One of the feature presentations of the annual Saint Kosmas West Conference is the Orthodox Homeschool Alumni Panel, an in-person interview with Orthodox adults who were homeschooled. We believe that this is the best testimony of what homeschooling has to offer, as well as an excellent visual into the many ways that homeschooling can be accomplished. If you are an Orthodox homeschool alumnus, and would like to share your experience at a future St. Kosmas Conference Homeschool Alumni Panel, please contact us by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join us for an all new Orthodox Homeschool Alumni Panel
November 16, 2019
at the St. Kosmas West Conference
at Wonder Valley Ranch Resort in Central California
Interviews with Orthodox Adults Who Were Homeschooled
A medical doctor, an architect, and a financial journalist
share their experiences & perspectives on home education
3rd Alumni Panel
ST. KOSMAS WEST CONFERENCE
Transcript and audio coming soon!
Interviews with Orthodox Adults Who Were Homeschooled
A civil engineer, an art teacher, and a medical lab technician share their experiences & perspectives on home education
2nd Alumni Panel
ST. KOSMAS WEST CONFERENCE
Panelist 1: The Civil Engineer
Interviewer: Tell us a little bit about your family, wife and kids, first of all.
S: I’ve been married for five years and we have three girls: a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and five-month old. That’s the brief background of my family.
Interviewer: What about your family, parents and siblings?
S: I’m the oldest of seven kids. I grew up with three brothers and three sisters. In our family the boys came first [in the birth order] and then the girls, so it’s segmented a little bit. We were homeschooled from the time I started school all the way through high school. We didn’t do it exactly the same way for all of us. The older ones were in an informal co-op when we went through. As time went on that co-op formalized into a two-day a week private school, and my younger siblings took a couple of subjects there and had a little bit more formalized schooling, even though it was through the same co-op that started as two or three families.
Interviewer: Great. And did you enjoy it at the time? What was your experience as a little kid going through it, at the time?
S: In terms of school, I was never someone who loved school. So for me homeschooling was good. It really was wonderful because I wouldn’t have done well sitting in a classroom for several hours a day as a kindergartener or first grader or second grader. The way that my mom did it in the early years is that we pretty much only did reading and math the first few years, and it only took an hour or two a day. And then we had a lot of free time to do reading on our own which almost all of my siblings really enjoyed, so we’d do reading that wasn’t technically assigned to us. We’d read and we’d play outside a lot. For me, in those early years in particular, I would’ve been miserable sitting in school for five or six hours. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like that environment, so it was good to have something that could be tailored more to my personality, I think.
Interviewer: Some people worry that their kids might regret school or miss school. You didn’t go through any of that? I know that my daughter, for a while, felt like she really just wanted to be a part of it. It was kind of mysterious. I bought her a matching uniform for the school; she was happy. It made her feel like she belonged. Did you go through anything like that?
S: I don’t think so. We went to church, so I had friends at church. I played on a soccer team so I had friends that I played soccer with. We lived in a neighborhood that had kids around, so I had lots of kids I played with. And pretty much what I knew about school was that they spent a lot more time doing it than I did. I didn’t want to do it for longer, so I did not miss school at all. I was happy to be home. I’d see my friends who went to school come home at 2 or 3 o’clock, but I had been done since eleven o'clock in the morning. I thought, “I’m good with this plan.” It changed a little bit over time. Obviously in high school and middle school you do more subjects, but I was still in school less time in those years as well.
Interviewer: So what did you do after high school? Did you go straight into college or junior college or work? Did you feel prepared for that next step when you left?
S: I took a year off between high school and college. In the summer before my senior year of high school, I worked for a painting contractor, and then in my year off after high school, I worked for a general contractor remodeling houses, which I loved to do. After the summer working, going into my senior year, I tried to convince my parents that my senior year of high school wasn’t necessary, and then, following my year off after high school, I tried to convince them that college wasn't necessary. I really loved doing construction. I had no problem fitting into that.
Interviewer: Is that what you do now?
S: Not really. I ended up going to college, and being in school for longer than I anticipated for various reasons. So I got a degree in Engineering, Civil Engineering, and a minor in Music, which is what I started in. And so now I do civil engineering which is related to construction, obviously, but I don’t do the physical work. I’m working on design. So, I guess, it's more of the thinking part instead of the physical part of construction. But I really like both. I’d be happy to do either one.
Interviewer: So your mom shared with us that you took that U-turn in college from Music to Civil Engineering, and she made the comment that she hadn’t prepared you for engineering during your homeschooling years. It was surprising to her. Can you describe how that happened?
