I’m not sure I’d actually self-identify as homeschool. But there’s a certain moment of disconnect—a second when I hesitate over the “other” option—when asked to classify myself. It’s not that I’m special. It’s just that I’m from homeschool.
Being homeschooled is like knowing a secret language that no one else can speak. But it isn’t very helpful because it’s the only language you speak, and you can’t really figure out what other people are saying, nor can they understand you. So you develop a sort of Esperanto that passes for the language of the paradigm everyone else seems to share, but because you’ve developed it, you get a lot of things wrong. Social nuance is a bitch. Which is a weird phrase because “bitch” means a breeding female dog and I don’t get how social nuance could be one unless it’s a metaphor for when the dog is in heat, then maybe … but why don’t they qualify it then: “social nuance is an alpha bitch in heat”?
Being homeschooled leaves you wondering sometimes if you might be a sociopath because you didn’t care that Michael Jackson or Kurt Cobain died. In fact, you aren’t terribly effected when anyone who isn’t in your very small circle of family and friends dies. You didn’t know them. Their lives have no relevance to yours. Why care? Oh my god, I am a sociopath.
The cultural and social paradigm that constructed my psyche is straight up old school—it’s limited to a small social unit in a tight community. I didn’t watch TV, listen to current music on the radio, or any of the other things that forms the social psyche of a young person. The culture of the larger United States was limited to what my parents knew. Nothing more. This limitation is actually how most social paradigms used to function, being restricted to your family, village, and local religious institution. Very few people got to experience a world beyond a small geographic area. Being homeschooled means you know about thing like that. It doesn’t mean that anyone else cares.
You also can differentiate between Beethoven’s piano sonatas and have memorized the choreography of various show tunes. Also, you know all the words to the rock opera Tommy.
Being homeschooled means you know a lot, actually. Since books were your best (and only) friends, you are well read. Since you had all day to learn (you were at home, after all), you picked up an admirable amount of factual minutia that makes you simultaneously desired and dreaded at cocktail parties. Especially when you start shouting. Being homeschooled means you suck at voice volume control.
However, despite your vast reservoir of knowledge, you also suck at trivia because you aren’t used to your recollection of knowledge being timed or constrained by categories. Being homeschooled lets you learn what you want at your own pace.
Being homeschooled is a bit like early onset Alzheimer’s. Your gaps in knowledge can be sudden and unfair, especially when you missed the 20 years between 1976 and 1996. You can be communicating just fine with a person until you slam into a dark wall of ignorance. Obviously what the person is talking about is important common knowledge, but you can’t place it anywhere in your mental map of significance. The mother of baby Jesus had pointy boobs? How long can I fake that I knew Mary sang a song about being a material girl before they figure out I have no idea what they are saying? Is that song in the apocrypha?
In addition to factual knowledge you can’t recall on command, being homeschooled often gives you odd and disparate life experiences which are dependent on your parents’ particular proclivities. You may learn to milk goats and churn butter or translate the entire OED into Latin or sit quietly for hours without moving or travel across the world with only a backpack. There’s no telling what might have contributed to a homeschooled person’s life. But you can always guarantee it’s a mix of weirdly awesome and depressingly pathetic. And we are often deeply proud of just how quirky our individual childhoods can be.
Being homeschooled is like being a refugee from a small atoll that was part of a large island nation which sunk into the Pacific. Sure, there are a lot of us. And yes, we recognize our own. But like Darwin’s finches, our isolation from the world and each other has caused our psyches to evolve in very individual and specific ways. Sure we share the same ocean of cultural isolation but that doesn’t mean that we share the same evolutionary pressures.
Being homeschooled means I want to explain that last bit but remembered to look at my post-it notes on the wall one of which that reads, “You don’t need to explain everything to people” before doing so. Being homeschooled means being forever uncertain if those around you share your same body of knowledge. Maybe their island had more calls to prayer and less Jethro Tull.
Like refugees, the homeschooled can’t go back. Nor do most of us want to. We feel muddled and confused in this new culture, but love it all the same. We often aren’t aware of others’ judgements of us and jump into the social melee with the sheer joy of learning something new that many homeschooled share. That’s the actual magic of being from homeschool: despite uncertainty and awkwardness, deep down we like ourselves. After all, the only person we went to Junior High with was our mother. And she thought we were awesome.