I was home-schooled throughout my entire K-12 education.

I’ve come to the realization that I spend a lot of time thinking about these years and what kind of effect that they’ve had on me. Maybe I’m a little weird for thinking so much about the past, but I constantly find lessons that apply to my current life buried in those years. That, to me, shows how profound of an experience it was and I would love to explore it just a little more.

I’ll give some background first…

My mom home-schooled myself and my four other siblings. 3 of us continued all the way through graduation and my 2 other brothers were sent to public school for their late highschool years. From my math (I won’t give away any of my siblings ages….who knows if they’d get offended) my mom worked as a full time at-home educator for 25 years straight…God bless her.

As the youngest of the 5 siblings, I was the final hurdle that she had to cross before retirement. By the time we reached my high-school years, she was close to burnt out (who wouldn’t be?). As I progressed through high school, I started to notice gaps in my education when I compared myself to my public school friends. I begged to be sent to a “real school.” I was conflicted by the idea of feeling responsible for my own education and was not a fan of being home-schooled. I was insecure about being outside of the “norm.” I felt like I was being robbed of a social life and I believed that I didn’t have the kind of self-driven personality it would take to be successful.

Fast forward to now, 5 years after my high school graduation, and my stance on the subject has taken a complete 180. I’m incredibly optimistic when I think about my own home-school education, and I even plan to eventually pursue it with my own children. Just like any healthy pathway of growth, the process of my education was difficult and frustrating but the end result was nothing short of rewarding.

I didn’t write this article to try to “sell you” on home-schooling. Rather, I realize that I was privileged to experience a life where my parents had the opportunity to pull me out of school and teach me from home and not everyone has that opportunity. This is not some argument claiming that home-schooling is better than the public school system – both have their strengths and weaknesses and they could both benefit to learn from one another. But in order to start to develop an overall better approach to education, I can only speak from my own experience and compare it to what I saw in the world around me.

And that’s exactly what I want to do with this article – outline the ways that I benefited from an at-home education and hope that it can inspire some ideas of how to contribute and add to other education systems.

I want to skip over the surface level mumbo-jumbo that’s usually discussed when talking about  home schooling. I’m tired of talking about what it did to me socially (I’m pretty normal… a little awkward but I’m not sure you can blame home-schooling for that) or how I learned math (I had some set-backs but I got there eventually). I want to skip to a deeper discussion and talk about three meaty lessons that home-schooling instilled into me. I’ve seen these lessons applied and carried through the day-to-day in  both my life and the lives of my counterparts who I grew up alongside of in the home-school community.

  1. An Expectation for Creativity
  2. Learning From the Mistakes That Surround You
  3. Being Different

1 – An Expectation for Creativity

When I was in the early years of high school, I remember one particular Sunday afternoon where I was sitting down with one of my public-schooled friends while he finished up some work. He showed me how his curriculum was laid out before him, set in easily digestible sections, with achievable due dates and a clear path to success.

I was furious.

His goals were set for him and all he had to do to succeed was put in the work and complete the tasks. Meanwhile, I was drowning in self-doubt and confusion while dealing with a major motivational problem (that was really just me trying to figure out why I had to learn algebra). I had no one to hold me accountable except for myself. Sure, my mom gave me dates to reach, but I could put those off the same way you put off cleaning your room. I would get there eventually, I graduated with a proper education, but it felt like I was fighting an uphill battle the whole time.

Fast forward to 2020 and insert corona virus 🦠.

Every college across the country closes its doors and converts to online education in an attempt to lessen the spread. I experienced this first hand as a student and I saw my classmates crumble. Not only were they on their own to develop a system to keep up with due dates and assignments, but they were responsible for teaching themselves the material as well. Some adapted and figured it out on their own, but many were paralyzed with this new heightened sense of self-responsibility. They struggled to motivate themselves and submit their work. Some just stopped attempting to even try.

I, on the other hand, was in my element. I had done this my entire life. Who knew that uphill battle would eventually pay off?

So what does this have to do with creativity?

