Also Available in:

What I Learned in School

(And What I Could Have Learned at Home)

By Deborah Wuehler, Senior Editor

I thought I’d take a nostalgic trip down memory lane and review my own history of school experiences. I attended both public and private schools, and I saw that although the world said I was succeeding, I was really failing grade by grade. I remember at 4 years old that a love for learning was in my heart and soul at home, but somehow twelve years and eleven different schools later when I graduated at 18, I despised most of what was related to formal education. What happened and what did I really learn in school? Here’s my own true tale of success and failure:


I learned you had to leave that wonderful, secure place called home for a place where you were supposed to learn all kinds of new things—and at an age much too early to leave that security. I learned that even if you cried day after day, nobody cared and you still didn’t get to go home. I learned that you could cry on your mat at naptime so that the nobody who didn’t care wouldn’t see you cry. I learned that the only thing to do was to play blocks with bully boys or play house with bossy girls, and the teacher always frowned because I didn’t want to do either. I learned that there was never anything good to read and nothing to do or learn that I wasn’t already able to do at home—if I could only be there.

  • I succeeded in making my teacher unhappy and learning to cry quietly.
  • I failed in fitting in and learning anything of significance.
  • What I could have learned at home: I could have played in the snow and then studied the patterns of snowflakes, read stories about snowy days to my baby sister, and baked cookies with my mom while I learned some math.
‘Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.’ (Matthew 18:10)

First Grade

I learned that if you could read to the teacher, she would smile, and if you couldn’t, you had to sit in a special circle with the teacher, whose face looked tired. I learned that you had to let the big mean boy who sat next to you eat what he wanted out of your lunch or you would get pinched or kicked. I learned to endure hunger as I feared the repercussions of tattling. I learned you had to stay at school even longer hours than when you were in kindergarten.

  • I succeeded in learning that paste didn’t taste as good as it smelled and how bean plants could sprout in a cup just like in my garden at home.
  • I failed in getting away from the big mean boy or even praying for him.
  • What I could have learned at home: To help plant the garden and water it and weed it and maybe even chart its growth. I could have studied the insects that were good for the garden and the ones that weren’t. I could have written all about it in my own special book while eating my lunch undisturbed.
‘Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.’ (Matthew 18:14)

Second Grade

I learned that only the smart, quiet kids got the positive attention, but they had to be bored most of the day. I learned that the busy, noisy kids had to learn to be quiet and sit still even if it was sheer torture. I learned that if you were someone who needed extra help, you were an extra burden to bear. I learned that only the rich kids had the milk money, and it seemed like it was more beneficial to be rich than to be smart when you wanted milk.

  • I succeeded in learning to read the clock so I could count the hours until I could leave.
  • I failed in self-control as I learned to steal from my dad’s dresser for milk money.
  • What I could have learned at home: That I could have had free milk with the cookies I helped bake and that it was more beneficial to be content and honest than to be rich.
‘By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, and honor, and life.’ (Proverbs 22:4)

Third Grade

I learned that the teachers didn’t know what to do with the smart students, so they gave those students extra worksheets or sent them back to the kindergarten class to help the teacher. I learned that most of the time was spent explaining and repeating everything for the rest of the class and then giving out homework since we never could finish in class. I learned that some boys like to kiss girls at recess and that some girls like to be chased, except for me and my friend Michelle, who taught me to sing love songs she heard on the radio.

  • I succeeded at helping the kindergarteners cut on the dotted lines and glue things down.
  • I failed at learning anything new for myself except how to stay away from boys.
  • What I could have learned at home: That I could have finished my school much sooner in the day and not had any homework at night. I could have learned to sing love songs to God and learned not to follow what others did.
‘Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil.’ (Exodus 23:2)

Fourth Grade

I learned that staying home when you were pretending to be sick was much more comforting than going to school to be teased. I learned that you had to wear the right clothes or have the right hair color to have any friends at all. I learned that gifted education meant you got to get together with a few other kids and take all year to put on a play. I learned some things from the bad kids in fourth grade that I never knew before and didn’t want to know.

