The decision to return a home schooled student into the public school system is one that often is made once the student reaches the high school education level. Parents may feel unprepared to instruct their students in levels higher than the basics, or they simply wish to give their students the chance to socialize with peers before entering the world of independent college life. Whatever the reasons may be, the experience of returning to public school following the relatively sheltered lifestyle of home schooling may be awkward, frightening, and intimidating for students.
High school is a notoriously difficult phase in any young person’s life, as students struggle with body changes, self-image, identity issues, and social hierarchy on top of the often consuming pressures to earn good grades and excel in extra-curricular activities. The learning experience provided by the public school system goes far beyond the three R’s. High school is where most students find themselves and begin to define themselves as individual people. The process can be complex and painful for many young people.
The high school experience is particularly hard on home schooled students re-entering the public system, as these students typically have not been exposed to the social order of others their age and have not been able to adapt along with their peers. Public high school has the potential to deliver a nasty jolt of culture shock to a secluded student accustomed to quiet home study. Following are a few things to take into consideration, offered from the perspective of one who was home schooled for seven years before re-entering the public school system at the freshman level.
As shallow as it may seem, the very first set-back a previously home schooled student may run into in the public school system is a difference or lack in fashion sense. Without the opportunity to interact and adapt along with their peers, home schooled students often have no sense of what clothes and accessories are “cool.” In the often cutthroat culture of public high school, a new student dressed differently or poorly is typically an immediate target for disdain among peers.
Fashion sense, or lack thereof, is at once distinctive and cannot be disguised within a group following a set fashion regimen. Therefore, the student returning to public school will almost instantly feel “different” and removed from his or her peers. While it’s easy for parents to say clothes don’t matter and students shouldn’t worry about “what the other kids think,” a returning student will inevitably feel even further alienated by apparent, embarrassing faults in fashion.
2. Social Clumsiness
Unless the parents have made great efforts toward exposing home schooled students to others their age-through after-school community activities or sports participation agreements with the school district, for example-the students will generally be essentially unaware of the social standards within their age group. At-home family culture inevitably differs from popular teenage culture, and a returning student may be overwhelmed by trying to learn how to fit in amongst his or her peers.
Common interests, popular slang, and knowledge of popular music or trends are only a few areas in which previously home schooled students may find themselves clueless. Fitting in and discerning what’s “cool” and what’s not will pose a challenge to a returning student who has not been allowed the proper opportunities to interact with others in his or her age group before being re-integrated into the public school system. This process can be long, intimidating, and often painfully humiliating for an unfamiliar student attempting a crash course in social norms.
3. Book Smarts
Home schooled students typically exhibit a wider range of knowledge, understanding, and depth compared to their public school counterparts. The solitary learning style provides an unmatched, uninterrupted atmosphere for students to focus on learning and pursue subjects of interest beyond the public system’s curriculum. While this cannot by any means be considered a negative aspect of home schooling, the return to public school will spotlight a definite divide between the “bookish” home schooled student and the social, extroverted public school student.
Above and beyond the degrading stigma of being marked a “nerd” or “geek,” the returning student is apt to experience further estrangement upon encountering what may seem like a large population of students possessing inferior intelligence. Public school students tend to be quite self-centered and typically unaware or uncaring of wider knowledge outside of their immediate interests. A previously home schooled student may strike up a conversation with a public school student, offer thoughtful opinions or display in-depth knowledge on an “un-teenlike” topic, and be met with incomprehension or disdain. It’s an unfortunate trait of public school students to dislike the “smart kid”-a role the previously home schooled student may automatically fall into.
The bottom line: High school is a difficult, complicated time for any student, and home schooled students returning to the public system may face more challenges than the typical student who has grown, learned and adapted around other students.