Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What's the point of high school?

As my kids get older, when people learn that we are a homeschooling family, we are getting more and more of the "what about high school?" type of questions. The questioner often has raised eyebrows and the kind of look in their eye that clearly says they think I am a crazy woman, and that even though they just complimented me on how smart and well spoken my kids are, surely I am damaging them severely and ruining their future if I do not make them go to high school.

I know some people had a great high school experience, some so much that they are still hanging on to those glory days of theirs 20 years later. Some actually think I'm depriving my kids of something, but the thing is...at this point, my kids don't seem to have much of an interest. They have friends who go to school, and while they think a few of the classes sound fun, they don't want the all day, 5 days a week plus homework, no free time, and lots of busywork that goes with it. They like sleeping in, choosing their own classes and materials, and taking as long as they need to follow their passions. They like being free range learners, and it seems to be working. They still have the excitement and passion to learn new things, they know how to work, get along with people and solve problems. They get a little baffled at concepts like 12 year olds having babies or doing drugs or school shootings because that just isn't a part of what they consider the normal world, but I think that's OK. I don't consider those things normal either.

Personally, I didn't think that high school was all that great myself either, and I probably reflect that in my attitude about it. I kind of thought it was a huge waste of time, but at the time, I didn't know I could do anything else. I didn't even know that being productive or doing anything "real" was an option. Now that I know the beauty of life learning, I am happy my kids have this option.

When I came across this blog post from business and marketing guru Seth Godin, I thought he nicely sums up what a good education for young people should include.

In  What's High School For?, Godin suggests: "Perhaps we could endeavor to teach our future the following:
  • How to focus intently on a problem until it's solved.
  • The benefit of postponing short-term satisfaction in exchange for long-term success.
  • How to read critically.
  • The power of being able to lead groups of peers without receiving clear delegated authority.
  • An understanding of the extraordinary power of the scientific method, in just about any situation or endeavor.
  • How to persuasively present ideas in multiple forms, especially in writing and before a group.
  • Project management. Self-management and the management of ideas, projects and people.
  • Personal finance. Understanding the truth about money and debt and leverage.
  • An insatiable desire (and the ability) to learn more. Forever.
  • Most of all, the self-reliance that comes from understanding that relentless hard work can be applied to solve problems worth solving."

    I hate to say it, but I didn't get those things out of high school, and I suspect a fairly large number of other people aren't getting them either. Most of these are things that I learned about in real life, not in high school. I did learn a lot about how to jump hoops, manipulate people and situations, memorize trivia for tests, take shortcuts, as well as be mean and get away with it. Junior High was the training grounds and high school was four years of repetition.

    I don't recall learning much in the way of self management and sadly, the high school experience came closer to actually squelching my love of learning than fostering a life long love of it. It wasn't until college that I got excited about learning again, and in hind sight, I probably would have learned a lot more if I had just gone straight there and skipped the high school. So, I'm perfectly happy if my kids skip it and keep on with the actual business of living and learning. I think that a self directed education with plenty of resources, guidance and support is going to give a lot better opportunity for the things on this list than a typical high school could.

    Of course I don't think every homeschooled kid gets all those great opportunities and support, just like not every school kid has a negative experience. One size never really fits all, and just because homeschooling works for us, doesn't mean it works for everyone. But, no matter where your kids, or you, gets an education, Godin's list gives some food for thought as to what that education should include. Life, time and our minds are too precious to waste on nonsense.

    So, what do you think a quality education should include?


      1. I agree with Seth Godin.
        I actually dropped out of high school at 16 and got my GED that same year. If I would have been legally able, I would have done it at 14.
        I plan on both of my children going to public school until I finish college, but I think, after that, it might be up to them.
        Or if they want to continue in public schools until 16 like I did, they can do that as well.
        I don't really plan things out in my parenting. I go with what feels right to me and what is most enriching for our lives.
        Also, I really enjoy your blogs. :D

      2. Thanks Liz. I'm glad that lately I've been hearing about lots of adults who consciously choose to pass on high school and get on with life. It helps confirm that there are a lot of paths out there and we don't all need to take the same one. I think going with your instincts with parenting is a really good way to go.

      3. I love Seth Godin's list. A homeschooler stands a pretty good chance of learning quite a few of those, no matter what style of homeschooling one follows.

        We've gone somewhat more formal in highschool, and that is working for us, especially in the sciences, maths, and languages. But there are many ways of achieving the same goals, if the student is motivated enough "to focus intently on a problem until it's solved."

        That being said, I want each of my children to have a thorough grounding in math, the sciences, world literature, religion and philosophy, history, the arts, and languages, besides experience in many of the practical skills of living in community, frugally and simply. Yes, it's a lot of work, but laying broad foundations usually is.

        Annie Kate

      4. Annie Kate- Yes, I heartily agree that laying the foundations with our kids is a lot of work. So many worthwhile things take a large effort, but I am so glad to have the opportunity with my family. We are several years away from any high schoolers, but I notice that I am finding many things like science and history to be so much more interesting than I did as a school student. I think it's a combination of my kids enthusiasm being contagious, and being able to follow our own interests, time lines, resources and choosing great materials. Life learning is wonderful!
        Enjoy your family!

      5. I really, really like your list of what you want your children to get out of high school. Wise words here. High school was not all about learning for me. There was so much "drama." Ridiculous, actually.

      6. I would say high school is the age where students enter the teen age. They should be given a part of freedom to enjoy their life.

      7. The list was from Seth Godin's blog- I just thought it was good enough to share. I wish that education included those things for more kids, with less of the ridiculous drama. At least I think we have a good shot at it via homeschooling. Freedom is a wonderful thing.


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