Thursday, September 18, 2014

Homeschooled: Pros and Cons of Growing Up Different

For the first eight years of my education I was homeschooled. In the beginning, this meant school at home with my mother and little brother, but it shortly included involvement in a large, multi-campus co-op and, eventually, in in-depth co-ops of a half-dozen families where every mom (or dad) taught a subject.

My freshman year of high school, I went to public school--an alternative public school, which limited enrollment via a lottery system, focused on academics and the arts, and fostered relationships between teachers and students. It was the softest landing I could've had. It was still really, really hard and probably the best thing that ever happened to me.

I went to public school and grew up. I started thinking for myself. I believe many different things now from when I was homeschooled. I was sheltered and ignorant. But I don't lament being homeschooled.

As a homeschooled kid, I took what adults told me at face value. All elementary school kids do this. We don't begin thinking for ourselves until we hit puberty, with all that brain development in the frontal cortex. It's because kids tend to believe what adults tell them that I'm glad I was homeschooled.

I never cared much about grades in homeschool. My parents never focused on it: school was about the learning. My mother's method of teaching was to get excited about everything and look stuff up.

Lit classes weren't about filling out discussion worksheets or writing essays on salient themes. We read books aloud and my mom conversationally asked questions. That's how I learned to think and analyze. I didn't write much until I was 12. When I wrote that first 5-paragraph essay, the words flowed easily because my mom had taught me how to get thoughts flowing. Years of tutoring kids showed me this is the #1 problem with essays: kids are trying to put words on paper, but they don't even know what they want to say.

I remember when my mom taught me how to do the laundry. Stupid as it sounds, I was excited. It wasn't a chore, it was a life skill! I suppose my parents laughed that their devious schemes worked. I'm grateful. So much of life is about attitude, and my parents' attitude towards learning is that it should be fun, fueled by curiosity, and something you're always doing.

That's the biggest reason I'm grateful for homeschool: I learned to enjoy learning. (Ironically, this was detrimental in school when I had to do worksheets for things I already knew. It was so hard to power through because I wasn't learning anything, and wasn't learning the point, not grades?)
I was a stereotypical homeschooler: no TV, no pop culture, no bad words, no bullies. Some people wonder what we did with ourselves. Are you kidding? Played! Most of my childhood was spent building legos, creating stories with my brother, and playing pretend on the swingset. Though lit and movies still struggle to have strong female protagonists, I got to be the hero everyday as a child. My brother and I saved the world/galaxy/universe/alternate universes more times than I can count.

Homeschooling doesn't deal with busywork, so we finished our schoolwork quickly and got hours of unstructured time to let our imaginations run wild. Kids need that. Playing pretend helped me form opinions and beliefs, because I could try them out in my imagination. It made me who I am.

There were plenty of things I didn't form opinions on, of course. There was a lot I didn't know about. I'll say this: sex was not one of those things. I'm eternally grateful that my parents never shied away from the subject and always answered questions.* Most kids (of all schooling types) never hear an adult tell it straight, so the public-schoolers learn it from their friends and the homeschoolers don't learn it at all.

I was sheltered from how mean people can be. I didn't know that racism still happens in our country. I never thought to question some of the things I was taught, like whether being gay was right or wrong or the reasons for dressing modestly.** I thought bad words were bad, though I didn't know why.

I'm glad for some of it. The job of a parent is to protect their kid from how crappy the world is. Kids' brains can be physiologically and hormonally affected when they're exposed to too much violence, horror, and fear. That's not to say we should make life perfect; but let kids deal with kid-problems, like the mean neighbor-girl, so that they can one day deal with adult-problems. I've gone through some crap things in my life and my happy upbringing, far from crippling me, gave me a baseline to rebuild my life on.

As to the rest of what I was sheltered from, I learned. I went out into the big bad world and, because I'd been taught to think critically and enjoy learning, I got over myself and learned I was wrong in a lot of ways. Some opinions morphed. Some did a 180. Some didn't change. The sheltering went away and I became who I am now, a result of both that early childhood and that growing up.

All kids are going to have a smattering of good and bad beliefs from their childhood. They grow up, get flung into the world, and have to learn. All you can do is give them the tools for learning. Sheltered or unsheltered, we all have to change, grow, and cope at some point. You can homeschool or public-school your child, but the important thing is, are they learning the things they'll need to survive?

I did. So, sheltered though I was, I don't regret my homeschool self. (Tweet this.)

Word count: 963.

* My mom even explained the technicalities of how sex between two men or two women worked when I asked, even though she thought it was a sin. Ignorance never breeds anything but malcontent, secrets, and broken relationships.

** A lot of rape culture is perpetuated in the way we tell our daughters to dress modestly, and in the silence we have with our sons. It's fine and good if you want your daughter to respect her body, but it's important to know the reasons and to teach her--and him--respect, not merely shame and objectification. It respects men when we say that they can control their urges, and respects women when we say it's possible for beauty to be more than a sexual thing.