Sunday, February 5, 2012

Homeschool Manifesto

My mother chose to homeschool me, with Dad as her support.  He taught 10th grade biology at the local high school, but still felt I’d be better off at home.  A lot of stigma goes along with homeschooling.  Everywhere you look, a “homeschool kid” is perceived to look, talk, and act a certain way.  You know the type: long hair, long skirt, bad at sports, doomed to be a cat-lady.  Well, I’ve never been much of a cat person, and prefer dogs, myself. 
With a degree in English, Mom favored reading and writing above all else.  By eleven years-old I had flipped through the Great Books, all of Shakespeare’s plays, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens (who I utterly detest), Louisa May Alcott, and most other classic authors.  When I could find a place to hide, I also had a stash of Larry McMurtry novels, and plenty other “grown-up” books from which I learned most of how the human body works.  Mom also taught me history and languages, while Dad filled in with science and math.  I took things at my own pace, and soon found myself ahead of my friends.  When the student-to-teacher ratio is 1:1, it’s pretty hard to get behind.
My hair might have been somewhat long, but certainly not long enough to sit on, and it wasn’t “big” in front as you might assume.  I didn’t own a single denim skirt, and mainly ran around in jeans and t-shirts.  I was well aware of the fads—what was in, what wasn’t—and I begged for designer clothes just the same as any other kid.  And that one name-brand shirt I got for Christmas, I wore to shreds—desperately trying to keep up with the Joneses.  If you saw me in the grocery store, I certainly didn’t fit that “homeschool mold.”  I didn’t wear tie-dye, I didn’t pull my socks up over my leggings, and I knew the importance of deodorant.  To see me, I could be anybody, and at eleven years-old that was really important.  As puberty creeps up, no one wants to stick out.
A homeschooler is often classified as a kid with two left feet that shuns sports or physical activity.  After all, schooling at home impedes the ability to grow muscles, play team sports, and run without tripping on your shoelaces.  But I loved sports.  As the only girl in town to play in a boys-only baseball league, I had a lot of pride as well as a lot to prove.  My team might as well have been the “Bad News Bears.”  We were the team that had all the kids that didn’t make it through try-outs, and had to provide our own uniforms (namely sweatpants) and gear.  My dad coached us every day in rain or shine until we won a couple games here and there.  I’m not afraid to say that I was the best on the team, because I wanted it more than anyone else.  I had to work harder to achieve the respect they earned just by showing up.  I sat behind home plate and caught ball after ball, but I never could seem to see through the rusty old mask.  Each year I tried out for our town’s “major league,” but it didn’t really matter because I knew they wouldn’t let me through. 
As a homeschooler, I might have been doomed to play the clarinet in the local concert band, but that wasn’t for me.  Sure, I followed the homeschool crowd and took up the piano, but in the sixth grade I begged my dad to let me play the drums.  Being raised for so long in a conservative home, I was ready to rock out.  Dad bought me a pair of sticks and a drum pad, and in the fall I signed up for band at the local middle school.  Every day I walked in with my Beatles t-shirt (one of many) and played “Mission Impossible,” “Copa Cabana,” “Mr. Sandman,” etc.  Playing the drums made me feel almost “cool,” though being homeschooled set me apart.  But playing the drums also taught me something much more important than the music, itself.  It taught me that boys, and more importantly hormones, were all around me.
As much as I tried to deny it growing up, I was falling in love with boys.  Lots of boys.  Any boys.  It’s a heartbreaking, exhilarating time of life, and horribly confusing.  I started going to band for the music—the “street cred,” if you will—and continued going for that sweaty, heart-stopping moment when the boy of my dreams said “hey.”  Each day he patted my back, or poked me, or told me a joke, and I nearly died.  Certainly he had several girlfriends, but I figured we had plenty of time to sort all that out before we got married.  And though he was my “one and only,” I still found the need to drool over a few teen magazines before bed each night and hang posters on every square inch of my walls. Beautiful teenage boys surrounded me at all times, and I don’t really remember much because I think my brain stopped working at some point and started back up a few years later.
