Friday, January 14, 2011

Adventures in Learning: Homeschooling and College

Photo by JSmith on Flickr
One of the best parts of my week has been watching my brother start college.  We are nearly fifteen years apart in age, but very, very alike in many ways, and it has brought back a lot of memories of my own experiences beginning college.  Although I had gone to kinder, first and second grade at regular schools, we switched to homeschooling when I was in the third grade.  The first year was frustrating, but we found our groove, and I continued all the way through high school.  Well, sort of.

The only method we knew was taking school books, reading through them together and then writing out the answers to all the exercises.  It was boring.  And I loathed writing.  By middle school, I had developed the habit of racing through any multiple choice responses and marking anything that actually required a written response with a "DL" (for Do Later).  I pretty much never got around to doing it later.  The last couple of years of high school I wound up doing very little, period, for several reasons, including the fact that the correspondence course we were using sent us the wrong books and took forever to rectify the mistake.  My mom was near panic.

In retrospect, all the time that seemed to have been wasted really wasn't.  I read voraciously.  I traveled a lot, including trips out of the country, for weeks at a time.   Some of my most treasured memories are of weeks spent traveling with my grandparents.  Those are far more valuable than any rote schoolwork!  I worked in the summers and learned a lot by the experiences there.  In reality, although we had no concept of it at the time, I was unschooling myself, and learning about all kinds of things by following my own interests and passions.

Some might consider that a rather inauspicious background for college.  I did, back then, and I think my mom did, too.  I know she was very worried about my success in college, and since she had actually done it before and I hadn't, I trusted her judgment.  I was terrified of failing.  I needn't have been.  In over 165 credit hours, I had one B.  The rest were straight As.  One day in Biology lab, the professor pulled me aside and asked if I was homeschooled.  I nodded in surprise and asked how he knew.  He responded that I and one other student out of the 73 in our section had nearly perfect scores and were easily at the top of the class.  She was also homeschooled.   He said that after decades of experience in teaching, it was almost always the homeschooled students who were so successful.  I was told the same thing by other instructors.

The truth is that homeschooling prepared me for college in several ways:

* I learned how to learn.  Years spent basically teaching myself had helped me refine my study skills.  I knew what worked for me and what didn't.  Rewriting my class notes to make my own study guide was the most valuable way for me to study.  For some students, it may be an entirely different strategy.  I was able to concentrate on the things that I already knew worked, and gradually incorporate new approaches as they seemed appropriate.

* I wanted to learn.  This was key.  I took classes that I was actually interested in, or that would at least allow me to take the ones I wanted to take in the future.   And because I was accustomed to seeing school as academic rather than social, it was easy to maintain focus.

* I viewed my instructors as allies.  I have seen many students come out of high school with the idea of teachers as "other"--totally foreign beings whose attention it is best not to attract.  After years with my mom, speaking up was so ingrained that I couldn't have stopped that in college even if I tried.  I had respect for my teachers, but I also had respect for my own thoughts and opinions.  The vast majority of my instructors was excellent, and welcomed collaboration, initiative and input from students.

I believe that if I had gone to a traditional school, a lot of my motivation would have been stifled, and I would have been more focused on getting through than on learning.  While our homeschool experience wasn't perfect, I am incredibly grateful for it.  I started to say that it shaped me into the person that I am today, but that isn't exactly true.  It kept me from being shaped into someone else. 

At this point, I don't know for sure what our educational choices will wind up being for our family.  We are happily homeschooling for now, and gradually leaning more and more towards unschooling, although we are not and may not ever fully unschool.   We may eventually decide to use a public or private school.  I expect them to attend college (since my husband and I are both college teachers, it just seems likely), but they may choose an entirely different path.  Regardless, I hope that learning will always be a glorious adventure for them, and I believe that homeschooling will give them a foundation to pursue their dreams.


Maria said...

I'm not sure if I ever told you, but my husband was home schooled from around 3-4 grade (I forget exactly) through high school. He ended up with a Division I basketball scholarship, and while he wasn't nearly as academically inclined as you appear to have been, he is no slouch either. :)

dulce de leche said...

Wow--I didn't know that. Very cool! :)

Maria said...

OK. I've been wanting to ask you this, but I have struggled to figure out how to approach it. Kevin and I are in some serious discussions about the future of our family (not divorce, but where to live, how much to work, etc), and as a part of that, we are looking at this school. I was wondering, given your background (as an educator and similarly minded parent), what you might think about this school (and those like it). I'm still firmly in the learning about it stage.

dulce de leche said...

My first impression from the website is that it sounds awesome! I actually felt a little jealous. :) I think that my kids, especially the two older ones, would thrive in that kind of environment.

Years ago, I would have had all the typical objections, insisting that they needed to be forced into some concepts and structures whether they liked it or not. My experience has taught me the opposite, however. I think that a child would definitely learn and grow in that environment, both academically and personally.

I can't say whether it would be the best choice for your family, of course--you know that much better than I could. However, I think it sounds like a great opportunity. And one thing that I remind myself of often is that if it doesn't work, we can always change. :)

Maria said...

I'm not sure if it is right for us either, and I want to be ok with the unschooling part...I mean, I truly believe children are capable learners with unique gifts, but I would not be honest if I didn't admit that a part of me has some anxiety about going both feet in. Theory and action...two different things. We'll see how it plays out over the next year, as we'd probably have to move to the other side of DC to attend this school. We currently are in the NW (outside the beltway) and this school is to the east. I'm planning a series of posts on the topic though, so this could get interesting quickly. :)

Thank you for looking at the website. Maybe I need more "un-schooling friends" to help me normalize this thought process. :)