My birthday is in the middle of September.
In Wisconsin, where I was born, you did not go to Kindergarten unless you were five by September first. No exceptions.
I knew how to read by the time fall rolled around and when it became obvious that the public school system had zero intentions of letting me start in the fall, my parents started looking for other options.
There was, as I understand it, a fairly good private school in the area, but my parents were hesitant to send me there because they already had three children (I am the oldest) and planned to have more. Their fear was that they would like the private school too much and suddenly would end up with four or five children all attending at a seriously high cost. Better not to start at all.
My mom remembered that one of her favorite college professors (an English professor) had mentioned in passing that he and his wife had homeschooled their children. Off to the library she went to see what she could find out about homeschooling (you can see where I get my book-loving tendencies from).
After some research, my parents decided to homeschool me for at least a year. If they didn’t like it, they could send me off to Kindergarten the following September and no one would be the wiser.
But they did like it (and I suppose I did too, although I have really no memories of that first year) and my parents continued homeschooling for the following eight years. Neither of my parents are teachers or have teaching degrees. My mom has a bachelors degree in English and my dad went to dental school.
We moved to Las Vegas when I was in second grade and continued homeschooling. For a few years, Nevada required all homeschoolers to take standardized tests once a year to ensure that we weren’t at home watching cartoons all day, but after a while, the state decided it was too expensive to administer the tests and since then, there has been little control over what actually goes on inside a homeschooling household.
For about four years, we were part of a homeschool group, which consisted of two other families and each mom took all the kids for 3 hours once a week. Two of the days were history days and the other was science. One month, we ordered a bunch of frogs from a science catalog and dissected them in our garage (needless to say, it was my dad supervising that unit, not my mom). This was an absolute blast and some of my favorite homeschooling memories are from this group.
I never felt particularly weird (frankly, I was far more self-conscious about being incredibly short (I was only 4’10 when I started high school) than I was about being homeschooled). I did recognize after a few years that I was one of the few kids my age who didn’t detest school or spend the whole week longing for the weekend.
When I was in ninth grade, I decided I wanted to go to public school. My parents had always told me I was smart, but I wanted to find out if people who didn’t love me with all their hearts thought the same thing. I knew I was going to go to college and I wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to be a massive shock to transition from homeschool to a giant school (my high school, incidentally, was the largest high school in the history of Nevada to date, in terms of students attending – around 4,000 my freshman year). My high school was fed by three junior high schools, so no one knew that I hadn’t actually come from one of those junior highs.
Anyway, I went off to high school and did one semester. And it was pretty excellent. I got straight A’s, and I also fell into a lead role in the high school musical “Annie Get Your Gun” when the drama teacher mentioned to my choir director that she was considering going to the middle school to find someone to play the child’s part in the play (I told you – short!).
But after that semester, I was pretty well sick of going to school full time. I was taking ridiculously stupid classes like “Careers” where we were required to bring in an adult to talk about their career and then the teacher asked out every mom who came in (luckily, I brought my dad). He also gave us extra credit for every business card we brought in since he was attempting to get in the Guinness Book for the largest collection of business cards. I ended the semester with a grade of something like 200%. After a few months, he gave that plan up and decided we should play games and gave extra credit to anyone who brought in a board game and we spent the rest of the semester playing Scrabble, Life, and Monopoly.
I went through five math teachers in the first semester because they kept quitting or getting fired. One of them bragged about how he hadn’t missed one day of gambling since moving to Vegas – oh how impressed I was. He told the parents on Parent Night that we’d do a phonebook worth of homework over the course of the year. He forgot to mention that he would be giving us the answers to the homework every day in class, instead of teaching, so the phonebook thing wasn’t as impressive.
Anyway, I decided that I wanted to only go to public school part-time. I met with the principal (a super nice woman) who agreed to let me do so and with her letter of approval and some letters from my teachers saying I wasn’t a delinquent and such, I arranged to speak in front of the school board and they voted to let me go part-time.
For the next two and a half years, I only took three classes (Chemistry, Biology, Choir, Spanish, Anatomy, Honors English, and AP Language) and then would go home and do math, history, and other things on my own. It was great to not be wasting time in meaningless classes and to have some free time again. In the afternoons, I’d go back to school for play practice (I was in a total 10 productions in high school) and also work at Cold Stone.
Another bonus was that my high school had an extremely strict “no teacher picking” policy. You would sign up for the classes you wanted and they would stick you in whatever classes fit. You had no say at all in what particular sections you ended up in or what teacher you got and you couldn’t change.
But since I needed all my classes to fit into the first three periods of the day, I needed to meet with my counselor personally to go over what classes were available then and, while I was there, he would let me pick my teachers. My sophomore year, I discovered within a day or two that one of my teachers was particularly lousy and my counselor let me switch into the exact class I wanted. Brilliant.
My senior year, I decided to go back full-time (five classes). I wasn’t planning to graduate anyway, and so I had pretty much any choice of what classes I wanted to take (I ended up taking Government, AP English, Spanish, Debate, and Computer Programming).
People ask me all the time if it was weird to go to public school after so many years of not, but the truth is the weirdest part was how normal it felt. After reading hundreds of books that took place in public schools and watching movies, etc., it just wasn’t that strange.
I didn’t graduate from high school, which really shocks a lot of people because the idea of being able to get into college without a diploma is so foreign. But it’s no big deal – colleges are used to homeschoolers applying and if they have a few grades on the side, well, all the better. You need an ACT or SAT score, but that’s it.
Occasionally when people find out I was homeschooled, they comment on how normal I seem and how most homeschoolers they know are pretty weird. I have two theories on this.
One, most “normal” homeschooled kids do not broadcast that they were homeschooled. It’s extremely likely that you know plenty of homeschooled kids but they’ve never actually mentioned it. (Hint to other homeschoolers: if you’re telling everyone you meet at the grocery store and post office that you’re homeschooled, you’re probably weird. Just a head’s up). (I’m now questioning if this post is proof that I’m weird and just don’t know it since here I am blabbing all my secrets to the Internet).
Two, I do not think homeschooling makes kids weird. There are a bazillion weird kids out there, the majority of them from public school. Weird kids are weird kids and probably neither homeschool or public school is going to fix that. If you have weird parents, chances are you’ll be a little weird. I’m sure you can all name fifty weird people off the top of your head, most of whom weren’t homeschooled, but are weird for tons of other reasons. And frankly, even if I had weird kids, I wouldn’t send them to public school to “fix” them because chances are they’d just be ostracized or mocked. I’d rather keep them home where they can be weird and happy, rather than in public school where they’d probably be weird and miserable.
Wow, could I have used the word “weird” any more times?
So, yes, I was homeschooled. And I plan on doing the same for my kids, but I’ll leave my thoughts on that for another day. Because this post has already gotten far longer than I intended and I know you all need to go back through and scour it for spelling and grammar errors to see if homeschooling produces illiterate idiots.