Monday, July 18, 2011

Thoughts on homeschooling high school

We've reach a milestone in our homeschooling journey: Jo is entering the no-man's land of high school.

I can feel the magnitude of all of this just fine without the constant chorus of people around me. After all, I'm the one who wakes up every morning to the truth that my little girl is just an inch shy of my own 5'9", borrows my shoes, and prays for her future husband every night. Yes, I'm well aware she's growing up. I didn't need you to tell me that. Thanks anyway, though.

But no, people won't stop pointing out the obvious. Far from being overwhelmed at the fact that the years of wearing the knees out in her tights by playing horses for hours on end have come to a close, though, most people are bubbling over with questions and concerns (and concerns masquerading as questions) about how on earth we plan to homeschool through high school.

Clearly, we're not the first to go this way. I know of plenty of people who have lived to tell the tale and frankly, many of their children were high on the list of reasons why we started this whole homeschooling business to start with. They are smart, funny, godly, gracious, responsible, kind people, the lot of them. Fine young adults that I'd be proud to hire, to be served by, to have pleading my case in court, to be encouraged by at church. 

No, we're not pioneers. But we are among the few hearty souls who plan on finishing the race with a homeschool diploma as the reward.

"What are you going to do about chemistry?" 
"How about upper level math?"
"Won't she miss out on prom?"
"Are you going to hire someone to write her transcript?'
"What if she wants to go to public school?"

"Are you sure you know what colleges are looking for?"
"Doesn't that take a lot of time?"

You know the questions. You've heard them before, no matter where you are on your homeschooling journey. Someone has asked you these things with a wrinkle touching their brow, leaning in just slightly. And you've answered the questions to the best of your ability and then moved on, because really ... high school was so far away. Seriously, people, I'm talking about phonics here. And you want me to tell you my plans for physics?!?

Suddenly, though, I am staring down physics--and phonics, with this child at least, hasn't been in the picture in a nearly a decade. We're starting high school, for goodness sake. Where has the time gone?

If I listen too closely to the voices around me, I realize that I'd be mired in more doubt, worry, and anxiety than one homeschooler can stand. There are frighteningly few outsiders lining up to encourage me in my efforts--even fewer than there were when we started this undertaking. Because while it's now fairly common and acceptable to tackle the skills of early elementary and even slightly beyond at home, it's still not terribly mainstream to finish your entire education under the instruction of your parents.

And I know this. I expected the naysayers question our choices anew. I was prepared for being called to defend our choices. These people weren't really in support of homeschooling to start with, after all. They just couldn't find a reason to say it was bad, so they kept their mouths shut.  I get this.

What I wasn't prepared for, though, was the lack of support I'd feel from fellow homeschoolers. 

As we round the corner into high school, I've been shocked at the pressure I've felt--some subtle, some overt--to completely throw over our way of thinking about homeschooling and do it the right way.

You know ... the way that gets your kid into college.
There are checklists to follow. Courses that must be taught. Textbooks that look good on transcripts. Reading lists that Admissions Officers drool over. Course titles that dazzle. Hours to be counted. Stellar grades to be maintained. A sequence to follow. Extensive test prep. Volunteer opportunities to round everything out. And a job, of course, that screams, "responsible and ambitious!"

I'm not talking about covering state requirements here, guys. Those minimum standards are what I agree to each year when I send in my Intent to Homeschool Form, and I bow to that authority. Besides being a rather paltry sampling of what you really ought to teach anyhow (in my opinion), I do think that a minimum threshold has to be maintained on some level. If you don't have the time to hit on some math for three out of four years, well ... you probably need to reevaluate. 

No ... I'm talking about the bar set by colleges. 

 The pace of a homeschool high school program, I'm told, is to be set by the Institution that my daughter wants to attend. The next four years should be governed by what the Institution says it's looking for in a student. The Instituion knows what she needs to succeed. The Institution knows what she needs to learn. The Institution knows how she needs to learn it, and when.

Folks, does any of this sound familiar? It strikes me as being pretty close to the initial line we were all fed about government schooling in the first place. The one we rejected when we put our feet to the path of homeschooling.

I've been walking around in a daze for the last month, simply overwhelmed by what appears to be a near-unanimous agreement that homeschooling high school has to be different. That what has been working for our family--for my child--since we began has to change. Read-alouds must be replaced by textbook courses. Interest-led activities must be ditched for those that build her transcript. There's no room for learning chemistry in 9th grade, when my child has suddenly begun to ask for it, because chemistry must be taught in 10th grade, everyone knows, so that you can complete the science cycle as prescribed by ... well, the Institution.

