Quite a few people over the years have asked me what it was like to go from being homeschooled for nine years to spending high school in a "real" school. Now it's mostly parents deciding which path to take with their own children. So, I decided to finally write that down since I never have.
My answer is mostly "It was great!". And it was. I loved my high school years. I know many people at the same school, even in my same group of friends, felt very differently, but that christian private school life was perfect for me. I met so many lifelong friends there. I met my husband there. My mom worked there. My brothers used to go there. My teachers were amazing. It felt completely like home to me.
However, I had the advantage of being able to compare the two worlds. The homeschool denim dress world against the "real" school world (I know, I know - it wasn't a public school). Now that I'm out of school altogether and can look back over all those years it's like watching a movie. I know some of my memories are probably warped and not quite accurate, but these are the things that strike me most about the transition.
The artificial things became a priority. Appearance was not near as important to me before I went to school. My mom laid out my clothes for me until I was probably eleven or so. And even then I think she had to tell me it was time for me to start picking them out myself. Of course, I was a girl so hair and make-up was a fun hobby for me, but I never took it seriously. To this day I'm a very unobservant person. I can have a conversation with someone for two hours and walk away having no idea what they were wearing. I never ever notice people's shoes. Ever. So feel free to walk around in slippers all day. All of that was multiplied in a good way when I was homeschooled. I rarely gave it a second thought if I was friends with someone that had a big mole on their face, wore long denim skirts or if their hair was always frizzy.
Once I went to school those things started to stand out to me more and I became critical, judgmental and proud. Listening to conversations at school I figured out that if you're a girl and you naturally have a hint of a sideburn then you will be talked about. If you wear the same hoodie every day you'll get laughed at. If your hair is less than silky then someone will make a hurtful comment under their breath as they pass you in the hallway. I started hearing things about other people in the school that I had never even noticed before. But once they were pointed out to me I thought maybe I should be noticing them. Maybe it is ridiculous that the girl I sit next to in math never wears make-up. So, naturally I started to become more critical of myself. I started picking out all of these things about myself that I didn't like and imagined people were probably talking about them too. I realized I wanted everyone to think I was pretty and I was concerned about giving anyone a reason to start talking about me.
My passion for learning faded. I really mostly enjoyed school when I was homeschooled. Not math. Never math. But everything else was fine with me. I had a passion for science. I remember getting my new science book in the mail at the beginning of one school year and racing up to my room to read it right away. When I was in elementary school I started something with my friends called "The Nature Journal". We would go around and collect leaves and observe animals and color pictures and make copies to hand out to our other friends. We loved doing that.
I also absolutely loved reading. I would go through tons of books a month and each one I liked more than the last. My mom was great at giving me educational, but fun books to read. It took me a while to realize how educational they were because I just enjoyed reading them so much.
Once I got to school all of the above became "dorky". The people who loved science and read about it in their spare time were called nerds. "The Nature Journal" story was a dark secret I needed to keep unless I wanted to be mocked until the end of time. Reading was just something you did because you had to try and pass the next test in English. Even then, it was really just skimming or typing in sparknotes.com. I realized with all the homework I had each night and weekend, I rarely had time to just sit down and read a book. I began reading books, not for the joy of reading, but because I had to get the facts so I can take the quiz on Friday. I'd jot down the answers and then forget anything that happened in that book because it was time to fill my brain with new facts from another book for the next test.
I think I made high honor roll the first semester, but my grades were on a steady decline for the rest of my high school career. I suddenly had so many other things to worry about like getting a dress that would look as good as the other girls' for the dance and acting like I barely studied for that test I took because it would sound dorky if I said I was up until midnight pouring over my notes. My passion for learning was slowly decreasing and my passion for petty things was growing and growing. 80% of my life was spent with my peers who were whispering encouragement to follow that path in my ears. Obviously, I take that responsibility on myself and do not intend to blame anyone else for that decision to essentially give up on school. My point is my environment change is what triggered it and encouraged it, in my opinion.
It opened my eyes to the reality of the world. Like most kids, this is a good and bad thing. It's always sobering when you make that jump from innocence to horror at the evil in the world. There were words, terms and concepts I had never heard of before I went to school. I got all the typical responses of shock that I was such a sheltered, uninformed, innocent little girl that had never heard this sexual slang being thrown around the ninth grade. But is that really a bad thing? Of course not, but I started to feel like it was. I felt pretty dumb sometimes that everyone understood whatever inappropriate thing that was being talked about and I just had to laugh along like I totally got it. I lacked the maturity to stand up under that and remind myself that even though I was the only one that didn't get it, that was okay.
But school also opened up my eyes to how blessed I was. I met all kinds of people, even within a private christian school. I realized my parents were awesome, godly people that worked so hard to raise their kids in the Lord. I realized I had sweet older brothers and we got along ten times better than many siblings I observed. I learned my mom was an even better cook than I thought she was after eating at a few friend's houses. I realized there was no other job I wanted more than to be a wife and a mom. I realized depending on God in any and every situation isn't just something they teach you in Sunday School. It literally carries you day to day. And I learned it was a wonderful thing that I got to spend the majority of my first years with my mom as my mentor instead of my peers.
I remember my first day of school so well. I had memorized my schedule the night before, terrified I was going to go to the wrong class on accident. I even dreamed about it. And, of course, I went to my math class instead of my history class first thing in the morning. I ended up walking into my history class ten minutes late and there were no chairs left, so I had to sit in the teacher's chair. I felt every person's eyes on me as I blushed and walked across the room.
Later that afternoon I sat in the front row of my Bible class where the teacher put a stack of five identical papers on my desk.
"I think you gave me too many," I said.
"You're supposed to pass them back," said the irritated boy behind me. I heard the quiet giggles from around the room and blushed all over again.
The great thing about these experiences is they did prepare me for later in life. Aren't we supposed to look strange to the world when are Christians? There are plenty of times that we are going to feel dumb or be laughed at, but the trick is resisting the urge to compare ourselves to the world and choosing to look to Jesus. I would say I failed pretty miserably at that in my high school and college years, but that failure has motivated to choose wisely now. My life happened exactly how it was supposed to happen and I am beyond thankful for the years I had at home and in school. And now I know how to pass papers back. So I've got that going for me.