S: Yeah, I’d say that my parents were both highly educated in English, so during high school I got a lot of English teaching, and I was really good at it, just because I focused so much on it, and my parents assumed I’d do something along those lines, humanities or English or something. I think my mom regrets a little bit not doing more math with me, because in high school, I almost finished Algebra 2. I didn’t do trigonometry. I didn’t do calculus. And I went to college not really knowing what I wanted to do. I liked music, so I studied music for a year, which was really a challenging program, but it was something that I knew I didn’t want to do once I finished college. I studied piano, and to be a professional piano player who performs is incredibly difficult, and you have to be incredibly committed to do that. I didn’t want to do that, and I didn’t like teaching enough to teach full time, so I had kind of ruled out music as a profession. I was doing it because I liked it, but after a year, it seemed like a lot of work for something that I’m not going to do, and that’s when I switched to engineering. But I would say one of the ways that I think homeschooling helped me to prepare was that homeschool—at least the way my mom did it—gave me a lot of confidence that I could learn something without a real fixed program, or without needing help every step of the way. So when I decided to do engineering, not having had much math or science background, I had the confidence that I could learn that. Through homeschooling, I had acquired the mindset "I’ll get a book, and I’ll figure out how to do it," and I’d say that mindset really helps, and gives a lot of flexibility to changing your mind in college, if you believe that you can learn something on your own or catch up if you may be behind. To me, it wasn’t really that big a deal that I hadn’t done as much preparation as my other classmates. A lot of the other engineering students were from India or Asia and had done, usually, three semesters of calculus in high school. So the gap was pretty significant, but I got through. I wasn’t the top of the class, but I got through it.
Interviewer: So was that transition hard? Your high school gap year, and then junior college or university?
S: After the gap year, I went straight into the university. I wasn’t really big on the college experience, necessarily. I picked the college that was closest and cheapest. Actually a funny story with that is, my parents wanted me to go to college. I didn’t really want to, but I kind of agreed it was a good idea. So I told my mom, “If you get me into college, I’ll go.” San Jose State, where I went, doesn’t require an essay [for the admission process], and it was the closest, and so my mom did the application process and everything. I was working full-time. One day she said, “Okay, well you’ve got to take the SAT. There’s really no way around the SAT.” So I said, “Okay, I’ll take the SAT.” She tried to get me to study for it, but I told her, “I didn’t say I’d study for it. I said I’d take it.” So one morning—I was working at the time—I went and took the SAT on my way to work. My mom gave me some sample questions to read in the car and a pencil, and I took the SAT. And I got into San Jose State. I went to school… Did I answer your original question?
Interviewer: I think so. I guess I meant, did you find the workload in college much harder than your high school experience at home?
S: No… I started out in music, which wasn’t too big of a challenge for me. I also did humanities, and I’d had a lot of writing instruction, so writing wasn’t particularly hard for me. The workload didn’t really change much. Like I said, early on, in the first grades, I didn’t do a ton of school work, but by the time I was in high school that had increased. Actually, my senior year of high school, I did twelve units at college—six units at a junior college and six units at San Jose State—so it was essentially a year of college, and then I also had 3 units with some friends at the homeschool co-op. So, in terms of workload, it had ramped up, and it was a smooth transition from high school to college. It wasn’t an unexpected amount of work.
Interviewer: So the big question that a lot of homeschool parents have is about socialization, and I know that it’s been touched on in other talks, but coming from the child’s point of view, did you ever feel like you were missing out on playing with other kids?
S: No, I didn’t…
Interviewer: I know you had a big family.
S: Within our family—our parents, and all the siblings, seven of us kids—we have a lot of very different personalities, and I’m one of the quietest. I don’t particularly like large gatherings or loud gatherings, so parties and stuff like that wasn’t really my thing, or being in large groups. Some of my younger siblings like that, so my parents found activities for them where they could be in large groups. All my siblings, except for myself, were in a debate group and did a lot of debate, but it wasn’t really something that I was interested in. I guess I didn’t want as much socialization as they did, so I had my small group of friends that I liked and had fun with. I was happy with that. I didn’t want to be in a big group. In a conventional school, I would have been around a lot of kids all the time. For me, that’s not really what I enjoy—I don’t enjoy that setting as much as some people. I think it can be tailored. My siblings did it a little differently because they have different personalities.
Interviewer: A lot of people worry about their teenagers falling away from the faith in high school, but I think especially in college. So do you feel like there were certain elements in your family or in your life that helped you to stay faithful in your Orthodox faith?
S: I’d say that probably the biggest thing was that growing up, my parents took me to church every Sunday, and we went to Vespers. And church was a regular part of our life. It helped to have a habit. Obviously you can choose to discontinue the habit, but having that foundation is helpful regardless of which direction you go. I went to a commuter school for college, so it wasn’t quite the same as someone who goes off to school and is separated from their family. So I was living at home, and still very much connected with my family. The other thing that helped was that I was pretty involved at church. I did chanting, and I sang in choir, and the choir director and chanter who I sang with was sort of a mentor to me, as well. And so if he didn’t see me, he’d tell me, “Orthros starts before the six psalms, not after the six psalms.” It helped even having people outside of my family who would say, you know, “Why are you late? You need to be here at this time.” I had both—I had a lot of things in my favor from having the habit established and being near my family, so they’re still going, and having people within the church that expected to see me. I think that combination made it not especially challenging to stay in church during the college years.
Interviewer: Okay, so finally do you plan on homeschooling your own kids?
Interviewer: Feel committed?
