Just a few hours ago, I walked across the stage at Pensacola Christian College to receive my Bachelor of Arts degree. I worked four hard years for that moment, and I’m thrilled that Jesus gifted me with the chance to study at college. The first time I ever actually sat through a lecture was here at college… the first time I entered a real, academic classroom was when I took the SAT so I could apply (orchestras and Sunday school don’t count, okay?).
Homeschooling taught me everything I knew up until the day of my first college class in 2011 – freshman English with Mr. Achuff. Homeschooling, I can confidently say, taught me life. I set out to write a short essay on three things homeschooling taught me… and, well. If there’s anything homeschooling did not teach me, it’s how to be humble and succinct about the thing God used to shape who I am. I’ve managed to cut it from a few hundreds to six.
Dear wonderful world, I present to you… six of the hundreds of things homeschooling taught me.
ONE – [the art of socialization]
They say homeschoolers are “unsocialized.” Oh please. Microsoft Word doesn’t even recognize that as a legitimate English word. So stop using it. Homeschoolers are the most socialized people I’ve ever met.
Through a very interesting set of circumstances, I ended up volunteering for the weekend at the Texas Home School Coalition convention in Houston, Texas, in July of 2014. I walked into that conference knowing one person – my roommate from college, who I’d met in Chicago and spent a year with in Pensacola, but that’s a story for a different day. The point is I didn’t know a soul, but I came away with new friends and awesome memories. Why? Because homeschoolers know how to interact. I know the secret, and here it is: there is always some common ground. Always. It may be as significant as running into one of my brother’s best friends from Big Sandy, Texas. Or it may be as random as “Hey, you eat the toppings off your pizza before the rest of it?!” (Which, by the way, is a TOTALLY legitimate way to eat pizza, thankyouverymuch) My Texan friends are definitely going to argue that it’s because it was the TEXAS Home School Coalition… but hey. I’ve been all over the world, and I’ve met all sorts of people. It’s true that the Texans were the most openly honest people I’d met (bless their hearts), but my point remains. Homeschoolers know how to talk, because we know how to find common ground.
The point is this: when you’re homeschooled, you MAKE your friends and have to work hard to keep them. They don’t come planted in neat little rows in clean classrooms. You don’t ride the bus with them and share gossipy, preteen secrets with them over paper sack lunches. “Grades” aren’t chasms that separate people because of age (“grades” are those things that adults ask for and you wonder, “Do they want to know that I’m in7th grade math and English but 8th grade history? Should I just round up if I’m more than halfway done…?”). Friends in the homeschool realm are those people you just “glom onto” because you find common ground – common interests, hates, loves, fears, dreams, accents, curriculums, favorites, birth orders, parent’s occupations, and the like. I’ve had friends all over the spectrum – sure, my closest friends are within a year or two of my age. But most homeschoolers don’t draw lines because of age or expect to harvest their friends from the convenience of the same homeroom class. My sister met one of our now-best mutual friends in the pasta aisle at the grocery store. One of my very best friends in Washington is my former pastor’s daughter, who’s a freshman in college while I’m graduating. I’m not saying traditionally-educated kids don’t know how to make friends – I’m just saying that homeschooling taught me that friends come in all models, makes, and years. And “we like it thaaaaat way.”
TWO – [blood is thicker than water]
You hate my brother; I automatically hate you. You hurt my sister; I’ll just as automatically break your neck. Simple as that. But really, though. When you’re around your siblings 24/7, learning alongside them, teaching them, sharing with them – your lives become entwined. Sure, we fought. We argued. We still do. But there’s nothing like the camaraderie of genuine sibling love. No one that comes between is cool. In fact, they’re very uncool. I don’t care who you are – first loyalties always lie with siblings.
Not that non-homeschoolers can’t have good sibling relationships. But there’s nothing like living all day, every day with your siblings. It’s hard when the first one leaves home… and it’s hard when the second one leaves home. And it’s hard when you leave home. Such huge pieces of your heart stay behind or go with you, and the world would just be a MUCH better place if you could pack your siblings into that duffel bag and share all your adventures with all of them. Because you realize that friends will fade, roommates will come and go. But siblings are forever. No matter how much you hate them at any point in time, you know that you’ll eventually have to share family reunions and your children’s grandparents with their children.
But yeah, while on the topic of bodily fluids, let’s talk about spit. Blood brothers may be a very real thing, but you’re not truly “related” until you’ve shared food with someone. Living in close proximity with four siblings taught me that there comes a time in every man’s life when he either (a) gets over his germ freakiness or (b) misses out on something delicious. Because there were times when we had the chance to taste up to seven different flavors of ice cream when, under ordinary circumstances, a person would only have the chance to taste one (their own). But the best ice cream is shared, and that’s a fact, Jack.
Also… the best pickles are the ones you don’t have to eat because your brother will eat them for you.
THREE – [adventures aren’t born, they’re made]
There’s no way you will ever have an exciting life if you sit around and wait for adventures to happen. This applies to MUCH of life, but I especially learned it in the homeschool “classroom.” “Classroom” clearly belongs in quotations because, well… when was the last time a homeschooler did schoolwork in a classroom. Let’s bust homeschooling myth #1 – you don’t always do school in your pajamas (it did happen on occasion, though). I did school on the lawn, sitting on the dryer, in a tree, on the beach, in the backseat of a car, in the garage, and under the kitchen table, to name a few. But the best learning wasn’t even the kind of learning that meant dragging books along on an adventure.