I think I should clear up my definition of creativity. It’s a broad term that I don’t believe anyone can really pin down as definite, but to me, creativity is all about problem solving: How do you get from point A to point B in the best way possible?

Home-schooling taught me how to achieve my goals in unconventional ways because the conventional ways just weren’t accessible to me. I could never learn the same way my public school friend learned because I didn’t have a classroom full of other kids to learn with, or anywhere near the resources that he had, but I made it work.

I spent years thinking that my unconventional education was an unnecessary ailment. Why fight an up hill battle against numbers and resources if you could just conform and go to public school and get the same result? But that’s the thing… On paper the results look the same, but when applied in reality you can vary into a world of differences.

I have a distinct memory as a 10 or 11 year old kid of taking a field trip with a hand full of my friends to Wegmans. For those of you outside of the Northeast, Wegmans is our region’s claim to fame in the superstore/grocery store market. It’s basically a Whole Foods if we’re being honest…I just had to give it a personal shutout. If you’re from the Northeast, you’ll understand.

I used to use this as a punchline. When people would ask me what I thought about my home-schooled experience I would tell them “yeah, it was kinda wack, we took field trips to Wegmans” and people would laugh. But in reality, that field trip taught me a lot. A public health expert walked us through the basics of what a well-balanced meal is, how to check labels for ingredients, basic do’s and don’ts of healthy eating; all while giving real life examples in the store. We were then sent out to put what we learned into practice and collect ingredients needed to create a healthy, balanced meal. Compare this to a typical public school health education where you’d either read this same information out of a textbook or maybe you get a lecture with some examples. You’re achieving the same goal (learning the same information), but which route of administration really sticks?

In my adult life I use this practice daily. When I want to learn something new I know how to go about taking action. My eyes have been opened to the multitude of different platforms and mediums of education there are and I no longer fear the process of searching. It’s because my high school education never gathered those resources for me, it put the ball in my court and gave me the ability to learn on my own.

I’ve come to realize over the years that homeschooling instilled this understanding of an alternate method of production. It has taught me to look past what the crowd is doing and to ask myself “Is there a better way to do this?” It’s created an expectation of finding creative solutions to my problems.

2- Learning From the Mistakes That Surround You

High-school years are interesting. They hold enough growth, failure, and awkward interactions that I think a lot of us would just like to rid our memory of them. But the growth and lessons of those years should never go to waste. Those are the years we started to learn how to become ****real functioning human beings…the trial and error data is pure gold. The environments that surround us in our teenage years are breeding grounds for potential life lessons and I think that it’s a real shame that we so often lose touch with the people that fill those years. Especially the teachers.

I had the privilege of having my parents as my teachers – it’s not so easy to get rid of them. But this was also a very hard process for me. I saw a lot of my friends get to distance themselves from their teachers and friends after their high school years and were fed the opportunity to create a “new life.” This sounded super appealing to me as an 18 year old for two reasons – either I did something stupid or they did something stupid.

When you’re the one who did something stupid you have to get over your own embarrassment, it’s hard but it’s a part of life. The better you can get at it, the more efficient you’ll be as a person. But once you get through the growing pains you realize that all that this failure and shame does is bring your own conflict to the table. Typically students have a dived where they can share the sum of their failures between their teachers and their parents. I didn’t have this option, my parents got everything. This didn’t allow me to run from my mistakes, rather it forced me to grow with them. It also gave my parents more of a opportunity to incorporate my mistakes into my education.

But what if they did something stupid? What if the reason we want to avoid our teachers is because they made a mistake, not us?

When I was 12 years old I have a memory of my basketball coach yelling at me for something he thought I had done wrong, but he didn’t have the full end of the story. ****He had a point to prove, and he was using his power over me to display it to the rest of my team (this sentence doesn’t really make sense because I was just mad thinking about this memory). I remember this moment well because this was the first time I came to realize that adults didn’t have their shit together either. I remember driving home from practice that day and looking at my mom, wondering if she also didn’t have everything figured out,did she still make mistakes too?

