Thursday, November 10, 2016

Defending Homeschooling

Yesterday I was called to defend my homeschooling to someone who did not know me well and does not understand the concept of homeschooling well.  Some of the questions that were asked included:

  • How do I grade?
  • How do I know they are on track?
  • How do I teach what I do not know?
  • How do I have patience?
  • How will they go to college?

These are fairly typical questions and I should have been able to answer them with ease and confidence but I sensed judgment and it shook me a bit.  After all these years, I thought I was beyond being shaken up by questions, especially when asked respectfully.  To be fair, the questioner has a very traditional outlook on education and has two children younger than mine, who already know which Ivy League schools they wish to attend.

So how did I respond?

First school visit!  Lilah hung out with her grandmother while Grace took a tour.

Outside the International Center of Photography, New York, NY

Steinway Flagship store is across the street from the International Center of Photography

Grades - we don't grade.  I have gone back and forth over 
the years about grading but I wrote a post a few days ago that sums up my thinking on grades.  It took Grace a year and a half to make it thought algebra and she carried an A average.  She took the end of the chapter tests and she did well.  If she were in school she would have received an F or an Incomplete because she would not have had the opportunity to switch curriculum and find something that better suited her learning style.  Perhaps she would have connected with the teacher and the text and passed with an A but if she did not, it would have meant summer school for her.  Instead she learned at her own pace and did well.  I told my friend that if the girls decide to attend a school that requires grades and GPAs I will consult Lee Binz on doing this correctly and effectively.  As of now, this is not the case and I don't give it much thought.

Tracking -  It is almost impossible to explain that you just know.  I know that Lilah would test advanced in language arts.  I know that Grace would be on level.  I know that both would be behind in math.  I also know that tests do not track things like the science of photography, marine biology, drawing, musical ability and fluency, and foreign language.  So they may not test well in comparison to their peers but they excel in areas that their peers do not have time to indulge.

Teaching -  This year the girls have outside classes in ASL, Photography, History, Language Arts, Drawing, Guitar, Pottery, Cello, Music Theory, Piano.  I could go on and on about all the classes they have taken at Yale, at Soundwaters, with Gail Carson Levine, at The Peabody Museum, with professional archaeologists, and the experiences they have had like traveling the Civil Rights Trail in Alabama, visiting the site of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts, and visiting the historical sites on the east coast of Florida and Georgia.  This blog is filled with how we have approached "teaching" but how do you convey that in a quick conversation?  How do you convince someone that some of the best teachers are not teaching in a classroom but inspiring you to reach for more than you ever thought was possible in the world outside of school?

How do I have patience?  Some days I don't.  Other days I seek God.

College - Simple. Meet the requirements.  Most homeschoolers do.  I explained that Grace was philosophically opposed to standardized tests (a common sentiment among unschoolers) and that she wants to be judged on her capabilities in the field she has chosen rather than on a test score.  However, if she chooses a school that requires testing, she will have to test.  To get around standardized testing, she can attend the one year immersion program at International Center of Photography in Manhattan, which we visited last week.  This is a professional program interested in developing the photographer and his/her vision.  They are not interested in test scores.  They are interesting in who you are as a photographer. 

 She can also attend community college for 2 years earning an associate degree in either music or fine arts with a concentration in photography or both.   We have two schools that are commutable (another one of her requirements) that have both these programs and they are excellent schools.  There is a stigma surrounding community college.  I see it in the reactions of those who are preparing their children for the Ivy's.  The competitive mama in me wants to say, my child is just as smart as your child, maybe smarter because she can get herself from point a to point b with no debt, staying true to herself, following her chosen career (she has one), and doing so with the support and guidance of those who love her and want to see her succeed.  But I don't.  I tuck this away in my mama's heart and know that "kids" at Yale were given the option of not taking a test because the Tuesday night election was so traumatic to them that they may not be prepared.  Yale.  Yeah, that's preparation for real life.  I can't imagine what Greg would say to his employees if they told him they were not prepared for a meeting because of the emotional implications of a presidential election outcome. 

 I do not give the same value to the tiered college system.  I do not place value in if you get into your reach schools.  I do not think it is wise to incur school debt.  I do not think it is advisable for teens to be taught by adults who have a dangerous world view.

So where does that leave my two high school daughters?  In a pretty good place, I think.  They are free to collaborate on the design of their education.  They are free to explore areas of interest.  They are able to take risks knowing that if they fail it will not affect the rest of their educational journey.  In fact, we encourage failure sometimes.  I do not subscribe to the everyone gets a trophy view of education/life.  I know Grace will do well because she already is.  She is already working as a photographer, just not a paid one.  She has photographed town events.  She has been asked to work with a local non profit photographing students.  She has been asked back to photograph families at church during the baby dedication ceremony.  She has won awards.  She has joined clubs.  She is a photographer.  Now she must become the best photographer she can be.   

Lilah is 14. Once upon a time she thought she would be a baker.  Last week she mentioned writing a book.  Both are possible for her.  Fine arts is also an area she should explore.  Her art teacher told me that she is very talented (something we already knew but still loved to hear).  Right now education is about exploration.  She likes French after a rocky start.  She is reading books she never thought she would read.  She loves history and has an interest in the political process.  She will find her way and Greg and I will support her and help her take advantage of every opportunity available to her.

