You Were Homeschooled? By Bailey Vincent Clark, Freelance Writer, Health Columnist, and Student for Life

You Were Homeschooled? By Bailey Vincent Clark, Freelance Writer, Health Columnist, and Student for Life "You were homeschooled?" On any given day, this is the response heard most often from flabbergasted friends and strangers, upon hearing of my seemingly surprising education. Perhaps the fact that I'm not donned in bonnet and pigtails reenacting a scene from Little House on the Prairie (I always preferred Little Women), or speaking in alien tongues from inside my vacuum sealed bubble (alien interests aside), might throw the average Joe for a loop. Nevertheless, I am more often than not met with shock and astonishment when revealing my unusual upbringing. Yes, the bubbly, loud, personable (and I'd like to think fashionable) blonde before them was, in fact...taught from home.

Sadly, it seems that the more time stretches on and the term "homeschooling" becomes increasingly better known among the average population, the less is done to change our --- reputation. For the record, let it be said that there is much that I do represent with the label of "homeschooler"; it just depends on who is spinning the image. Many believe that homeschooled children are merely nerds, the undoubtedly teased, or the socially rejected who couldn't fit into the mold of Homecoming Queen or class clown with easy precision. Yet, if being a nerd means that I've spent my nights falling asleep to the steady glow of a reading lamp, filling my mind with foreign lands, literal aesthetics, and poetic grace...then a nerd, I surely am. Others might assume that homeschoolers are simply shy, withdrawn beings, who can't easily slip into the noisy foray of the public school, and instead must be protected (quietly) at home. Needless to say, if anyone ever stepped through the doors of the standard homeschooling household, the term "quiet" may not be the adjective that comes to mind. In my experience, most homeschoolers are, in fact, quite the opposite. They are perpetually excited, energetic, and open-minded about their education, able to converse with children and adults of all ages and abilities (perhaps because they aren't simply accustomed to a classroom of peers), and unjaded by societal opinions of how they should conduct themselves to be deemed "cool". Sadly, the image most often branded on the world of homeschooling is that of the sheltered child, who is kept locked inside their home (undertaking such alarming acts as reading novels, and doing word problems), so that they never truly learn how to function in the ever-popular real world.

On this comment, I will not argue, because like it or not, this so-called negative, "sheltered" view of the homeschooling family, is perhaps simply one of our most positive attributes. One of the best examples of this scenario is as a young adult, when I graduated from high school early, and arrived for my first day of college at the tender age of sixteen. Awaiting my professor, a timely 15 minutes early, I sat quivering in my chair with excitement, my notebook opened and perfectly labeled in front of me. At first glance no one would ever have known of my "sheltered" homeschool background. I sat poised, front and center, in my (admittedly stylish) new outfit, smiling and chatting with any willing classmate who happened to glance my way, rather than cowering in the corner like some shrinking violet (as public perception would assume).

Looking back, I finally see that all prior insights of homeschooling and its affect on my later placement in life were slightly untrue. Was I sheltered? Yes. One look around my new classroom could tell me that I undoubtedly was. While I sat attentive, eager, pleasant, and ready to learn, the majority of my fellow classmates sat slouched, pouting, and intensely begrudging of the task at hand. As the professor began to talk, I quickly realized that I was one of few students whose eyes didn't glaze over with boredom and angst; already desensitized to the classroom atmosphere, and always anticipating the worst.

Now as a grown woman, with my (continually enthusiastic) college years behind me, I find myself at an entirely different crossroads, after welcoming my own baby girl into the world nearly two years ago. As a mother, we are instantly faced with a slew of increasingly verbal battles among parenting warriors: Breastfeeding or bottle, the working mother or the stay-at-home, the "time-outs" or the "spank-downs"...and now I find myself faced with a different war and question all together. To homeschool, or not to homeschool?

Personally, my mother and I fell into homeschooling in a rather unconventional way, because, although we did come from the typical loud and highly-populated family that comes to mind (I am the baby of 5), none of my older siblings were homeschooled before me. Whether attending public or private schools, learning in an alternative format never came to mind until the previous four children were grown and gone, and I was the only bird left in the nest. Perhaps my mom felt it was the perfect time to experiment, or she wanted to cherish her last intimate moment in the beautiful world of motherhood, but from the second grade on, my mother and I began to embark down an amazing new journey together.

