by Eleanor Nash ’21
“I know what you’re thinking. Homeschooled kids are freaks, or that we’re weirdly religious or something.” The immortal Cady Heron from Mean Girls takes the words right out of my mouth. People assume that Cady is a spelling bee champion (“X-Y-L-O-C-A-R-P, Xylocarp!”) or an indoctrinated religious person (“And on the third day, God created the Remington bolt-action rifle, so that man could fight the dinosaurs. And the homosexuals.”). Neither Cady nor I had this experience. From kindergarten through 10th grade, I was homeschooled, entirely free of fighting dinosaurs.
When I was ready to enter kindergarten, the public schools in my area were failing and the private schools were too expensive. I wanted to start learning, even though my birthday fell after the kindergarten cut-off date and I would have had to wait another year before a school would admit me. For those reasons, my parents decided that I, along with my two younger siblings, would be homeschooled.
Each day followed a similar pattern. After a breakfast of grilled cheese or egg-sausage-cheese sandwich, my siblings and I sat down on our worn paisley couch to begin our “school work.” My mom and I would read a textbook chapter, and then we would talk about the contents. We read a Mesopotamian history textbook, To Kill a Mockingbird, and a personal finance curriculum in this manner. For high school biology, my mom and I went on morning walks where half of the time we discussed life and the other half I recounted key points on meiosis and mitosis.
There were no tests or grades. Instead, my family had a chocolate-based reward system. When I correctly solved a hard math problem, my mom, my siblings, and I each ate a chocolate chip. Completing an especially challenging grammar worksheet without any errors increased the reward. Every person in the house got a prized chocolate chunk. When I started in a traditional classroom setting, I learned that to obtain the abstractly positive “good grade” in a class, I needed to “do good on the test.” I was surprised that learning and chocolate chunks were not the only goals.
Now you may think, “Wow Eleanor, since you didn’t interact with other kids in a school setting, you must have come of age in complete social starvation.” This was not the case. Since my mornings were for schoolwork, my afternoons were for social activities. Once a month, my dad drove my siblings and me to the roller rink for Homeschool Skate. We rolled around to 2010s pop hits like “Fireflies” interspersed with Christian music like “I Can Only Imagine.” Until I was told otherwise, I thought every roller rink played this mix of music.
Social life could be challenging. I never fit in with my Girl Scout troop, which was based out of a local Catholic school. Because the other girls went to school together and I only visited once a month, I was separate from their inside jokes and stories. A nice, quiet accompaniment once a month, I was forgotten by the girls after the meeting.
Despite this experience and the expanse of stereotypes about homeschoolers, I made friends, especially in my neighborhood. All the kids who lived there were inseparable. We were known for traipsing around with the best sticks we could find. Our intense rounds of Monopoly could include anything from inventing alternative rules to good-natured throwing of paper money.
Every August, I pored over back-to-school catalogs. The idea of wearing a uniform, carrying a backpack, and stepping on a school bus enthralled me. I wanted a life like the characters in Mean Girls. When I was in 8th grade, my parents asked me if I wanted to go to a traditional high school next year. I had to choose between a glittering high school from the catalogs or an educational experience that I made myself. Although the alternative was attractive, I wanted to keep my mornings of graphing math problems under cozy blankets and my afternoons of sneaking free skee-ball games at the roller rink. I decided that I liked the life that I had, so I stayed a homeschool student.