Honestly, I was probably a little bit of a late bloomer in realizing this and I would endure quite a few hard ships over the next 6 years under the mistakes of my parents.  These hardships would haunt me past my high school years as well. Like most teenagers, I had trouble forgiving my parents for their mistakes. But like I said, because of the nature of our relationship, they didn’t disappear after school, and after a few years I was forced to see their perspective on a lot of the conflicts they faced. Most students leave their teachers after graduation and rarely think of them again. Sure, they can try to piece together resolutions to the conflicts of their high school past, but why do that when they carry little weight on your current life? Most of those conflicts are left unresolved.

Every time I visit my parents I’m reminded of past conflicts in some shape or variation. I look back and see my own mistakes, but more importantly I see the mistakes of my parents and I learn from them. Homeschooling not only put me in a vulnerable position to fail in front of my parents, but it put my parents in a vulnerable position to fail in front of me as well. I believe this is one of the best lessons I learned in my entire experience. When my parents were willing to fail openly in front of me, they gave me the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. To grow in certain areas without having to mess up on my own.

3 – Being Different

Growing up I was always somewhat afraid to tell people I was home-schooled. I was never made fun of or openly judged for it, so it wasn’t really an embarrassment driven fear, but it was more of a fear of breaking normality that kept me on edge. Telling someone I was home-schooled was an attention grabber and as a kid I was never confident enough in myself to welcome that. I hated being different and I hated that the simple question of where I went to school would bring my difference into the spotlight.

There’s been a strong movement in the last 20 years or so in entertainment industry to teach kids to be true to themselves and embrace their differences. Disney has been especially focused on teaching this value. There’s the island girl who has a strong desire to leave her roots and explore the world in Moana, the princess who has to hide her magical powers from her kingdom in Frozen, or my personal favorite, the rat who wants to become a chef in Ratatouille.  But as entertaining as these movies are, I think they might be communicating the idea all wrong.

Before thinking about this, I never really connected with those characters because I never felt that different. They over emphasize the difference of the character until the true meaning or relatability  is lost on the viewer. ****I know growing up I always thought that I had nothing to learn from those movies because I didn’t have anything that made me that different (I know these movies came out when I was like twenty but I’m still a kid and I’m still growing). Maybe I was just a super literal kid, but I think Disney may have missed the point. We’re all different in our own way. Society has constructed a norm that honestly none of us fit into 100%. Disney is on the right track by trying to communicate that it’s okay to break out of that norm and be different, but how do you translate to kids that sometimes their originality isn’t so cut and dry as being a rat who wants to cook?

Homeschooling did an excellent job of this for me. I was uncomfortable telling people I was home-schooled because I was outside the norm. But I still had to tell people I was home schooled when I was asked because I didn’t really have any other option. For a while, this felt unfair and cruel, but eventually, I just got used to it. My eyes were opened to the overall acceptance of being outside of the norm and I learned to apply it to different aspects of my life. I found it easier to discuss my creative endeavors with the public, I voiced ideas that may have been outside of my families beliefs, and overall, I found a much smoother path to transition into my own personality than if I lived my life in fear of being different. This made it easier to not go straight to college after high school, to get married at a young age, and to do things like start this blog and put myself in a very public and vulnerable position. These were decisions that I felt opposition against but knew were the right path for me to pursue. So I did and I appreciate the places that it has taken me so far!

Like I said, I was very privileged to have the opportunity to be home-schooled, but I don’t think these lessons have to be exclusive to an at-home education. My hope is that we can take these lessons and the lessons that you have from your education experience and put our minds together in a continuous project to improve education in all forms.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss any of this further, I encourage you to reach out to me! I have a heavy interest in education and want to be apart of the process of improving it. Education is something that every one of us has a foot in and experience with. It’s a part of our past, present, and our future. No one is qualified or unqualified to talk about it so I would love to hear your side of the story! Like I said, I think improvement starts with us putting our heads together and talking about the things that worked and what didn’t.

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