"Here's what's wrong with me as a homeschooler," I said to my husband as we got ready for bed last night. "I would rather spend hours making a spreadsheet that divides up the chapters in my college physics textbook into 'AP Physics 1' and 'AP Physics 2,' than spend any time at all teaching children how to spell or punctuate."
He refused to comment, except to laugh at me.
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I am now getting to the point where it seems that most of the circulating articles about home education turn out to be written by people whose children are all younger than mine. Thus, they often have limited utility. Not that I can't still benefit from ideas about how to teach my younger children, but I can only really use the ideas that work in a family that ranges from toddler to tenth grade. So why is that?
Some friends of mine pointed out that those with older kids might not want to write about them, in order to protect their teens' privacy; true enough. Still, it seems that there should be plenty to write about without oversharing. As for me, I try to write about my own experiences rather than details about my oldest sons' life: how I designed the curricula, how I organize my day, how the co-schooling works. I confess to posting the occasional photo, with permission.
Another point: a lot of people change their approach from homeschooling to institutional school, when the high school years come around. I have never taken a survey, but it seems to me that on the order of half the members of our local Catholic home education support group send their teenagers to some kind of "away school."
(Incidentally, I have served on the board of that group for a couple of years now. The group used to host a monthly meeting every winter on the general topic of "high school." Last year, after uniformly annoyed feedback from membership about the lack of focus, we decided to start a new tradition of alternating: in odd years, we hold a meeting on the topic of "homeschooling high school," and in even years, we hold a meeting on the topic of NOT homeschooling high school, a.k.a., "high school alternatives," a.k.a. "how to discern where to send your previously homeschooled children.")
And then, of course, there's the halfway house called PSEO here in Minnesota -- high school juniors and seniors, including those not enrolled in traditional high school, can take tuition-free college courses that count both towards high school graduation credits and towards college credits. It still feels like homeschooling or at least a natural extension of it -- most of us have been delegating parts of our children's instruction to various paid and unpaid instructors for years by then -- but it is definitely an institutional school, and Mom and Dad definitely aren't running the show anymore.
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One of the most common questions that we get, when we tell people we educate our kids at home, is "Are you going to do it all the way through high school?" My answer has always been that we will take it one year at a time, one child at a time, continually evaluating our family's needs. And that has always been true. But I have always been confident that we could do a good job directing our kids' high school education. I will go even farther for myself and say that I've been more confident about high school than about elementary or middle school. I feel like I had to wait so very long before I could teach proof-based geometry, precalculus, chemistry, physics. The years of teaching children how to read, spell, cipher, and punctuate... ugh.
(On the other hand, helping elementary school and middle school kids to learn art, art-based geography, and Latin has been really fun. Probably because I got to learn a lot along the way.)
Competency in home education is, apparently, a thorny question. Professional educators often (not always) see educating children as something one should be "qualified" for, ideally by some kind of licensed gatekeeper. I pass most of the spoken and unspoken qualifications: I hold an advanced STEM degree, which theoretically qualifies me to teach at the college level, and possess a rather generous helping of class- and race-based privilege.
I normally don't mention the degree to strangers who question my qualifications, however, because I believe that the competency to educate our own children is something that belongs to us by right and by nature, just as the competency to feed and clothe them does. It's possible for parents to squander or destroy that competency, but it's presumed to belong to us otherwise. Last fall Leila Lawler @_Leila of Like Mother, Like Daughter tweeted this, which I think sums it up perfectly:
But families are the experts in education. If they lay claim by means of their commitment.
And I think that's right. It is not unconditional; but the "if" of that condition is entirely up to us. We choose to lay claim, by means of our commitment, or not.
The thing is, you can still be a home educator and delegate the instruction of one or more subjects to some outside expert, or at least someone who's better at it than you are. Delegation is part of laying claim to our roles as primary educators. I do this with music: my young children are enrolled in preschool music classes, and some of my older children are enrolled in a children's choir taught by genuine, professional, paid music educators and choral experts. I also do this with English literature and composition, in a sort of barter fashion: I have turned it all over to my close friend H, with her English degree, her apparently boundless patience, and her great interest in teaching children and teens to write and to read critically. My children are reading way more interesting stuff with her than they would be reading with me.
(The middle way is, of course, to learn a subject along with your offspring. And that's my favorite way, at least when I am interested in the subject.)
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Let's see, where am I going with this. When people heard that I was willing, even eager, to teach high school kids, they often responded, "I could never do that!" Before I had a high schooler myself, I often marveled (privately) at what I saw as their lack of confidence. Hadn't they graduated from high school themselves, or even college? Didn't they realize how much work a high school student does independently? Didn't they know how many resources there were out there for the odd subject that they weren't comfortable teaching themselves? Didn't they know that anyone can get their hands on the teacher's manual these days?
I am less snobbish about that now, because while I am happy and confident teaching some high school subjects and delegating others, I have enough experience now to know that it's actually a lot of work. Enjoyable work, but work, not leisure, and not just a special kind of family life.
I still think that anyone who wants to educate their high school student at home can do so. But I appreciate better than I did before that not everyone will want to, for reasons that might well be good ones and are certainly personal ones. The most obvious difficulty I have right now is that I am spread very thinly over the educations of a kindergartener, two middle-school students, and the high schooler, not to mention the demands of a toddler and, to put it bluntly, my own aging body. Caffeine can only keep me going for so long.
Today, Saturday is my school planning day. I am spending part of it on this blog post, because the big picture is good for me, I guess. I am spending part of it on dividing up my physics materials into Physics I and Physics II, roughly along the lines that the AP people divide it, so I can start putting together next year's syllabus. (My homemade high school science program, so far, is 1 year of evolutionary biology, 1 year of chemistry, and 2 years of physics. I use college textbooks.) I am spending part of it on shopping for art supplies for middle schoolers' final geography project, and browsing for ideas for a high schooler to self-teach at least one credit of fine arts. I am spending part of it on copying worksheets for a child who is still learning to read. I am spending part of it on reworking my daily schedule for the rest of the year to incorporate more practice with spelling and mechanics for my one child who lags well behind grade level in that area.
Oh my, I hate teaching spelling. Some kids do just fine. Others never seem to get it. You can pour so much time and attention on it into some children, and eke out so little payoff. But really, would any more progress be made in a classroom of twenty children? So we keep pouring, and eventually find the point of diminishing returns, the point where you stop; fifteen more minutes a day on, say, math, or reading a good book, will do him more good (won't help the spelling, but will do him more good) than studying spelling for fifteen more minutes. We educate the whole child, not just the subject with his lowest test scores.
And that's how it is. But I won't deny that every minute I am going over spelling ("Doesn't. What's the basic word? Do. How do we get from do to does? Add ee ess. How do we get from does to doesn't? Add en apostrophe tee") I am looking forward to the Pauli exclusion principle, and the vector product, and the conservation of angular momentum, and the Arrhenius equation, and the fundamental lemma. It feels strange now, while I sit by my kindergartener helping him tell "b" from "d" that I don't have to wait years for it any longer, but (sometimes) only until after lunch.