October 20, 2018

Homeschool through High School? Absolutely!

Having recently written about both preschool and college, it seems only logical to address another hot-button "phase of life" question - namely this: Why do people think it's so impossible to home-educate through high school?

A majority of "people" (the general public) seems to not balk all that much anymore at the notion of homeschooling in "elementary school." But even when my children were little, I heard the question on a fairly regular basis: "Are you really going to homeschool them all the way through?" And, despite more than 40 years' worth of evidence from the modern homeschooling era (not to mention the long history of parent-led, home-based education which served as the norm for most of human history), it seems that every homeschooler hears the same mantra (almost as regularly as we get the "socialization" canard): "How can you possibly teach them everything they'll need to know in high school?"

Setting aside for a moment the offensive nature of the question (i.e., why does anyone who is not a child's parent assume a right to pry into the nature of the child's education?), it actually makes me laugh. For one thing, why should public/government schooling be seen as the default at any age? Yes, all but a handful of American parents were duped for about 100 years - before the rebirth of the homeschool movement in the 1970s - into believing their kids had to be educated in factory-model institutions. Yes, the vast majority still choose - usually without much forethought - to continue using the "free" system. But that doesn't make it ideal for any child, let alone all children. Thus, to suggest that a family committed to home education should abandon its calling simply because a child has reached adolescence is simply...laughable. In fact, it brings to mind the old "if-all-your-friends-were-going-to-jump-off-a-bridge" challenge.

Besides that, is a typical high school program really too hard for a parent to manage? After all, if the public schools are really as good as their proponents assert, anyone who has graduated from one should have the knowledge and skills necessary to guide another through similar material - because graduation is a stamp of approval that implies mastery. But if it's really true that high school material is somehow beyond the grasp of a high school graduate who is now a homeschooling parent - to say nothing of the many college-educated homeschoolers - what does that say about public high school? Honestly, if having gone through it did not make me "smart" enough to guide my own children through the material, that doesn't bode well for the "testimony" of the public schools. And if public school really doesn't work, why then would I want to subject my child to it for any length of time?

Of course, the reality is that possession of a high school diploma doesn't actually guarantee that the one who holds it truly mastered the content of the courses listed on her transcript. We all know that the system employs far too many incompetent, far-from-"expert" teachers; that in far too many cases, material is merely "covered," not mastered; and that schools pass the "good kids" through (complete with "grade inflation") even if they haven't met (supposed) high school level expectations. In fact, schools also pass and graduate "troublemakers" just to get rid of them. Additionally, most high school kids try to focus as much as possible (within the constraints of the system) on areas of interest and expertise, meeting only basic requirements in most subject areas while (understandably) choosing to hone in on their passions. Thus, how could someone who took only the two-year minimum requirement in science and spent the majority of her time taking advanced English classes possibly homeschool a daughter geared toward engineering or medicine? Or how could a "math nerd" properly educate her history-buff son?

Well, home-educating parents have thought about and worked through all of that - because knowing that the responsibility for our kids' education does fall to us means we have considered, pondered, prayed, and even worried about it far more than any backseat driver who thinks he should yank the wheel from our hands. And we have answers that have proven to work.

For starters, if a parent can read and do research and simply has a will to help her child, answers and tools can easily be found. And then we can learn right along with our children that which the schools should have taught us but didn't.

For example, I learned virtually nothing of history during my entire K-12 public school education even though I took all the requisite "social studies" classes and earned the title of "class valedictorian" along the way. I recall a little early Mesopotamian history (though the entire history of the nation of Israel was completely ignored, as was any history of Africa or Asia). But beyond that and a vague recollection of once studying the medieval feudal system, the only history I was made to study (over and over) was early American, from colonization to the Civil War, presented every time (I now see in hindsight) with a liberal/progressive bias. Yet now as a home-educating parent, I have learned more about (complete and accurate) history than I ever dreamed possible right along with my kids. We're not limited to the one textbook assigned by a school board, so my kids' learning is deep and broad and rich. And that journey is continuing now during their high school years because I have a desire and an ability to discover a broad array of exceptional educational resources for them.