S: Yeah, I do. What I started with tonight at the beginning, that I’ll come back to, is that the flexibility homeschooling allows is really something that the public education system or the traditional classroom setting can’t compete with. I really do think that every kid is different. They have different needs. They flourish better in different situations. Being homeschooled, my mom knew me a lot better than any teacher in school would have, and so she was able to give this kid a little bit more of this, and this kid a little more freedom, or this kid, my fourth brother down, more academics. He loved academics and wanted to study all sorts of things. So he was given all those opportunities. And you can have a little more patience. Some of us maybe weren’t ready to study a subject when everyone is taught it in the traditional school, but the next year we were ready for it. Some people did it late, and some people did it a year early. It’s really flexible, and I think the other thing too, is that looking away from the education side for just a moment, but looking from a spiritual point of view, you’re with your family, you’re with your parents. And spending more time with your parents, you have more of their influence and less of whatever influence you would get from your peers in school, which might be good or might not be good. I can’t say for sure what the experience outside would’ve been, but I was around my parents who were Orthodox, and I saw them working on their faith and going to church and struggling and putting effort in. You know.. kids know what their parents’ weaknesses are. I saw my parents working on their weaknesses and trying to get better, and that had a big impact on me, I think. I was a little bit of a boundary pusher as a kid so knowing what the rule was wasn’t necessarily going to make me follow the rule. But seeing their struggle, which wasn’t forced on me—you know, what they’re struggling with, they didn’t really talk specifically about, you know, but you kind of see it. And I think that influenced me more than, “Here’s the boundaries; here’s these things you have to do.” But just seeing them working on their faith, I think that’s the biggest influence, really. More than words or boundaries or things like that—just seeing an example of your parents trying to get better in their own lives. So to me that was really important; that’s probably, I’d say, one of the most formative things for me, was seeing my parents engaging in the spiritual struggle and trying to improve themselves.
Interviewer: Wow! That’s really a strong witness to your parents and what they’ve done. Thank you so much!
Questions from the audience for the civil engineer:
Audience: This question is for S [the civil engineer]. Did you say you were the oldest? And you were the oldest of seven, right? I’m wondering what it was like specifically to be the oldest of our children because I know younger kids can be so demanding. Did you feel that maybe you didn’t have your parents attention enough, or you had to take care of your younger siblings at all? What was that like from your perspective?
S: I definitely had to take care of them.
Audience: Did it bother you?
S: No, not at all. Actually, a funny story was, when my youngest twin sisters were born, I was ten, and my mom had an injury when she gave birth, and she was on bed-rest for, I think at least six weeks. And the rest of that semester, we didn’t do any more school. She was literally on her back. She couldn’t do much. My dad had to work, and so I learned that semester how to run a house. I learned to cook. I learned to get my siblings dressed. I learned to make all the meals—she was there to explain, but she couldn’t do all of it. So I’ve definitely taken care of them. That was just a natural, organic thing that happened. Because when you’re in a big family, the older ones take care of the younger ones. I never thought about it, except every once in a while when I’d want to play soccer and there’d be a little baby I was holding. Actually, I still played soccer with my siblings, but they’d win because I was holding a baby. As the oldest, I never lost if I wasn’t holding a baby, but I would classify that as an annoyance, not a big disappointment.
Audience: What about having the individual attention from your parents?
S: When we were younger, my parents actually worked pretty hard to do that, especially my dad. I think you get more individual attention from your mom if you’re homeschooled than if you go to school, even if there are a lot of children in the family, because the mother is there all the time. So even though there are seven of us, I probably got more attention from my mom than an only child who went to school. With my dad, when we were younger, we would have—I forget how frequent it was, but—every couple weeks, there would be something where we could pick what we wanted to do with dad. One kid got to pick. I don’t remember too well…I think we often all did it together, that was just the natural thing; we did everything together. That was a positive really, not a negative. We got to pick something to do with dad and he would spend an evening doing that activity with us. And whoever’s week it was got to pick what the activity was. And that was kind of a special thing we got to do with our dad. I’d say other than that, my parents were always around as much as normal. And we could talk to them. My dad worked in the yard all the time, and we’d work in the yard with him. I never really felt a competition for attention. It does occur a little bit I think with really young kids. Just naturally, I think, regardless of education…this is before school happens. I think there’s a little competition when a new child’s born. You know, the two year old is a little upset about the lack of attention, but that is not really school-related, in my opinion, at least for me.
Audience: So you never felt like you didn’t necessarily get the help or something you were struggling with in school or anything like that because there were so many of you.
S: No, I mean, as the oldest, I was the first one doing things, so I got a lot of help from my dad and my mom because I was learning it first. My younger siblings, when they needed help, sometimes it was me who was helping them, and then later they were helping younger ones too. There’s a little bit of a division of labor in that sense. If I knew how to do something that my sister was struggling with, I’d teach her how to do it. For my younger siblings, maybe, I’d say they probably had more resources—if I couldn’t answer, if they felt like they wanted specifically to ask my mom some question, they could. But I think that all of us, our parents were there if we needed attention, if we wanted to talk to them, if we had a question or something. They were always available.
Panelist 2: The Art Instructor / Homeschool Mom
Interviewer: Okay, so next is [the art teacher / homeschool mother]. So tell us about your family, your husband and kids.
J: My husband and I have been married for eleven years this April. We have five children: three boys, two girls. I had boys first which was a shock for me because I grew up with only one sister. So I thought, “Oh, this is going to be easy. It’s going to be fun.” Yeah, it was hard. That was funny because I always told my mom I wanted brothers, but then I never had brothers, but then I had boys. I’m loving it. It’s good. So that’s my family.