Lately, I can look back and realize that of all the precious gifts homeschooling has given me over the years, perhaps the greatest is the following: I have become a walking contradiction. Yes, my initial impression of a sociable, chatty, and confidant female might send off shock waves with the average stranger who comes my way, but only we homeschoolers know exactly how many things we represent outside of the continual stereotype placed upon us. Upon closer examination, we might find my current place of residence is not, in fact, the aforementioned bubble, but I still try to protect and maintain my own sense of naivetÚ so as to continue viewing life with wonderment, enthusiasm, and appreciation.

Homeschooling never concealed the fact that the world can be a cruel and often tragic place, but it made me realize that for every terrifying incident or cruel word spoken, there lies a more tender and caring response within. My education didn't lead me to believe that there aren't social hierarchies where your value in life is predetermined by the reflection in the mirror or the label on your jeans, but it did help me to learn that those who live by such guidelines aren't friends that I'd care to share my life with anyway. Furthermore, although homeschooling didn't leave me confused to the finer lines of social interactions between dating, labels of "cool" and "un-cool" (or the simple fact that those deemed cool are most often those seen later sulking and slouching in their college classrooms), it did help me to acknowledge that no amount of lectures, bullying, or popularity should leave me bitter to the beauties that people, classmates, and classrooms have to offer.

Admittedly, to some extent I may in fact be deemed as na´ve, sheltered, or protected, but it is only as a grown women that I have chosen to maintain that same degree of hope. Whether cool or not, I continue to feel that that the greatest tragedy in life is not to be labeled nerdy or shy because of an affinity for books or learning, but rather, to be dulled to any joys that learning may provide. My mother and I both found that homeschooling wasn't about an end to one path and a start to another, but rather the chance for both of us to become excited about learning all over again.

The most beautiful thing is: The journey has never stopped. To this day my mother will call me, while I'm giving the baby a bath or covered head to toe in some form of pureed vegetable, and gush about the latest story she has read, or the interesting fact she came across. While taking walks together during my pregnancy, we continued to spend most of our time spotting interesting birds or flowers that we'd never witnessed before...so we could go home and look them up later. Learning never stopped simply because we both grew older, because somehow we knew that we could never grow quite wise enough to stop reaching for more.

When it all comes down to it, homeschooling helped me to believe that learning wasn't just something you do because the classroom bell rings, or because a grade depends on it...it's something you never stop doing. It's something that fills your soul with fervent energy to start your day fresh; something that propels you forward to meet that new person, to send out those shock-waves, or to strive farther; and something that makes you want to pass that same love along to your own children.

As an adult, I finally realize that the real world isn't in the darker, deeper, saddened details that life has to offer; the sulky students or embittered people that we supposedly shelter our children against. Rather, years later I see that the hidden joys and extra moments that homeschooling offered only better prepared me for adulthood and mothering. The years of writing for our homeschool newspaper (even when the topics revolved around such worldly importance as American Girl dolls and Animorph novels), only helped me to hold my own weekly opinions column in the city newspaper by the age of fifteen. The endless days of creating ballets and intricate performances in dazzling livingroom arenas, were merely a prerequisite for the studio-level dance classes I would teach later as a working woman. And even those dimly lit reading sessions that I undertook before falling asleep each night would always be held dearer to my heart than any alternative amount of video game playing or television watching ever could. Over the years homeschooling has certainly raised many questions within my personal life, some more sensitive than others. Yet, answers to these questions can only come with a closer look at the person I have become and the education I have received. I might be na´ve, shy, sheltered, and nerdy, but only in the most enviable of ways. It seems that, in the end, if there is one response I know for sure, to that always pressing question, "You were homeschooled?" I have one simple reply - "You're darn right I was." And there is another question I know the answer to: "Yes, I will homeschool my daughter, as long as she wants." B.V.C. ____________________ Bailey Vincent Clark founded and owns Buggy Busters, a Baby and Me health, fitness and weight management program in Grottoes, VA. She has taught all forms of dance, in community college and private dance studios and writes a health and fitness column in her local paper.