The Dreaded Question

“What are your plans for college?” It was the question I disliked the most growing up. It was something I was asked periodically while I would be out with my mother during the day. I typically handled the question respectfully, but there was something about being asked that question while I was on vacation that sent me over the edge. “I’m not going to college,” I replied flippantly to the man who had asked me this time. The next thing that happened was something akin to Gato’s Grandfather telling him, “if I was bored it was my own fault and no one else’s” (142). I wasn’t expecting to get a lesson on my future when I pulled up to that Tennessee welcome center, but it was an experience that has stayed with me ever since.

My mother homeschooled me through my entire K-12 years. She put a lot of work into making sure that I stayed on task and up to standards with my public school counterparts. Looking back, I can appreciate her efforts. But at the time I despised school and any

thoughts of going to college were nonexistent in my bored brain. Despite being one of the “happy homeschoolers” mentioned in Gato’s, Against School I was bored with my school work. It wasn’t my mother’s fault, she worked hard to keep me on task. I was, at least, an avid reader.  It’s a quality that my mother instilled in me from a young age, taking me and my sisters to the library at least once a week. But outside of reading, I saw most of what I was required to learn as meaningless. I would pay attention to the subjects I found interesting but skimmed the rest. Much like Rose in I Just Wanna Be Average, “I did what I had to get by, and I did it with half a mind” (154). And if I didn’t enjoy school now, then what use would college be to me?

I didn’t see much benefit to being homeschooled when I was young. After all, I lived with my teacher who could at any time of the day pester me with, “Did you get your schoolwork done?” But it was nice not having to catch a bus in the early morning, I could go run errands with my mother during the day when other kids were in school, and best of all we could go on vacation any time of the year.

When I was a teenager my parents took us to see the Smokey Mountains during autumn. As you could imagine, the scenery was beautiful. Technically, there wasn’t any smoke on the mountains at the time and the colors weren’t as vivid due to lack of rain in the summer. But I didn’t care about that so much; I just liked the escape from home and school. We stayed at a little hotel that overlooked a horse pasture. Across the street and everywhere else around us was your usual commercial, tourist town entertainment. And of course, there was the welcome center that you passed on your way into town.

My family didn’t typically make a point of stopping at a welcome center, but my parents had booked a package rate through one of the offers that the center provided. In order to get the rate, we had to pick up some vouchers at the welcome center before we could check in to our hotel. I didn’t know the details, didn’t really care. I was just happy to get out of the car after 10 million hours on the road with my younger sisters. The place was filled with your typical tourist map information, generic chairs for sitting in, and happy people in bright t-shirts that sported the name of the town.

Some of the exhibits about the local history fascinated me; I decided I wanted to see some of the old settlements up in the mountains. But my interest waned and I sat in one of the stiff generic grey chairs until my parents said it was time to go. I watched as my parents finish talking with one of the employees, a slightly older gentleman. Upon being called, me and my sisters quickly assembled from the various parts of the room. Apparently, they had told the employee that we were homeschooled. I guess he was wondering why three school aged girls were running around his welcome center instead of being in school. He wasn’t exactly as happy as the rest of the employees, but he seemed like a nice enough fellow to me. That is until he set his eyes on me and asked me the dreaded question.

After giving him my attitude-ridden reply, he looked back at my parents and asked if he could give me some grandfatherly type advice. They consented and he promptly turned back to me and gave me a talking to. Looking back on the incident, I don’t recall everything he said. However, I do remember him telling me, “You have your mother there for you whenever you need help with something. If you go to college, there will be someone there for you as well, whether it is a professor or a peer.” I think, when I replied to his initial question the way I did, he saw that I didn’t fully appreciate what I had. I had a mother who was there 24/7 to help me with anything I needed. Not everyone has that available to them. My attitude about my education was irksome because it was disrespectful to the efforts my parents had put into it. He had many points about the reasons why getting a college degree would be good for me, but I think it was my attitude that prompted him to talk with me.

At the end of our discussion, he asked me if I would at least think about going to college, which I nodded that I would. I just really wanted to get out of there. In an idealistic “Yay for education!” story, I would have to say that I walked out of that welcome center and into the beautiful Tennessee mountain air a changed almost-woman. In reality, I was just annoyed that I had been embarrassed in front of my whole family. And now, to make matters worse, I had to get back into the car with my younger sisters who were arguing about who had to sit in the back row of the van.

But to the welcome center man’s credit, he did plant a seed in my mind that eventually took root. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that, much like Rose, I started thinking about the possibility that I might like to go to college (160). I still had my misgivings about school, and I wasn’t sure that I was going to like extending my time as a student. But I developed a desire to learn more about literature and writing through my love of books and reading. There were things I wanted to learn more about. Somewhere along the way I had learned to start caring about what my mother was trying to teach me. I also felt like going to college, and doing well in school, would prove to everyone that my mother did in fact do a good job with my education. It had never occurred to me before that there were those who doubted my mother’s decision to home school her girls.

By the time I reached my senior year, I had started to help my mom with my younger sister’s schoolwork. I didn’t realize it at the time but the idea that teaching was something I would end doing was somehow planted in my head. I enjoyed finding ways to engage them with their work because I knew exactly how they felt; I had been just as disengaged and bored them. By now I’ve given two of them the “Why you should go to college talk.” My 20-year-old sister is studying business. And the 17-year-old, well, I’m still working on her. I see so much of myself in her and I hope that one day she can see the value of what she’s been given.

Works Cited

Gatto, John Taylor. “Against School.” Rereading America. Ed. Gary Colombo, Robert Cullen,

Bonnie Lisle. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013. 141-49. Print.

Rose, Mike. “I Just Wanna Be Average.” Rereading America. Ed. Gary Colombo, Robert Cullen,

Bonnie Lisle. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013. 151-62. Print.