Interviewer: And then the family you grew up in? Parents?
J: It was my mom, my dad, and me and my sister. I had one older sister. We started homeschooling when I was in fourth grade, so I had a little bit of public school experience in elementary, which is different.
Interviewer: Did you go all the way through high school after that? Did you stay home from then on?
J: I was homeschooled up until my freshman year. Then—I don't know—I just got an itch. I told my mom, “I want to know what it’s like. I want to go to the public school.” Which is funny because she used to say to me, “If you’re not good, I’m going to send you to public school!” I thought, “Well, that’s not a very good threat!” I wasn’t really scared of public school, but—it was funny—she used to tell me that all the time. So she said, “Okay, well if you’re sure.” So we thought about it for awhile, and she said, “Okay, let’s do independent study where you’re home but you’re taking two classes in public school.” So I did that. I took the easiest classes I could think of, which were art and choir. I just wanted to ease in, you know, do the fun stuff. It was a bit of a shock. I realized that I was just a grain of sand, and there was this ocean of kids, and that maybe at home I was the little social butterfly, but, there at school, no one knew me. Everyone thought I was weird, and I wasn’t the type to go out and just start introducing myself to people, but if they came up to me, I would open up. I think I shocked a couple of them, too. They all thought, you know, “She’s really weird, and really quiet. She’ll be really shy.” That, in a way, built my confidence as well, the interactions with the other students, because they all thought I would be shy, and I wasn’t. I remember a lot of it pretty vividly because I did kind of stick out like a sore thumb. I was very independent. I didn’t care at all about peer pressure, whereas a lot of my friends did. They went through troubling things because of it. But I noticed that. I think that I’ve always been kind of observant. I don’t know if that’s because I was homeschooled or just born that way, but I’d sit back and watch and say, “That’s a really bad decision.” And I’d avoid it. I’d be the only one. That kind of set me outside of most social circles, and finally, my junior year I realized—maybe because I grew up, I don’t know what, but I realized—“What are you doing?” I didn’t have any close friends, because a lot of the kids would do things I knew we shouldn’t do. And so I asked my mom if I could get out, and she took me out of public school. I was homeschooling again. And I said, “Do I really have to do my senior year at home? Why can’t I just go straight to college?” So that’s what I did. It’s funny, but I don’t have a high school diploma. I never technically graduated, but I went to an adult school. I took an entrance exam, and they said, “Wow, your scores are awesome. You’re in.”
Interviewer: An adult school? Like a—
J: It was a local school for adults returning to college. I don’t know if I waited until I was eighteen or what. I don’t know how it worked. I don’t even remember. I just followed what my mom figured out and so I entered college. I went to just a local city college because I didn’t have money to go to a university. I didn’t have a scholarship or even a plan. I didn’t know what I wanted to do.
Interviewer: So did you find the leap from homeschooling in your junior year to the community college difficult, socially or academically?
J: No, no. You know, socially—I feel bad saying this, but I didn’t really meet anyone I felt like was worth becoming close with there. And I already had close relationships outside of school. I was going through a lot in my family, so I tended to kind of hang back. I wasn’t very sociable with everyone because my life was very serious at the time. There wasn’t a whole lot of fun in my life, so I focused on art. At first, I was really good at writing. It was my thing. I read a lot at home, so I thought maybe I’ll go into English, because it came naturally for me, but I fell in love with art. So I changed my major to Art.
Interviewer: And then you ended up getting a degree?
J: I actually ended up getting married before finishing my degree. I finished most of my general ed, and that’s about it. I took art classes to advance, that was my focus. Probably half because I had a very difficult life at the time—art was very therapeutic—and half because I found it was a passion of mine. I was really drawn to art. I was very creative growing up, and still am. I knew it was my thing. I had two dreams: that I was either going to study under a master iconographer and become an iconographer, or I was going to be a muralist. Now I teach art. You never know what God’s plan will be.
Interviewer: So did you feel like you were adequately prepared for normal, adult life?
J: I think so, as prepared as I could be. My mom and dad were very supportive of my sister and me as far as any talents they saw in us, and inspiring us. Education-wise, my dad was very interested in science and astronomy, so for awhile, I thought I was going to be going that route. And my mother was just a good homemaker. She was really homey. She didn’t have big dreams. She wasn’t very philosophical or anything, but she reared us in the Charlotte Mason style, and felt that it was really important for us to get a lot of time outdoors, to read really good books, and to go to church, and to stay as innocent, and as pure as possible. She kind of took over that part of our lives. And my dad kind of inspired me more by having me watch Ben-Hur, and all these others, and reading to us The Hobbit, Tolstoy, and things like that. He was a little more of dreamer, and so they inspired us in different ways. I think that prepared us, my sister and me. My sister struggled with dyslexia. She still couldn’t spell in college. She would switch letters around, so for her it was quite different, but she was also an artist. I think it runs in my family.
Interviewer: A lot of people worry about their teenagers leaving the faith in high school, college. So what made you stick it out?
