Normally, I like to focus on tech and business news, but lately I’ve been thinking about something a bit more personal and thought that others might benefit from my perspective. While I’ve always felt fortunate to grow up in a large family where all of my needs were always met, my parents weren’t exactly the Rockefellers either. Having a lot of kids was a blessing for them, but it also created some unique financial pressures that have had a profound impact on who I am today. In particular, providing a quality education was especially problematic for them.
While there are some great public schools out there, my particular school district was infamous for being the worst of the worst in the Los Angeles school district. Last year, the graduation rate at the local high school was just a hair over 50%. While this kind of public education would have done a good job of helping me to succeed if I ever ended up in prison, it wasn’t going to provide me with the life skills necessary to succeed in the real world.
The other option that my parents had was to enrol their kids in a private school, but faced with the prospect of making 5 concurrent tuition payments each year (plus mandatory school taxes), it just wasn’t financially feasible for them to do it. Because my parents felt trapped between a rock and a hard place, they ultimately made a tough decision to forgo the traditional route and to homeschool their kids instead.
At the time, this was a controversial choice. In fact, I was one of the very first students in California to “officially” attend home school. In 2008, the co-op that was my Alma mater was actually declared illegal (and than legal again) by the California Supreme court. If my alma mater was ground zero for the California home school movement, it’s fair to say that I was part of the epicenter.
While my parent’s decision was driven in part by financial considerations, it was also driven by their desire to have more control over what their kids were exposed to. Our society tends to bombard kids at an early age with messages that aren’t always very healthy and they wanted to make sure that they had an opportunity to share their faith and ideals with their children. Some may view this as controversial, but I think that every parent should have a right to teach their kids right from wrong. Because my education was considered quasi-legal though, there was always a little bit of paranoia surrounding what we did. Personally, I never lost sleep over it, but my parents certainly worried that the neighbors might report us or that we could be accosted by truancy officers when out and about during school hours. At one point, they actually purchased legal insurance to help protect themselves, in case they were ever forced to defend their decision.
In addition to some of the legal questions, there was also a social stigma that I was forced to deal with. When I eventually re-entered the traditional school system, extensive testing was required before they would accept me. At the time, most colleges were shunning those who hadn’t received a formal education. When I did enroll in school, many of my peers viewed me as a bit of a social misfit. It’s fair to say that over the course of my life, I’ve heard my fair share of homeskooling jokes.
Fortunately, this trend has almost completely reversed itself and as more and more homeschoolers have worked their way through the system, it’s become increasing clear that those who’ve had this unique experience, aren’t necessarily the backwards country bumpkins that society would lead you to believe. Often times, they are gifted artists and creative thinkers who can bring a lot to an organization.
If you would have asked me at the time, I probably would have told you to never home school your kids, but when you fast forward 25 years, I have mixed emotions about whether or not I plan on making the same decision with my kids (assuming that I end up having kids of course.)
While my relationship with my parents went through it’s fair share of ups and downs, undoubtedly I feel closer to them today, than I would have otherwise. My Mom was never a rocket scientist (or even college educated for that matter), but the one on one attention made a big difference compared to the massive classrooms that ended up being my high school experience. When I did test to enter school, they wanted to place me two grades higher than my age group.
When other kids were studying California history, I was seeing it first hand by visiting historic missions and seeing how the government worked in action. When I expressed an interest in one day becoming a fireman, my parents were able to arrange visits to the local fire station. When I expressed an interest in being a veterinarian, I was given backstage access to the LA Zoo. While you can question the educational value of some of these experiences, I feel that they gave me a perspective that most people miss out on and made learning an enjoyable process. Even at a very young age, it wasn’t unusual for me to read over 100 pages a day simply because I loved the topic.
From the negative side of the equation though, being home schooled was a very lonely experience. My parents made sure that we belonged to a lot of social groups, but you really can’t replace the day to day stimulation that kids get from interacting with each other. The parents that I know, who’ve chosen to homeschool their kids, almost never understand how pervasive this loneliness really is. Having spent a lot of time with other home schooled kids, I think it’s a fair generalization to say that socially we were all a bit behind. Even to this day, I still have social phobias that most people don’t have to wrestle with.
While these phobias have placed me at a disadvantage when it comes to office politics and competing in the rat race, my upbringing has also given me many advantages. Being forced to constantly seek out information has taught me how to think critically, instead of accepting everything as a truth. Instead of learning to memorize facts for tests, I was taught to think for myself. More than anything, spending my life living outside the box has helped develop crucial skills that one needs to be a successful entrepreneur. In this ever changing technologically driven world that we live in, these skills have already proved invaluable. While I still have many goals left for my career, I am very proud of where I am today and that I own my own business.
Even though, I still have mixed feelings about the entire experience, I’m thankful that I was given the opportunity to learn in this way. For parents who are thinking about homeschooling your own kids, I’d encourage you to think long and hard about the pros and cons and to take your time reaching a decision. If you don’t have the patience, time or resources to properly socialize your kids, I would discourage you from going this route. For those who do take the path less traveled though, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences for both you and your children.