I wish I could go back to yesterday and answer these questions without feeling defensive.  We are blessed to be able to freely homeschool in a state which has no legal requirements.  While some do not understand that because they have never stepped away from the confines of mass education, it is vital that we homeschoolers can defend how we educate and how we know it is working.  Homeschooling has doubled in recent years.  It has come under scrutiny, just read HSLDA's website.  I am grateful that President Elect Trump is a huge proponent not only of homeschooling, but school choice in general because the previous administration was not.  Homeschooling is hard.  There are days I do not like it.  There are times I wish my house was bigger so we could all just escape one another.  Thankfully those days are few and far between.  Homeschooling has been a huge blessing for my family and one I never take for granted or fail to appreciate.


Mother of 3 said...

I just LOVE this! Love it, love it, love it. Mainly because I feel the same way. My kiddos are still in elementary and middle school but I am definitely encouraging them to find alternatives to massive debt, I rarely grade anything and don't worry (much) about them being behind or ahead. My kids may be lacking in some schooling areas but they are ahead by leaps and bounds otherwise. They are more than just their grades in reading, writing, and math. I feel so blessed to work with them and watch them grow, hear their ideas, and learn alongside them.

dstb said...

I have always admired your approach to homeschooling. Unfortunately, even when I tried, I just couldn't seem to relax enough to do it. When my son was younger, I tried to do more hands-on activities, go on hikes, visit historic places, but as high school approached I panicked. We ended up looking way too much like school-at-home. If I had to do it over again… Oh well. We are in the final stretch now. He is a senior and has applied to his top three choices for college.

Here are some thoughts:
In his junior year, he took two classes at community college (they would have limited him to one, but the foreign language class was not always offered, so they let him take that, too). He proved himself, and so for his senior year, he is taking all of his core courses at CC.

He wasn't happy about it, but he took the SAT this spring. If you ever think you will need the SAT score, take it while you are still in the midst of the work (especially math). You don’t want to have to be studying for it a couple of years from now when all that math has left your brain. If you are not happy with the score, you don’t have to send it to anyone.

These two things - CC classes and SAT scores - helped a lot when applying to college. Although the three schools he applied to were all test-optional, the admissions officers we spoke to were happy to see something they could use to help them understand if he was ready for college. Also, at least two of the schools seemed to indicate that the community college courses mean that he will have fulfilled many of his gen-ed requirements and could be going in with a higher standing (second semester freshman or sophomore). This could allow him to graduate in less time or allow him to pursue other courses that interest him.

Reading your blog, it seems to me your girls have what it takes to succeed at whatever they put their minds to, whether it is college or another path. The CC classes and SAT may just make it easier for admissions officers to see the same thing.

You are doing a great job and seem to have kids who are thriving. Enjoy what you have!


LJS said...

Thank you for this advice. Not many schools here have admissions that are open to optional testing. If she does two years at CC then she can transfer or do her third year in Manhattan at ICP possibly. The time at CC will allow her to mature since the avg age at ICP is 25. I'm glad we are doing this a year in advance so we can adjust if we need to along the way and not feel like we are running out of time.

LJS said...

I have to remember that this time is precious. I can't believe her journey will come to an end in 18 months but hopefully the value of being an autodidact will live on in both my girls after they are no longer learning at home.

Theresa B said...

We don't grade either. Piper wanted me to and I tried, but I never stuck with it. With most things we work on it until we feel we can't do any better, so grading just seems pointless. How do you grade that?

It is hard to explain that you just know but I think because we have done this for so long and seen improvements in our girls, we know what they are capable of. Both of my girls are behind in math and Allie has already taken 2 years and is still not done with Algebra I - we switched curriculum, hired tutors, used ALEKS and now are back to Teaching Textbooks because I read it is the program that does the most to prepare for the CC entrance test (Allie does not want to take the SATs, but both of the CC in our area require a placement test for math and language arts). I am ok with it taking 3 years if she understands it in the end. I am also fine with her taking remedial math in CC if she needs to. Sure, the competitive mommy in me wants it to not be that way, but I also know there are areas where she is advanced, like language arts.

I am so glad that our little homeschool group is really not competitive academically and most kids are on an alternative path or headed to CC. Family and some friends are another story, but at least the people my girls think of as their peers are not being influenced by very competitive thinking.

Not accumulating debt is important to us as well. Both of my girls are thinking CC for two years and then transferring. Allie is still unsure what she wants to do - she's back and forth between journalism, marketing or education. We have encouraged her to take classes in all of those, meet with advisors, etc. Piper is thinking she might like a career in law enforcement or Homeland Security and would like to go to John Jay in the city after CC, but she has 3 1/2 years to decided and 2 years ago she wanted to be an interior designer, so we will see.

dstb said...

I forgot to mention that the CC did require my son take the Accuplacer test before starting. This is what gave him his placement for math and English (even though he didn't take math his junior year at the CC). I am not sure they will let you skip the Accuplacer because Eng 101 is a pre-requisite for a lot of classes.

Just wanted to give you a heads up for planning purposes. We live in CT, too, so I assume whatever CC you look at will be similar.

Good luck!

LJS said...

We are going to begin preparing for the accuplacer test for both math and english as she will take both these for CC. I am still searching through websites to see if we can find a school a bit closer to home, but it is a comfort knowing this is an option for her.

LJS said...

We are also on the 2 year CC then transfer plan, although with Grace it might be 2 years CC followed by her third year in Manhattan at ICP. This will not give her a bachelors, but an associates plus a certification.

I so hear you on the competitive mommy side. I am still working on my next blog post - it is about that. I love that you and I have been on this journey together all these years and now as we are nearing the finish line, our paths still parallel each other so much. I know that whatever your girls decide they will be successful because of the preparation they have received from you and Jason and because they seem to understand the intrinsic value in learning.

Anonymous said...

This is good

Kit1934 said...

I love this so much. Thank you.

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