Things I Didn't Learn

by Rebekah Baglini

This contribution was written by Rebakah Baglini in October, 2002, when she was applying for admission to college. Rebekah is currently (summer 2005) a junior at Bryn Mawr College, majoring in linguistics and working with the Serendip/SciSoc summer working group.

People tend to make a lot of assumptions about what it is to be a homeschooler, many of which focus on what I've missed by not attending school. It's true that in my 17 years of being an autodidact I have never heard a school bell ring, never attended a pep rally, never been in a clique, never used a hall pass. But looking back over an exciting and rewarding childhood, I find my most valuable experiences have resulted from those things I missed without school, the things I didn't learn because I wasn't there.

Because I never learned to equate learning with banal homework assignments or dreaded examinations, learning has always been a natural and constant process of exploration and discovery, propelled by curiosity and interest, rather than external motivators such as grades.

Because I never learned that children aren't supposed to direct their schooling, I viewed the world as my classroom and passionately explored it, treading down whatever paths my curiosity led me. I took my education around the world as I traveled around Europe and the Americas. I shared it with others, seeking mentors - from specialized tutors to my relatives and friends - for additional insight and experience.

Because I never learned that all children are supposed to learn the same things at the same time, without consideration of personal differences and rates of development, I was free to learn things when they came most naturally to me, never experiencing discouragement at being ahead of or behind my peers. Because no one told me I was too young, at age eight I wrote, staged, directed and performed (for an audience of 70) my first play, a mystery starring Sherlock Holmes. Because no one told me I couldn't read "adult" books, at nine I fell in love with the novels of Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy.

I never learned to pigeonhole myself. I never learned that I'm an artistic person and not a mathematical/logical person, and therefore shouldn't spend time exploring those areas that are not my forte. Because of this I decided to make a website at thirteen, despite knowing nothing about web design or programming. After constructing an idea, I got a book about HTML from the library, then spent a few days designing an extensive website to showcase my original writings.

I never learned to stop thinking at the sound of a bell. My education took place at all times regardless of physical location. If I felt excited about something, I could work on it all night. When sick, I could take a hiatus and curl up with a good novel, without having to pay the penalties of "make-up" work.

And perhaps most important, for every one of these things I never learned, there have been a hundred dividends. My independence, my curiosity, my initiative and persistence were born not in spite of missing school, but because of all of those extra hours of freedom I gained. I am who I am today because I was free to spend whole days wandering an art museum, free to spend a summer reading Ulysses, free to take my education on the road as I explored the world.

When I was 15, my desire for learning finally led me to the world of traditional schooling. In my college courses I have found myself well prepared and capable, yet also instilled with a strong philosophy of learning through intrinsic motivation, curiosity and passion - all thanks to the things I didn't learn.

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