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Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Social insecurity

Back to School | Confessions of a homeschool pioneer

Issue: "The Purge," Sept. 12, 2009

I have lied about being homeschooled.

When a kindly adult asked if I went to school in Bloomfield, I knew she meant, "Did you go to Bloomfield High School?" I considered telling the truth-fielding the questions I'd fielded for 17 years now (Did you like it? Are you socialized? Did you sit around in your pajamas all day?) and trying to reduce the complicated answers (Sometimes. Sort of. Sometimes.) to answers that paint homeschoolers in the best possible light because it is in my best interest not to have total strangers believe that I'm a freak.

Or when she asked if I went to school in Bloomfield, I could just smile and say, "Yes." And that's what I did instead.

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I think most homeschoolers have lied at one time or another about being homeschooled. Among some of the older kids, there's the sense that homeschooling, while it made us smart, did not sufficiently prepare us for the horrifying world of second dates and small talk. When the world grieves-like when Michael Jackson died-we realize we skipped a decade of cultural and social experiences that, while they may not have all been worth experiencing, leave us feeling out of place. We have learned to laugh at ourselves the most raucously so as to beat everyone else to the punch line and salvage our dignity.

My parents decided to homeschool before almost anyone had ever heard of homeschooling, so homeschooling was lonely. I could give a speech in a public setting and move adults to tears with my rhetoric, but I did not know how to begin conversations. I did not know how to end them before the advent of The Awkward Pause. If someone hazarded flirtation with me, I regarded him with wild-eyed shock.

Homeschool parents breezily told their friends and our grandparents and our ex-teachers and pastors that socialization didn't matter. Now, our parents have figured it out, which is why my younger siblings now have dozens of homeschool friends with the usual dramas of dating and not dating and dumping and dances and gossip. I sometimes wish their childhood was mine.

But for those of us who were homeschooled, the college and post-college journey is an adventure in becoming comfortable in our own skin. Realizing that you may never be able to sing N'Sync but you are a savant of indie rock bands that no one has ever heard of and this makes you cool-that helps.

Realizing that few people actually come with preconceived notions about homeschooling-that the HOMESCHOOLED banner you imagine painted across your forehead means nothing to pretty much everyone-helps as well. I was eating fish and chips in Brooklyn with my friends one day and trying to explain the homeschooling experience. I told them about all the gaps in my cultural and social education. They said that was so funny. A song-probably something along the lines of "Thriller"-floated out from the loudspeaker and they said, "So do you know who's singing this song?" I listened and said no, I had no idea.

They laughed. I laughed. We moved on. They did not care. We're still friends and share music together now.

When it comes right down to it, I can't imagine it any other way. I wouldn't take it back. When I go home for a visit and see my mom sitting at the classroom table with my younger siblings, I can't picture the scene any differently. I would miss Lizzy and Maria's fights over playing the Miley Cyrus or Brad Paisley Pandora stations while they do algebra. I would miss my laconic brother Aaron giving the political forecast for the presidential race in 2012, and I would miss watching Vanessa and Elson ride their bikes in the yard.

And there's not a shadow of a question in my mind which way I will choose, when it comes time to decide if I will dump my own fragile 5-year-old in a group of other 5-year-olds who may bite him or pilfer his toys or shatter his fragile 5-year-old self-esteem and shove him to the bottom of the 5-year-old social ladder. I will not be able to do it. There's no doubt.

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