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Kate Fridkis

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Refusing to Be Normal: A Homeschooler's Take on Mainstreaming Alternative Education

Posted: 06/22/11 03:03 PM ET

The New York Times recently came out with an article called After Home Schooling, Pomp and Traditional Circumstances. It's about homeschoolers organizing high school-esque graduations.

A friend of mine sent me the link, pointing out that the piece concludes with the words "...just like everyone else."

These days, the observation that homeschoolers are pretty normal is a common one. We used to be freaks who couldn't socialize and were almost definitely raised on a farm by parents who thought that public schools teaching evolution was crossing a major line. Now that we've won a bunch of spelling bees, gotten into Harvard a lot, and started infiltrating Girl Scout troops and community Little League teams across the country, we are beginning to look like regular people. Regular people who can spell really well. We are beginning to be like everyone else.

But as an unschooler, I did not want to be like everyone else. Not at all. I really, really liked being different. I wanted to be Stargirl, not the kids in her class. I wanted to be the one who stood out. Not because I was weird, but because I was weirdly awesome.

Actually, I don't think I minded being weird very much, either.

Being normal is overrated, right? I mean, that's the message of pretty much every book written for kids except for the ones in the Sweet Valley Twins series. And even then, Francine Pascal tried to give her identical blond twin protagonists endearing quirks and nerdy habits.

I read a lot when I was young. I was like that illustrated kids' book about the girl who climbs inside paintings. I loved that book. I climbed inside books and stretched and ran around and explored. I empathized and got annoyed and cried when the grandmother died in Walk Two Moons. I identified with the weird protagonists. I think if anyone had teased me, the way they often got teased, I would've taken it as a sign of heroic promise. But no one teased me, because my friends didn't do that, and because I didn't actually look different enough to attract it from strangers.

I loved that I was unschooled. People were always interested in hearing my story. Even when I was eight and ten and fourteen. I was an interesting character. My life was an obvious adventure, and I had an adventurous streak.

Now, when people emphasize that homeschoolers are normal, that we fit in, that we do the same things as normal children and teenagers and, later, adults, I find myself feeling a little frustrated. I don't mean to. The emotion catches me off-guard. For just a moment, I find myself thinking, "We aren't just like everyone else! Our lives are a wild adventure!"

And then I think, "Well, everyone's life is an adventure, and plenty of people want to be as 'normal' as possible, and there's nothing wrong with doing a graduation if you'd like one."

I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I think non-schoolers should write their own scripts. I think they should include whichever traditional elements they think they might enjoy. After all, I went to homeschooled prom! I think there shouldn't be any rules.

But at the same time, I don't want to be told I'm normal.

Normal is boring.

I refuse to be boring.

(Read more about the experiences of a grown unschooler at Skipping School)

 

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