Once, I saw the inside of a nuclear submarine and learned not only history, but also current events and science. Speaking of history, I’ve seen enough battlefields and cemeteries and those brown-sign-indicated “historic sites” to last a lifetime, and yet there’s so many more to be seen. I’ve been to four foreign countries and experienced different cultures and languages firsthand.
It’s definitely not just about traveling or visiting places – my homeschool career taught me life skills that I’ll use for(literally)ever. I learned math and economics in the aisles of the grocery store. For eighth grade biology, I (and my siblings) got a free lecture on skunks from the nice man who trapped the one under our porch one day. I still know how the Dewey decimal system works – that should count for something. One of my Dad’s friends, a meteorologist in the Navy, came to our house and taught us about clouds and weather patterns when I was in third grade. When we watched my Mom get her blood drawn as one of our many field trips, and I passed out cold, but it was a great educational experience! And as far as office systems go… one of Dad’s coworkers taught elementary-aged us how to photocopy our hands one day when we visited Dad at work. So there.
What homeschooling has taught me about adventures is two-fold… (1) If you wait for one to happen, you’ll be waiting a long time. And (2) simple adventures have more potential to teach than you may realize.
FOUR – [there is no substitute for ingenuity]
Creativity is something to be developed. You don’t just wake up one more and hey, look. You’re creative. It’s a learned art. If you have a healthy imagination, you’re leagues ahead of the rest of this world. A busy mind makes busy hands, and busy hands are the ones that build skyscrapers. “Imagination is a muscle that needs to be exercised,” someone wise once said. Homeschooling is the most basic method I can think of that sets a child’s mind free. I know that I learned best through trial and error – maybe mainly error – and that doesn’t happen when one teacher has ahold of thirty small kids. My mother deserves sainthood for having five minds learning through trial and error under the same roof. I can’t tell you how noisy, joyful, and colorful our home was. There was usually someone making music of some kind, someone creating something with their hands, something at the kitchen table involving twenty different colors of construction paper and glue… and then there was always that one someone trying to work through a math lesson (coming up with a creative way to concentrate).
If there’s no music, make it. If the story doesn’t exist, write it. Invent things. Act things out. Write it down. Erase it. Start it over – but always start it over. Don’t finish it until it’s ended. Until you’ve explored every bit and let your mind wander far enough.
You’ll never know until you try.
FIVE – [not all the answers are in the back of the book]
And even if they are, Mom has the book, so you’re sunk. But seriously, the answer key only goes so far, because sometimes the answer is more than the solution. Let me explain.
You spend hours slaving over an algebra problem (this may or may not have happened on occasion), and when all is said and done, you can’t figure out what the heck “x” is besides the dumbest letter you’ve ever seen. Math is not alphabet soup, you think to yourself as you trudge to Mom and beg mercy. All you want to do is see Mom get out The Answer Book (the most epic book in the universe at this point), but she doesn’t. She sits down and she talks you through the process. All she has to do is flip to the back of the book and say “3” and all your problems are solved. But are they? Would you really have learned anything? 3 is the solution. But what about the next problem?
See… the correct answer is the explanation, the learning, the reasoning – the hard part to learn. The answer is the process. The actual learning is knowing why. That’s not in the end of the book. It’s in the monotonous pages of text, in the seemingly endless exercises, in the droning voice of your dvd lecture, in the holes you erased in your notebook. If you learn it, the answers will come. Because, if you study, you know the answer. At test time, sometimes you forget that you know it, but deep down inside, you’ve learned it once. Though the back of the book holds neat little lines of solutions, memorize that entire list and you’ll get nowhere.
The answers are in all those pages. There are no shortcuts to true learning.
SIX – [never stop learning]
If you get anything out of this ridiculously long article, get this. Life is ready to teach those who can teach themselves. Once you’re out of high school or graduated from college, no one sits you down and lectures you anymore. No one forces you to research anything. Or read anything, for that matter. Nobody asks you to solve equations for the fun of it. You don’t have to practice your penmanship. Face it: once you’re graduated, there probably aren’t that many more classrooms in your future. Do you want a vibrant life? Keep learning.
If college has taught me anything, it’s that the professors don’t always tell you everything you need to know. Sometimes the information is in the textbook, sometimes it’s in the lecture notes, and sometimes it’s in outside research. If you want to be a cut above the rest, you go find those answers. Nobody is going to spoon-feed you anything once you’ve got your degree.
Homeschooling was definitely preparation for this part of life. My Mom is a marvelous woman, and my biggest role model – if I grow up to be anything like her, I’ll be one awesome and blessed person. But she’s not a science teacher. She doesn’t have a math degree. She’s never spent years studying English grammar. She’s highly educated, more than I’ll ever be, but let’s be frank: principles of taxation law aren’t going to pop up in teaching your standard curriculum anytime soon. My Mom taught me the most important thing anyone will ever teach me (besides how to know and love Christ) – teach yourself.
By the time I was in high school, I could pretty much teach myself with exceptions, of course. I could sit down with a textbook and by the time the test rolled around, I’d read the chapter, done the homework, and knew the material. Simple. It’s a valuable skill that few have, because it doesn’t come naturally. Curiosity is natural, but curiosity pulls up short when monotony sets in. Learning pushes past the monotony and into knowledge.
Graduating college isn’t such a grandiose milestone. Thousands and hundreds of thousands of people do it. I’m one of many, but I sure am one privileged one. I praise Jesus that He gave me a homeschool education and used it to shape my life. I don’t ever want to stop learning. EVER.
And one final piece of advice? Never stop at “good enough.” Stop at “best.” On second thought, don’t stop at all.