Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Homeschooling - preparing the kids for college in a "flat world"

This is the first post in a series of three (for now) homeschool-education ponderings.  I've promised to write these for a long time but I was inspired by a friend to put "thoughts to mouse" now.  Tomorrow I plan to write more about homeschooling the ADHD child and then on Friday some general ponderings about education.

I found the recent "Chinese mom vs. American mom" controversy interesting and loved reading various comments.*  However, after reading many of the responses, my own was just a littler different than other American moms.  Most likely because I have known many Asian families and I live in the shadow of a world class university... literally!

My original thoughts were that most American parents didn't take the Asian families seriously enough..  For my friends, if Johnny wants to be an engineer or Susie a scientist... it is not the kids around the corner they will compete with for college space.  It is the boy and girl growing up in China, Japan, Indonesia, India, South Korea... to name a few.  Have you checked the stats lately in science and engineering colleges?  What percentage of undergrads and graduate students are Asian?

Now, I must admit I don't think college is for everyone but if our kids want to get accepted to a major University, it has become increasingly difficult.  My son knew a student with a perfect 4.0 average who didn't get accepted to an Ivy League school!  College admissions are now proof "the world is flat".**

The Asian young people we have known all come from families who remind me a lot of the American parents who came out of the Great Depression... receiving an education is the most important goal they have for their children.  These kids study for hours and hours and high grades are expected... for better or worse.

So what does this have to do with homeschooling?  Please don't hate me but there was one statement I used to hear from fellow homeschoolers all the time that just drove me crazy (albeit it was a short trip).  This was before the era of homeschooling blogs... we had mostly forums.  So many times a mom would write that they didn't get to any of their bookwork but the kids did some character studies that day and everyone applauded.   AAACK!

Now this response is coming from a Charlotte Mason meets Unschooling Mom so why did it upset me?  Because it should never be character or learning!   Putting nose to the grindstone and doing our schoolwork when we don't feel like it teaches lots of character... that which will be needed if our children ever hope to compete with the rest of the world.

Now, there are times when we need to set aside a certain part of home education if it is hindering the general goal of learning and raising a learner.  Like the year we didn't "do math"... no, really... we skipped math for an entire year because it was interfering with our learning as well as our relationship.  Proof you don't know how your student is going to turn out... Christopher gets A's and B's in advanced math now (well, except that Statistics course).

I'm talking about the general day-to-day work involved in homeschooling (and it is work).  I remember the only real advice I gave Stephanie when she started homeschooling... "There will be lots of days you can't do everything but try to do something each school day".  Believe me, there were many days (in fact, most days) we did not get everything I wanted to done.  But I digress...

Personally, I believe our kids are just as smart as anyone else in the world.  I also believe homeschooling offers an amazing option to provide a complete education in the way public and private schools can never compete.  How do I know?   I've mentioned before that when Christopher was in first grade in the public school, I was told he was stupid... he was a troublemaker... he was severely ADHD... and he would never amount to anything.  So hubby and I said adios to the school system and taught him ourselves, thus beginning one of the most difficult but wonderful experiences of our lives!

I can tell you the school was correct on only one aspect, my son was and is still severely ADHD (although he has outgrown the hyperactive stage, as predicted by the specialist he saw as a child).  He deals with it everyday but has learned various ways to compensate.  If he had stayed in the public school system, he would have been left behind long ago.

I suppose homeschoolers are much like the mothers spoken about in the famous (now infamous) book about Chinese mothers... except I hope believe we act in kindness and grace instead of  motivating our children with fear.  One of the things I loved about homeschooling was being intensely involved in Christopher's life as he was growing up, really having a chance to mold and shape him into a man who loved learning and walked with Christ.

In many ways it was his friends and associates who motivated him toward excellence, especially as he participated in sports (fencing and tennis) and Debate.   A little peer pressure in the form of friendly competition can be a good thing.

