January 31, 2008 News » Cover Story

What it was really like ... in one family 

click to enlarge BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Brienne Boortz

Whenever people find out I was homeschooled, they usually look at me incredulously and say with some confusion, "But you're so ... normal."

Flattering as it may be, that comment reveals the assumption most people have about the homeschooled: We are socially inept geniuses masquerading as geeks in sweats pulled up to our nipples, wearing Velcro Keds with white tube socks.

Trust me, those kids are out there.

I just wasn't one of them.

For the most part, the argument against homeschooling isn't about the education; it's about the lack of social interaction (and the resultant wardrobe).

When my parents first pulled my siblings and me out of school, I was in third grade. I didn't really mind. I still had my two best friends within walking distance, and I only had to go to school four hours a day, as opposed to eight.

But by the time I reached high school, the novelty had worn off. For one thing, we had moved away, and I hadn't made any real friends outside my family. We lived in the middle of nowhere, our closest neighbors a few miles away. Meeting people was a luxury I didn't have.

The other homeschoolers I met, more often than not, could talk about physics for three hours but couldn't (or weren't allowed to) have a conversation about the latest episode of Dawson's Creek.

I'll admit: I hated being homeschooled at that time, and I loathed my parents for doing it.

In spite of the social drawbacks, I did come away with a good education. My parents hired an English tutor, an art instructor and a music teacher. We watched Spanish instructional videos and started a class newsletter that we mailed to our extended family. I did fine on my SATs, and after graduation, I was accepted to several universities. I'm currently at Colorado State University-Pueblo, earning a degree in English, and I have a 4.0 GPA.

(Truthfully, though, I couldn't do basic algebra until I took the remedial course in college. And to my surprise, the class was full of "real" high school graduates who hadn't learned it, either.)

Like a lot of homeschooling families, my parents' motivation for keeping me home was largely religious. We read the Bible daily, and our science textbooks taught creationism as fact. My parents were strict, and Christianity was a big part of my education. But that's as far as it went for me.

Education isn't just about book knowledge; it's about learning to deal with different kinds of people in different situations, skills I think a lot of homeschooled kids are lacking. The simple explanation is that these kids spend the majority of their time at home with their mom for a teacher and one or two siblings for company not much in the way of diversity.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and I'm one. I grew up in a very large, multi-ethnic family, and by sheer force of numbers, we had to be socially active. (Our dinner table sat 20 people, but that's a story for another day.) It wasn't a replacement for "real" school, but dealing with almost two dozen different personalities on a daily basis gives you an appreciation for variety.

When it came down to it, I wanted to learn, but I didn't want to skip three grades in one year. I wanted to read Shakespeare, but not when I was 9. I turned out just fine, mostly because I wanted to.

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