Being an outsider

This week, a group of prospective students came to one of my classes. The professor asked where they were from, and one said he was from Springdale. “Oh, what school do you go to?” the professor asked. There was that moment of hesitancy, that slight insecurity – “Well, I’m home schooled.”

Four years ago, that was me: a senior in high school who had never attended either public or private school. A person who was worried about what people in the “outside” or “real” world would think of me. My friends can tell you I have branched out since then, and I agree. I also believe most of those changes have been for the better.

I am thankful I was home schooled. I am grateful to my parents, especially my mom, for choosing to invest in my life that way. That will never change. But that does not mean—of course—that every part of my upbringing was perfect.

I have learned a lot about myself in college. This could be attributed to the greater self-awareness that comes with the later teens and early twenties. In my life, however, another big piece of my personal growth has been the process of experiencing a wider variety of circumstances and observing how I react in various settings.

This is something I did not get a lot of earlier in my life. For various reasons, my brother and I grew up quite isolated, especially in elementary school. While I can understand my parents’ choice, I will probably also do some things differently when it comes to raising my own children someday.

As a high school and early college student, I was inclined to fear not being accepted. But looking back from this vantage point, I can see that people did not care as much as I thought they would about how I was schooled before high school graduation.

That is an area where my type of home school family could improve. The attitude with which we approached life—slightly exaggerated here for emphasis—was that the “outside world” was a dangerous place, full of evil creatures just waiting to suck our faith out of us. Before we could be trusted to go into such a place, we children have to have on figurative suits of armor to keep us safe from any influence by the wicked culture.

The problem is that wearing so much protective gear can make it difficult to move. In some ways, I had too much fear of anything unfamiliar; I had my guard too high. I do still believe that as a Christian I should be careful with how much of the world I assimilate into my own life. It is true that the world can distract us from where our focus should be.

I can understand the need to be more careful with what younger children are exposed to. I wish, however, that my parents had helped me more with the transition to making my own choices. I have had to figure out on my own a balance between my parents’ over-fearfulness on the one side and blindly accepting everything I hear from the culture on the other.

Yes, there is evil in the world. No, not every person who I meet is trying to destroy my faith. But sometimes, in order to tell the difference between friend and foe I need to lift the visor on my helmet. Living surrounded by too much defensiveness can hinder my relationships with others. That, I would say, has been my biggest transitional lesson as I have ventured away from my home school bubble.