Do I have any advice for homeschoolers who are wanting to attend college?  Well, there are entire books written on the subject but here are a few things we learned...

Read widely about lots of subjects and read books which will cause the student to learn thinking skills. Knowing how to research and having great study skills will be invaluable.  Read and discuss opinions about cross species evolution (and know the differences in evolution), what other religions believe, what Christians believe and why, etc.

You have to add a little heated sauce to the egg mixture before creating the final product or the egg mixture will curdle.  That's what I told Stephanie's 7th grade counselor was my opinion as a Christian mother about discussing controversial topics as children grow older.  But I'm the one who wants to add the heat at just the right time and not throw my child to the wolves... which is what will happen if you don't discuss the big subjects at home (Stephanie was not homeschooled).***

Yes, the big colleges are sand traps for the Christian youth and many young people have been drawn away from their faith during those four years but the young men and women who have been prepared ahead of time for the persecution they face (which is more or less according to where they go to college) will be lights in the darkness.

While I don't think kids in elementary school should be sent in as little missionaries to the culture, by the time they arrive at college age (and they have been prepared at home for what they will face)... they are the Josephs and Esthers of today.

Have the student interview people who do the work they are interested in studying.  If possible, see if there are ways they can work in the job ahead of time, which is not possible for everything but it is with some professions (a summer job in a daycare if they are thinking of working with kids, volunteering at the animal shelter or a vet's office if interested in animals, a short term missions trip, or attending a summer camp about engineering or science or technology or political science, etc.).

It is amazing what is available if you search and college is too expensive to spend a year or two studying only to decide that is not what you want to do.

Keep good records, at least starting in 9th grade... if you have not given grades before then, you must do it now. Prepare and assemble all information at the end of each high school year, this will make putting everything together for college applications much easier when the time comes!

Keep a list of all books used for subjects (textbooks, "whole books", research books, etc), co-op classes taken (if applicable), any other classes like a music class taken through a local high school, sports the student has participated in, activities such as involvement in community projects and "extra curricular activities (such as Debate, community symphony, 4-H... to name a few), all volunteer activities, etc.

If you keep this information on your computer, make hard copies as well as backing up your computer or you will lose it all and have to rewrite it from memory... ask me how I know.

Consider signing your child up for an SAT training class at a community college, high school (if that option is available), or online.  Also, many public school students I know who wanted to get into high level universities took the SATs more than once for practice and submitted their highest scores (you can take the SAT before your Junior year). 

Start learning about FAFSA (financial aid) forms the year before you have to fill them out.  Find a nice high school guidance counselor, community college counselor (who usually really knows about FAFSA), or even a college financial aid counselor if they are available.  FAFSA can be a pain the first time you fill the form out online but it is your friend.   Keep telling yourself that as you are tempted to throw something at your computer when you fill it out (unless you have an easier time than we did the first year!).

Consider taking community college classes (more about that in a later post).  Also, think out of the box when it comes to post-high school education.  Colleges are now very, very expensive so I would rethink sending a child who doesn't know what they want to do with their life directly to college unless you have thousands of dollars to throw away.  Few major universities these days have a general Freshmen curriculum, specialization begins the first semester and a change in major requires additional expensive years of college.

(Have you seen the statistics which were just announced?  Only 53% of college graduates from the past four years are employed full time.  Yes... just 53% at an average salary of $30,000 a year... and I wonder how many of those are in low paying jobs just to be working... having nothing to do with their studies.)

If the college your student wants to attend does not accept them, ask (very nicely, of course) why they were not accepted and if there is anything they can do to be considered at another time.  Christopher was not accepted at the University's School of Science even though he had been an honors student at the community college.  He kept going back and talking to people in their admissions department and was finally admitted on a trial basis... he went from being on trial to being in their honors program within months.  :)

With today's college expenses and social pitfalls (our university looks like Sodom and Gomorrah on weekends), I'd highly advise against sending my child there just to to "experience college" life or because that is where their friends are attending.  Unless one is studying science, engineering, medicine, etc... there are other options.  Even law students can take pre-law in a smaller college.

