by Cafi Cohen
Yes, it sounds scary. Homeschool through high school. Nevertheless, more and more people take the plunge every year. At your next homeschool conference, check out the increasing number of vendors and workshops catering to families with teenagers. In the spring of 2000, thousands of teenagers graduated from home-based programs and applied to colleges nationwide.
Leery about joining these folks? Those of us who have survived homeschooling through high school will tell you to jump right in. Families homeschooling teens are no longer a rarity. The water is warm. Consider these ten reasons to jump right in.
Teenagers with good reading and math skills (through pre-algebra) can master the content on most high school Scope and Sequences (lists of Who Learns What When) in twelve to eighteen months. Yes, you read that correctly. At home, it takes less than two years to complete an average high school academic program, including English/Language Arts, four credits; Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II, three credits; History and Geography, three credits; and Science, two-three credits; plus extras like Physical Education, Foreign Language, Music, and Computers. (One credit corresponds to a year-long course at most high schools.)
Of course, many homeschooling families see no reason to cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s on the varied Scope and Sequences various educationists and publishers generate. For those who worry about approximating what schools offer, though, many homeschoolers have proved that grades 9-12 can be completed in less than four years.
How can that be? Well, it turns out that home education is efficient, very efficient. Your son or daughter need not have future-Nobel-prize-winner intellect to complete a typical year-long biology course in three or four months.
Homeschooled teenagers focus, work at their own pace, use self-instructional materials they choose, and work one-on-one with adults when necessary. It’s a potent combination. Most teens can cut the time for traditional high school courses by half. As one school defector, working at home in a self-paced program, said, “Having flunked everything, I left school the middle of my sophomore year. Now, as a homeschooler, I expect to graduate six months ahead of my former classmates.”
Head Start On College
Because high school does not take four years at home, many teenagers take college classes concurrent with their high school homeschooling. Others complete high school “early,” say age 15 or 16, and proceed to college. Our son began courses at the local community college at age 15, concurrent with his high school work. At first, he admitted to being a little intimidated. We picked his classes carefully, though, focusing on computers and science, his “good” subjects.
By age 16, he realized that the junior college courses offered no more challenge than typical high school courses. The following year, he supplemented his homeschooling with university classes.
With the online classes, early college is easier than ever before. Even if your state’s homeschooling statutes make it difficult for underage teenagers and non-high-school graduates to take classes at community colleges, you can choose from hundreds of institutions that offer college credit via distance learning.
Homeschooling promotes self-directed learning to a much greater extent than traditional schooling. Contrast the different environments: At school, administrators, principals, and teachers dictate courses, class content, scheduling, even depth. In home-based programs, teenagers can control content and timing.
In a college application essay, homeschool graduate Ariel Simmons explains, “I was set free when I was seven – not just from the school building, but from the notion that I could learn only what was given me to learn, when the powers-that-were deemed I should learn it. Since then, I have been the power-that-is, designing my schooling around my own interests. The audience is much more receptive this way.”
Unschoolers say that people learn best when their interests direct the learning. Families using an interest-initiated-learning approach to homeschooling allow their teens to schedule their time in concert with their interests, and, thereby “learn best.” Musicians and writers and artists follow their muse – all day, if they choose. Budding scientists and engineers immerse themselves in hands-on projects. These teenagers often outstrip their parents, not only educating themselves, but also learning – through trial and error – to find their own resources.
When children reach their teens, most parents feel ready to let them travel alone. Of course, school children can and do travel, as well. But there is a difference. Our two homeschoolers found that they could take advantage of more travel opportunities than their schooled friends, simply because they had time.
Examples? When we lived in New Mexico, both our children – at ages 13 and 14 – took several two-week trips to fix houses in an impoverished Pittsburgh neighborhood. Our son Jeff traveled to the Alabama Space Camp facility three times. In addition, from the age of 13 to 17, he attended four or five Civil Air Patrol encampments all over the nation. Our daughter Tamara, having completed what we defined as high school by age 16, spent nine months in Australia on a student-exchange program. Finally, both our son and daughter traveled alone frequently to see out-of-state extended family.
Many teens who attend school hold volunteer and paying jobs. Homeschoolers are no different. They volunteer at hospitals, libraries, radio stations, museums, and parks. Taking advantage of the current labor shortage, they hold a wide variety of paying jobs, from entry-level McDonald’s positions to running their own businesses. What advantage does homeschooling offer, then? Our children found two things.
