As the school year comes to a close and I wrap up my time at the charter school (quick update: not renewing my contract with them, have no idea what I’m doing next), I’m reflecting on my own high school experience. So I thought I would write about what it was like being homeschooled in Boston, my experience of it anyway.
The first thing is that as a homeschooled kid you come across a lot of ignorance and assumptions. Especially people deciding in retrospect that now that they know you’re homeschooled, it explains all your quirks. Like damn, you didn’t even think I had any quirks until I told you I was homeschooled. So I’ll start with all the repetitive questions I got asked, answer them, and then I’ll tell you what it actually was like.
So did you hang out in your pajamas all day?
No, hygiene and clean clothes are just as important to homeschool families as any other family, we did wear whatever we wanted though, no restrictions, no uniforms, no dress codes, praise the Lord.
Well you must have slept in pretty late?
Nope, we were expected to get rolling by 9 am and had fairly strict expectations and schedules for the day, but our days tended to be shorter because we could work at our own pace.
You must not have really had any friends.
I hate how this is always phrased with the assumption that we don’t have friends as the foundation. Like damn, you can’t even imagine I at least had some other homeschooled friends. Nope, people always assumed we just had each other and no one else. In freaking Greater Boston, but anyway yes, I had friends, I always had friends, from church, from the local elementary school (until it got shut down), from Girl Scouts, from the neighborhood. I’ve never had a lot of friends, but I’ve always had friends (having an insatiable hunger for connection and intimacy means friends are a given).
So what did you do all day?
The same things you did. I learned as much as possible, took tests, wrote essays. Read. Rode bikes around the neighborhood with kids on the street. Made up complicated games. Played Pokemon. Went to the park. Went to Girl Scouts, Youth Group, Co-op, friends houses, game nights, parties. Slept a lot, ate a lot, went to church, argued with my parents. Imagined. Went on field trips. You know, the stuff most of us did as a kid.
There’s probably a little defensiveness in my tone, but I met the weird homeschoolers and that wasn’t us. People do get weird when they’re only around people like them (just go to any small homogenized community- you’ll see what I’m talking about), but that wasn’t my story and probably never will be. I grew up in a conservative Christian family, but we were always surrounded by families who were different from us.
In most of the other families (though not all) they were white, the moms stayed at home (my mom has always worked at least part time since as long as I can remember) , and they tended to be of a more liberal bent. All families wanted to give their kids a quality education. Our reason was wanting an education that fostered our faith, which was only strengthened by the unique homeschooling (and non-homeschooling) families we grew up around.
It wasn’t until I came to ENC that I started to meet the homeschoolers that people assumed I was like. I’ve always had a small world, and even as my worlds expanded I still happily choose that small world. I think that’s more my personality than how I grew up, but we can debate nature vs. nurture another day.
So what was homeschooling really like for me? The absolute greatest thing ever, a foundation I will be forever grateful for. See, I think the greatest gift I received from homeschooling is an insatiable desire to learn and to read and a deep trust in the gifts, forgiveness, and stability of family. I’m grateful that has been my story and a lot of credit is to homeschooling.
I treasure my family, we had our rough patches (puberty and I were not on good terms), but when you spend so much of your time with people, you bond. I’ve grown up and moved out and have a wonderful life now, but my family will always be my foundation and my anchor. They are my people. They saw me grow and thrive in every avenue. We learned how to navigate every part of life together because there wasn’t that separation.
And I love to learn and to read. Which feels like such a tiny thing, except hearing others’ experiences and observing my students, many people are done with learning when they get through their formal education. It’s a burden they suffered through and now they can get on with life. But lifelong learning is a thing I heard all the time in the homeschooling community, and I think it’s a lifestyle homeschoolers pick up. Sure we had to struggle through subjects we didn’t love, like anybody else. When I was working toward my diploma I got grades and had to get bad ones and figure stuff out. But my parents always stressed the joy of learning. They were there every step of the way challenging me. When things got frustrating we took a break. My parents knew me well and could structure things that worked with my particular overthinking brain.
It wasn’t idealistic either, we got on each others nerves, we were mean to each other at times, we didn’t always get along. But I was rarely lonely (in fact it developed a lifelong rhythm of spending at least a few hours every week by myself, you need that when you have three siblings, a small house, and mostly see the same 5 people), rarely bored, had lots of mobility (I remember telling people I was taking the T most places by myself at 13 and my non-city friends thought that was terrifying), and had a rich community full of different people.
That’s also the thing I appreciate, the diversity of my community. I had so many avenues for friendship. Because I couldn’t just make friends at school, they were all so unique and different. That’s a trait I see in my relationships to this day. My friendships were rich because they were intentional and didn’t happen just because we saw each other every day and had the same classes. (By the way, I love those kind of easy friendships- I had a lot of those in college and I miss them, but for the most part friendship has always taken effort, and I value what I gained from always having to give that effort).
Yeah, I did my lessons at home with my family, but that was just the cusp of my rich experience. I hope if I’m still in the city by the time we have kids (and I fully intend to be) we’ll be able to homeschool them and give them that gift my parents were able to offer me. And sure I’m a bit quirky as a result (I don’t think most people have such an obsession with books, their family, and spending time alone), but people are quirky. Also if I made any assumptions about other kinds of homeschooling kids, well, you guys are pretty weird (I kid, I kid). Basically, to you more traditionally schooled people, homeschooling is unique and for every one of us that fits the stereotype there’s a ton more of us whose experience was completely different.