Monday, November 18, 2013


I was homeschooled from about 6th grade on.  The reasons why are kind of complicated, but lets say there was a big project involving being required to study astrology in math class, being given word puzzles as English homework on a regular basis, and getting an A on an assignment because it involved a % mark.  It's been a long time since I left that world, and I think I can look back on it now with a lot better perspective than I had at the time.  I wanted to give a quick review of what I felt about the experience in terms of the quality of academics, my emotional well being, and my social well being.

Quality of Academics

Homeschooling did help some parts of my academic progress.  For instance, grammar was something that always eluded me until I studied it at home.  Instead of writing assignments being something that were inflexible and arbitrary, I could adapt writing assignments to my own ideas and style and developed in writing much more than I would have otherwise.  I also don't think I would have ever studied poetry if I hadn't been home schooled, and an ability to enjoy poetry has enriched my life even if the poetry I write is only mediocre.

In some ways homeschooling actually hurt my academic progress.  During the time that the whole curriculum plan was built for us by Calvert School it went pretty well, but afterwards when we tried to build our own it went downhill.  My parents didn't feel up to teaching me chemistry or biology or having me self study.  So we signed me up for a BYU independent study biology course.  I don't know if they've improved, but the BYU high school independent study course for biology was pretty horrible at the time.  And I had no lab experience.  Its not that you can't experience biology labs in home school, its just that you have to buy them, and we didn't.  In chemistry we signed me up for a chemistry class from the local community college.  That by itself was actually a very good move.  It got me a little college credit, I learned much better than I would have at home, and it broke down some of the fear of college level courses for me.  But, we never thought to sign me up for the lab section of the chemistry class, which for whatever reason was optional at Montgomery College.  So I missed the labs again.  Yes we could have purchased those too, but my feeling is that unless your parents are already professional chemists, that is probably a bad idea.  At school you actually have a full set of safety equipment.  The things we used for civics studies didn't allow for any serious alternate world view presentation, and didn't encourage critical thought or introspection.  Even though I learned to break past writers block, grammar, and any fear of writing, my parents were unable to provide serious contributions to the maturity of my writing.  Most of what I wrote during that time except for humor pieces is so embarrassing to me today that I can hardly read it.

Emotional Well Being

Public school during 5th and 6th grades was living hell for me.  One of the things I liked the most about leaving the public school system is that breaking out of the environments where so many bad things happened to me allowed me to let go of a lot of the hatred and anger that had been building up in my personality.  Trying to navigate childhood with Asperger Syndrome is hard, and its harder when your undiagnosed and hardly anybody really gets you.  Despite not being diagnosed, the school councilors and psychologists could tell there was something wrong and had me spend some time in the special ed program.  They knew all about how I had trouble socializing, had problems empathizing, and learned things in an unusual pattern.  All the dots were there, but the paradigm to connect them hadn't been accepted in the DSM yet, so I was stuck with vague labels and assignments to write and read things that encouraged looking at stories from more than one perspective.  Didn't do me much good, and other than offering to let me spend more time playing with other special ed kids they didn't do anything that I am aware of to try to help me make friends.  And who really wants the stigma of spending lots of time with the special ed kids?

So I got to heal from a lot of the pain of public school just by leaving it.  But homeschooling does something funny to your emotional well being.  Its puts a lot of your eggs into one basket.  An overwhelming portion of your time is spent in one social group, and if family relationships go sour then you have very few options to escape it.  To imagine how badly that can end, think of how many people like or dislike subjects in school based on whether they liked or disliked the teacher for that class and for no other reason.  So say your mom is your teacher in ALL of your subjects and the relationship goes sour.  You either have the choice to hate academics, or make the mature decision to base your like or dislike of a subject on something other than who is helping you learn it.  Fortunately I didn't like or dislike subjects based on teachers.  And, when my mom would start to threaten to withdraw all support from me to force me to obey her idea of perfect study methods or habits, I just call her threat and learn to self study.  This was how I lived with my mother in general- find ways to reduce any need for physical, academic, or emotional support from her to as little as possible.  It taught me good study habits, even if my life at home was pretty much living hell a lot of the time just like public school had been.  It is normal for teenagers to need to learn some independence from their parents and authority figures.  Public school decentralizes those authority figures and allows you to take breaks from people you have trouble getting along with.  Home schooling centralizes many of your authority figures into one and gives very few opportunities to take breaks from people you don't get along with.  The only times I routinely wasn't with my family was during early morning seminary, mutual night at church, and church itself.  Other than that I spent almost all of my time with my family.

