1) I assumed that once you’re in the university, your educational background doesn’t significantly affect your learning experience.
I eventually realized that my homeschooling background makes a world of difference, and that my personal experiences and thought processes were very different from those of my traditionally schooled counterparts.
I sensed there was a barrier between myself and my secular, schooled counterparts (duh). I felt like I was pressed in from all sides—my peers, my coworkers, my professors, even the administrators. Pressed in such a way as to conform to the dominant ideologies and ways of life.
I quickly developed a keen sense of this. I still remember my first session of my very first class at the UW: Biological Anthropology. Verbatim, pretty much his first words on the subject were, “We’re not here to discuss the truthfulness of evolution. We’re here to study how humans evolved, our ancestry.” The title of our book was “How Humans Evolved”, and the theories were certainly laid out as truth.
Being an obnoxiously curious homeschooler by nature, I decided (stupidly, it seemed afterward) to ask my professor a question regarding the content of my book. I said that it seemed some key steps in a process had been skipped or glossed over, and he replied, “Well, I’m glad that you’re thinking critically about the material…”
He wasn’t glad I was thinking critically about the material. I could tell by the faint lines of irritation on his face.
The incessant questioning I developed as a homeschooler placed me before the UW’s brain-broadcast at point-blank range. While others had long since adjusted to this ideological frequency so that they no longer noticed its presence, my ears were still new and quite vulnerable. The thundering sound waves of unquestioned suppositions blew me backward.
The power of unchallenged ideas is especially important to understand in your first couple years of college, when most of your classes are 100 and 200 level (upper division classes are usually discussion based, so it’s easier and more acceptable to express your opinions). You will probably find that much of what you’ve gathered from external observation and socialization with schooled friends (or perhaps experience for a brief period, as my sister did) about public education in K-12 actually describes freshman and sophomore coursework quite well: you are told what to think, not how, and you are not encouraged to evaluate alternative theories. The only difference is that a little more effort is expected of you.
2) I didn’t find a support group. I didn’t make the effort to seek out like-minded individuals
I knew that there was a homeschooling support/advocacy group on campus. I even ripped an info tab from one of their notices in my department’s building. But I didn’t act, and I wish I had. That little slip of paper sat in my pocket for a couple of weeks; I pulled it out a couple of times and glanced at it, but eventually it was discarded with the gum wrapper and a few bits of foil.
Even if I couldn’t find a way to meet with the homeschooling group, I could have gone to campus bible study—I would’ve been far more likely to find support there than in my classes.
I really regret not making connections with people of similar backgrounds and beliefs, because even though I knew I wasn’t alone in my intellectual and spiritual struggle, I felt alone. This wasn’t a simple case of mind-over-matter, but mind-over-10,000-other-minds, and I was honestly overwhelmed, even if I didn’t appear to be. Isolation and tacit alienation breed cynicism and disquiet, and these aren’t exactly winning attitudes in a spiritual and intellectual battleground.
3) I didn’t speak up as a member of my minority–I wasn’t a proper representative.
On my last day of college I reflected on my college experience as a homeschooler and a Christian; I expressed intense frustration with the intellectual environment on campus in a lengthy post to my blog. On the very last day of my last Anthropology class, I was wavering between bursting into a fit of sardonic laughter or breaking down into tears of disappointment. One of the grad students had decided that discussing humanity’s role in destroying the earth by global warming was a good idea; another had thought it only proper to take one last jab at the West’s colonial and racist past, pointing fingers at everybody, and nobody, for continuing to oppress minorities and deny them self-representation. How ironic, I thought. Here I am, completely capable of representing myself, and yet feeling that my worldview, my demographic, is not welcome in the classroom. I managed to slide in my two cents on many other subjects, but as far as things directly related to my own experience or deep-held convictions, I kept my mouth shut.
Now I wish I hadn’t. Looking back, I see now that this grad student, being an ethnic minority, had taken it upon herself to represent her own people, to achieve justice for them because she was capable and felt obligated. I disagreed with much of what she said in that class, but I’ve gained a quiet respect for her now that I realize that I should have followed her example. The only difference was that while her perspective was welcomed, even encouraged, mine would not have been. But it doesn’t matter. As a homeschooler, I was taught firstly to think for myself, and secondly, to speak for myself, to speak on my own behalf. I was exceptional at the first, but I failed at the second—and I only failed because I did not try. The truth is that I was not willing to accept the social, and possible academic, consequences of speaking not just as Georgi, but as Georgi the homeschooler, the Christian, the capitalist.
Robert Collier once said that “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out”.
I should have considered it my responsibility to make small efforts and accept those consequences—when future generations look back on my life, will they see a bitter but capable woman passively defeated by refusing to fight, or one who made a daily effort to bravely stand for questioning, for independent thought, for self-expression, and in so doing defend others, products and actors of that same kind of learning, who could not speak up for themselves?
~Georgianna B. Boorman