When I was in junior high, I went to get my hair trimmed. In the chair next to me, a man was delivering a monologue to the stylist about how he thought homeschooled kids were not academically or socially prepared for life; he felt they were shortchanged.
I eavesdropped, with a mixture of curiosity and embarrassment. When my stylist, a woman who had known my family for years couldn’t take it anymore, she leaned over and said, “Hey Bud, meet Chloe. She’s homeschooled.”
I smirked (my trademark move) into my mirror at his horrified expression. With all the social graces, which can only come from years of public schooling, he stammered something I couldn’t understand and looked away.
To some degree, I get it. I know for many people, the most experience they’ve had with homeschoolers is likely of the Duggar family variety: long skirts, long hair, and a long list of siblings. And no actual, real-life experience.
It certainly isn’t a flawless system, but homeschooling provided the platform that made me who I am in a lot of ways.
My parents were rebels in that they didn’t believe in a one-size-fits-all educational path. All of their kids had a different experience. My brother was homeschooled into elementary school and then he attended private schools until he graduated high school. My sister was homeschooled through her sophomore year of high school, and then she transferred to a public charter school.
I was homeschooled K-12, but I took classes at the local community college every semester of my junior and senior years of high school.
So not only do I see homeschooling for what it is — I’m only a little biased — I also see it for what it’s not; I see why it doesn’t work for everyone. But here are three ways that homeschooling made me a better adult.
Free to Be a Weirdo
Despite my status as a homeschooler, I participated in plenty of activities that granted access to kids my age. I had just as many friends who went to traditional school as those who were homeschooled.
When you meet other kids your age, you inevitably talk about where you go to school. When I would reveal my homeschooled status, the information was often met with surprise. Raised eyebrows. Glances to see if everyone else had heard.
I can’t tell you how many times a kid would comment on my “normal clothes” and how often it was implied that they were surprised I didn’t give away my homeschool status in the conversation via a lack of understanding about cultural references or something similar.
But homeschooling did shield me, a little bit, from “normal.” There was not the same daily pressure to fit the status quo. While I certainly felt the pressure to be accepted by my peers, it came in less concentrated doses. Instead, I had my parents and siblings providing a safe space to unabashedly pursue the things I was interested in.
As an adult, I’ve been able to maintain a positive perspective on thinking outside the box. I don’t have to work very hard to remember that the ability to see things differently from everyone else is a strength and not a weakness. Being able to think critically and solve problems successfully requires approaching something differently than anyone else has.
Those who succeed in roles like social entrepreneurship do so because they’re able to recognize problems, speak publicly about them, and work towards creative problem solving. Sometimes the way that the best problem solvers think about things, seems weird to those around them.
Not being told what to think by a group of middle schoolers didn’t just mean I only listened to music I genuinely liked, it also gave me a leg up as an adult. I’ve seen it manifest when I’ve had the answer in a group interview that no one else has given, or I’ve been able to tackle a problem at a job that no one else had solved. I didn’t grow up hearing what everyone else said or thought first, so it gave me the chance to develop my own way of thinking and problem solving.
Only as Awkward as the Next Guy
One of the most prevalent stereotypes is that homeschooled kids don’t know how to interact normally in social situations. Just ask my friend at the salon. I’m not going to tell you that this is completely without merit either. I went to college with less group project experience than my peers had.
But, I think that even in this arena, homeschooling still provided something for me that altered who I am in a positive light. When I was 12, the majority of my understanding of what it meant to relate to and work with others did not come from 30 other 12 year olds. It came from my parents and my siblings. I spent more time with them than anyone else.
So, it’s not that I don’t know how to maintain a conversation or that I don’t pick up on body language. Like I said, I’ve always gotten along well with kids who have gone to public schools, it’s just that I had extra time with mature adults who loved me to work through things like conversational skills, in addition to the heavy hitters of life like morality and ethics.
As an adult, I’ve seen this play out largely in how I relate to others and to my own children. I’m more likely to excel on individual work than a group project, for sure, but I’m also less likely to think that another individual isn’t at my level or won’t be able to get it.
I Get ‘Er Done
This is likely the thing that I struggled with most as a kid, but that I am now most grateful for. I had to take a lot of personal responsibility for my education as a homeschooler, and my success in the classroom (or kitchen, rather) required a lot of self-motivation. If I could do it by myself, I was expected to.
And while that may sound scary, it didn’t impair my ability to learn. In fact, Chris Weller notes for Business Insider that while homeschooling has long been the subject of criticism, what studies show is that homeschooled kids typically do better on tests and in college than those educated in the public school system.
The benefit was that I became successful at getting things done because they needed to get done. I married someone in the military and we moved a lot. I knew to finish my degree, I needed to finish it online. I was working for most of that time period, usually more than 30 hours a week. Despite the misconceptions you may have heard, going to school online required just as much effort as I exerted when I went to university classes on campus.
But I finished my degree utilizing not just the things I learned in textbooks, but also the drive I learned was necessary to open them in the first place.
In a lot of ways, it was déjà vu. After college, I worked often as a freelancer. Same problem. Today, I still freelance, and I often work remotely during my day job. If you look at the numbers of telecommuters, that’s not unique in and of itself. What is of note is that I’m bringing years of self-motivational experience to the table to succeed at it.
I have no doubt that I missed out on some things by not going to a traditional school. My brother met the person who would become his very best friend in high school. My sister met the man who would become her husband at the charter school she attended. Thus, it’s fair to assume I’ve missed out on relationships because I did spend less time than normal with kids my own age.
But ultimately, I’m thankful for my experience. Homeschooling gave me the space to like things that were lame and may have weirded classmates out. It was how I learned that I could do hard things of my own volition. And even though I may have missed out on some relationships, I ended marrying a man who was also homeschooled. Two weirdos, doing everything they can to stay weird.