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Column: I was homeschooled, but I’m just like you

Photo via Jonathan Michel.

It’s something that I usually wait to tell new friends or acquaintances. Those who know me might not even be aware of it now.

“Were you too stupid to be in a regular school?”

“I bet you didn’t have many friends.”

“Your parents sheltered you for your whole life.”

Up until I walked into my earth science class in the basement of Bradley Hall on Aug. 21, 2019, at 9 a.m., I was homeschooled.

I’ve faced criticisms about it for most of my life. When I was in elementary school, I was proud to let everyone know that my life was a little different, but the deeper I got into my teen years, I reserved sharing that part of me until I could fully trust whoever was about to hear. When I did, I still had to give the same answers. Eventually it all felt like a rehearsed monologue to those who questioned it even after I found the courage to do so.

There’s sure to be questions in your mind, so I’ll try to inform you as much as I can about being homeschooled for 18 years.

My parents made the decision to not send me to a typical school when I was young. My mom had a degree in teaching and my dad used to live, quite literally, just miles down the road from Columbine High School, where a mass shooting occurred 17 months before I was born.

My parents’ abilities and desire to keep me safe from another tragedy played key roles in the decision to homeschool. My mom was my sole teacher until I reached third grade, when she enrolled my younger sister and I in a curriculum-based homeschool community, which was a branch of a much larger nationwide homeschool organization.

School for me was going to “class,” taught by a parent tutor, with other homeschoolers once a week and then completing assignments until the class met again the following week. The classical method, which included traditional and non-traditional subjects, such as Shakespeare and the Latin language, was not envious at times, but getting to be with a few of my friends weekly made it manageable.

Yes, I was able to sleep in much longer than my friends in public school, and no, I never had a snow day in my life until last February.

Homeschooling meant having to jump through extra hoops for many things, such as finding new friends after moving from Illinois to Wisconsin, applying for colleges and struggling to be regarded as “normal” by the few people I knew. Even though I sometimes tripped on my way, I found the ability to get through these challenges.

I don’t mean to sound boastful, but I defied a lot of expectations and stereotypes.

My social life was more than healthy in high school. As soon as I got my driver’s license, my parents found it hard to keep track of all my plans for the weekend.

I had large friend groups in both places where I lived, whether I met them through playing basketball, my homeschool community, church or an intricate “friend-of-a-friend”-type web.

My life was similar to normal highschoolers; I went to football games on Friday nights, dances at “real” schools, took the ACT, had a girlfriend, grabbed food with my buddies and did the most random things possible until my parents called me at midnight to get back home. Eventually, they gave up on that.

I was fortunate enough to play high school basketball for a small Christian school in the Quad Cities. Frankly, our team was horrible, but I was just thrilled to be playing.

When my family and I moved before my junior year of high school, my parents gave me an option to go to a private school so I could have the chance to continue my high school basketball career. I thought, “Maybe this is my chance to experience a different setting.” But I chose not to because I knew the benefits of homeschooling.

There was no school drama or other distractions to my learning, other than my sister and my dog. My schedule was flexible and I could start, pause and end my school day whenever I wanted to, as long as I completed my assignments on time. I never had to begrudgingly eat a questionable school lunch. Although I didn’t see my friends everyday, I rarely had to be around people that I didn’t want to see. My homeschool basketball team winning a national championship my senior year was quite an added bonus.

I can attest that homeschooling builds qualities such as flexibility, time management, accountability, creativeness, social awareness and the ability to see the world from your own perspective. My academic past was different from those who were taught to be force-fed and to regurgitate what the public school system deemed to be “important.” And no, the quotation marks aren’t there by mistake.

I’m not shaming those who went to typical public or private schools. Each kid and parent should do what’s best for them. My only plea is to not shame those whose school was their home.
I didn’t choose to stay homeschooled because I had a learning disability, poor social skills or a desire to be sheltered from most of the world. I did so because I knew its advantages more than most anybody.

There might be people who you didn’t know were homeschooled for part of, or their entire life. Perhaps they’re afraid to share it, like I was. But they can blend in seamlessly with everyone else.

If someone tells you they were homeschooled, don’t judge them for it, no matter what their circumstances were. It may have taken all the courage in the world for them to say so. They’ve likely fought and struggled to be regarded as “normal” their entire life.

Now that I’ve been settled in at college for nearly three years, I know I may still feel ostracized at times, but I’m glad to finally feel normal as well.

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