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

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Kids Are Alright

We're nearing the end of the homeschooling trail with our eldest child. She's heading into her senior year of high school, and will be taking the SAT in a week. Like a lot of things going on in life lately (turning forty, deciding after seven years it's time to move on to a new job, etc.) this lends itself to looking back and assessing how things have gone.

How have they gone?

We went into homeschooling thinking that we were pretty well prepared for it. MrsDarwin and I were both homeschooled through middle school and high school. We both did very well on the ACT and SAT respectively. We both did well in college. So when it came to homeschooling our own children we were very confident. We were going to be organized. We were going to build our own curriculum. We were going to start the kids reading early. They were all going to be brilliant.

The realities have been a lot more modest. This has been something we've adjusted to over the years -- indeed, adjusted to the point that hearing young parents talking about "I'm trying to decide what kind of curriculum to use for my child who is currently two" is rather painful. But I've had to firmly adjust my feelings again as we've entered into College/SAT prep season.

As a teen, I was very eager to go away to college. I loved my family and our family culture, but I was very independent minded and being at college was something which loomed large in my mind. I'd had good friends who got near perfect scores on the SAT and went on to go to top ten colleges. I got a score of 1510, which though not quite as high was still in the 99th percentile. And then... Well, although I was quite capable of getting high scores on tests, I wasn't always very diligent. I did a pretty lackluster job of filling out and following up on the application process for the one top tier college I applied to (not bothering to schedule an alumni interview, because I was embarrassed to call up a stranger and arrange an appointment) and thus landed on a wait list rather than being accepted. Then got scared off by the sex and drugs culture of the one secular college I went to visit. I ended up going to Franciscan University of Steubenville, where I'd had a marvelous time visiting, met the wonderful MrsDarwin, got married right out of college, and lived happily ever after.

Except, despite what should have been the clear lessons that high test scores and elite colleges aren't everything, I still had lurking at the back of my mind that sense that getting high test scores was some sort of seal of approval. We were both pretty studious kids who did well on tests. Surely we deserved to have our kids do the same.

So when our eldest got PSAT scores that suggested she'd score around 1100 on the SAT (basically average), my ego took something of a bruising, while she seemed pretty unphased by the experience.

The first thing I did is remind myself that her scores are just that: her scores. They're not a judgement on her as a person, on the education we gave her, or on us as parents. They're the result of how she did on this particular sort of test based on the experiences she's had to date and some choices that she's made, such as not always applying herself all that strong to subjects she finds tedious (such as math.)

Having determined to be calm about the whole thing, I sat down with her and said that I thought with some practice she could do better. We got on the Kahn Academy SAT Prep site and had her take a practice test. Another score in the 1100s. We went over the types of questions she'd got wrong and why. I made sure she was using basic good technique (write down the problem and manipulate the equations on paper -- don't just assume it's faster to do in your head because you'll make slips and fall for decoy answers.) We also talked about how taking the test strategically (do all the ones you know for sure first, then go back to harder ones) isn't cheating, it's just good tactics.

We've done a fair amount of work on SAT prep over the last two months. Indeed, I let her out of the last few sections of Algebra 2 in order to focus on the the math sections of the SAT prep. Given that she currently doesn't want to study anything math intensive in college, and may not be taking calculus next year, it seemed like the right choice to focus on what gets her into college rather than checking the box on the last few chapters.

So far her scores one practice tests are up about a hundred points, to the mid 1200s. That would get her to the 80th percentile. Not the sort of score that would get you into an elite college, but then she has no desire at all to go to an elite college. It would easily get her into the local college in our town, or into our alma mater a couple hours away, and those are probably about the speed we're looking at.

What I've focused on reminding myself throughout this process is that while getting decent scores is important in having a choice of colleges (and getting financial aid) they are not a measure of personal value, and that her scores and her college choice need to reflect her interests and priorities, not combating my old insecurities about scores and colleges.

Could we have turned out kids with top scores and stronger interests in tough academic subjects if we'd pushed harder all these years? Probably. I have little doubt that giving kids the motivation to excel in certain activities is well within the powers of parents. After all, our kids naturally want our approval pretty badly. But I haven't been willing to make family approval and happiness dependent on hitting a certain level of academic excellence. Right now our eldest spends her spare time (and a bit that maybe shouldn't be spare) reading genre fiction, filling notebooks with drawings of fantastic creatures while listening to epic-sounding music on hear headphones, and playing Pokemon games. This is not a set of activities off of which one can make a living, and we've talked about that.

But through all this the purpose of parenting (and of guiding the education of one's children) is to help them become virtuous and happy people, not to attain specific achievements, academic or otherwise. On that front, I think we've done a pretty good job. I'm sure we could have done better. (On any given thing, one could usually have done better.) But the kids are alright. We love them. They talk to us. And they seem pretty happy. That's not too bad.


Anna said...

Note to self: reread this in four years or so as this may describe my eldest at that time...

Antoinette said...

My husband went to the local community college and took his first two years. It was cheaper and a wonderful experience he said.

Darren said...

You wrote almost exactly what I am feeling this year, as we are graduating my eldest of 4.

Anonymous said...

Good advice generally, but do have a conversation with her about how she will earn a living (you may need to be persistent if she is vague in answers) - I say that as an esoteric major science grad. My job options with my grad degree were uni lectuer or researcher - with only about 1 job a year in the country coming up, and hotly contested.

I wish I had had better talks with adults when I was a teen about how study linked in to jobs and sustaining oneself ;)

But hey, you got her thru to this point, so pat on the back for you both! :0