An Institution that doesn't know my child, by the way, and has no interest in helping her spend these years listening to God's call on her life.

I am not against requiring more of a high school student. We've been gradually working toward this since Jo was in late elementary school. Every year, the water in the pot has gotten a little warmer, edging her towards a touch more independence here, a little bit of a challenge there. High school should be harder. The stakes should be a little higher. I agree with this! And I'm not against record keeping. I've been in favor of scrupulous homeschool records ever since I had the misfortune of finding myself being audited by our local school district a few years back. So count me among those who will be carefully taking notes on what is covered when.

Jo in kindergarten
What I am not in favor of is suddenly turning my back on what works--on what God has led us to--so that I can fulfill someone else's idea of what a high school education is.

I stopped dancing to that tune a long time ago when I realized that I had no interest in copying the government school structure at home. Institutional schooling is designed to create a specific product. As a Christian, homeschooling parent, I don't want that product. I didn't want that product back when I considered my sweet 4 year-old sitting in a chair most of the day and learning to read through a forced, manufactured process that didn't take her learning style and needs into account. I don't want it now as I imagine my articulate 9th grader snapping from topic to topic in 50 minute increments as commanded by a bell and a set of external requirements.
Jo in 9th grade

I see no joy in the model that demands that high school at home be dictated by an impersonal to-do list set by a school that may or may not be interested in being tasked with the privilege of educating my child. Most of all, I see no Jesus in it. That, I think is the biggest failing of all. Consider this: if you have spent the past 9(ish) years gently guiding your child through a series of learning experiences designed to help him or her to recognize and eventually respond to their specific role in God's Kingdom (Ephesians 2:10), how can you suddenly cast it aside and allow an outside Institution to captain the boat? 

God set me on this course. I plan on remaining as faithful to His calling as He has been to me throughout the joys and trials of educating my children. Maybe He will lead me to adopt a plan nearly indistinguishable from the one some college of choice recommends. Maybe He will lead me somewhere crazy, like signing Jo up for a horticulture class that eats up all her time and becomes her new path in life--even though what she was really supposed to be learning was algebra. I'm o.k. with either, because one thing that homeschooling has taught me is that I can trust Him wherever He leads. It may not look "normal" ... but it always brings me closer to Him and His will.

If you're a homeschooling parent entering this new phase along with me, I encourage you to do as I exhorted my dear cousin just this morning: Finish well. Keep the faith. Persevere. We are not running with men (Jeremiah 12:5). We run with horses. We aren't competing for high grades, scholarships, or college acceptance letters. Our prize is far, far more precious than anything the principalities have to offer us. Remember this ... and be encouraged!


You Can Call Me Jane said...

Amen, sister. Your line, "An Institution that doesn't know my child, by the way, and has no interest in helping her spend these years listening to God's call on her life" says it perfectly.

Unknown said...

You sound like you have a very clear vision, Mary Grace, of what you hope your kids' high school years of homeschooling will be like.

I think I had less of a vision of what this should look like than you have. I was much more "go with the flow": I grabbed onto the little pieces of educational life raft that God sent floating my way just when I needed them.

Some of what I thought were my very best ideas, however, turned out, in retrospect, to have not been as bright as I thought they were at the time.

I hope things turn out for you the way you envision them!

Also hope I'm not coming off as one of those subtle discouragers. I don't mean to! I'm glad we've homeschooled through high school. My kids say they're glad as well. But honestly, have I prepared them well for life? The proof will be in the pudding. We'll see, won't we?

Michelle said...

I'm so glad you ended this post in the way you did! I was getting really worried for a little bit. I'm so glad you are an articulate woman who can put the naysayers in their place.

As a homeschool graduate who went on to college I can tell you with absolute certainty that as long as you are taking your homeschooling responsibilities seriously those "concerns" are completely unfounded!

Keep the faith!

Melanie said...

It's hard sometimes to keep to your goals. I'm not certain it matters if your child is homeschooled for high school or attends a public or private high school; the horror stories abound.

I'm pretty certain college entrance stories are like some people's child birth stories; just don't listen to them. People like to complain (or they are paid off by the testing companies!).

I think the key to success in the college application process is to be honest with yourself. Our experience is that if you are realistic, you'll get in.

Our track record is: E (public school) applied to 5 and got into 4. D (homeschool) applied to 4 and got into 4. Both girls had money thrown at them. They did not apply to Berkeley nor Harvard nor Yale. They applied to schools that they thought they may have a chance of getting into. Both girls chose one "Hail Mary" school to apply to and both got into their no-way-am-I-going-to-get-in schools and both chose not to go to those schools.