In the end I'm unsure whether the living hell of public school would have been better to continue if it would have meant not having to deal with living hell at home.  Its possible that I would simply have had bad experiences in both places at once if I had stayed in public school.

Social Well Being

Because I didn't have any effective way to deal with the problems inherent in having Asperger Syndrome, my social well being was pretty much broken and would have been broken no matter which path I took in life.  Public school wasn't working.  Homeschooling only allowed me to socialize at church or church events or with people from church on a regular basis.  Luckily, my group of friends at church was really great and our little group did tons of things together.

We did try to break out of not having socializing opportunities in different ways.  There was a group of homeschooling families in the neighborhood that gathered at a public park to play together on a regular basis.  They were good and intelligent people.  Unfortunately the brand of Christianity they belonged to made them somewhat apprehensive of mormons and I think there was almost a standing ban on us playing together in non public settings.  It got awkward quickly, which is too bad because I got along with some of them pretty well.  Since hanging out with the local Christian homeschooling groups didn't work out so well, we tried forming our own mormon homeschooling groups instead.  This had its own problems.  Most of the homeschooled kids were pretty young, and when I was a somewhat older teenage boy most of the other kids involved were pre adolescent girls.  Not so much my thing.  There were occasionally boys my age in these groups, but there was a problem with trying to be friends with them.

The thing is, one of the major reasons teenagers get taken out of public school and home schooled when the parents aren't concerned about the academics of the school district is to rescue them from some kind of bad behavior or a bad situation where the school isn't protecting them.  They don't tend to home school for very long, just long enough for their parents to feel like they have gotten past some life crisis of immoral or illegal behavior or simply a dangerous situation.  So they don't tend to be part of the homeschooling community for very long and they tend not always to be the kinds of people you want to spend time with when they are.  I remember a play event where my mom brought me a boy to play with and pre warned me that this boy was into some bad things and that if he proposed to do anything illegal or immoral that I should feel free to reject his ideas of a fun time.  During one of these visits he told me about how he wanted to grow up to be a hacker or a drug dealer because that was how to make a lot of money.  Even if the kids were well behaved and not spending their time with you making crude gestures and crude jokes and planning their future criminal life, I'm an Aspie, which means that I won't necessarily be able to become friends easily with anybody just because you throw them at me.  I had some play visits where I just sat there and watched the other kids play video games that I had never played before and couldn't easily learn because I had never played anything more complicated than a sega genesis.  If I hadn't been so well integrated into the social life at church, homeschooling would have been an utter failure for me at allowing me to have a social life.

So was I glad that I was home schooled?  Yes and no.  I was traumatized by 5th and 6th grade enough when 6th grade was in the elementary school, that I think I would have been severely damaged by middle school.  Maybe by high school that would have all calmed down.  Before I left the public school system I would have my mom call people to ask to play based on which kids weren't making fun of me, and then those kids would start making fun of me just to get the message across that my friendship wasn't wanted.  So I think socially and emotionally it gave me a valuable break that allowed me to recuperate in preparation for the epic control battles with my mother that ended with me pushing her out of my life in many ways.  I managed to do this in a way that left her proud of me and left a path forwards for the relationship to continue to develop in a positive way.  But I don't know how I would have managed dealing with middle school and early high school and the battles with my mother at the same time.

