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?