Wednesday, May 15, 2013

and then a hero comes along...

I've been asked a lot about my college experiences. It's such a huge topic for me - I started when I was 13, and went on and on til I received my Master's at the age of 27. I took many breaks for traveling, etc. I took a lot of different types of classes. I had a lot of experiences with other students. So the big question "what was going to college for you like" will have to be broken down into a lot of smaller posts. Here is one of them.

It was August, 1998. I was 13 years old. I was about to take my first college class.

The weekend before I had been at the HSC conference in Sacramento - a huge and wonderful conference (possibly the largest homeschooling conference in the US?) where I had just met and fell in love with the people who would be my best friends for the next ten years. I was pumped on their energy and creativity. I had had one shy moment, at the Friday night dance (the conference was a Friday/Saturday/Sunday deal - so this dance was at the very beginning). I remember standing at the edge of the room feeling awkward and weird and shy and then realizing that I had total control. I decided right then to never be shy again. I walked to the middle of the room, met some folks, and then proceeded to have a life-changing weekend.

So with this fresh in my mind - this decision to never be shy again - I still asked my mom to walk me upstairs to where my first class was. My mom has taught at Cypress Community College for the past 29 years. Some of my very earliest memories are of being there. She's taught at other colleges too - college campuses were a very familiar and homey place to me. But I still wanted a little hand-holding. 

We went upstairs to the 3rd floor of the Fine Arts department, where I'd have my first class - beginning voice with Helena Decoro. I still remember the teacher's name, because - like with everything else I did at Cypress, I did it all the way. I took multiple classes from her, and moved on from that voice class to spending years in Vocal Eclipse - a vocal jazz ensemble. When we got upstairs I asked my mom to leave me there - I had just glimpsed the room we'd be in - a big stage, piano, microphone - and I remember thinking "oh, right. I can do this. I want to do this!" 

At the end of that semester I sang a Mariah Carey song (Hero. I was thirteen, after all.) with live musical accompaniment, onstage in front of an audience. I think I was taking another class, but I honestly can't remember what it was. The next semester I took the next level of voice, and added Psychology and English. After that, I was a full-time student at Cypress, taking as many units as they'd let me. 

I had mostly only good experiences with the other people in my classes. I had only one blatantly disrespectful "you are too young to be here" moment, and it was from another classmate in my Critical Thinking course. The teacher defended me, and told the other student that they were being rude. I left that class a little shaken, a little more aware of how other people might think, and went to the ceramics lab where I was engulfed in a community of people who got me. I've had many, many, many more experiences with people who mask downright rude judgements in the form of "I'm just wondering..." I honestly do not think some of them realized how rude they were being. I don't think being curious about this 13 year old in college, or asking questions about it was rude - but there are ways and ways to ask a person questions. I had one other time, when I had transferred to a university - and was on a wilderness kayaking expedition - where we were pulling in the kayaks for the day, and my background came up. Now remember - at this point I was the same age as everyone else, and so it was my choice to divulge or not divulge whether or not I homeschooled. I don't remember how it came up, but I do remember the kayak leads digging into my fingers as I pulled, wishing I could escape the conversation. There was one of me, and about 8 of them. I felt bullied. No one was asking anything to learn, they were asking pointed and accusatory questions to prove their own points. It was terribly disappointing, because I really liked this group of people. Also - I was on a wilderness expedition for three weeks with this group. I had to decide right then how I wanted the outcome, and make it happen myself. I could decide to call them out on some of the insulting things that were being said, or take a deep breath and preserve the rest of the expedition. I chose the expedition. Part of me still feels regret about that day, that I wish I could have broken out into some Aaron Sorkin-esque passionate speech, changed all of their minds as the music swelled, and we'd leave the kayaks sitting there while we walked arm in arm back to the campsite. I wonder if they left that experience thinking less of homeschoolers because I wasn't able to "defend" myself. I then wonder if they realize that I left thinking less of the 8 of them because I felt like I needed to defend myself against attackers.

Those two memories stand out, because they were pretty isolated events. I've talked about homeschooling and unschooling in almost every class I've ever been in. So let's see - 5 classes a semester, 3 semesters a year - say 15 classes a year, give and take a couple, til I was 27 - for 14 years - 30 people in each class... that's a lot of talking to people about homeschooling. I have never, not even once, had a teacher who said anything negative to me about being young in college. I have had teachers who have said positive things. Sometimes I talk about homeschooling and do not mention the unschooling thing - and let people come to the wrong conclusion about what it is that homeschooling looked like for me. It depended on how invested I felt - and if I wanted to get something else out of that moment other than yet another homeschooling talk. Other times, I have felt like it is my responsibility to represent this radically different and yet oh so sense-making idea to the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment