May 30, 2014
It’s not a sin to be awkward.
I’m was in the office at work with my boss and a coworker, and I do not even remember how the topic of conversation has turned to public schooling vs. homeschooling. But it has. My coworker starts in on an anecdote, and I have a bad, bad feeling about where this is going.
“We had a homeschooled girl in my high school chemistry class. She was like 12. She was just so far ahead.”
(Maybe not. Sharp intake of breath. Slightly too-long pause.)
“But she was so awkward. And it made the whole class awkward, and it was just awkward to have her there.”
And here we are. At the moment in which, prior to this, I had actually thought that my acceptance in this place, to these people, wasn’t based on me passing myself off as the right kind of person instead of the wrong kind.
The awkward kind.
But it was. And I am. She hadn’t realized, in the way that people usually don’t stop to think whether it’s possible that the people they’re about to mock or denigrate are actually the people they’re talking to.
And I don’t want to start a really nasty fight right then in front of my boss, so I say something moderate and reasonable-sounding about how what really matters is not whether a kid is homeschooled or not, but whether they’ve been isolated or allowed to have outside social opportunities. How some homeschooling families actually just isolate their kids, and that’s wrong, but as long as they’re giving their kids chances to interact with other groups…choir, scouting, church groups, music lessons, art classes…
…instead of “Fuck you very much.”
And I didn’t say what I actually should have, either…in the interest of starting my shift on time and also…not having an awkward argument in my boss’s office.
It’s not a sin to be awkward.
Can we stop talking about it like it is?
A 12-year-old girl hasn’t done anything to you by being awkward, or by taking advantage of her legal right to a free and appropriate public education while awkward.
While we’re at it, can we also stop using “awkward” as a euphemism for incompetent, irritating, immature, overbearing, invasive, inappropriate, or probably autistic but we can’t be seen as scorning someone for being actually disabled so we’re gonna say they’re “awkward” which is obviously just a personal failing that’s fine to use an excuse for their ostracism?
Here’s another newsflash: I know a lot of people who in fact went through 13 years of mainstream public schooling, who are still awkward people. Because it actually isn’t being confined in a cell-block building with a limited number of people, exactly your own age, for over a decade, isolated from your community and adult company, and subjected to sufficient peer pressure to just stop being different, that makes you non-awkward. It’s already possessing a manner of speech, body language, common interests, and gender presentation that’s consistent with those of the vast majority of other people. It’s having a native language of social engagement that is the same as most people around you.
I served my full term in the public school system, I went to the second-largest high school in my state, and I followed that with four years at one of this country’s most regularly top-ranked party schools.
I am still an awkward person. And if you thought I wasn’t, you just haven’t seen me in the right—or the wrong—situation. But I guarantee you it wasn’t lack of ridicule or social pressure to be anything other than what I was that caused this.
It also isn’t being allowed to do your academic work outside of a classroom setting, at a pace that works for you, that makes you awkward, because plenty of non-awkward people do that.
I’d really like people to consider, before the next time they scorn a kid for being awkward, or homeschooling or unconventional schooling for making kids awkward, that they are likely committing a fundamental chicken/egg fallacy.
A homeschooled kid probably isn’t awkward because they were homeschooled.
They are probably homeschooled because they are awkward.
Because they have probably already been forced out of the school system by bullying and abuse or discrimination, or because the school couldn’t or wouldn’t meet their academic needs.
(Being academically precocious: also not a sin.)
I mean, mandatory, universal public school attendance wasn’t even a widespread thing in this country until the early-mid 20th century. Were we really just a nation of incredibly awkward people until the 1920’s or so?
Even if it really were homeschooling that caused awkwardness, I would so much rather a child of mine be awkward than a whole lot of other things that are nowhere near as socially stigmatized as awkwardness: Mean, bigoted, superficial, callous, snide and scornful towards people different from or more vulnerable than themselves.
I’ll take awkwardness any day.