  • I succeeded at tutoring a slow reader, learning decimals and fractions, memorizing the five lines in my play, and daydreaming the rest of my school hours away.
  • I failed at being strong enough to ignore the kids who made up lots of new names for me and my bright red hair and avoiding the destructiveness of bitterness.
  • What I could have learned at home: How to research topics and write about what interested me. I could have learned good character traits such as honesty and courage.
‘Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.’ (Psalm 1:1)

Fifth Grade

In public school, I learned to doodle on my Pee Chee folder while waiting for the teacher to explain everything to the other kids. I learned that you could get chocolate bars if you got 100% on your spelling tests every week . . . and then be bullied out of them at recess. I learned that even after switching to a Christian school, you weren’t safe, because the bullies who were kicked out of public school ended up there. One ended up in my classroom alone with me at lunchtime, and I was blessed to be able to escape him. I learned that the work was much more challenging than the public school (although I had to do a lot of it at night and couldn’t play any more), and so were the kids.

  • I succeeded at having good grades and being put on the student council, which had no purpose or goals.
  • I failed at remaining safe from fear at both schools I attended.
  • What I could have learned at home: To have a reason to learn, a goal to strive for, socialization at all levels, and an abundance of educational field trips.
‘Do they not err that devise evil? but mercy and truth shall be to them that devise good.’ (Proverbs 14:22)

Sixth Grade

Back in public school, I learned that the teacher could yell really loud while the veins on his neck bulged out. I learned that you could be afraid of your teacher. I learned that your teacher could point you out in front of the class and tell all the kids to be like you or to continue being stupid—which made them not like you at all. I learned that the school could pull you out into a separate classroom and teach you sex education without your parents ever knowing about it. I learned that it was okay for a teacher to curse at students.

  • I succeeded at marbles at recess and being the horrible teacher’s favorite student, thus the other students’ favorite person to dislike.
  • I failed at making friends and hiding embarrassment at the teacher’s rages.
  • What I could have learned at home: Life skills such as cooking, cleaning, sewing, or even pursuing enrichment classes in artistic design or music. I could have learned the beauty of God’s design for marriage and learned that cursing is not acceptable.
‘For my mouth shall speak truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips.’ (Proverbs 8:7)
‘. . . With their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness . . . .’ (Romans 3:13–14)

Seventh Grade

I learned that when you go from one classroom to eight classrooms with lots of homework, you can become stressed and have nightmares. I learned that P.E. meant you had to take a shower that was mandatory, scary, and humiliating when you had no stalls and a teacher watching you. I learned that your books would get dumped out of the locker you were sharing with a bully girl. I learned to carry all books for eight classes everywhere I went. I learned to find something to do at lunchtime, like join the Star Trek Club just to stay safe. I learned that being smart was acceptable only to the adults. I learned that you had to find other routes home to avoid bullies.

  • I succeeded at learning how to carry stacks of books home in order to stay up late and work on stacks of homework.
  • I failed at having a moment’s rest physically, mentally, or socially.
  • What I could have learned at home: How to prepare for and accomplish high school-level work and the peace that comes from a sound mind, lack of torment, and a good night’s sleep.
‘The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him.’ (Psalm 37:32)

Ninth and Tenth Grade

My parents and teachers let me skip the eighth grade and start high school at a Christian school. I learned that you could have a Christian teacher pray before class and then teach you all about evolution. I learned that kids cheat and look at your tests and lie about it—even in Christian school. I learned that kids could go to chapel on Wednesday mornings and to drinking parties the same night. I learned that only really rich kids went to this school, so wearing the same pair of jeans every day to school wasn’t such a good idea. I learned that if you weren’t skinny, didn’t wear makeup, or have a boyfriend, that you were a nobody. I learned that even sisters could tell you to go away and find your own friends.

  • I succeeded at Spanish, English, and Bible, and learning to navigate the city transit schedule to get to school in another far city on time.
  • I failed at ever having enough clothes, food, friends, or contentment.
  • What I could have learned at home: That my sisters could be my best friends and I could have done college or college prep work and learned to be a keeper at home.
‘Teach the younger women to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home . . . .’ (Titus 2:5)

Eleventh and Twelfth Grade

Transferred to another public school, I learned about drugs and sex from the kids outside the classroom and about condoms and homosexuality from the teachers inside the classroom. I learned that you could lose any innocence you had. I learned you could stop caring about grades and start caring about how you looked and how to get a boyfriend. I learned to spend class time writing notes to friends. I learned that you could still graduate even if you hadn’t even tried for the last two years.

