what part of me is the homeschooling?

Sometimes I really can’t tell what makes me different and what makes me similar. I can’t tell what part is the homeschooling and what part isn’t.

I was talking to Peter Gray, over at Psychology Today, about being unschooled. He was asking me some questions, and I was trying to answer. For a while, when people asked me about my education, I would try to point out the ways in which I am special. In case they thought that I might be a dud.

I am pretty special. I’m smart. I’m confident. Once my face was on AOL’s front page and all of Bear’s relatives saw it when they opened their browsers and then we were like, “You guys still use AOL? Seriously?” But that’s neither here nor there. What I’m saying is– I could brag.

Everyone can brag. There’s always something to brag about.

But the more I think about it, the really interesting thing about me is how little there is to brag about. How normal I am. How much my skills, at the end of the day, are skills that people have whether or not they spent their childhood in the woods or at a desk.

“I’m kinda normal,” I told Peter. “It’s pretty lame.” I changed my mind. “It’s pretty cool.”

I write essays about homeschooling and people always say, “Whatever! That’s not because of homeschooling! That totally happened to me!”

I’m sure it did. And in my case, it’s probably also because of homeschooling. But honestly, it’s nearly impossible to tell.

Because homeschooling isn’t something that’s separate from my life– it is my life. It informed everything I am. But after everything that I am being informed by this radically different kind of childhood, here I am, being sort of cynical and ambitious and not incredibly famous and sometimes totally down on myself and having gotten a nose job despite feeling beautiful as a girl and trying to figure out how I fit into this big, complicated city. The things that I struggle with are often the same things that my peers struggle with– and most of them went to school.

Interesting. Interesting how much we always want to focus on the differences. People have been trying to focus on my differences for my entire life. In what ways do I stand out? Does my education work? Can I function in society?

It worked. I can, and do. But as a result, I look a lot like everyone else who is functioning in society.

And when I get over the disappointment of not turning out immediately wildly famous or fantastically brilliant, I am glad. And I wonder what all the fuss is about.

Because if I could turn out just fine without a formal education, then maybe we should just be talking about why so many other kids don’t turn out just fine with one, rather than what about me might be weird.

(I’m not a good dancer, but I love dancing!)

*  *  *

A version of this piece also appears on the Huffington Post here.

8 comments to what part of me is the homeschooling?

  • I wonder the same thing all the time. People don’t always seem to think that education plays that big of a role, but I took time during middle and high school to start volunteering and getting experience in my field (wildlife ecology) that I could not have done in a traditional high school setting. That experience let me get awesome jobs while I was in college and now that I’m out is still serving me well and giving me an edge in a sometimes very depressing job market.

    Thanks for helping me reflect on this again :)

  • Kate said, “Because if I could turn out just fine without a formal education, then maybe we should be talking about why so many other kids don’t turn out just fine with one, rather than what about me might be weird.” Yes, exactly!

    I know its a twisted example but I think about this reading ex-slave Jourdan Anderson’s letter. His master, we can assume, was a well educated man. (Or most were, anyway.) While Jourdan was obviously denied education. Which begs the question: what good is elementary education? The answer I find is, not much.

    Jourdan’s letter: http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/01/to-my-old-master.html

  • Lynellekw

    I wasn’t homeschooled – not exactly – but nor did I have a “normal” educational experience. I did some correspondence school, and some regular school, and some regular school that was really quite irregular. Like a single class of kids from all age groups (the non-bilingual class, basically all the white kids and a couple of Aboriginal kids whose parents particularly wanted them to be taught in English), taught by my mother. And we did crazy stuff – like one field trip we went hunting goanna. Even when I was in a more “normal” school I didn’t have the classical school experience – it’s not typical in schools for your class to be taken out to the carpark unexpectedly to see a crocodile that one of the rangers has caught in a trap & is relocating, all trussed up in the back of a ute. Or to spend a day playing at being air crash victims so that the emergency services can run a drill. Or for other kids to smuggle bats or file snakes to school. When we moved to the city, a school camping trip meant going to a campground and staying in dormitories, with running water and toilet facilities and a kitchen. When we lived in the Territory, a school camping trip meant hiking to a beach, digging your own toilets, and cooking things on a campfire. I felt very different in the city school, and sometimes elements of that difference surprise me even now. Mostly I just think I’m more robust, more resiliant, more independent than my “normal”-schooled comrades. I was sometimes jealous of the opportunities my city friends had, but I wouldn’t trade the experiences I had for anything.

  • I sometimes wonder how my 5 year old unschooled twins will be different when they get older from other 18 years olds who went to school. I think it probably will be similiar in the way they are different from them now. Like your experience, my kids outwardly look the same. They find most of the same types of things interesting that other 5 year olds do (but find many more things interesting that they don’t either), they dress the same, act the same, get along with other kids the same.

    Yet, they already have a sense of freedom that I don’t see in other kids. They seem more relaxed. They’re able to spend lots of time in pretend play, something really important at this age, and can dream up projects and activities to do every day and then go do them.

    So maybe sometimes it’s more of a mindset that’s different in kids who didn’t have to spend a large chunk of their lives doing things that were irrelevant or unimportant to their lives.

  • I love this! My always-homeschooled and mostly-unschooled four kids are age 16 down to age 8 and while of course they are wonderful and unique and special and brilliant in MY mind, I also love how normal they are and how clear it is that they do NOT stand out from a crowd as homeschooled weirdos. No one would approach my 16yo daughter in a museum and say, “Wow, you must be homeschooled, you’re so DIFFERENT!” Well, a fellow homeschooler might spot the passion and make a good guess, but for the most part she just blends in as an art lover. Great post with great points!

  • This is a great conversation. I know both great unschooled kids and great quirky kids who go to school. My thoughts are that unschooled kids seem to be more comfortable being who they are. There is far less pre tense, or trying to impress others, or trying to keep up. It’s the ‘what you see is what you get,’ attitude. They don’t believe the hype about the importance of following an A to B route to get to your goals.

  • Unschooling mostly just equals life. I don’t think there really is a way to separate out what parts of you are homeschooled and what parts are just THERE… It’s thoroughly mixed together by the time you’re three.

  • I am a grown-up unschooler who now teaches writing classes for homeschoolers, and what I love best about them is that they just aren’t worried about being weird, and so their quirkinesses don’t overshadow all the common ground they have, as well as really appreciating their uniquenesses. And this happens not because these kids are especially kind or enlightened, but because they are in an environment that fosters their humanity, and allows them to be whole people, which is the goal, isn’t it? No matter whether it happens in school or out.

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