“The only creature on earth whose natural habitat is a zoo is the zookeeper”.

Robert Breault

Susie’s Zoo = Homeschool Nightmare

Hello and welcome all who are curious about the topic of homeschooling! I would like to use my personal background from being raised as one of six homeschooled children to inform others. Through future discussions on my experiences, the process, and the do’s and don’ts of homeschooling, my goal is to help others. I will attempt to provide some tips for those who are either considering pursuing the endeavor and those who currently practice and want to improve. This blog is also for those who are curious and want to know what the heck this form of education even is.

Before I dig in though, let me explain the zoo reference:
My mom’s name is Susie, and before she married or had children, she worked at Busch Garden’s zoo. She truly loved working with the animals and her job was her passion until she was forced to quit after beginning to date my dad who also worked at the zoo. Later in life, after having so many kids, she referred to her homeschool as “Susie’s Zoo”. Little did we know how accurate that description of our family would turn out to be.

Bible Belt Homeschool Family Values

I grew up immersed in the religious, (Bible Belt, y’all) conservative homeschooling community of small town Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Later on we were further removed from public view to very rural Hodgenville, Kentucky where I was homeschooled from Kindergarten through highschool. Due to the nature of my experience, I’ll come right out and say that the process of being taught at home was not easy or pleasant. I’d like to take you along on my personal journey of discovering the pros and cons of this institution. The ultimate goal being to find ways to highlight the good and uncover the bad, as fairly as possible.

I’m aware that there are those who are great parents and use this privilege to the benefit of their children. I’d like to meet with or talk to some of these individuals and hold them up as role models while simultaneously highlighting the negative stereotypes I grew up around.

My mom is a woman who suffers from severe mental health issues, which made life and school extremely hard. She was both emotionally and physically abusive. Susie would let her mental issues ranging from severe depression to multiple personality disorder, seep into every aspect of our lives.

Learning in Suzie’s Zoo = Mental and Physical Abuse

My memories of being homeschooled early on consist of mom trying to teach me to read. I cannot exaggerate how difficult a process it was for me. She would take my struggling to learn as a personal attack. Telling me that I was refusing to learn how to read because I didn’t love her. That triggered so much anxiety in me as a youngster trying my very best to understand new concepts. The stakes were SOOO high if I did not succeed. It was so frustrating because I did love her. I truly did love my mother. But she would always use that particular brand of mental manipulation as a weapon. To her, it was proof that that we were trying to rebel against her by refusing to learn. I wanted to read. I wanted to learn. And even though I eventually did master reading, it remains a very traumatic period in my young life.

She would punish me emotionally. This emotional warfare was perpetrated in many forms. One of them was to tell me that I wasn’t learning math (or whatever the struggle was that particular day) because I couldn’t prove to her that I loved her. In addition if I was really having trouble with the concept I would receive a spanking or two. Every day, learning to me meant that if I did not pick up the concepts, I would be beaten or told that I was an unloving child. Later on she would end up not teaching me high school. As I entered my freshman year she said “I will not help you with your schoolwork at all if you cannot once and for all prove to me that you love me”. This was an impossible task. She had severe abandonment issues and deeply believed that nobody loved her at all. Her idea of love was so specific, unknown, or unachievable to us, it increasingly became impossible to prove to her.

The most exciting thing about homeschooling as a kid was the excitement over new school books. New curriculum was the extent of my mom’s effort in providing us with an education. We would put a lot of energy into picking our curriculum. Abeka Books were my favorite brand of textbooks. I loved their science books and thought the textbooks were beautiful, with lots of colorful illustrations and photographs. The other go to was Bob Jones, which was the most depressing and colorless curriculum I’ve ever seen in my life. Bob Jones University is a topic that we will cover at a different time. But we would kind of go back-and-forth between using those curriculums. After getting our new books, we would excitedly open them, and we were then given free reign to teach ourselves.

When Homeschooling Goes Wrong

That in and of itself, was hugely detrimental. How can a child teach themselves a subject they don’t understand? Math for instance was and remains hell for me. I can’t tell you how many beatings I received over my inability to learn it. In fact, I believe to this day that I was (undiagnosed) dealing with a learning disability like ADHD. Unfortunately it was seen as just pure rebellion. I don’t fully understand how I even survived as a child. Against all odds, I did love to learn. Trying my best to teach myself even though there was no structure. There was no designated school time, no real guidance and no test taking to measure progress or understanding. How can children be expected to have the foresight and discipline to handle their own educations? Essentially there was no way to track our progress. We were completely reliant upon whether mom was in a good mood or feeling mentally stable enough to sit down and go through a chapter with us. Even once there were six of us kids she was responsible for teaching, she never cared about any kind of structure. It was solely dependent upon us, the children, to take interest in our own educations for any learning to take place whatsoever.

Can Children be Expected to Self-Educate?

Of course, being kids, we would get excited to play outside. When we lived in Elizabethtown, we would try and play outdoors as much as possible. Our house was close to public streets. Mom would tell us that we would get taken by Social Services if they saw us playing outside during school hours. This had us completely terrified of Social Services. Believing them to be some evil entity that would come and take us away from our parents for absolutely no reason. Once we moved into the countryside of Hodgenville we could play outside more freely. But she still had us running scared. Any time we heard the sound of a car coming up our long driveway, we would immediately scamper inside so as to not be suspicious of being out of school. In the end social services were called on my mom at least twice by friends and distant family relatives. My mom would always win in these scenarios. When they would show up she would simply call HSLDA, the Home School Legal Defense Association. Thus, social services would not even be allowed to step foot in the house. Case closed, nothing to see here.