  • I succeeded at cramming for tests and then dumping the information.
  • I failed at learning discretion in choosing friends and foolish dating practices.
  • What I could have learned at home: To encounter the world with a Biblical worldview. I could have learned about purity and holiness and excellence in character. I could have learned that time did not have to be wasted but could be used wisely in serving the Lord and others. I could have had lots of positive socialization with like-minded friends. I could have entered into an apprenticeship or started my own entrepreneur business. I could have loved my education.
‘Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.’ (Titus 2:12)
‘Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.’ (1 Corinthians 10:12)

Why Do Schools Fail?

I was a gifted student who lost that giftedness by the time I attended high school because of all the nonsense of my schooling experiences. The author of a TIME Magazine article titled ‘The Genius Problem’1 said about a gifted child who left public school for home, ‘The system failed [her], but could any system be designed to accommodate her rare gifts?’ I agree with the author that these children would do much better outside the system and inside the home. What the author does not realize is that the reason these advanced students do better is the same reason any homeschooled child does better, gifted or not. One-on-one tutoring, opportunities to express and expand their unique abilities, encouragement to work at their own pace without being held back, the chance to pursue unique bents and interests, exhausting an avenue before moving on—all of these are benefits of a home-based education, and all are available to every student at home.

Although the article in TIME Magazine is about how the public school system has ‘little idea how to cultivate its most promising students,’ it also reveals the deeper root of how public schools cannot cultivate any student in his/her God-given abilities. The author suggests that in the ‘no child left behind’ criteria, it is more important to bring under-achieving students up to grade level than to do anything for those who excel. The proof is that all the mottos and funding have not improved anything at any level.

The author comes to the conclusion that it makes no sense to pour ten times more money into the under-achieving and only fund the gifted programs at $800 million. Eight hundred million? Can that really be? And this is what they are offering these gifted students: ‘field trips and extra essays, not truly accelerated course work pegged to a student’s abilities.’ Sounds to me like only a fraction of what homeschooling is doing for its students—at an infinitesimal fraction of the cost.

Why are public schools failing students, from the slow learners all the way to the geniuses? Well, it’s because public schools are failing.2 Homeschooled children are receiving what the public schools fail to dish out: an education focused on the student’s abilities, the student’s interests, the student’s academic level, and the student’s genius or special needs, and they are coming out way ahead. Why? Because they put their trust in God and not in the public education system.

‘Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord!’ (Isaiah 31:1)
‘Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God. They are brought down and fallen: but we are risen, and stand upright.’ (Psalm 20:7–8)

What Is the Best Education?

It seems that parents who want the best education for their children unknowingly give them the recipe for failure, both moral and academic, by putting them in an institution that promotes that failure. On the flip side, the National Home Education Research Institute reports: ‘Homeschool student achievement test scores are exceptionally high. The mean scores for every subtest (which are at least the 80th percentile) are well above those of public school students.’3

Not only did I lose giftedness over the years, but I lost innocence as I swam in a sea of immorality all around me. Only by the grace of God, and a parent who prayed, did I escape complete moral destruction. Homeschooling allows for moral excellence, protection of innocence, and a strong faith.

I have come to understand more clearly the moral liabilities of what I learned and the deficits of what I failed to learn. And, now, more than ever, I am convinced that keeping our children home is truly where they belong and is definitively the best education possible.

‘Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord. What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.’ (Psalm 34:11–16)


  1. www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1653653,00.html. Return to text
  2. articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/09/news/la-pn-obama-schools-20110310, ©2011 National Home Education Research Institute.Return to text
  3. www.nheri.org/Latest/Homeschooling-Across-America-Academic-Achievement-and-Demographic-Characteristics.html.Return to text

Deborah Wuehler is the Senior Editor for TOS, participating author in The Homeschool Minute, wife to Richard, and mom to eight gifts from heaven. She loves digging for buried treasure in the Word, reading, writing, homeschooling, and dark chocolate! Email Deborah at SeniorEditor@theoldschoolhouse.com

Copyright, 2011. Used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, Summer 2011.

Visit The Old Schoolhouse® at theoldschoolhouse.com to view a full-length sample copy of the magazine especially for homeschoolers. Click the graphic of the moving computer monitor on the left. Email the Publisher at Publisher@theoldschoolhouse.com.