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Homeschooling Due to Illness: The Ultimate Blessing in Disguise

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I want to write this to reassure you that if you’re having to choose homeschool because of illness, it is not a bad thing. I’m a senior in high school now. I homeschooled from seventh grade on. I loved it so much that even after I got well enough to attend public school, I didn’t. In my experience, it’s not at all inferior to traditional school. You actually may come to the point where you become an ambassador of sorts, telling all your public school friends to make the switch. Don’t believe me? Well, I wouldn’t have believed it five or so years ago. To me, it was a bitter disappointment to be homeschooled. I had no idea what a blessing it’d become.

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I vaguely remember talking about going into seventh grade. I was in a daze at the time. I was bedbound for an entire summer. I remember briefly getting up to use the bathroom before collapsing back into bed. Even an activity like painting proved too much. I was too fatigued to hold up a paintbrush for long. When September rolled around, everyone my age was buying pencils, erasers, scissors and crayons; I was still unable to function. Going to school and sitting for six hours was about as possible as running a marathon.

Homeschooling it was.

I did most of my school on the computer. I took some classes at a local co-op. Mostly, I just skated by, struggling to do the very minimum required. For some reason, what I remember most was trying to do Spanish; I just stared at the words, uncomprehending, too fatigued to think straight.

To be blunt, I didn’t really do school for two years.

I couldn’t.

I still passed the standards to pass to the next grade. The reason was because I was able to accomplish more with less energy than the average person. I pick up things quick, and I used every semi-clear moment to learn what I could. I shake my head thinking about it, wondering how I did it.

I hate to admit to all this, because it feeds the stereotype that homeschoolers don’t do “real school”; they just mess around. That’s not the case.

Some studies have found that homeschoolers typically end up scoring 15 to 30 percentile points higher than public schoolers on standardized tests.

We have an advantage: we can speed up one subject if its too easy and slow down another if its too hard. We can work ahead a week and go on a family vacation. We can select our own curriculums, design our own projects, and go on a field trip anytime. It’s the ultimate educational freedom. In my experience, homeschooling is not a shallow or inferior alternative. For a lot of people, it’s the best option out there.

However, for that time in my life, I couldn’t take advantage of all those benefits. I could only survive, hoping my undiagnosed disease wouldn’t kill me.

When high school came around, I had a few health answers but was still suffering immensely. I was able to both homeschool and attend select classes at the local high school. I made friends. I did job shadows and did a summer internship. I began to slowly feel like a real person again.

What’s funny to me is that homeschooling still has a stigma to it. Even people who knew me fairly well were worried about my wellbeing. The words “sheltered” and “naive” seem to be staples. At my summer internship, one of the employees seemed to think I was just that. He was speaking to me in a passively condescending way trying to educate me on world cultures. The topic was a church in Russia he visited, where women were asked to dress modestly. I offhandedly said, “It was like that in Notre Dame when I was there, too. They requested women to cover their shoulders and knees out of respect.” He turned to look at me, eyes widening. I could see him mentally try to process the fact I didn’t fit his idea of a naive little homeschool girl. I had never mentioned I’d been to France before, because it’d never come up. He was caught totally off-guard. I must admit, though, that I did secretly enjoy his shock. Defying stereotypes can be tiring, but who says it can’t be a little fun, too?

“Oh, you should really be in school,” doctors have told me with a frown.

As if I’m not doing school at home but instead just sitting staring at the wall or some nonsense. They worry about me getting enough socialization. It’s strange to me that they think I must sit at a desk for six hours in order to meet people. I can meet with friends anytime by rearranging my schedule. As long as I get my schoolwork done, I can have sleepovers on weekdays or go to the mall in the middle of the day with my girlfriends. I have time to do any number of extracurricular activities. Frankly, the flexibility is  life-changing.

“But how will you meet boys?” I’ve been asked.

Don’t worry. I’m pretty sure that boys don’t spawn in brick and mortar classrooms. I’ve dated before. I have plenty of opportunities if I so choose. (And why the heck do people worry about this so much? Dating or not dating doesn’t make or break your life!)

And, of course, the classic: “How will you get into college?”

Some colleges have actually begun searching out homeschool students to recruit, because we’re known to be hardworking and motivated. We keep transcripts and grades just like anybody else. Getting into college is no harder for us than a public schooler. If anything, it might be easier.

The last thing isn’t usually said but implied: What’s wrong with you? Because if you’re homeschooled, you must be “defective.” No one would choose this if they had other options, right? I didn’t have other options for the first couple years, so I fit into that category, but a lot of people don’t. In fact, I’d argue that most don’t. A lot of people genuinely love homeschooling. There isn’t something “wrong with them.” They just love having the flexibility and freedom to learn however they see fit. I could’ve gone back to public school if I wanted, but I didn’t. What I’d once dreaded had become the ultimate blessing in disguise.

Lead photo via Unsplash

Originally published: October 20, 2018
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