As a faithful woman and mother you should rest on the peace that your daughter will be led to the opportunities that is best for her. You will look back in 10/15 years and recognize the brilliance to the plan.

College choice is SUCH a personal decision. I am certain your daughter will choose the colleges (or no college) that will suit her; places where she will thrive in her independence and her faith. And you will have prepared her for exactly where she needs to go next. Trust yourself.

My best advice about the application process: take the parent ego out of it. It is now officially your child's choice. You now get the roll to be supportive, not instructive. You are an awesome parent. I know your daughter will have the skills within her to choose wisely.

My best advice about the homeschool high school process: Do those requirements, but let her find her passion. She will. It will all be good. I promise.

Aurora said...

Thank you for posting this. I have been running around crazy all summer checking boxes and not feeling good about it because it is so different from what we have always done. It sounds like you have found a good balance in preparing for college and also doing what your heart tells you your child needs. I need to find that place too and your post reminded me of that. Mind if I share this on facebook?


Unknown said...

I agree with you about the whole Institution dictating high school. I've asked repeatedly in CM forums why all of the sudden the living books approach is tossed in favor of textbooks for high school (sometimes middle school), especially for science. I get the same song and dance, "college requirements, ACT/SAT scores." You HAVE to do it that way.

Really? HAVE to? There must be a balance here. Has to be.

Mary Beth said...

I went to high school with MH, so I know we have some of the same memories of trying to craft transcripts that would please the Institution. Many times I have laughed to realize that the high school transcript over which I wept and stressed really hasn't mattered all that much in the long run. My life would be exactly the same today if my grades had been slightly less perfect, and I will be repeating this like a mantra as my own Jo approaches her high school years.

Here's my only confusion. It seems logical to prayerfully consider Jo's future goals as you chart her course through high school. And if her goals might include college, doesn't it make sense to take that into account? Usually the the college prereqs are pretty standard. I would imagine that you'd have huge leeway to customize the program to Jo's strengths and interests. But does it make sense to completely ignore the Institution if you might be rejoining it someday? .

Even as I say this, I suspect that MH is putting Jo through a pretty rigorous course of study (or is it the other way around?). And I also suspect that life as a missionary in the Far East will get her major style points on the personal statement. I'm absolutely certain Jo and the rest of the Blandings crew will land on their feet. This is more a philosophical question. Feel free to weigh in.

Fatcat said...

What? You're not going to install a bell in your house to ring every 50 minutes?!!!


Good post. I agree and I just graduated my first.

Heather / Just Stand said...

MH - I am here with you, for the long haul. I've got 2 high schoolers this year. You are not in this alone.

Personally, I feel God calling me to prepare my sons for the Institution. We are keeping it fairly generic because they have no idea which Institution. We are using our resources to let them try new things and see if they find their calling.

Really, I just wanted to say - I am here. I am in this thing for the long haul, along side you.

btw, as high school approached, I asked them (hoping they'd say yes) if they wanted to consider public school for high school. They gave me a resounding NO WAY!

Unknown said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I do not intend on "doing" high school like all other public schools or what is "expected" of a high schooler. We will take an untraditional approach to all the subjects and yet still meet the state mandated requirements.

Autismland Penny said...

I get the same questions as we approach high school. Great post and I am right there with you!

Alicia said...

I will be in your shoes in 3 years and I am so thankful for your words in this post. I haven't "done school" like other homeschoolers around me and certainly not like the institution. My husband and I recently found a list we made "bk" (before kids) about our goals in homeschooling. There was nothing academic on that list! I know that the Lord will continue to guide you and pray He will show me the way as well. Blessings in your journey!

Keeslermom said...

I'm so relieved to read this! I was beginning to think we were the only family just continuing to truck along like we always have, reading and enjoying learning together, no matter what "grade" the schools assign that age.

I've come to the conclusion that since I don't let the government tell me what to teach, where to teach, when to to teach, I also will not allow them to tell me when to stop, even if that means we add grade 13....or 14.

Carrie said...

Of course Chemistry is fine in 9th grade, if your 9th grader has the math for it. Not all do.

Studying Chemistry before Biology may well help your student better understand biology when she does study it.

Sarah said...


Gayle said...

Great post! High school is when most homeschoolers panic and bail. I have two in high school this year. And I think if you let God lead it, you just can't go wrong. I've loved the high school years so far. We've been able to tailor an education for our son based on his desires of working with computers. We interviewed several computer companies in town to see what he needed to be employed in this area. He'll graduate high school with all his certifications in place, ready to be employed or a business owner. Whichever way he chooses to go. The leg up you get from being able to tailor your high schoolers education is such a bonus as long as we keep our fear of "the right way to do it" at bay.