First, they could get better volunteer and paying jobs as homeschoolers. Why? They were available during the day and could schedule academics around work and volunteer opportunities rather than vice versa. In addition, they could work more hours. Coordinators of volunteer programs, especially, appreciate this and reward it with more responsibility. Second, as homeschoolers, our children had time to explore more community activities. From ages 13-18, each of our teenagers was usually volunteering in two or three places and working for pay in one or two other places.
Homeschooling – by virtue of its efficiency – creates time for our children. Taking them out of school gives them back their lives. You and your teenagers can use that time to customize learning. As described above, homeschoolers have enough time for personal projects, college courses, travel, volunteer and paying work – and for family. More importantly, teenagers freed from the scheduling demands of school can actually spend time alone – sitting outside on the grass and watching the clouds roll by, if they feel like it. I agree with John Taylor Gatto, New York State Teacher of the Year and homeschooling supporter who, in Dumbing Us Down, says, “Private time is absolutely essential if a private identity is going to develop, and private time is equally essential to the development of a code of private values, without which we aren’t really individuals at all.”
One homeschool mother recently wrote on an online discussion board: “Many teens pull away from family, discounting parents’ attitudes and philosophies. In contrast, our son has grown closer to the family and actually asks for our opinions! I love being able to discuss news events and anything else based on our value system and life experience rather than allowing a classroom teacher ‘first crack’.” I agree. Now that my children are adults, I am so glad we spent their teenage years together. We played games, hiked and biked and skied, made gourmet meals, traveled, played piano, enjoyed movies, and talked and talked and talked. Both children, now 24 and 23, tell me they would not change a thing.
Reduce Peer Pressure
Another homeschooling mother reports that homeschooling gives teenagers “a chance to mature and grow in a safe, measured way.” She says that her son can pursue interests and endeavors when he feels ready. As an example, she pointed out that he would turn 16 in a few weeks, but will likely wait several months before getting his driver’s license. At school, we all know the pressure this young man would feel to get that license, whether he was ready or not.
Homeschooling does not eliminate peer pressure. Even in the homeschool co-op where I teach handbells and recorders, we have a contingent, sporting backwards baseball caps. There is an important difference, though.
Homeschoolers, unlike those who attend school, do not have to deal with peer pressure every 45-50 minutes, six to seven times per day, five days per week.
Instead, homeschooling reduces peer pressure to manageable levels that occur when teens see friends at activities, in informal gatherings, and in the neighborhood. The difference is pronounced. Although the backwards-baseball-cap homeschoolers have been influenced by a teenage fad, they are, each and every one, conversational and pleasant to be around.
Is it possible that it could be cheaper to homeschool than attend public school? Yes, it is. Discounting the salary mom or dad might be earning elsewhere, a typical high school homeschooler might spend $200-$400 per year on academic materials (many spend less). In that same period of time, a homeschooler, with a 10-hour per week minimum wage job, can earn $150-$200 per month. Homeschooled teens also have time to trade work for lessons and tutoring. As an example, I (a music teacher) trade housekeeping for piano lessons.
Contrast this with the near-constant fund raisers and money for “special” events and programs at high school. Many now charge fees for everything from computer time to cheerleading uniforms. Then there are dances, sports, music – all require extra payment. One parent described how it can mount up, saying, “Last year, for our daughter’s tenth grade education at a public school, we spent close to $1,000, all told. And that doesn’t count the clothing purchases needed to ‘keep up’.”
The Biggest Secret
I attended grades K-12, followed by four years of college. In all that time, the notion that I could direct my own learning never occurred to me. Someone may have suggested it, but the scheduling, grading, and teachers sent just the opposite message: “We are the experts; do this Our Way.” Maybe that was the reason that my 1960’s friends and I laughed at anyone who suggested that learning might be fun.
In contrast, homeschooling my teenagers gave me, the parent, the opportunity to reassess my own education and the bigger opportunity to enjoy learning. Homeschooling teenagers is fun! My life experience made biology and American history much more interesting the second time around. We discussed our current reading. We gardened, leading to many “aha” moments for both me and my teens. My daughter and I studied Latin together – and the background has enhanced my understanding of both the English language and Western civilization ever since. We practiced for the Geography Bee for months – enriching all our travel.
It’s a great time. Don’t miss it. CC