I may have told this story before, but it’s one of my favorites.
I was taking a nonfiction writing class at Columbia, during grad school. It was a big deal for me, because it didn’t fit into anything related to the stuff I was officially studying. I had been pretty strict with myself up until then about focusing, but I really, really wanted to take a writing class.
It’s a good thing I took that class, because I met two amazing friends there, and now we have a writing group. But that’s not the story. That would be a sort of boring story.
So I was working on the memoir that I’m always sort of working on about homeschooling/unschooling, and some other girl had been an escort all through college, which is how she paid for Columbia, and some people were writing individual essays in which the words all sat in exactly the right places. I felt like I should figure out a way to include more sex in my story. But there wasn’t really any sex to include for a lot of it, and when there was, it wasn’t very relevant to the plot.
And meanwhile, everyone was asking me about homeschooling and I was trying to clarify things. And this one guy, who was otherwise perfectly intelligent, kept asking me the most frustrating things.
“So was it just that your parents were social outcasts in high school?” he said, with a straight face.
I laughed aloud. Wait– was I supposed to answer that with a straight face? No, my parents were both popular in high school, especially my mom, as far as I can tell. And she was one of those super super pretty girls with the annoyingly perfect hair. I try not to judge her for her past Actually, if you think about it, frustrating boy in nonfiction class, if you went back in time and showed up at my parents’ high school, you would’ve probably fallen in love with and gotten totally rejected by my mom. WAIT. Maybe that already happened! That explains EVERYTHING.
Sorry. I get carried away.
I wrote chapter after chapter, trying to describe my life. I talked about socialization. I talked about the stereotypes people tried to slap on me and the ridiculous things people said to me. I talked about how much fun I had. And at the bottom of my last piece, the horrible frustrating guy wrote, “It’s really sad that your parents’ allowed you to live such an isolated, socially malnourished life.” He seemed to be trying to empathize, somehow. He didn’t seem like a mean person.
He had somehow missed the point, despite being in class with me for months. Despite reading some very personal details about my history.
And honestly, sometimes that’s what the world feels like to me, when I talk about homeschooling and unschooling. I feel like I talk and talk, but sometimes there’s just no room in the conversation for something that seems so radical to people.
The Wall Street Journal publishes a piece about Montessori, and everyone gets excited about this daring educational alternative. Well, it IS a daring educational alternative! And there are also other ones. Some of them don’t even start with a big building. But sometimes I get the sense that the people who talk and write about education aren’t quite ready to have a real conversation about homeschooling, either because it’s simply TOO different, or because they’ve already dismissed it in their minds.
I went to an Ed Chat event (people who care about education get together and eat mozzarella sticks and talk about, well, education) at Lisa Nielsen’s place the other night, and a man there, who teaches high school, told me that he imagined homeschooling as a very rigid form of school-at-home. You know, desks and blackboard in the living room. And he imagined that the people doing it were always conservative Christians.
Those things are just not true. And when you read the New York Times, you can get a sense of that. Once in a while there’s one of those “look at this weird thing” pieces about homeschooling. But it’s important to reach beyond the New York Times. Not everyone reads it, anyway.
So I have to hope that if people, including myself, keep writing and talking about homeschooling, the conversation will be forced to expand. And for every frustrating guy who insists that I was abused by my parents, there will be two people who start to realize that I wasn’t.
The hard thing to accept for me is that that guy exists, and he will probably never be convinced.