Occasionally he hired tutors as well, but ultimately the learning was entirely directed by the student’s needs. When we realized that homeschooling could be done without my guardian having to literally teach me at home or be an expert on every subject on the planet, it was a pretty quick switch, planned mostly over my last winter break.
How would you describe your approach to homeschooling?
My approach is a very self-directed one, which at times looks something like unschooling but has a bit more structure to it.
When I first started homeschooling, one of the first things my family did was sign me up for Grey School of Wizardry. While it is not a complete schooling system all by itself (nor is it accredited), there are many courses that teach things like history, literary archetypes and themes, reading comprehension, essay writing, mathematics, and so forth.
Grey School allowed me to leave traditional schooling without losing that sense of belonging somewhere, academically speaking, and having adults outside my family occasionally grade my work. Grey School’s mathemagics department seems to focus more on how numbers apply to magical practice than on things like Algebra and test taking, so I use Khan Academy and occasionally Saylor Academy for that.
Saylor Academy is a great resource that is rarely mentioned on homeschooling sites. It has complete curriculum designed to match what college students study in numerous subjects. Some of its courses are credit-aligned, but not all. What I like about Saylor is that their courses are 100% free and the site will provide you with a transcript that has the course you completed and the grade you earned on the final exam once you’re finished. Since documentation is so important for a homeschooler, I really like this feature. I like to challenge myself to see how much I can learn for free, although I am probably going to subscribe to Fluencia soon to learn Spanish.
Sometimes the sites and lesson plans I start with aren’t the ones I finish with, so I keep records instead of syllabi. I have a folder full of portfolio pieces which, if someone asked, I could whip out and say “here’s everything I’ve done this semester.” I haven’t kept it up religiously but it’s something I have that helps me to have a concrete sense of what I’ve accomplished.
What is the single best thing you have found about homeschooling?
The adults in my life now are phenomenal. After I stopped going to school and started homeschooling, taking online classes, and blogging, I started meeting a lot of great young people and adults who were just full of passion for life and learning. All of the people I have met as a homeschooler – volunteer teachers at online courses, fellow bloggers, other homeschoolers, parents, tutors, and so forth have seemed to be exactly where they want to be and like they are exactly who they want to be as well.
What’s especially cool is that if you go to traditional school and question something or express an unusual opinion, teachers treat you like you’re a trouble-maker or tell you “you just don’t like rules” which is code for “I can’t control you and that makes me feel inadequate.” In the homeschool world, I have found that if I express an unusual opinion around an adult they actually listen and get excited about my ideas.
I went from being thought of as a slacker and accused of being a party girl because I was on psychiatric medication, to being thought of as a really smart kid with valuable things to say, and that has made a huge difference in my life.
What is the single worst thing you have found about homeschooling?
Brick and mortar schools offer a little bit more security and stability than online curriculums, tutors, MOOCs, and free lesson plans do.
I do quite a bit of my homeschooling with free or affordable online resources such as Khan Academy, Saylor Academy, Education Portal (which is no longer free or all that affordable), Alison.com, and Grey School of Wizardry (which is more educational than it sounds and costs $45 a year for youth students).
Unlike a school which has an obligation to its taxpayers or even tuition payers to keep on delivering, the websites hosting all of my lessons are not in any way obligated to continue to host them, much less continue to host them for free. I ran into that problem with Education Portal. On that site, you can learn almost anything and everything comes in video form with little cartoon people narrating the stories. They’re still a great site, so I don’t want to discourage anyone from using them, but they stopped being free a few weeks ago and switched to a monthly subscription.
In addition to financial surprises, sometimes when you take non-accredited online classes the teachers will suddenly just disappear or cancel your class altogether with no warning. At Grey School of Wizardry, there were nine teachers who all resigned at the same time in early May. I pretty much woke up one morning and saw that all of my classes there were unstaffed. They’ve since hired new teachers, but I think it’s rough when you turn in four essays that cater to one teacher’s expectations and then suddenly find that a totally different teacher will be grading your final exam. An older friend of mine who uses World Education University had nearly all her teachers disappear without any explanation, which to me is even worse.
Aside from the occasional unreliability of online programs, sometimes teachers at non-accredited online schools or on MOOC type courses are actually uncomfortable when they learn that homeschoolers are taking their courses. I guess they think we’re going to get them in trouble with the “education police” or something.
What words of advice do you have for someone just starting out, or thinking about starting out?
I have learned that it is important to be upfront about your religious preferences when choosing or creating new homeschooling materials.
