Friday, July 22, 2011

Online School vs. Traditional Schooling Part I

"When I told my friends I was going to online school they were confused. They couldn't understand why I would want to subject myself to that type of isolation..."

This quote was said by the valedictorian of my high school during the speech she gave at our graduation. She was standing in front of the podium in the shapeless navy blue gown that we were all forced to wear. The graduating class of 2011 formed the backdrop behind her as she smiled at the 70-something parents and family members sitting in the auditorium seats below the stage.

There was a sense of kinship between the graduates that day, and not because we were wearing the same cap and gown. We'd never seen each other's faces or sat at a table together to eat lunch. We'd never gone to parties together or passed notes in the back of a classroom. We'd never done any of the things that "normal" teens were supposed to do with each other during those four years of high school that seem to last forever and not long enough. But despite that, we knew each. All of us were bound together in a way that only similar experiences bind people. We understood what sitting on that stage in our cap and gown meant and that was enough to make us into a secret society.

I started out high school in the traditional way: I went to public school with the kids I'd known since middle school. My Freshman year went by in a flurry of Taco-Bell scented ignorance, peer pressure, and a big shrug to all things related to homework or tests or good grades. I was caught up in the new sense of freedom that high school provided, and spent too much time (more than I like to admit) ditching school to do things I shouldn't have been doing.

I've come to think of my Freshman year as all four years of high school packed into one. Every single perk and downside of traditional high school that one can experience, I experienced then. If I didn't have Bee to keep a leash on me and rein me in when I got out of control I don't know what kind of situations I would have gotten myself into. She was the voice of reason.

The summer before Sophomore year, I started to dread going back to all of that. I didn't want to get sucked back into a world that seemed separate from reality. I wanted to slow down, to understand...something, some part of a bigger picture I was missing; or maybe just my place in it. I would never have thought online school was an option because I didn't even know it existed. The idea of going to a high school based solely on the Internet seemed too good to be true even as the idea of isolation from my friends was cripplingly lonely.

It was Bee who found it out about it just a few days before school was due to start back up.

My family likes to joke that Bee can sell ice to an Eskimo. She probably could, too. She convinced my mom that we needed to give online school a try on the day we were shopping for school supplies to go back to school. This was a pivotal moment. My mother could have easily said no, and I still don't completely understand why she didn't, I just know that it was the best decision she could have made. It was the best decision I could have made by signing up.

Sitting on that stage, that's what all of us knew, me and Bee and our classmates. We knew that going to online school was the best decision we could have made. We weren't isolating ourselves, we were making the decision, for whatever reason(s), to give ourselves space; space to grow, and think, and learn. We were finding our place in a bigger picture.

Music I'm listening to: "Misguided Ghosts" by Paramore

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