Do your homework about colleges and universities... even some Christian colleges have become party schools... and if the university your child wants to attend is rated in the Top Ten Party Schools of the country, you may want to do a lot of praying before sending them there.

Don't assume the "Christian" fraternity or sorority really is... my husband is on the Alumni Board of his former "Christian" fraternity and it has the reputation of being one of the worst party frats on campus these days.

Once your child has been accepted, find out about churches and ministries in that area and make contact ahead of time when you pay the school a visit.  I was quite impressed while working as a secretary to the senior pastor of a church when I received such a call from a parent, asking for information (which I was happy to give her).

Also, once your child has been accepted in the college or university where you know God wants them... buy some t-shirts and a poster, perhaps a bumper sticker... and celebrate!  Stay a part of their life, don't drop them off (hopefully the college is close enough for weekend visits now and then).  This is such an important time in their life when they are making life's major decisions... they still need mom and dad whether they know it or not.

Whatever God is really calling our children to become... He will provide all that is necessary for them to follow that path.  If He continues to close a door about a specific college, keep searching until you find where He wants the student to attend.  He knows a lot more of what they need then we do (even if we think we know what is best).

I believe that God is calling young people to be scientists and engineers and teachers and lawyers and political scientists and nurses and other professions which require advanced degrees.  But I also can already see where the person who is good at building things and fixing things will have WORK even in hard times (especially if they don't have to charge very high prices to cover college debt). 

So, how did we go from public school failure to University success?  Next time I will write about how we homeschooled an ADHD child and not only survived but enjoyed most days...  :)

*    Washington Post article about  "Tiger Mothers ""... here.   The famous Wall Street Journal article... here.

**  Thomas L. Friedman wrote a book called The World is Flat, in which he talks about how our children will be competing for education and jobs in a global market.

*** My two children are twelve years apart in age... God's idea... not mine.  Although it turned out just fine. 

Note:  I have no idea why some typos are appearing... they don't in the original post writing.  For instance, 6ine is still fine when I check and there are others showing up.  Weird...



Ah, I remember with great fondness our years of homeschooling. And the sweet feeling when our kids both did great in college.

Glad you are talking about this now . . . as parents make decisions for next year.

I have been thinking about a homeschool series, too. (If I can remember that long ago.)


Lisa said...

Thank you Thank you Thank you! This is so extremely helpful! I have one who will be an 8th grader next year, so many of the things you mention are things I will need to be thinking about and preparing for soon. I'm going to bookmark this page for future reference!

Carina said...

Brenda, thank you so much for doing this series of posts on homeschooling! I am the one who emailed you some time ago asking for your advice on homeschooling a severe ADHD child. I so appreciated your godly wisdom in today's post and I eagerly await what you have to say tomorrow! :)



Vee said...

Fascinating discussion and I have just one thing to say...I am so glad that my children are grown. Issues surrounding education are challenging. God will lead and I pray that Christian parents will follow. This essay is a wealth of information; hope many find it. I'd like to see it published beyond Blogdom.

Cottage Tails said...

Hi from another homeschooling family - we too had been told our son would not get by. He was the worst cause the assessor had seen for dyslexia & I was told he probably would never read or write. He is now 14 and English is his best subject & is doing fine. A wee while to go before he goes to higher education.
We too used Charlotte Mason philosophy but now being child led and more unschooling - but we have always worked hard & still do - But today we are shutting the books & off to see Pirates of caribean movie - perks of home schooling.
Love Leanne.

Janette@Janette's Sage said...

Thanks enjoyed...good reminders for me, a home school mom of 22 years with four home school graduates...and two still at home, yes 22 years difference from number one to number six. This reminded me of things I need to continue with my high schooler and my new K next year.

Anonymous said...