That might sound strange, but you will do a lot better if you know how much religion you want in your science textbook ahead of time. When you go to a pizza restaurant, people assume you want it with cheese and won’t think to ask if you’re lactose intolerant or vegan. If you need a cheeseless pizza, you need to state that up front as a special request. Cheese is to pizza as religion is to homeschooling. When you look up homeschooling resources, a lot of them will be Christian without stating it outright.
I have found that, just like I have to look up “vegan pizza” and not plain old “pizza” when looking for a restaurant to go to, I have to look up “secular homeschooling” and not just plain “homeschooling” for resources, because most of the time when I do Google searches for plain homeschooling what I find is anything but secular.
A lot of groups, lesson plans, and so forth that have strong religious leanings don’t say so upfront. I found this out the hard way when I signed up for a homeschool science class online. It was volunteer-run, which made my family happy as they don’t really want to send me to one of those online public schools that are essentially the same thing I just stopped doing, only on the couch instead of in an uncomfortable metal chair that’s attached to a desk. I got my hopes up, and then found out that the textbook we were going to use was from the Apologia line.
For those not familiar, Apologia textbooks teach science from a Christian perspective. Granted, I am not at all against finding out how stories in the Bible and other ancient sources of religious wisdom line up with actual events. In fact, I wrote a paper on flood myths from around the world (including the Noah story) and the real-life flood scientists are discovering. That said, I did that assignment for social studies, not science. A few years ago when I still lived in a major red state, I had a teacher tell us that she wasn’t allowed to teach us about evolution and she sort of explained the theory in this very detached “this is what some loonies think” way which left me feeling shamed for not believing the creationist story.
I had a similar experience in a homeschool group that did not expressly state it was a Christian group, but then when I joined I found that I only fit in until I mentioned not being Christian and then things really fell apart. Now I try to look for “secular homeschool” or “online science materials” rather than “homeschool curriculum” when I need new material.
In short: secular homeschoolers should be open about their needs and not be afraid to ask clarifying questions before committing time or money to anything. Religious homeschoolers should also be open about their needs and more particularly about who their intended consumer is. If your group is for Christian homeschoolers only, it’s better to say so than to not say so and leave a clueless newbie feeling really rejected.
The issue of socialization is often raised by people who do not homeschool or who are new to homeschooling. What has been your personal experience of this?
I always get a little angry when people ask me this. Public school really has no right to claim it socializes kids in a healthy way. Consider how literally every teen movie ever takes a stab at how humiliating and impossible socializing as a teenager is. Consider that Mean Girls came out ten years ago and people still watch it. It’s a movie where a new girl has to eat her lunch in the bathroom on the first day because people are so cliquey and mean there. People relate to that, and that’s sad and kind of scary. There are constant stories in the news about bullied kids ending their lives and desperately angry kids ending other people’s lives, and I just end up wondering why it’s always school where this happens if school is just the mecca of social activity.
Homeschooling teaches you to say “no” and to make big decisions. In regular school if someone is mean to you or you have a bad experience your choices are pretty much to get over it or suffer. In homeschool, let’s say you go to an art class where everyone’s awful. You can walk away and join a new art class. You can even tell the teacher “I’m a customer and you can’t let customers get treated like this” and actually have them listen because they see you as someone paying for a service versus a “captive audience” for their lectures. I read somewhere that homeschoolers socialize more like adults in that we make our own friends and choose our own experiences. That is very true, and why not prepare people for adulthood by allowing them to be people and have those choices?
Also, homeschooled kids are the best. They know who they are and what they want most often. If they tell you about what they’re reading, they look like they actually care about what they’re reading versus “I have to spend all weekend reading Bored Jim…I mean Lord Jim.”
What do you enjoy doing to create a bit of ‘me time’ in your day or week?
I don’t have to work that hard to create “me time” when I have at least some say in literally every activity I do throughout the day. That said, I like to sign up for enrichment classes in the community so that I get a break from my computer screen.
Do you blog? If you do, what is the address for that?
My blog is homeschooleddaemon.wordpress.com.
What else would you like people to know about you?
I’m going to write an awesome book someday.
Any final thoughts you would like to share?
No matter what kind of schooling you do, start seeing yourself like a customer and ask to be treated like one, because you are. Just like you shouldn’t keep going to the same coffee shop where the other customers are rude to you and the coffee is cold every morning, you shouldn’t keep going to a school where you’re not really getting an education.