J: I had a personal connection. I felt like I belonged. I think when you have a sense of belonging, and you have a role or when people look forward to seeing you there, or maybe depend on you a little bit, even when you’re a child, that really made a big difference for my sister and me. And looking back, I was thinking just the other day that we kind of had a unique circumstance at our parish because we were homeschooled. A lot of kids that I was friends with at church were not homeschooled. And they had equally successful lives, but it was a different experience. They felt a different connection to the church than we did because we were homeschooled, and my mother was very diligent in getting us to church. We would go to pretty much every service there was. And growing up that was the highlight, because we’d take the day off and have a picnic afterwards. So it was just—I mean, who wouldn’t want to go to church? You know? Take the day off from school and have a picnic. But we ended up, as we grow older, being a huge part of choir, and learning how to sing and chant, and we would decorate the icons with flowers. That was our special connection as well, and we hosted coffee hours, and we would dance Serbian Kolo dances. Every single one of those things really just forms this love in your heart like you would have for a family member. I think, yeah, a sense of belonging is super important. You know I had a best friend who, in college, drifted away from the church, and then later came back. When I asked her about that experience, “Why did you feel like drifting away?” she said, for her, that she actually didn’t feel like she belonged, originally. Even though she was there, for some reason, she didn’t feel like anyone noticed, or that she had a specific role just for her, and then in college she read a lot of philosophy and heard a lot of different ideas, and it’s easy to drift away—especially when people have different ideas that seem to make sense.
Interviewer: or make sense on the surface...
J: Yeah, there were a lot of people I knew that didn’t stay in the church but… you know I also had a personal connection with the saints. I felt like they were alive because I had experiences that were real, you know. I think that’s important, too.
Interviewer: Yeah, for sure. So the big question always is, would you homeschool your own kids?
J: I do homeschool my kids.
Interviewer: You do!
J: It’s hard, but I do.
Interviewer: How’s that going?
J: It’s going.
Interviewer: Have more sympathy for your mom?
J: Yes! Oh, my gosh. Wow, yeah, I love my mom! No, but she had it easy, and she tells me that, too. She says, “Wow, I had it so easy.” No, but it’s quite different now that I’m homeschooling my kids than when I pretty much homeschooled myself, because my mom loved to read to us, and she decided what we would learn and all that, but we were very independent learners, my sister and I, and not very difficult. Whereas now… We moved here from the city because we knew our sons needed nature. They needed space. They were climbing our fences and our roofs and the neighbors would say, “You’re not supposed to be up there.” So we moved out to the country thinking, “Oh, it’ll calm them down.” But instead, my son says, “I want to live in the wilderness!”
Interviewer: It inspired them, right?
J: It’s a different challenge. I really…I love hearing stories from [the previous panelist] about his childhood, because it helps me not worry about them not wanting to sit and do school work so much, and it really encourages me to keep up the good fight, and not lose that sense of sanity—you know, not to worry so much. I remember that my mom tells me that when I was in elementary school, I prefered to stand at my desk rather than sit, and I would put my knee on the chair and be standing all day. My dear teacher would have to tell me, “J, sit down.” So I guess I would say with homeschooling my own kids, it’s definitely a challenge because there are many of them. They’re all different. They influence each other. I think I’m going to have some pretty hands-on, do-it-yourself kids. They might not even go to college, but for me, that’s okay. My husband was in public school all his life. He didn’t really fit into college. He traveled. He only went to college for maybe one year, and everything he knows now he’s taught himself, which amazes me. And now he’s becoming an electrician, and he’s taught himself how to build houses, and so many things. To me it’s mind-boggling. He’s a carpenter. He sees things 3D, and none of that was taught to him. None of it. And he did not do very well in public school even as a child. I feel that reinforces the fact that everyone’s different. Everyone has different needs. And like you were saying, the flexibility is so helpful.
Interviewer: Yes. Thank you!
Questions from the audience for the Artist / Homeschool Mom:
Audience: This is a question for J [the artist/homeschool mom]. So our daughter’s 14, and she’s a freshman. We homeschooled her up to high school and then we put her into school—kind of mean of us—for a semester. She was miserable so we took her out after we attended the 2017 West Conference. We took her out. We always homeschooled her except for that semester, and she was unhappy, so she’s back at home. And I love it. And she loves it. Everyone’s happy, and everyone’s working well. My fear is that one day she looks back and says, “I never got to do A,B and C. I never got to go the dances. I never went to football games.” Is that going to bother her? Because when she went that first semester, she didn’t want to go to the football games. She didn’t want to do all those things. So as of right now that doesn’t bother her, but I wonder if you get those feelings when you grow up such as, “Oh that’s kind of a bummer. I didn’t get to do that.” Because I was publicly schooled, and I think things are a bummer because I was publically schooled. So I’m wondering if all of you have those feelings, “Oh that’d be fun,” or “I would’ve liked to have tried that.”
J: You know, I think at the time, I was very curious. What would it be like? It sounds fun. What would it be like to have a group of friends instead of just a handful of friends? What would it be like to have a plethora of acquaintances? But, I can honestly say that I only went to one dance, and it turned out terrible. I didn’t even enter the dance because I didn’t know it was where the woman was supposed to ask the young man out. I was supposed to get the tickets. We showed up with nothing, and I felt God protected me with a bubble of grace, or something, because it didn’t happen, and I was glad later that it didn’t happen.
