The people who know what’s best for their kids aren’t politicians, but parents.
By Hannah Long
I was a bundle of nerves and insecurities, clutching a packed lunch. I kept repeating the location of my first classroom as I wandered haplessly around the new, strange educational environment.
It was my first day of school. I was 18.
God must have a sense of humor about homeschoolers. English 101 had been moved from its original room, twice. By the time I finally tracked it down, I was considering chucking college to be a barista.
I collapsed into a chair, nervous that I’d missed something. I hadn’t… The teacher spent the first class reading from an arcane document called a “syllabus” and employing mysterious jargon like “semester” and “term.” My panic began to ebb. I wasn’t sure what it all meant, but I could Google it later.
Googling is a great tool when you go to school at home and don’t have schoolmates. Growing up, it was my No. 1 method for translating unfamiliar peer slang. Thanks to Urban Dictionary, I often learned more than I bargained for. (If you’re unfamiliar with that particular resource, imagine the wall of a high-school bathroom stall, but crowdsourced by the entire Internet.)
Once I was dumped into a class of disaffected college students, I was not the least bit shy. I sat at the front and asked an obnoxious number of questions. I felt like I was on safari in a strange land.
What were normal students like? Would I fit in? When would the dreaded Marxist Indoctrination begin? (I had watched Fox News – I knew the score.)
For the record, the answers are:
- Pretty much the same as me.
- As much as I ever will.
- About two weeks into the semester, Comrade.
I usually don’t confess I was homeschooled until I’ve known people for a while. The revelation provokes curious, shifty glances that show they’re wondering whether I’ve been sufficiently socialized or educated. One man, unsubtly, dropped pop quiz questions into our conversations… “So, what do you know about evolution?”
It’s easier to homeschool a child than you might think. Although – as in public schools – it depends on the student, the parents, the teacher, and the week.
My homeschool schedule went like so: I woke up in the mornings, rambled downstairs to get breakfast, rambled back upstairs and did my schoolwork in bed. There were reading assignments of varying difficulty – I looked forward to My Man Jeeves more than Moby Dick.
Math took more time. My family used a math software package that included lectures and practice problems. By the time I got into the higher maths, the subject ate into larger and larger portions of my day, as did biology, chemistry, and physics. My father is an engineer, so he could usually help me with homework, but the Internet makes getting access to tutors easy.
Some days, I’d get it all done by noon and have the rest of the day to myself. I spent hours typing away at a clunky computer, writing what I thought was the next great fantasy novel, but was really mediocre Tolkien fan fiction.
During the warmer months, I could get outside and lose myself in the woodlands surrounding our house. I must have looked like a walking cliché – a scraggly, pony-tailed Appalachian teenager in overalls, holding a metal bucket and clambering up hillsides looking for black raspberries. The only discordant notes in this Tom Sawyer image were the earbuds snaking up into my ears, transmitting, usually, a Ravi Zacharias evangelical Christian podcast.
I was able to live unstructured and unplugged, enjoying learning for its own sake. In that, I count myself lucky.
The best part was the freedom of it. Book report deadlines and standardized testing didn’t dominate my childhood. I was able to live unstructured and unplugged, enjoying learning for its own sake. In that, I count myself lucky.
Homeschooling worked well for me. But any attempt to describe it in general terms is difficult because homeschooling is so intensely individual. I’m an introverted nerdy sort… I flourished with self-motivated, solitary study.
On the other hand, I know extroverts who couldn’t handle the seclusion. I know timid homeschoolers who “broke bad” when they were finally exposed to the great Babylon of university campuses. But I also know sensitive people who would have been crushed by the pettiness and assembly-line mentality of public education.
Of course, that raises the question: Am I introverted because I’m homeschooled or homeschooled because I’m introverted? It’s a rephrased formulation of the nature-vs-nurture debate, and your answer will probably come from your preconceived notions about education and humanity.
I’m going to cheat on that question. The biggest influence on who I am has nothing to do with school, and everything to do with my parents. I’d take a step further and say that’s true for most people. Shy and hesitant in social encounters? Sounds remarkably like my dad’s description of his college days. Loud and opinionated? Sounds quite like my mother.
What I have to say here probably won’t satisfy a sound-bite society. In an age of easy absolutes, homeschooled kids must either be hothouse flowers, sheltered from the character-building agora of junior high, or overachieving honor students kept pure from the filthy masses. The reality’s more like real life. Some are hardened by adversity, others draw strength from privacy and family. Some wilt away in isolation, others love crowds. Ultimately, the best people to ask what’s best for kids aren’t their politicians, but their parents.
As for me, school and society are significantly less intimidating now, both because I’ve grown stronger, but also because I’ve learned that everyone else is just as uncertain and awkward and socially clueless as I am.
C.S. Lewis said once that friendship begins when one person looks at the other and says, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.” Or, as that conversation usually goes in college, when one person looks at the other and says, “Oh, crap – that was due today?”
Hannah Long is a freelance writer and recent Emory & Henry graduate. Her work has appeared in The Weekly Standard.