The biggest stigma that goes along with being homeschooled is that of social introversion.  As a homeschooler, it was assumed that I had no friends, lived in the woods with my twelve brothers and sisters, and stitched doilies all day.  I have one sister, and there is one apple tree in our back yard, but that’s it.  Growing up, I had plenty of friends for sleepovers, birthday parties, group date nights, and the occasional “par-tay.”  After school I went to ballet class with all of my friends, and danced until dark.  I danced because I loved dancing.  I wanted to be the very best and go on to bigger and better things, but dancing played a small role in why I took ballet.  Class didn’t start until 5:30, but we all showed up at about 3:30 to talk about boys, school, movies, make-up, who had started “Aunt Flow,” who kissed whom, and on and on.  We wore our leotards and tights proudly to the grocery store around the corner, where we bought take-out Chinese food, bacon burgers, and french fries.  Then, until class, we’d do cartwheels on the front lawn, whistle at the firemen from down the block, and live in our made-up world of just how fabulous we were.  On any given day, one girl would be your best friend, and the next she was your enemy.  Generally this depended on who dated whom, who wore what, who got the solo, who’s parents let them watch the latest rated-R zombie flick, who got their bellybutton pierced, and most importantly: bra size.  But these girls, loved or hated, were my friends and, like a flock of geese, we went everywhere together, loudly.  
Some of the important things about homeschooling are that you discover the world outside of books.  I could read Lewis and Clark’s journals about their travels to find the Northwest Passage, but words on a page hold only so much meaning.  As a homeschooler, I could jump in the car and actually go see the things about which I read.  I read Washington State History, and then I saw Washington State History.  I read about the Kings of Scotland and then I actually visited their castles and was able to see where great battles took place.  I didn’t read science so much as I got out and saw it.  I potted plants at the National Park Service and learned about herbs and noxious weeds.  I stood on the beaches of La Push and peered out at the gray whales feeding offshore.  I had jars of tadpole eggs that I monitored each day and recorded any changes in my little notebook.  During my health unit, I actually met with a local midwife and flipped through her photo albums as she told me amazing stories of the births she had attended.  I attended arts festivals, wooden boat festivals, tulip festivals, and holiday festivals, all while my friends sat behind their desks.
I wrote about everything I saw as a homeschooler.  Each Friday, I had an essay due on any given topic.  Sometimes this might be on Hamlet and the symbolism of “Poor Yorick,” or other times it could be a short story based on history.  The over-arching theme of each year changed, too, from the Pioneers to the Renaissance period, to Ancient Rome.  This meant that although I still kept up with all the normal subjects, all of my projects, art, writing, and field trips would be based on the theme of the year.  During the Renaissance period, I had to learn to oil paint, re-create frescos, and study all the patrons of writing and art, while memorizing monologues from Shakespeare.  In order to learn more, my family took a trip to Ashland, Oregon to attend the Shakespeare Festival. 
Out of all the subjects I studied, I loved languages the best.  To clarify:  I loved French.  However, Mom said that in order to be a true scholar, one must know Latin.  To me—and the rest of the world—Latin is a dead language.  No one is even sure of how to pronounce the words.  But Mom tried her best.  We had Latin class every week with other homeschooled kids, and studied translations out of “Ecce Romani” and the Cambridge Latin course.  We kids couldn’t stand Latin, but that didn’t matter to “the mothers.”  We were forced to join the “Junior Classical League,” which meant attending conventions with other school-aged kids from all over the Northwest.  Some parts of the Latin convention were okay, I guess.  There was a gladiator battle, and a game show called “Certamen.”  But we didn’t really stand a chance in either of these arenas.  Our “school” had five students—everyone else seemed to have about sixty or so.  But every year Mom would drive us to the JCL to compete.  I have to say, there were plenty of greasy, hygienically-challenged nerds that attended, but they went to public school.  We were still fighting to be “normal.” 
In high school, I dated boys, went to proms, and even ended up with a royalty crown.  I worked for the radio, hung out with friends, went to concerts, and sang in the school choir. 
In a nutshell: I was a homeschooler.  At home I studied French, Latin, penmanship, classic literature, Saxon math, hands-on science, English, ancient history, Modern American history, European history, piano, drums, writing, and speeches.  I participated in baseball, ballet, soccer, Girl Scouts, Key Club, Light Opera, and Community Theater.  I published two poems and I achieved high scores on my placement tests.  The school board presented me with a cake that said “Congratulations National Merit Commended Scholar.”  I had boyfriends and was “dumped.”  And some I dumped myself.  I made good choices and a few bad choices.  I applied for colleges and traveled the world.  And while my friends sat behind their desks—waiting for roll call, waiting for their papers to be passed back, waiting for the last person in class to finish—I was reading, and learning to cook, and going out for a run. 
I don’t pretend to know why homeschooling has a bad reputation.  I am a product of homeschool.  I’m not damaged, closed minded, molested, fundamentalist, or the least bit crazy.  I am not a stereotype, label, or stigma.  I write, I read, I enjoy my friends, my family, my husband, my daughter.  I have goals and I will meet them.  And I still love sports. 

It is you who have a problem with me
As a homeschooler, I don’t have a problem with myself.

I am a homeschooler. 

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