If I had to do home school over again and I could change something about what I did academically, it would be that instead of just doing the one class at Montgomery College as a 15 something year old I would have dropped almost all the classes I was self studying and tried to get an associates from Montgomery College before I turned 18.  That would have been a much better investment in myself than the self study courses I was doing and would have prepared me for life much better than the distance studies courses I started taking from George Wythe College.  For whatever reason having me take more college classes from the community college just never occurred to us.  Which is really too bad.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Chaos in Stillness, and Stillness in Chaos

Today I stood in the bathroom, looking at my wife and kids.  The three year old, or T as we have been abbreviating him online, is sitting on top of the toilet kiddy seat, completely naked, telling me about how he is sitting on the potty like mommy and daddy.  I’m glad he’s so happy about this.  Most of the day he’s been vomiting and unable to eat, or sleeping.  The 1 year old L is sitting in the sink, playing with the breakable travel alarm clock we keep on the counter and my breakable electric razor before I take it away again.  My wife is about to try to read to me out of the bible as I try to get both the kids into the bath.  Most nights I’m not home for this, and the last several times I’ve come home from work after the kids have had baths there was water splashed half way across the bathroom floor.

But at least during that moment of chaos, I’m holding still.  At least on the outside.

A few weeks ago we invited someone over to dinner.  With two kids our meals can be something more like a zoo feeding time than a ‘proper’ dinner.  But we try to laugh and have fun with it anyways.  Trying to hold intelligent conversation, eat, fend off the two little bandits trying to steal my attention and my cup of water, and figure out all of the social communication signals involved with having someone new in my environment is hard.  Probably about a week later I’m still internally freaking out because I don’t know if how we use cloth napkins might have communicated a confusing contradiction because cloth napkins normally are used at more formal events and in reality our chaotic dinner habits are born of trying to feed two small children in a hurry.  Our guest was very politely following a formality of etiquette that I am aware of but unfamiliar with, leaving me unsure how to interpret what it means when they used it in a complete mismatch to the chaos of the situation.  But if you took a photograph of our meal, any given moment might have looked calm enough.

At work the other day my manager praised me for having won the most fake money on our team for use at the year end company auction.  Apparently I had 11 customers who gave me 100% scores on good customer service after our phone calls (apparently not many other people got so many) and I practically never miss work or even come in late.  On the surface it looks good.  Underneath, I’m going crazy from the stress of strained relationships from having too little time away from work and school, strained relationships with myself from having too little time to invest in myself, financial goals that seem just out of reach of our income unless we fight for each dollar, chronically almost incomplete or almost late school work, and just trying to make myself slow down the pace of my inner life.  Some days my stress is so high that my acid reflux never really calms down between meals and I spend my time at work massaging my stomach to help relieve the tension building up inside of it.  I sometimes stop being able to digest my food fully- I’m not joking that happens to me when I’m on the danger zone of being stressed out.  I feel so mentally exhausted that even asking my customers names seems like too much to ask.  I frequently forget and have to ask at the end of the call, but honestly I just feel too exhausted to care.  As for making multiple sales pitches per call, forget it, I feel great if I can make myself offer them just one sales pitch.  I’ve still never figured out how to make even one sales pitch to a 3rd party monitoring tech support company that calls me because their connection to the customers modem went down- they aren’t the decision makes and probably never even talk to the decision makers other than when their monitoring contract was drawn up.  And how do you even start to think about selling our own IT support to an on site IT specialist?  “Hey just so you know Mr. Local IT, we have this great product that will make your boss lay you off, want to pass the word along to see if your boss wants it?"  But if I forget to make those two sales pitches my quality stats will suffer.  If I don’t make the calls shorter eventually someone is going to freak out on me and threaten to fire me again.  So I still stress about it all, even though I still feel too exhausted to even care some of the time.  I need to reinvest in me, but where do I start when there isn’t very much of me left to go around any more?

I like to say that trying to take care of my own emotional well being is like driving a car with a broken gas tank indicator.  I don’t tend to know I’m low on emotional energy until I run out.  Sometimes I hit bottom, and won’t even be able to tell what’s happening to me until I’ve had to stop and think about it.  By then I can be pretty messed up.  So I try to reboot my self care, start trying to read books for fun between calls instead of doing low quality homework because I can’t concentrate very well at work anyways, try to force away some of the urgent things in life so that I can just relax a while with my wife.  Try to force away some of the stupid things in life that suck the energy away from me but give me little back.  Take a few moments I’m getting dressed for the day to read something uplifting  Try to spend more time romping with my kids.  Life never stops, even if I wish I could take a vacation from it every once in a while.  But for those few moments that I spend relaxing with my wife, reading something uplifting, or tickling my kids, I try to approach stillness that is on both my inside and my outside, even if its just for a few moments.