Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It's good to be weird

By guest contributor Kate Fridkis
Cross-posted on

Note: when I talk about being educated outside of conventional school, I call it either unschooling or homeschooling. I like "unschooling" better, because "homeschooling" sounds like you have to stay inside all the time. Which is a lot like regular school, anyway.

When you’re unschooled, you’re already weird.

You’re weird from the start. Which can probably go one of two ways. You can get really nervous all the time about being different, and try really hard to fit in with the “normal” people. Or, more conveniently, you can get used to being weird, and just go with it.

I think the latter approach is probably more common for a couple reasons.
  1. You aren’t around a big group of your peers all the time, so who are you trying to fit in with anyway?
  2. Pretending you’re just like everyone else is exhausting.
Kids spend a lot of time pretending to be like other kids.

There’s this incredibly basic fact about people. It goes like this: We are all weird. If there’s one thing we have in common (other than a lot of biology), it’s that we’re all weird.

But it’s hard to accept.

Sometimes when I’m by myself, I start making faces. I’m thinking, and I’m scrunching my nose up and biting my lip and twisting my mouth and pulling on my hair. If I did all of these things on the subway, the people around me would probably think I was insane. Or disabled. Or something. Because that’s how sensitive we are about differences.

We expect everyone to regulate their facial expressions. To speak in a certain tone of voice, at a certain volume. To hold their limbs in particular positions. You move your leg another quarter inch, you’re out of bounds.
(this is me making a slightly weird face. It’s almost a real smile, but not quite. It is not flattering. But it’s how I felt in the moment, and I like being able to express it.)

A lot of the ways we correct for normal weirdness are subconscious, automatic, or minute. But we also spend way too much time worrying about how we look, and sound, and act. I think it probably gets in the way of doing other stuff. Like making great art, founding brilliantly strange companies, and inventing cool bizarre recipes. Before you can do a lot of interesting things, you have to be comfortable standing out.

When you’re unschooled, you stand out. You can’t help it. So you get to start from a foundation of obvious weirdness. Which makes it a lot easier to keep being weird. Which makes it a lot easier to be creative. Which in my opinion makes it a lot easier to be awesome.

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