Audience: I know that they’re trashy. I just wonder if that was going to create a problem where she’s going to wonder…
J: Yeah, I heard things through my friends, and thought. “Oh, that would’ve been really awful.” So I don’t actually ever look back and miss high school. In fact, sometimes I look back and wonder what it would’ve been like if I would’ve stayed home and not gone to public high school at all. Because I went into public high school very intelligent. Still intelligent when I left, but my grades went from being A+’s across the board to suffering, and it was all because of the drama, the emotional baggage that everyone was carrying around that entered my life and was in my own home. As a young lady, it was too much. I couldn’t focus on school and on everyone’s problems, but I cared so much, and it was always on my mind. People would try to influence you with peer pressure. There were just so many distractions that I hated it. It was like being in a brain fog. As adults, we grow up and have kids and have a different kind of brain fog. That’s how I felt. It slowly got worse and worse. I don’t know if other people regret or think back and think, oh, that would’ve been so fun, but I don’t. I kind of—it’s like a part of my life that I knew I had to go through, and I’m glad I did, but if I could’ve skipped it, that would’ve been nice too. It didn’t really give me anything besides the experience that, okay, that’s what it’s like, you know? I did, for a little while, kind of regret that I never got a diploma. That was kind of a big deal to me later in life when I wanted to go back to a college, and I realized, “Hey, I don’t have a high school diploma.” It was kind of weird, because I took sixty-one units in college. If you take enough units in college, you don’t need a diploma, but I was just under. So that kind of was the only thing. I really wish I would’ve had a graduation ceremony.
Audience: That too. I wonder about that.
J: I think that if you provide something for a graduation—find a way to involve her friends, and make it special, a certificate, everything…
Audience: Maybe even a gown and a cap, I don’t know.
Interviewer: I graduated my oldest daughter last year. She went down the aisle. Her friend played, “Pomp and Circumstance” on her violin. She had the tassel, the hat. Ordered a nice certificate diploma. She had it all. She did a senior trip. A lot of groups do these things, and it’s to whatever degree you want those things. You can make it happen.
J: I would say the most important part of school to recreate—if you had to choose a special occasion—would be graduation.
Interviewer: Thank you. And I think we actually have some material in your goody bag about where to get a diploma and caps and gown.
Panelist 3: The Medical Lab Technician / Historical Fiction Writer
Interviewer: Alright, and [our third panelist] who’s been such a trooper. He had an international flight yesterday. So he’s still catching up on jet lag. We appreciate you coming. Okay, so go ahead and tell us about your family.
D: I am the oldest of nine, a military brat. My dad's retirement from the military occured right at the end of my homeschooling years, right around the time I turned eighteen. What stands out to me the most was that there was a lot of flexibility and self-direction involved. You know, when you move every two and a half to three years that disrupts everything. It gets even worse when crates of belongings including books or textbooks would be missing. Every move we always lost something. You never knew what it would be. You’d open everything up wondering, “OK, what am I missing this time?” That adds an extra chaotic element, and also made it kind of hard for us to stick with a specific curriculum all the way through. There were periods where we were enrolled in Calvert—I think from nine to twelve—which was sort of a distance learning thing.
Interviewer: age nine through twelve years old?
D: Yes. And eventually later, from about age 15 through 17, we were enrolled in an online distance learning program, the Prime. That one was important, I think, because it helped adjust to the kind of standards that would be expected in a junior college environment—you were starting to learn the standardizing, the 3-page essay, or the 3-paragraph essay. Learning the format that people are going to want, that was important. But on the other hand, having a fairly low level of structure really helped me and my brother. We were the oldest kids, the ones who were formed the most by my dad’s military career. The younger ones growing up now, it’s different for them. Homeschooling really helped develop a love of learning for its own sake. We became very naturally inquisitive kids. We would go out and if we saw something that interested us, we would go and look it up. We would sort of teach ourselves. Now that primarily extended to scientific and literary topics. Mathematics, particularly for me, was a sore spot because my mom wasn’t very strong in mathematics, so Dad had to do math, and he was gone a lot. So, mathematics would kind of phase in and out. When Dad’s back from wherever the military sent him, then there’s this intensive period of math, and then it would kind of taper off a bit. He’d come back and there’s again an intensive period of math. Eventually, at the high school level, we settled on a math curriculum which was actually pretty good. And it wound up covering everything that I would end up taking in college. The problem was again, it was teaching it in a format that wasn’t standard. It was in a format and in an order that was different than the college algebra classes one probably takes. On the one hand, going into college, I probably had about 80% mastery of the subject, but was having to learn it all over again because I was using different methods, and notations they didn’t want. At a certain point that’s just unavoidable. You don’t really know what you’re going to get until you get into the school in question. I agree with the consensus here about the strength of homeschooling being the combination of flexibility and being allowed a certain level of self-direction, which was able to nurture a love of learning and self-teaching.
Interviewer: Okay, so after your high school, what did you do then?
D: I went straight into community college. My dad retired and we moved back to Texas, and this worked out very nicely for me. By moving to Texas, I was able to get into the educational system immediately. Actually by waiting until I was eighteen to take the placement exam, I did not need a transcript. I could just walk in, schedule a date to take the placement exam, that was all that was needed. Going to community college was a lot cheaper. I could’ve gotten into the same classes at UT Arlington, but they would have cost 2-3 times as much, and plus they would have required transcripts to get in. If you go to community college, you get the same classes, and at a much lower price, and you create a paper trail and transcript.