Homeschooling’s Most Glaring Legal Loophole

This brings me to an issue that brings me great consternation: How do homeschoolers get high school diplomas for their children? HSLDA and the homeschooling Powers that be can blindly provide you with a legitimate high school diploma without any proof that you’ve actually taken the classes that you claim to have taken to show that you have graduated. This is not a joke or exaggeration. There was no testing, no nothing. I just got a high school diploma in the mail without having to prove that I had actually completed Algebra 1 or 2 (which never happened). I would say about half of the things on my high school transcript that mom sent in to HSLDA was almost completely fabricated. This also reminds me of something I would like to discuss in a future post: the laws and checks and balances (when and where those do exist) in place (or not) to protect the child and to ensure that learning is being done. There are plenty of protections for parents and all manner and kind of legal assistance for any infraction that a homeschooling parent would consider as being an intrusion to their way of life or discriminatory against their religious choice to keep their children at home.

Religious Oppression is Basis of My Homeschooling Experience

That brings me around to stating the fact that every single homeschooling family that I grew up around was doing it for religious reasons; to keep their children from any kind of secular influence. There was no other meaningful reason(s) that the parents were using to justify home schooling other than to keep their child away from “dangerous” concepts like evolution, science, or religious tolerance. In my opinion, the values they base(d) their lives upon must be pretty flimsy if they have to keep their child away from people who might tell them anything that goes against their ideology, as the only way to ensure the child is kept from going astray. The very curriculum that we purchased for our fake school was solely based around the fact that they were biblically-based and had some kind of religious worldview to push upon children. It wasn’t for the purpose of learning real world facts, instead it was scripturally based, and did not prove conducive for actual learning and life skills.

Let me be clear very quickly and establish the fact that the only–the very first and only test I had ever legitimately taken before college was the ACT in order to fulfill the requirements for entering college. The only reason that I successfully was able to take that test was because my sister–the oldest of us was such a good example, a hard worker and was so determined to not let our pasts define us. She wanted me to have the chance to go to college as well, so she made sure to mentor me and help me through the preparation process and without her I would never have made it.

How Should Homeschool Exist in the Modern World?

The thing that I would like to stress here is that I think homeschooling has its place in our society. I think that it is and can be good, but it serves its purpose only if the guidelines and protections in place are just as beneficial for children as they are for parents who choose to homeschool. Without these standards and laws in place, there are many who abuse and have abused the privilege to school at home. So I believe some serious reform is needed nationwide to improve the standards and expectations of parents.

I realize that so far this has been a pretty negative take on homeschooling. But I would like to state that while my experience wasn’t great, Even though I don’t know any of these individuals personally, I know that there are plenty of homeschool kids who have had wonderful experiences and have gone on to have really great careers, were successful college grads, and that there are those who have excelled and garnered scholarships and great opportunities, so this is in no way trying to scare people away from it. I think that the best way for me to begin this exploratory blog is to provide my story, chronicle my own personal experience with it and set a goal to better understand what makes this a positive thing for others who have fared better than I did.

Homeschooling Produces Both Pros and Cons

I would like to talk to people with both good and bad experiences and ask if they would homeschool their own children depending upon their experiences. I want to use my story as a way to not only educate and empower those who are considering this for their own children but also as a cautionary tale for how wrong things can go especially when there are no checks and balances in place. I thankfully went on to go to college and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts, even though it took me a long time to finish.

I moved around a lot and had to stop and then pick back up and continue my degree a few different times, but I finally graduated last year. It only took me from 2006 to 2019, but I can proudly say that I was an A student and graduated with a 3.9 GPA. Overall I didn’t do too badly for myself, but that is only because of my stubborn perseverance. All this to say that all of that happened irregardless of the fact that my homeschooling experience hindered me more than helped me in my ability to achieve success in current endeavors and where I currently am educationally and socially.

I would like to go bit by bit through it all with you, using what I experienced as a jumping off point, but discover what some good people have done in their own homes and just see exactly what the potential is for mishap, and where the potential is for greatness. Because if you’re going to homeschool your children you need to know all the facts before you even dive into the deep end and ask yourself the all important question: “Am I qualified to solely take on the responsibility of my child’s education and as a result, the kind of futures they will be prepared and set up for?”

Exploring How Homeschooling Can Fit into Society Better

I think there are so many avenues of discussion here to explore and I cannot wait to go through some of them with you. Please send me your own personal stories of your experiences from being homeschooled. Send in stories of some friends that you knew that were homeschooled and your thoughts about them. What can we gather from those around us to learn and educate ourselves and to go forward with full empowerment? I can’t wait to have this discussion with you! That’s where I’ll end this first post because this is a very sprawling topic and I have so many thoughts and I want to present them in a clear and concise fashion. That is just a small dip of the toe into the vast waters of my experiences and the beginning of my quest for more knowledge into this institution.

About Author

Kelley grew up as the fourth of six children in small town Hodgenville, Kentucky where she and her siblings were all homeschooled until graduation when she escaped off to college. Ever since she has been on a quest for learning and enlightenment. She is deeply passionate about politics, animals (particularly dogs and horses), art, film, fashion, and global issues.


  • Heather Avery Lipp
    March 23, 2020 at 7:49 am

    You are doing so amazing with this endeavor! I am so proud of you!

  • Rachel
    June 20, 2020 at 7:52 am

    This was very enlightening. I am so sorry that I was so ignorant to Aunt Susie’s horrible treatment of you and your siblings. I love you and am so glad that you have blossomed into a strong, independent woman, who knows her mind and what she will or will not accept from life. ❤️❤️❤️

    • Kelley Richey
      June 21, 2020 at 10:47 am

      Thank you so much, Rachel! I am striving every day to be better and not allow the setbacks to continue to set me back. Forgiveness, empathy, mindfulness and love are what has and continues to help in the healing process.


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