It comes up, a punch line inevitable in conversations about things like school buses or lockers: I’m home schooled. No, I didn’t go to a normal school. Yes, ha ha, I did wear pajamas sometimes. Out of pity, my housemates recently threw a prom-themed party and rigged it so that I won prom queen. Yes, I was ecstatic.
But not-so-secretly, people are incredulous that I could have learned anything outside the familiar, industrialized education system. This skepticism explains the many attempts to impose stricter regulations on home-schoolers through the years.
The arguments made about liberal arts this year, then, sound familiar. We’re told (or rather, Gov. Pat McCrory informs us) that we need a more practical university, one with the fixed outcome of jobs and worldviews. It’s a recession-induced mindset, this idea that the implicit value of public education is found solely within its utilitarian outcome.
As a homeschooled high-schooler, I worked at a coffee shop in the mornings and took online courses in the evenings. I worked in a day care and saved up money to travel, tutored and was tutored. Some of my home-schooled friends skipped the traditional route after graduation and took on jobs as chefs or caretakers. Others went on to Ivy Leagues. Home schooling wasn’t perfect — nothing is — but it was buoyant with possibility.
And while the word ‘liberal’ is not commonly associated with the conservative reputation of home schooling, this is something that home schooling has instilled in me: An education is, in essence, the creation of choices. The mark of a liberal society is a diverse palate of options.
A gender studies course, then, should be available to all students, and not just the discrete population who can afford private school. A public university is not a trade school. These — the options that compose our contemporary definition of ‘liberal arts’ — are what create both an economy and a society. We shouldn’t have to choose between those terms; done right, a liberal arts education creates both.
That’s what I feel lucky to have received the past four years at UNC and why it breaks my heart that this ethos is in danger of being outdated.
In this anxious graduation season, I want to celebrate the beauty of options. We’ll all arrive at our diploma differently, and that piece of flimsy card stock paper will take us all different places. And that’s remarkable. And I don’t want that to change.
We have so many options. We are so lucky. Blindsided by natural angst about unwritten futures, it is easy to forget this, but the beauty of college is precisely that it isn’t a slot machine.
UNC should aim to give back to its home state not merely an empirical income, but a graduate with a more empathetic imagination and the skills to create, innovate and advocate for the choices we’ve been lucky to have so far.
Has it been perfect? Nothing ever is. But valuable, challenging and the best decision I’ve ever made?
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.