by Troy Elliott, VaHomeschoolers’ “Dad Files” Columnist
Originally published in the November-December 2001 VaHomeschoolers Newsletter.
Like any rational adult, I prefer to base my perception of reality on a combination of broad generalizations and a simplistic worldview drawn mostly from my personal experiences and the occasional Beverly Hillbillies episode. This is of course a boon to our kids, who are supplied daily doses of endlessly fascinating insights into society as little more than an expanded version of the four-year sentence I served at Wellington High School, in Wellington, Ohio (go, Dukes). Think Our Town meets Twin Peaks.
Now before you jump to any conclusions, let me assure you that our kids aren’t getting some kind of skewed perception of society. You can relax, because I hated high school, so any societal insights I supply them vis-à-vis my high school days are chock full of minimum daily requirements of such important concepts as bitterness, cynicism, and paranoia. I don’t want our kids missing out just because we homeschool.
I think it all started with the hallway at WHS. My high school was pretty small, and it was arranged so that after lunch period you pretty much had to walk through this one particular hallway, which would be lined with the high school’s biggest, stupidest guys—eight or nine-feet tall, 680 pounds each, with full beards tickling the tops of their Van Halen t-shirts. They would lean against the walls on either side of the hallway, and the rest of us would have to walk this gauntlet to get to wherever we were going.
Lucky for me, I was a kid of the small and pale variety, with a tiny, high voice and an enormous head that I felt compelled to accentuate by wearing my kind of puffy hair at a length of no more than two inches—just enough to allow it to sort of fluff around my head in what could only be called a male bouffant. High school yearbook pictures substantiate this. I look like I had taken a wad of fiberglass insulation, spray painted it brown, and taped it to my head.
Anyway, I would have to walk through this hallway on my way to, I’m reasonably sure, the band room—a double whammy, because the band room, as everyone knew, drew nerds like slugs to a saucer of beer. My passage was, of course, side splittingly hilarious to these guys, who would double over in paroxysms of basso laughter when the group’s wittiest member (“witty” being roughly equal to “the dude who can belch the entire Pledge of Allegiance”) would address me in a squeaky falsetto. Every single day.
Like everyone else who has ever been to high school, I soon came to learn my general place in the order of things. My general place in the order of things was that I did not have a general place in the order of things. In all fairness, I wasn’t alone—my future wife was in the same caste, and there were several kids whose orbit was even more distant than ours. But there in that mini-universe was where I got my first taste of what it was like to watch “society” burble happily along more or less without you. And I have to say, other than the walks through the Hall of Terror, I didn’t mind it that much. They could have it.
Since those days, me and society have developed a relationship not unlike the one a person might have with, say, a cashier they get occasionally at Safeway—pleasant, small talky, and task-centered. Upon seeing this person at the mall, you might smile or wave, but you wouldn’t think of putting your arm around their shoulder and strolling over to the Mrs. Fields to split a white chocolate and macadamia. That’s pretty much how it is with me and society—I’ll say “hi,” but I’m not going to invite it shoe shopping.
That’s why I don’t pay much attention to what Time magazine writes about homeschooling, and that’s why our decision to homeschool never once caused me to worry about what “people” would “think.” Don’t get me wrong—I had plenty of worries when we first talked about homeschooling, but they didn’t have much to do with how we would be viewed by society.
This isn’t to imply that I think society is useless or irrelevant. I mean, the same society that gave us deforestation, third world sweatshops, and the Real World also gave us Ella Fitzgerald and powdered chocolate milk mix. It’s obviously a trade-off. And I do try to keep this in mind when I’m feeling curmudgeonly, which is most of the time.
But homeschooling has changed the rules of engagement for us and our kids. We have the luxury (or maybe, more accurately, the fantasy) of being both in and outside “normal” society. Because our kids are not immersed in the world created within every school system, they are able to gain perspective—perspective I never had.
We’re all aware of the ways homeschooling can rescue a kid from the burdens of having to “fit in” to a social system that can be pretty unhealthy, but the other side of the coin is that that same distance allows them to see the good stuff, too—and there is good stuff to be had. They can separate all the stupid, obnoxious things in society and participate in the good stuff. And my kids manage to do this despite my efforts to use my own experience to mold them into first-class misanthropes. Evidently, they can see through that, too.
So our kids, who are probably a lot like your kids, latch onto the stuff they care about, and ignore the societal stuff that seems unimportant to them. They join organizations, like the Girl Scouts, because they like the stuff that you get to do, not because of who’s already a member. They play sports because they like to play, and don’t seem to harbor any anxiety about not necessarily being the star player. They fearlessly wear black dress socks with shorts and sneakers. They wonder if Britney Spears is all she’s cracked up to be. They laugh at Laurel and Hardy movies. They are probably, in the grand societal scheme of things, on their way to becoming official weirdos.
And yet, they harbor no resentment against a society that already sees them as outside its mainstream (and don’t think for a minute that kids don’t sense this kind of thing). They tend to look at society like they do their dinner plates—full of a lot of stuff that needs to be carefully picked over so that only the good parts can be savored. And when you look at society that way, as a kind of resource there for you when you need it, you tend to lose your ability to dismiss it out of hand, or paint it with a broad brush based on a couple of lousy experiences, which is the strategy that has served me so well over the years. They are, however, still pretty young. Maybe I better tell them about that hallway a few more times.
© 2001, Troy Elliott. All rights reserved.
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