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Why we’re homeschooling high school

There are some homeschoolers who start in high school. Usually these are students who realize that they are wasting their time doing what someone else thinks is important because they have specific interests of their own that they want to pursue. Sometimes new high school homeschoolers are kids who are just having trouble figuring out which direction they’re going in.

But at the same time that new homeschoolers are starting, a sizable group of kids who have been homeschooled from a younger age go back to school during their high school years. The reasons that parents cite largely fall into a few categories: 1) lifestyle needs – usually a parent who needs to go back to work; 2) homeschooling anxiety – the parent fears that s/he isn’t advanced enough to teach a high schooler; or 3) college fears – parents start to worry that their student will not be “well-rounded,” will look too unusual to colleges, or won’t be able to fulfill requirements.

We’re now nearly a full school year into our first year of homeschooling high school, and I wanted to write about how we have managed all three of those objections. Homeschooling high school is working fabulously well for us and for our son.

Lifestyle needs

I completely understand a parent’s need to get on with a career, have more flexibility, or just more personal time. Since my son has been maturing, I have felt a strong urge to focus more on my work and spend less time carting kids around from one destination to another.

Our high school homeschooling style, however, works perfectly with my needs. One of the things that I’ve focused on since he was in sixth grade is transitioning the burden of his education from me to him. What I mean by that is that traditionally, parents, teachers, and schools take on the role of pushing education into students. In homeschool, however, the goal should be to have students take on more and more of the responsibility for their education. Now that my son is in 9th grade, he is able to do a lot of his educational activities with very little involvement from me. I am “teaching” him two subjects: geometry and literature. Next year, that will be cut down to literature. By 11th grade, I fully expect him to be learning largely independently from me, with support only in the areas of scheduling and transportation.

And even in those areas, he is gaining independence. This year he started to take the bus for some of his transportation, freeing him to be able to take classes at times that are inconvenient for me. And because we use a shared online calendar system, he has been able to take on a larger role in maintaining his schedule.

Homeschooling anxiety

I remember the day when I realized that my son’s knowledge of programming outstripped mine. I had put together a club of kids who wanted to learn programming, and we were learning Alice, which is a visual programming environment built on top of Java. My son was able to explain why something didn’t work in terms of the underlying Java, and I didn’t get what he was saying. That was the day I stopped trying to “teach” him.

Community college

Spot the homeschooler! Lots of homeschoolers take classes at community colleges, where their classmates are often surprised to find out that they’re younger.

Yet his computer science education has not stopped. It doesn’t matter that I can no longer teach him—I have been supporting his learning in other ways. I’ve helped him find appropriate classes, work with mentors, and hook up with other young programmers to do activities with.

A lot of homeschoolers look ahead to the high school years and get worried that they won’t be able to “teach” their children anymore. But I tend to use that word in quotation marks when writing about homeschooling because the ultimate goal of homeschooling should be that the parent doesn’t have to do any teaching. The parent is there as a guide and mentor. So yes, of course like everyone else I have anxiety about whether I am able to offer an appropriate education for him, but I try to channel that anxiety into finding new ways to access the education he needs. So far, we’ve been successful.

College fears

The major concern that homeschoolers cite for their high schoolers is that somehow homeschooling won’t prepare them for college, or that they won’t get into good colleges. I think this fear can be separated into two categories: truly putting together a good, rigorous high school education for your student, and then making your student look like s/he has had a good, rigorous high school education when it comes to filling out applications.

I have no concerns in the first category—I know that my son is getting an excellent education. Certainly, it’s not the same education he’d be getting in high school, but in most ways I think it’s superior. He has the time to delve deeply into the subjects he is most passionate about, and homeschooling allows him to just do the basics in areas he’s not so interested in. Schools require equal time for all subjects, resulting in kids who find much of their day boring and pointless. In homeschool, students have the time to shine in their areas of passion.

Concerning the college issue, I’m currently going on something like faith: First, every study of homeschoolers shows that they get into college and they do just fine. The studies are small and hardly rigorous, but homeschooling certainly doesn’t seem to have any measurable negative effects on college acceptance and performance. Second, I read about the experiences of homeschoolers who are further along in the process than we are, and I know that they in fact do get into college. Just like school kids, many of them get into their top choices, while others end up going to their backup schools. Just like school kids, many homeschoolers love their college experience, while others find that they’ve chosen the wrong school or the wrong major and need to readjust their plan part of the way through. Given all that I’ve read and seen with homeschoolers I know, I’m really not worried about my son getting into college. Now, whether he wants to go to college or straight to a high tech start-up is another question we may have to face…

Overall, I feel that our choice to continue homeschooling is the right one. As I see many of my son’s peers peeling off to attend schools, I feel no insecurity about our choice. As for our son, he has no hesitation. Each summer I ask him, “So, do you want to keep homeschooling or would you like to try out school this year?”

Without fail, he gives me an incredulous look and answers, “Go back to school? You’ve got to be kidding!”

Posted in Education, Homeschooling.

4 Responses

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  1. gasstationwithoutpumps says

    Based on the acceptances I saw on the on the hs2coll mailing list (or, more precisely, the omissions from that list), I think that home schoolers are at a disadvantage at getting into the most selective colleges. But just as my financial decisions are not based on trying to maximize my chance of winning the lottery, our educational decisions were not based on the college entry lottery.

    Incidentally, if you are interested in where my son is going, I’ve posted on my blog:

  2. Christine Candelaria says

    Great read – Thanks for writing and sharing this, Suki.

  3. Viva @ The Daily Citron says

    I admire you for being so confident. In a lot of my parenting decisions, I feel insecure. On one level, I’m confident that I’m making the right decision, on another level, I question myself mercilessly. I think homeschooling takes a lot of confidence because there is a cultural bias against it here in the U.S. (at least, that’s my perception). It sounds like you’re teaching your son independence in learning, which is invaluable and something that many people never learn.

    • Suki says

      Confident! Ha ha ha! The ruse is working! People actually think I know what I’m talking about!

      OK, I’m going a little overboard here, but have you read about Impostor Syndrome? We all feel that way… at least those of us who actually think about our choices and question whether we’re doing the right thing. I know there are people out there who actually are confident and don’t question their decisions – the “it’s all good” people. However, those of us who are burdened with overactive brains that have to pick apart every decision we make, even when we can’t go back and change it, are pretty much destined to feel like impostors.

      Most intelligent women suffer from this at least from time to time. And most homeschoolers do as well. That’s why we have homeschooling support groups and why we feel the need to constantly say to each other, “you’re doing a good job,” even when we might be inclined to offer advice instead. Choosing to go against our culture puts you in the position of having to defend your choice again and again, and that’s bound to make you feel like, perhaps, you are not making the right choice.

      But I have an excellent partner in this venture, and I’m not talking about my husband (who is also an excellent partner). That partner is my teen son. When he was younger, I did feel the burden of making the homeschooling decision “for him” (though he is the one who requested it). But now that he’s older and taking on so much of the responsibility, I feel like his choice to homeschool defends itself. He’s doing fine in every category, from social to academic. Sure, we could always say, “couldn’t you spend more time on math?” or “do you really think this paper represents your deepest thoughts?” But on balance, he’s doing great, and I’m happy to be partnered with him in creating an excellent high school education.

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