J: That’s true.
D: What makes it particularly convenient about Texas is once you complete the first two years of your college level education at any state institution, you get this Core Complete stamp on your transcript, which says that the first two years of your education—minus whatever extras you take for an associate’s degree or whatever—are done. It doesn’t matter where you took them; all that matters is there’s a GPA and a Core Complete. That’s specific to Texas, I don’t know if that’s true in California. And that’s icing on the cake for going to community college: you go for two years, you get the Core Complete stamp, and nobody cares about what you did before that, so long as you stay in the state school system.
Interviewer: Did you feel like workload-wise, academically-wise that you were sufficiently prepared for it?
D: I would say that depends on the subject. The biggest shock for me was the degree to which rote memorization and delivery of answers in the exact format that the professor wanted it was necessary—that was a new thing for me. So it wasn’t really so much the topics themselves that were the challenge, it was realizing that sometimes it doesn’t matter whether you’re right or wrong; if you’re not making the professor happy, it doesn’t matter. That took a little while to sink in. It didn’t hurt my grades; I was able to pull through in my first semester with the adjustment to that, but it would still be kind of a recurring theme, particularly in the liberal arts subjects I enjoyed, like history. I realized that the professor was teaching from her memory of a very obsolete edition of a textbook that no longer bears any relation to what the textbook in front of me now is saying—actually directly out of sync with what the current textbook is saying, but you don’t dare tell her, “When you said that, is that what that book said about twenty years ago? Because that’s not what it says now.” You can’t say that.
J: It’s true.
D: It’s just learning those survival mechanisms. That was honestly the bigger challenge, more than anything else. The subjects themselves weren’t really a problem. The most important thing about going into college, I would say, was allowing that love of learning to continue to teach you—essentially learning how to learn. It was the most important thing. If you’re able to apply the flexibility of homeschooling to being able to navigate your own way, instead of becoming rigid and then burning out when you can’t fit into the system. In the end I think it paid off for me. There was some shock there, but it actually turned out to be an advantage in the end.
Interviewer: Was it a big culture shock for you?
D: Community college was. It’s kind of weird in the sense that you’ve got some people who are there just for trade school programs, people getting certifications for things like welding and carpentry, and that kind of thing. You’ve got an awful lot of people who are going there as basically high school 2.0 because they bombed their high school GPA, and they’re trying to create something better—or in more cases their parents are paying them to go to community college to try and grow their GPA. It didn’t always work. So there really wasn’t much of a social life, at least any of the Dallas community colleges. I went to two colleges because there were two equidistant from me, and each had classes that I needed, but they didn’t offer them all. So, there really wasn’t a social or cultural element there. You show up, you go to class; you might go to the library to look something up, and then you go home.
Interviewer: Okay, and then after the community college did you go—
D: I went to the University of Texas system.
Interviewer: What were you studying?
D: I got a degree in medical technology, the laboratory side of things. Basically the clinical laboratory applications, and testing, and quality control, and FDA—there are a lot of subjects dealing with FDA certification rules and that kind of thing.
Interviewer: It sounds like a big change from what your high school interests were and what you were doing with writing historical fiction…
D: My interests still remained the same. Keep in mind, my time in college coincided with the 2008 economic crash. My dad spent a year unemployed when he got out of the military because nobody would hire him. And so I was trying to decide what I wanted to do, and I wound up settling on “I’m going to do something that I’m good at, and that will make it so I won’t starve.” It had its frustrations down the road, and I’m planning to move out of it, but having it as a fallback is good. I’ve never been to the point where I was in danger of starving because I could always get a job somewhere. In the end I think it was probably the right decision.
Interviewer: Great. So again, the question of keeping to your faith. How was that? What do you think was influential?
D: It’s kind of an interesting question actually because looking at my peer group, if you will, at the local community college, and what happened to the people my age in the church as we grew up—the only ones that stayed were ones that had been homeschooled to some degree. That was quite surprising to me, actually, to watch what happened and as people got into their twenties and got into college. The funny thing was, you could actually see the seeds of them moving away, already, in high school. There was always a divide in our Sunday school classes between the homeschooled kids and the public school kids. Fast forward about a decade, and the only ones that stayed had been homeschooled to some degree or another.
Interviewer: Why do you think that is? Do you think it’s the homeschooling itself?
D: There are a lot of detrimental influences in public school culture, in pop culture in general, and public school offers all sorts of conduits to that, which homeschooling does not. Not in the sense that homeschooling is better because you can lock your kids up and play Amish or whatever, but you’re able to nurture a community and to try and encourage positive influences. You just don’t have that opportunity in public school, because school’s got your kids for eight hours a day. The public school environment and their peer group in public school has a bigger influence on them than you will. I could even see that growing up. I was able to go to four different Orthodox summer camps, which basically range from the OK, the meh, the bad, and the terrible. It wasn’t the camp here, but there is another one in California.
Interviewer: You don’t have the be specific.
D: I’m not naming any names, but I’ll be totally honest: I learned more about the mechanisms of human reproduction, and the perversions thereof, in that one week at Orthodox summer camp, than in all my college years. That was when I was fifteen.
