Saturday, November 20, 2010

Should We Send Homeschoolers to School for High School?

Although we're just in our first year of middle school, I am often asked, "Will you continue to homeschool your son through high school?"  My response is that we'll see where things are when we get to that point, but right now I don't know why we wouldn't continue homeschooling.  But certainly many families do decide to send their children to school for high school.

Just like with the decision to homeschool, sending a child to school for high school can come from many different reasons.  Some homeschooling parents are just tired, or have spent enough time devoted to their children and want to get back into their former careers, start a new career before they get too old, or just need some time for themselves and their interests.  Some don't want to add the pressures of having to be a teacher on top of the conflict that sometimes comes with being a parent to a child going through a rocky adolescent.  Others feel intimidated about teaching subjects at a high school level, and feel their children will get better instruction from specialists in each field.

But one big argument people give in favor of sending a homeschooler to school for high school is to prepare them to look attractive to and do well in college.  I don't want to judge those families who make those decisions; for many, especially those who want to pursue careers that will require a lot of schooling (like becoming a doctor) or that will ultimately be in education (like being a college professor), that is probably a wise choice.  But I also have to ask, especially for those with children like my son, who certainly doesn't have such a driving ambition right now:  Is teaching our children the skill set to do well in school going to help them, hinder them, or have no effect on their success in the rest of their adult lives?

My thinking along these lines was sparked by Alfie Kohn's latest blogging in the Huffington Post (followers of my blog know that Kohn is the source of some of my greatest educational inspiration).  Entitled "'Ready To Learn' Equals Easier to Educate,"Kohn explores what may be American education's greatest irony--that our best and most elite institutions are devoted to finding, attracting, and teaching the students who need it the least (or, as I'm constantly saying in discussions with my friends, if you have what it takes to get into Harvard, you don't need to go to Harvard because you already have it made).  Kohn argues that, starting in preschool, we cherry-pick the "brightest," usually most advantaged, and most cooperative students and give them additional educational resources that only increases the gap between them and their less advantaged peers, justified by the rationale that those other children aren't "ready to learn" (at least, in that institutionalized way, since children are learning all the time, one way or another).  But this gap continues and expands all along the educational pipeline until one set of children is on track for Harvard (or Duke or Cal Tech or's not Harvard per se) and the other set is on a conveyor belt towards failure (see Waiting for Superman for more details).

But it seems to me one manifestation of this "ready to learn" concept is sending students to high school to prepare them for college.  On one hand, and particularly for some kids, sometimes it makes sense.  On the other hand, what does sending homeschool students to high school teach them?  For one thing, it certainly teaches them to expect less individual attention and less one-on-one discussion with teachers and peers.  I fear that it teaches them to give up pursuing their unique questions and curiosities about a subject in favor of following the pack along the educational path set by the teacher.  Since homeschoolers are an admittedly fairly homogenous community, even within a pretty sophisticated secular group like our Cary Homeschoolers, learning with a more diverse population might be a valuable aspect of school.  But reports from my friends in high schoolers in school say that their children are tracked or gifted-programmed or cliqued into groups that are no more diverse than our homeschool peers (who at least are definitely exposed to a greater age range of fellow students).  

As I said, this is probably the right route for many students.  But does it develop skills that all students need to become happy, productive adults?  I don't think so.  Or am I missing something?  Please let me know, because I'm open to reconsidering this position.

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