Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Notes on Accountability and Homeschooling High School

I was supposed to present at a meeting today, but due to schedule constraints, my segment had to be cut. But hey! I have a blog. Here's what I probably would have said.

Hello, I'm MrsDarwin, and all you need to know about me is that I've known about this talk for two weeks, and I just wrote up these notes right now during the meeting. This isn't going to be a technical presentation. You've heard some about curriculum already, and you're looking at your notes thinking, This will work with my child. Yeah, we're not going to be doing that. No matter how new you are to homeschooling or how apprehensive you feel about the high school years and your own responsibilities, you already know something about the practical workings of your own child. And these are things that other people can't know, not without the years of field research that you have.

Everyone's heard about the college admissions scandal by now -- how parents were buying and lying their kids' way into college. That's repulsive on every level, and it goes against every reason that we homeschool. We don't want education as a commodity. We want children to be educated because we want them to be good, holy, honest, interesting people, capable of living life at an adult level. We want them to be able to think and reason for themselves. We educate for character and for maturity, regardless of the program we use, regardless of whether Johnny or Sally goes on to college, or starts working straight off, or gets married right away.

And that plays right into the topic of accountability. Friends, this is where the parenting rubber hits the homeschooling road. Through education, we're teaching not only subject material, but how to study, how to manage time, how to be honest about problems and mistakes and failures. And this is different for each child! This is where you stretch as a parent and as a teacher, realizing that what worked for your oldest is completely ineffective for your second or third or sixth.  And here's the kicker -- what worked for you won't necessarily work for your child. You may have been competitive, eager to prove you could get the grades. Your child could care less. Perhaps you were a slacker, scraping through by the skin of your teeth and needing every motivational hack to get through, and your child has already finished his history book and wants you to enroll him in an expensive enrichment course. And you as the parent need to set the priorities, be the authority, and provide guidance, all while understanding this personality you brought into the world.

When I was asked to talk at this meeting, I said that I'd have to talk about failing, because I don't already have a track record of a child who's graduated. And I can't give you a perfect strategy for helping your child develop accountability, because there is no perfect strategy. All I can do -- and all anyone can do, regardless of what they tell you about their system or curriculum -- is tell you what has worked for our family. And fortunately, we have several rather different children coming up right now, so I have a range of experience. Just wait until my son is old enough to start high school prep, and I'll have a whole 'nother set of skills here.

So. We had the expectation that high school would become very self-regulating. We write up the weekly assignments, present the kid with the list, and they'll really begin to take charge of their own education. To some extent that's happened, but we did need to reckon with the personality of our oldest. She's introverted and bookish and self-confident and docile, but not driven. She'll do anything you tell her to, and not a whit more than the letter of the law. And if she finds some loophole that keeps her from completing an assignment, she'll just stop, and not mention it to you until her online biology teacher is asking why she didn't complete the quiz, and she explains that there was a glitch in the system that didn't let problem 21 load. And she's always right about it -- she doesn't lie. But you could have told us!

For this one, developing accountability means that we regularly need to check in, to explicitly ask if there were any problems finishing the lesson, to stress that she needs to take responsibility for telling us about problems. We're also working on having her be proactive -- to take responsibility for checking ahead in her assignments and figuring out how she's going to meet them, instead of just docilely checking off the list handed her each day. That's nice (believe me!). especially when other children might fuss and push back, but we as parents need to not be complacent about having an easy child and resist the harder work of building adult character.

With number two, currently in 9th grade, the issues are different. She's driven and responsible, likes to get things done, and will work ahead to finish her week's work so she can be done earlier. And she's extroverted, with introverted parents, so we need to provide a forum for her to verbally process what she's reading. We need to make sure that she's not spending too much time shut in her room chatting with friends on my laptop after her work is done. We need to make sure that her sudden impulse to do a big project, and her forceful personality, doesn't disrupt and take precedence over the family schedule and budget. And we need to make sure that her voluminous letter writing doesn't take focus away from scholastic writing. With this one, it's really easy for us as parents to take the path of least resistance, so we need to provide the parental barrier  -- she can bounce ideas and projects and talk off of us, but we need to hold the line as the final arbiters of what is or isn't a good idea to add right now.

Number three is a rising eighth grader, prepping for more intense high school work. She too is a scheduler and very responsible in many respects, so it's easy to leave her to herself and focus on the younger ones who need more direct teaching. But she's still young, and after we had a come-to-Jesus moment about math work that just kept getting lost, we had to step into a more active management role. We needed to change up how she was learning, and also provide the accountability of sitting downstairs doing lessons in public, instead of doing work shut up alone in a bedroom. And we've had to gently remind her that constantly having some reason why you can't show your work gives the appearance of dishonesty, even if there's a legit-sounding excuse each particular time why your pages are missing.

In all this, we have to remember that these kids are still developing. They aren't born with the ability to manage their time or study effectively, or to know exactly how to ask for help. They will try, and they will fail, and it's better for them to try and fail and learn at home, in a loving and supportive environment, than to be sheltered and coddled from failure and roadblocks. Better to learn these things at home than at your first job or when you flounder through a freshman college course. Our job as parents and teachers is to help them develop these skills and find the strengths in their personalities that help them achieve what they're capable of. They're still works in progress.

And so are you! You're learning the high school process as you go along -- at least we are, and Darwin and I were both homeschooled through high school and went on to have successful college careers. There are a lot of discussions to have about curriculum, and about built-in, preassembled courses versus parental tailoring and eclectic styles. And of course, you're knocking the rough edges off your child's personality at the same time that he or she is knocking the rough edges off of you. No curriculum is going to do that for you, and that's the beauty and the frustration of homeschooling.


Melanie Bettinelli said...

This is really good. We've been going through the process of special ed evaluations with our rising 8th grader. Issues we've suspected for a while but my weakness is following up on these sort of hunches with a plan of action. Especially when it means letter writing and phone calls and meetings.

And we still don't have answers or a plan. But what I bump up against most is my own shortcomings. I'm likely to take the path of least resistance and to neglect to follow through, to check work, to check on the student who is quietly flying under the radar. How I'm going to navigate high school I'm not sure. I think we're going to have to find some external accountability whether that be online courses or a tutor or something. Because when you have child who is very smart and intellectually curious but has s couple of weaknesses that might be learning disabilities such that said child avoids doing work in those areas... well, then we've learned that it's hard to tell whether it is a learning disability or a lack in instruction. I really suspect the former. But instead of pushing harder, I've responded to emotional appeals and gone slack.

So it's time for that come to Jesus moment not only for my student but for myself as well. Homeschooling certainly makes one confront one's own weaknesses.

bearing said...

“Homeschooling certainly makes one confront one’s own weaknesses.”

Not only that, but you get to watch your own weaknesses develop and grow and ripen and mature into fully formed weaknesses with their own peculiar strengths.