Interviewer: I will say that I actually learned the term “gender fluidity” at an Orthodox summer camp.
Audience: You did?
Interviewer: Yeah, just a few years ago.
D: Again, and that was my experience 12 or 13 years ago. I can’t even imagine what it’s like now. I mean, kids were putting on obscene shadow plays in my cabin when counselors were out. I didn’t even understand what I was seeing until I went home and asked, “What was this? They were doing this, I didn’t even understand what was going on.” I got some pretty strange looks from my parents. And then a meeting with the priests to try and file a complaint with the diocese, but that never went anywhere. Those were all public school kids. I would be extraordinarily surprised if any of them were, or are, even Sunday church-going Orthodox, at this point. But for me personally, homeschool aside, really the most important part is the active participation in the liturgical life of the church. That’s not to denigrate the importance of personal prayer lives and the personal spiritual struggle, but the thing is ultimately, we’re not atomized individuals. We’re also a community. I don’t remember which Father said, but “We’re not saved alone. We are saved together.” And that’s really important because when you go through periods where your personal spiritual life might effectively collapse, if you are still being drawn into—even if it’s unwilling on some level—the active liturgical life, not just attending on Sundays, but actually being participants through the full cycle of services. Vespers, Orthros, and everything—that can help anchor you in, keep you involved in a way, that if you weren’t engaged in that, didn’t have that as a support for you, then if you go through personal struggles, you’ll just drift off.
Interviewer: Okay, so just to wrap up now. I know you’re not married yet, but would you homeschool your kids?
D: Absolutely. I mean, the only alternative would be if there’s a good Orthodox private school in the local area. Otherwise, it wouldn’t even be a question for me. I would only homeschool.
Interviewer: OK, socialization…Do you want to answer that one?
D: The socialization, for me, was something kind of specific to the military experience, because the higher you climb through the officers’ ranks, the fewer people have kids. And also, you move into the neighborhood, you might be there for three years, meet them and have only one year left. So there were times where I would say there was a lack of socialization, but that had a lot more to do with the military environment than homeschooling itself. Up until I was about 12, there had never been a lack of socialization. We were always lucky to find some homeschooling people on base to hang out with who were our age. Then there was a period where we actually were living off base because there wasn’t any room on the base. At that point we didn’t have anyone our age, and that was kind of difficult. But then we got a Boy Scout troop, which fortunately, was a very solid one. The good thing about the Boy Scout troop was that there were a lot of senior officers who had come back, and were now working as contractors for the base. So there were now a lot of kids who were our age who were living on base, because their dads were civilian employees, and that helped provide the age group socialization that we hadn’t able to find elsewhere. There wasn’t any in the Orthodox community, which was very small.
Interviewer: And again, I’d like to clarify that we ask this question about socialization not so much because we at the conference think it’s an issue, but because we get asked that, and a lot of people ask this. And Fr. Peter addressed this as well. If you were in that talk, you heard. But we still like to get people’s take on it. It’s one of the big questions that we get asked all the time. Any questions?
Questions from the audience for All of the Panelists:
Audience: What about physical fitness or activity or that sort of thing? Obviously in public school the kids all do sports, or a lot of them do. What did you—was it mostly just outdoor play?
D: In my case it was definitely outdoor play. The one thing, of course, specifically that would affect that is, pretty much everywhere we lived, there were curfews for school age children.
Interviewer: Oh, daytime curfews?
D: Yeah, there was a good chunk of the day where you couldn’t go outside without potentially attracting the attention of the truancy officer or something or a neighbor who wanted to know why you weren’t in school. When we were stationed in Hawaii, we lived in a neighborhood which had a very large number of homeschoolers. It was kind of secluded, and there were a lot of foresty jungle around the area, it was very easy to just sneak out of the neighborhood and go to the beach and just go run up and down all day. And then when we were stationed out in Edwards Air Force Base, out in the Mojave, we would wait until after the daytime curfew, and we would go biking in the desert, which was really a workout. There were ways to work around it, particularly if you’re in a situation with daytime curfews from school districts. That’s an annoyance, but one way or another, we were always able to find some way to get around it.
J: We live in a rural area in a very small little town, but we have a baseball team that anyone in the area can join. Plus, our family is part of a charter, so we receive funds to help us pay for different things. And you can actually charter funds for things like rock-climbing and horse-back riding, or you can get together with a soccer team, you know? When my kids were little, they were on soccer teams, but since we moved to the country, we haven’t had a soccer team per se, but we’ve talked about it because some of the families up here love soccer, the dads mostly. Also, the local Orthodox get together for recess where we go purposefully to play sports and do things like that. It’s not super organized by the parents, but the kids love it. My children, if they had a choice, they would do that all day, rather than learn from a book. I think there’s ways of organizing physical education or finding avenues. Nowadays especially, there’s more than even when I was a kid.
Interviewer: It’s hard to narrow down our options once you learn all the options.
S: I played sports growing up. It wasn’t on a school team but there were a lot of leagues and besides that we just ran around all day. There wasn’t a fitness issue, but in terms of sports, I played most of my childhood on a soccer team every fall.
Interviewer: Thank you everyone.