The other day my daughter mentioned to a university classmate that she was homeschooled, and the other student recoiled in shock and disgust.
My kid said "What? You are acting like I was raised by the Klu Klux Klan. I wasn't. Homeschooling is simply another form of education."
I would have said superior but really, the proof is in the pudding: this strange kitten I raised would appear to have all the required life skills, contrary to predictions of those who disagree with or discount unschooling. Not least the fact that she was accepted to a prestigious university. Where her performance generally exceeds that of her traditionally trained colleagues.
The early years were not easy, nor would I make the same choices if we had better options or more money. But this is what I had: a very bright, clinically hyperactive child, in a bankrupt school system. I worked within the existing framework where I could, swapping her in and out of enrichment programs, running parent associations, helping start charter schools. But none of the free or public options worked for my child, not least because her driving inherent commitment to justice is disruptive to petty tyrants and third grade teachers.
Homeschooling didn't really 'work' either, but at least she survived childhood with her natural exuberance intact. As she pointed out to her colleague "I just went roller skating. A lot."
This is fundamentally true, and a good summary of my educational philosophy. When pressed for details about her curriculum my daughter just shrugs and says that growing up with me is like being enrolled in a perpetual debating society. I apply the Socratic method to life in general; every meal is a seminar.
I dropped out of school at fourteen, had two kinds of cancer and a baby in my teens, but finished graduate school at twenty-two. I am married to a world class mathematician who cannot do arithmetic or algebra; he has a PhD but never finished junior high.
We were both reckless, rackety students, and it didn't matter at all. Or rather, we couldn't have done it any other way -- we didn't fit in, and we couldn't change. Our children are much like us, and so far. . . it doesn't matter.
The only thing that actually does matter? Belief. We imagined we could do it, no matter how often other people said no. And critically, we met the occasional trickster or helper who was willing to tell a crazy poor kid that they could change the world.
I'm not saying that education is important or necessary. In fact, I think that formal education is toxic unless or until people want to be there. Too many students are passive consumers, instead of active scholars.
But at the same time I think that there are many people with cracked brains and eccentric ideas who would excel in academia, if they had the chance. My daughter is one of those people and it has been an overwhelming lifelong struggle to help her get there. The baby who talked in full sentences, the toddler who could memorise and recite monologues, the child who had such severe behavioural 'challenges' she attended school for no more than two years, total? That kid is happier and more productive in her competitive university than any of the docile youth who knew how to sit still.
Whether or not she remains in academia is irrelevant; whatever career she chooses, whichever life she pursues, her education has served her well. She has an investigative mind and enough confidence to take her wherever she wishes.
If I ran the world, my very first policy change would be this: I would tell all the weird kids YES. Believe to achieve, fake it til you make it. There might be a lot of compromise and lashings of heartache, but what is the alternative? Despair? Death? Watching television? Follow your dreams where they lead, and if you want to do it, go to school.
Here are some tips I compiled for my offspring and occasionally force on friends:
1. If you are a weird kid, go to a weird school.
2. If you can't manage that, study a weird subject.
3. If you are a font of trivia, go to graduate school.
4. If you are a font of trivia and love to argue, do a PhD.
5. Get funded.
6. If you have trouble getting funded, ask everyone you know if they have ideas for resources. Apply for everything!
7. Repeat: apply for everything. Grants, assistantships, wacky summer programs, study abroad, whether you are 'eligible' or not. Whatever!
8. Never, ever date within your own field.
9. If the going gets tough, get creative! There are all sorts of unexpected sideways solutions. Life on the loser track might be easier: whether you are a dropout or a mature student or something more esoteric, keep asking for advice. There is almost always a solution. Look for the loophole, and jump through before it closes.
10. Don't give up the dream, give up the haters.