Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Please don't feel sorry for my homeschooled teenager.
I don't know why I even have to say this, but I do: she's not pining away for the chance to hang out with her friends at the bus stop, mourning the loss of a homecoming date, or chomping at the bit to be on the school's Quiz Bowl team. Anyway, even if she was ... she could actually do most of those things and still be home schooled. Just so you know.
But the fact is, she's not. She's fine. She's happy. She likes her life the way it is. Go ahead and ask her yourself ... just know that you won't be the first to interrogate her on what it's like to be a teenager who doesn't attend a brick and mortar school.
At 14, Jo's a bit of an anomaly around here. Many of our former companions on the homeschool journey have enrolled their teens in public school. Others have yet to cross the invisible but tangible bridge between "little kid" and "big kid" and are still in the early years of their homeschooling. And still others never drank the kool-aid and bought into the homeschooling gig in the first place.
Whereas I rarely encounter many curious citizens when I'm out and about with my younger brood during school hours these days, Jo draws more attention. Store clerks seem to eye her somewhat suspiciously, as if teens skipping school normally head into the local craft store to buy embroidery floss for fun. Fellow shoppers and other bystanders seem unconcerned that my elementary-aged kids are missing out on the joys of public education, but something about a teenager not attending a traditional high school seems like an affront.
Some days, it feels like we've journeyed back a decade, into the era when it wasn't unusual at all for a total stranger to corner me as I tried to decide between Fujis, Braeburns, Cameos, or Honeycrisps and ask why my kids weren't in school.
The difference is this time around, many of the questions are directed at Jo.
"School out today?" the lady adjusting my glasses asked my daughter.
"No. I'm homeschooled," she answered.
"Oh my gosh, my daughter would hate that. She loves to be around people," volunteered the technician.
"Holy cow, you did not just imply that the girl you've just interacted with--the one who you've seen talking to at least a half dozen people since we got here-- isn't around people?" I wanted to say. But I didn't. Nice of me, wasn't it?
"Me, too. That's what I like about homeschooling," was Jo's reply. And the tech looked ... well, confused.
Some people ask her if she's on any sports teams. (She's not.) Others ask if she has a job. (She doesn't.) Still others want to know if she's ever visited a high school building to, you know, just try it out.
"Oh, yeah. My mom and I help judge the senior applications for our city's library scholarship every year. We go down there once a year on a school day. I like the fact that I have time to do that stuff since I'm not in a classroom all day."
Jo isn't your typical teenager. She doesn't go to class from 730 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. She doesn't follow the traditional subject load. She isn't on the Debate Team, into cheerleading, or taking an art class. While none of that is bad stuff, it just isn't our stuff. And we--Mr. Blandings, Jo, and I-- are o.k. with that.
Because what the person assuming that Jo is missing out doesn't know--what he or she can't understand--is that homeschooling a teen has a richness that none of us expected. The amazing experiences that the flexibility of homeschooling have afforded her just keep getting better and better, year after year. She's built a house in Tijuana, castrated sheep on a working farm, given a few phonics lessons to her younger brothers, witnessed the birth of a baby, become friends with children who call Mexico, Thailand, England, Burma, and Nepal home, learned to navigate public transportation routes with her dad, started her own business sewing & selling quilted handbags, shopped at a market in Hong Kong, exhausted just about every source of information on the Titanic, ran the cash register at a used book sale, repurposed clothes, raised funds for her travels, been a Mother's Helper, read through the Bible, sold items at craft sales, participated in spelling bees, practiced animal husbandry, competed on quiz teams, designed costumes, made a movie or two. It doesn't sound like a boring, dry existence to me. It doesn't sound like something to pity.
What it sounds like, to my clearly biased ears, is an incredible launch pad. A beginning that opens up onto a veranda of possibility that is almost endless. Could Jo have done all these things while enrolled in public school? Sure. With some finagling, the demands of a public school setting could have been satisfied and room made for the self-exploration and spirit of discovery that Jo has enjoyed. I'm not saying it can't happen. But I am saying that the one thing--the thing Jo has-- is no less real, or enjoyable, or beautiful than the experience common to most teenagers. It may be different. It may not be for everyone. But it is not less.
So please, go ahead and ask Jo if she likes being homeschooled. Ask her if she wants to keep doing it. Ask her if she regrets not going away to school every day. But please ... do her the honor of actually listening to the answer. You might be surprised at what you hear.