I don’t homeschool because I did badly in school; I homeschool because I was a good, no, a great student. If you ask my teachers if they remember me, I would bet a body part that twenty-two years later, they still do.
I didn’t talk during class; I didn’t raise my hand too often so as to give others a chance even when I knew the right answer; I waited my turn. I asked for permission. I waited for test days to let my personality shine through.
Which is exactly the reason I homeschool. Classrooms taught me enough bad habits to last a lifetime.
I was once put beside the most disruptive boy in my classroom during Science class. I cried. The reason, the teacher explained to the class of fifty, was to encourage the boy to behave better.
“But you’re punishing me,” I sobbed to the teacher. “You’re punishing me for being good.”
“No, I’m not,” he smiled at me through his large spectacles. He oozed the easy confidence of someone who can explain the world to sixth graders in antiseptic terms. “I’m not punishing you, I’m punishing him,” he insisted, nodding at the troublesome kid.
I did well that year in Science. But more importantly, I learned an enduring lesson – mediocrity meant that you got to sit with your friends. No desk shuffling ever happened to those who drew no attention to themselves.
Being in the middle let you slip through cracks. Being well-behaved made you a role model; being “naughty” was just plain fun, and hey, I bet the teachers remember the bad students just as well as the good ones in twenty-two years.
Mediocrity, on the other hand, was the safest place to be in a classroom.
Classrooms also taught me to wait for permission. It was something I was especially good at doing.
I realized early in my life that I knew the answers, (because, really, how hard is it to find the right sentence and copy it under some comprehension questions?) but every year, the teachers wanted something different.
The answers had to be couched in the right language. Some teachers wanted more references, some wanted answers “in your own words,” some wanted quotes from the text woven into the answers. It was an elaborate game and I played it well. I learned to match my tone to what was required, I learned to modulate my voice according to my teacher’s desire.
I often hung back, waiting to be sure I had the answer right. I didn’t want to be wrong. The classroom of fifty taught me that a mistake was the worst thing I could make – blurting out the wrong answer was tantamount to a public shaming. Better to wait to be sure. I got really good at waiting. I became the strong, silent type – the one who knew all the answers, but waited to be called upon, the one who didn’t show off.
Teachers liked that. They called on me when they wanted the right answer. I was thrilled.
Classrooms reinforce classroom rules. Unfortunately, life does not respect classroom discipline.
After school was over, school became all I was suited for. Outside school, mediocrity did not guarantee safety. No one in a group asked me for my opinion because I had made a reputation for myself as quiet but wise. Waiting for permission was the worst possible thing I could do in a professional environment. The world belonged to the brave and the bold – the rowdy boy sitting next to me was better suited to it than I was.
The classroom, I have realized, is as antithetical to real life as possible. And this is why I homeschool. I want my children to learn to read, but not to wait, to add and subtract, multiply and divide, but not settle for the middle.
I want them to at least, just once, whole-heartedly blurt out a freaking answer, believing that it is right, find out that is, in fact, wrong, and be okay with it. I want them to be unafraid, real. Courageous. I don’t want them to wait for permission, shuffling around the edges, wondering if they have anything to contribute.
This is why I homeschool.
And yet. And yet, the classroom part of me rebels. It is unsure. I have a voice inside me tell me that I am not giving my children a “proper education.” It finds echoes in the world around me.
“But how will they ever learn the discipline of a classroom in a homeschool?” a relative asks.
“They won’t,” I say.
The beauty of those two words is lost on him.