Of course, that truth reveals the second: So many wonderful resources exist for us as home-educating families that if/when we hit a topic beyond our own personal expertise, we have myriad alternatives. 

With a bit of time and effort, I can find several dozen books, websites, and videos about any given topic my kids may want to study. In fact, in the last few years as I've done research into the common core standards, I've developed a list of over 3,500 resource providers readily available to homeschoolers - and that only scratches the surface. I can also enlist the help of my husband, who has knowledge and skills that complement my own very nicely. Alternately, I can partner with another homeschooling parent to create a mini co-op (i.e., I'll supervise biology dissection for the kids in both families and my friend can handle statistics) or join a larger, multi-family co-op such as the one I helped with several years ago when I taught King Lear to the secondary-level students. I might also take advantage of community resources (such as the art classes my kids have taken via a partnership with the local artists' colony and our technical college), use selected distance-learning opportunities, or hire a private tutor in either a small group or one-on-one setting. All are wholly viable options entirely independent of a public/government school.

But the most powerful answer lies in the very nature of home education - namely, that we consciously work over the years toward enabling our children to become self-motivated, self-directed learners.

A self-directed child with a special interest or a unique ability - such as the son of a friend who taught himself calculus "on the side" at age 15 because that was an area of personal gifting or the daughter of another friend who became a consummate photographer through self-study - needn't be held back in the least. Instead, while parents help to facilitate the process as described above for some areas of study, homeschooled teens who have embraced the pursuit of a self-directed, passion-driven education very capably take the reins of their own educational experiences - no parental (or other adult) help needed. And though that surely sounds strange to those who've bought into the lie that learning can only occur when an "expert" presents a lecture to a group of dependent students, it really does work. In fact, it's actually the ideal in higher education and in life. Colleges recruit homeschooled kids in part because they are auto-didactic before they ever set foot on campus. And business owners expect employees to be motivated self-starters. Thus, the homeschooling "method" of empowering kids to be independent learners helps them in high school and beyond.

Homeschooling has been around forever - literally. And it returned to the contemporary radar screen several decades ago. It's not radical; in fact, group institutional schooling is the social experiment in the grand scheme of history. We home-educating parents love our kids intensely - we wouldn't devote every hour of several years of our lives to them if we didn't - and we aren't stupid. We consciously choose to homeschool through high school because we've done our homework. We know the system can't do better for our kids than we can; in fact, we realize how limiting the system actually is. We are aware of the tools at our disposal. And we know what to do and how to do it from the testimony of many who've gone before us. Thus, even if the concept of homeschooling through high school still seems foreign in many social circles, we'd appreciate a little benefit of the doubt.

Next time you want to ask, "Can you really homeschool through high school?" please reconsider. Instead, decide to trust the intelligence and good will of the home-educating parent with whom you're speaking - do you really have any valid reason not to? - and choose to think outside the institutional-school-only box. Choose to avoid the demeaning, accusatory questions. Decide instead to put your preconceived notions and your personal agenda aside; after all, the children in question are not your own so you don't have a legitimate right to critique in the first place. And choose to respect the homeschooling parent even if you don't really understand. 

Generally speaking, we home educators enjoy talking about our kids and our home learning experiences. It's fun to provide information and examples to those who ask out of genuine curiosity and goodwill. In fact, I may be apt to talk your ear off if you say, "Wow, that's different but interesting. How are you doing the high school years for the girls?" But if, instead, you say, "Homeschool through high school? How's that gonna work?" don't be at all surprised if I offer you a wan smile and then simply turn around and walk away (Matthew 10.14). I don't have time for ill-informed critics, because I've got important things to do with and for my kids.

Photo Credit: Jimmie

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