Not long after graduating from homeschool high school, my daughter applied for a job with a large, well-known credit card company. She did very well in her initial interview, passed their tests with flying colors and was in the midst of a second interview when she was asked where she had gone to high school.
As soon as she said she was homeschooled, her interviewer’s demeanor completely changed. The interview that had been going so well was suddenly over. And she never heard from them again.
It was their loss. Since that abbreviated interview, she’s worked for several big companies and has earned promotions and good reviews. Now, thirteen years later, she works for a large company whose name you would recognize and also has a couple of small businesses on the side.
Given the tough job market, this is especially unfair to the homeschooled grad. Hopefully an even better job will materialize for him. But this story shows that there’s still a lot of ignorance out there about homeschooling, which is especially ironic when you consider the continuing decline of public education and the quality of graduates it produces. I guess some people would rather cater to their biases than employ their common sense.
So, homeschooling parent, think your teens are learning as much at home as they would learn in high school?
We know from our own childhood experience that the school day is full of interruptions and inconsistencies. Whenever you put 30 kids in a room, you create an environment that’s not exactly conducive to concentration.
But something’s changed since we were young, something that makes it even harder to learn: cell phones. Where I live, the high schools banned cell phones until 2007, when they allowed students to carry them as long as they were turned off and put away during class.
Guess what? It was too hard to enforce that rule, so now kids text throughout class. Teachers are worried that students could be texting test answers to each other. Perhaps, but at the very least, I think we can assume they aren’t paying attention to the teacher if they’re busy texting:
“Cell phone use continues to grow. Texting is more common, and many students are adept at sending silent text messages from their pockets. They don’t even look at the keypad.”
One teacher said, “Every kid has one, and they’re used covertly, regularly.”
I understand that today’s kids are good at multitasking, but I doubt that they can absorb much information while they’re busy corresponding with other people via texting.
Homeschooling parents needn’t worry whether their kids are learning as much as their publicly schooled friends. I’d say they’re way ahead of them if their home life affords them regular uninterrupted periods of time for reading, writing and doing math. Seriously, if kids can text during class, public high school has become a joke.
What interested me the most is that the rate of truancy increases as children get older, so that by the time they reach 12th grade, well over 40% of them miss at least ten days of school per 176-day school year, and a quarter of them miss 20 days or more per school year.
Some of this can be explained by the fact that 12th graders often have cars and can easily take the day off, drive around town, and no one will notice because they look like the young adults they are, not students. It’s a lot easier for them to play hooky than it is for your average first-grader.
But I wonder if there isn’t another reason so many teens skip school. My memory of the last two years of high school can be mostly summed up by the phrase “relentlessly boring.” Each semester, when I set up my schedule, I squeezed my class requirements into the tightest time period possible, skipping lunch and putting study hall at the end of the day, so I could be out of there as early as possible.
However, I didn’t spend that extra free time loafing. For most of my junior year, I had a job in a hardware store, working from 2:30 to 9 most days. So I needed to get out of school early. But I also had a life, one that extended beyond what was going on in my high school.
Most of my classes were dull, not very useful for the future, or both. There were some useful classes, like typing, home ec and industrial arts, but those of us who were college-bound knew better than to court the possibility of wrecking our GPAs by risking a B or C in those subjects. So I did my best to stay awake through classes that were not very interesting or not very useful: World History via lectures and textbooks, Literature via lectures and textbooks, Sociology via silly games and fake wedding ceremonies. Snore.
However, I took one class during my senior year that was excellent, and I loved it. It was designed and run by one of the school’s social studies teachers, and it was called Public Service Practicum.
The teacher, a highly regarded educator named Richard Chierico, designed the course to help students understand what goes on in local government. He worked out agreements with local government entities, including the village board, the public library board, public works, etc., to allow each of us to work within the system as volunteers, and to shadow various employees so that we would get a firsthand look at how local government operates.
I worked with the public library board, which meant I had the chance to work at all the stations in the library so that I understood just what went on. Then I attended library board meetings after being filled in on the issues by the head librarian. I even attended a gathering of head librarians from all over the region. Having long been a bookworm and regular visitor to the library, I found it all fascinating.
As much as I enjoyed the course, I think what made it extra special is that Mr. Chierico treated us as young adults. He trusted us to go out during the school day to our different posts in local government and to arrange future appointments with our supervisors. He didn’t treat us as other teachers did, as students in need of repetitive instructions and orders. He just expected that we would do what we needed to, and so we did.
I think that’s the problem with high schools, and why there’s such a high truancy rate among older students. What teens do in school is not relevant, it’s not interesting, and it’s too much of what they’ve been doing for all their lives: sit still, raise your hand, you need a pass to go to the bathroom, no you can’t leave campus for lunch. We all know the drill.
Teens are too old for that kind of school. They need to be challenged, trusted and freed. Will some of them bolt if given freedom? Sure, but you can’t imprison everyone because some will run.
Teens are smart enough to know when something’s useful or of value. They’re also smart enough to know when they’re being warehoused. Instead of trying to figure out how to reduce the truancy rate by imprisoning teens further, parents and teachers need to consider other alternatives.
I think this is why so many teens have done well in homeschooling. It gives them the time and the freedom to explore their interests and to consider what they need for their futures. Not to mention, they never need a pass to go to the bathroom.
(For ideas on what useful things teens can do, check out the video below.)