I was home on winter break from University, still getting used to the college experience, when I was asked if I ‘liked’ going to the public high school I graduated from the year before. I shrugged and said yes. But I was uncomfortable about it.
I had been asked this once in high school, senior year, after some big test that I did well on. I could tell that being DFAB (designated “female” at birth), blonde, and from a public school, the asker was impressed at my abilities to test well. First: My success does not mean the test was faulty; and second: f*ck that condescending, gender policing bullsh*t.
I know now that the feeling of unease came from having no comparison to judge my experience against. I said that I liked it, but that was because I was not free to make my own choices or really even have my own opinions. While in high school, I was still tightly controlled by my parents. Even though I had been able to distance myself from Pastor Daddy, his dysfunction could still be felt. My mother, while working through her own trauma and getting help, still had a lot of separation anxiety that sometimes would short-circuit her brain when one of her children (me) would try to draw a boundary or form an opinion. It is and was very understandable, but I’ll admit, for my own sanity, that it was not a good thing for me to experience. Those kinds of thought patterns and issues were still very raw for me and I trusted her. So, during a time when I should have been figuring out my own identity, making my own choices, experiencing my own consequences; I was instead trying to help all of my chosen family to be protected and comforted. I would expend any amount of energy trying to save my mom from pain and empathizing with my siblings who still had to visit our abusive bio-dad. After the home schooling, the haranguing, the shaming, and the sibling social circle I was limited to, it was very difficult for me to accurately evaluate whether I ‘liked’ my public high school.
There were definitely good teachers that I liked and other teachers that I did not agree with but I also felt disconnected from the whole. I could tell that my reactions and emotions were not the same as most people’s in most situations. I could tell that relationships and social situations were difficult for me. I felt like I didn’t know how to deal with humans and it made me feel inhuman for being aware of that. I felt like I was isolated so completely that even when I was with others, I was still alone.
The internet and other people helped me build a more accurate picture of the world and what a “public high school experience” has in common across the country. I knew from being homeschooled that I was not getting the same attention or rigorous conceptual processing from some subjects that I would have if I’d been learning it “at home”. I remember being frustrated to the point of tears thinking about a subject that was not taught well. A bad grade was like a bad grade on my soul; my parents had seared into me that academic achievement was more important than even physical health. It was our job as kiddos. And we were doing it for God. God was always watching so we should try to do the best that we possibly can all the time, with everything. This causes major problems later when I’m trying to figure out what I actually enjoy. I draw a very large blank for much of this because my mother and I sort of enmeshed our identities. I was part of a dysfunctional collective before, but this was a lot of reaction to that abuse and I believe…
I’m getting off track.
All the defense mechanisms, and fears, and problems, and nonsense that was my high school experience couldn’t convey how much I disliked it or how much it helped me. They can’t tell you how stupid the rules were or how much I needed to learn how to make friends. They can’t make it clear to you how unregulated home schooling provides a perfect cover for abuse, control, and isolation. They can’t really explain how I was constantly chipper, full of compassion for everyone, and consumed with self-hate.
My high school was a public high school in a red state that cut education funding all the time. I think public education was one of our (America’s) best ideas. The execution, however, leaves much to be desired.
I don’t have a fix. It’s very complicated. But no; overall, there were better public high schools in the vicinity that I grew up. And worse. It is the only high school experience I have and I am glad I have those memories.