My children are grown but I sure learned a lot reading this Brenda. I know lots of home schooling groups and will send them here to read this too. Thank you. Sarah

Monica said...

I just found your blog and I have been reading through and enjoying it very much. We have two children we adopted who have ADHD. I am not able to homeschool them because I work outside the home but in the 6 years that we have had them they have made great improvements in their grades. No because we have a wonderful school or that they are heavily medicated but because I have stayed on top of things and constantly monitor and push and advocate for them. I know our son (who is the younger) would probably do better in a homeschool (one on one) environment but it is just not possible now. Our middle daughter who is now almost 15 has grown out of a lot of the hyperactivity but she still struggles with focus. I have not completed reading this article but I WILL be back to finish it. I love your place and will be back often! Thank you for your dedication to homeschooling and sharing with others!

Anonymous said...

EXCELLENT post, Brenda with great advice!! My youngest is 27, my homeschool years long behind me. Beginning when my oldest was 10; in high school letting him take up to 4 classes--"part time". (We once had to remove him from a class with a gang and the teacher who was part of it; easily done being not full-time). I wanted them to do English, Lit and History at home (main brain washing classes in public school). He focused on all the upper level science, and math and also took choir, autocad, and computer classes. He started community college a year early; finished his master's degree early.(Our 2nd was able to start college 2 years early). I definitely recommend community college. Our youngest has finished community college, loves her job which is not high paying but a very interesting one in a small but very innovative company (developing fuel cells, etc). There are things I would do differently if doing it over. Our oldest, who was homeschooled least longest is the most appreciative and his children are homeschooled. 2 of our children are strong Believers. I cannot say if a different choice was made, what the outcome would be with our 2nd.

I did homeschool the youngest from beginning till college; it was necessary due to her health issues too (ask me about immunizations!!). I did literature with her much differently. I used the Abeka Lit for the older 2...but at that time anyway, it featured too many negative stories (such as The Scarlet Letter). So her high school years we read ENTIRE books, not just snippets as most Lit books must be in order to cover many topics. She was the best read of my children. We did not do much in the way of creative writing (not my choice, but that of the children with Dad's support). They all got very high gpas in college, so I guess just reading excellent literature did the job. I took the summer momths to plan the rest of the year, dividing up each topic into a daily amount. I let them decide HOW they wanted to schedule the work...but it had to be done in a year (yearly testing required in our state) and if they finished early or wanted to work ahead into the next year's work, they did. Yes, paperwork, and workbooks. I felt we had to have proof if ever questioned (which never happened). Keep good records for high school work...HARD COPY as you advise.

Most homeschoolers seem to succeed in the job world, being hard workers and self motivated. The older 2 who attended High School were adored by their teachers. Homeschooling allowed more time for them to focus on the subjects and activities they most enjoyed. I am not accomplished in subjects other than cooking, sewing, they learned mostly on their own, with a few classes here and there for extra instruction. I have over 2 years of college, but never got such a high gpa as my children all have. I do think homeschooling done even moderately well helps a child to be their best. I do not think we did it perfectly, but we did the best we could. I found school in a large city growing up to be more than a trial. We wanted better for our children. If we had had a good private Christian High School nearby, we would have sent our children to it. So we did the next best thing.
Blessings, Elizabeth in NC

Linda said...

THANK YOU! As a homeschooling mom of one 8th grader, the key is to keep good records. My teacher planner and his student planner are updated everyday. Even when lessons are planned a week in advanced. I use to "sweat" the small stuff like when we didn't get to one thing or he just couldn't or wouldn't "get it". Now, because of those hard knocked lessons that we both learned, he has learned responsibilty and I have learned a few things along the way. ANYWAYS, Thank you. :)

Anonymous said...

It's too bad Chris had such a poor teacher in grade one. You should have told her that except for the ADHD, she was describing herself-not your son:)

Mrs.Rabe said...

This is excellent advice Brenda!

Anonymous said...

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