Here’s an email I received last week:

I began homeschooling in the 8th grade.

Right now, it’s my junior year (I’m 15), and I realize that I’m doing something severely wrong. I’m doing the college shuffle now (I still want to go to college), and it’s stressful and not how I want to learn. It’s frustrating. I’m a homeschooler, people who are known for being unique and different, and my application is starting to look like every other kid in public school who does the SAT’s, AP’s (I take AP online courses), and whatnot. 

How can I convince my parents to unschool, or even inject some unschooling principles into our homeschool? For example, I’ve decided for Psychology, there would be a more relaxed approach. I would stay with a module as long as I liked, including science fairs, outside psychology magazines and textbooks, personal experiments and experiments with Psychology majors at local colleges, documentaries, museums, etc. Though I’m still in the process of constructing this kind of approach for the rest of the year, my mother and father feel more comfortable with a typical, by-the-textbook approach, which is not working for me at all. How can I help them make the switch?

Thank you for your help. 

From Alex, the tired-out Junior

I was totally impressed with this email because the kid has done three things:

1. She takes responsiblity for her own schooling.

2. She sought out other adults to help her get what she wants for herself.

3. She has long-term, big-picture vision to see how to position herself as a college candidate.

The thing that really hits home to me though is that parents rely on curricula because they don’t trust themselves, but the result is that they end up not trusting the student. Parents just don’t think of it that way. But the reality is that if you don’t let your kid pick what they learn then you send the message to your kid that they have poor judgment about what they should learn.

And what does that mean for adult life? They are in trouble then, right? So Alex has great instinct. She knows she can find success if people will let her choose how to learn.

But aside from telling her she’s amazing and I want to write about her on my blog, I had no idea how to help her. I could send her links to all my posts about unschooling. And the posts about why curricula is stupid. But I felt she needed something else. She needs more of a game plan. So I sent her email to my friend Lisa Nielsen, who I quote on this blog all the time, and who Microsoft is paying to attend their worldwide education conference in Prague.

Here is Lisa’s response to Alex:

First, join my group for school-free teens at https://www.facebook.com/groups/SchoolFreeTeens/.  

Also, join my home ed group where lots of parents have helped their kids through this successfully. https://www.facebook.com/groups/homeschoolingunschooling

Once you join those groups, ask your questions there and you’ll hear from young people who’ve done this, in the first group, and parents who’ve helped their kids in the second group.

In the meantime, I’ll also send you, free of charge, my  guide: Teen’s Guide to Opting Out of School for Success.

Look forward to hearing more from you online Alex.

-Lisa

You can’t teach your kids everything. And you can’t raise kids who agree with you on everything. The way to hedge against that is to teach kids how to find good people to get education advice when they’ve hit a wall with their parents.

It used to be that the homeschool community was about sheltering kids from outside influences. Parents did not want their kids talking to an adult who disagrees with them. Today’s surge in homeschooling is fueled by parents who want to open the world to their kids. And the most realistic way to do that is to help kids learn to seek out fresh opinions and informed help.

So I love the story of Alex because even though she’s annoyed with her parents, this is a success story for her parents because they taught her to have the confidence and ingenuity to get outside help.

7 replies
  1. Helen
    Helen says:

    “But the reality is that if you don’t let your kid pick what they learn then you send the message to your kid that they have poor judgment about what they should learn.”

    Not necessarily. Classical homeschoolers usually choose what their children learn, out of a belief that joining the Great Conversation (about ideas in science, art, history, literature, etc.) requires familiarity and facility in certain texts and subject areas.

    I like your focus on kids learning what is important to learn. But I also think there are usually fields of inquiry, ways of thinking about the world, that children would never find if they were not directed to them.

    This is not to say that a kid’s interests should be ignored. But I think introducing a child to the worlds greatest thinkers, across many disciplines, can actually help that child figure out what is important to learn.

    • Daniel Baskin
      Daniel Baskin says:

      ” “But the reality is that if you don’t let your kid pick what they learn then you send the message to your kid that they have poor judgment about what they should learn.”

      Not necessarily. Classical homeschoolers usually choose what their children learn, out of a belief that joining the Great Conversation (about ideas in science, art, history, literature, etc.) requires familiarity and facility in certain texts and subject areas.”

      “A” doesn’t preclude “B.” You can still push your own curriculum and allow them some freedom to choose what they want to learn. It can be a compromise. Or, you could not push any curriculum at all and focus more on figuring out why certain subjects are important. What you might find is that teaching the subject matter in a dry, and relevance-absent way is just a waste of time. If you focus on getting kids to do real world projects, then a context for what’s important will be created.

  2. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    If she thinks she’s doing something severely wrong, then she’s doing something severely wrong. She’s becoming aware that she’s not doing some things that will set her apart from her peers and give her an advantage to get into college. A lot of work on both her part and her parent’s part needs to be done to understand each other’s needs and wants. They need to work together somehow in order for this venture to be successful. Also I don’t think there’s anything wrong with curricula as long as it’s your own curricula that is a good fit that works for you and meets your needs.

  3. Lisa S
    Lisa S says:

    Yes, a hundred times yes —-> “It used to be that the homeschool community was about sheltering kids from outside influences. Parents did not want their kids talking to an adult who disagrees with them. Today’s surge in homeschooling is fueled by parents who want to open the world to their kids. And the most realistic way to do that is to help kids learn to seek out fresh opinions and informed help.”

  4. Bird
    Bird says:

    It takes a major leap to move away from the idea that the K12 years are *supposed* to create strong generalists, and that all kids need to be strong generalists. Generalist production is the goal of Common Core and standardized testing.

    The environment needs more evidence and more thought leadership about the value of nimble specialists. Penelope is in a totally excellent position to understand this. Most people have had the linkage between schooling and work subsumed into a sort of magical thinking, that one builds a bridge to the other. Then parents – and kids!- think it’s an individual, not systemic, problem when their kid doesn’t arrive at meaningful work.

    It’s hard for many many people to step away from generalism. Kudos to the student in the post! Hope she can bring her folks with her.

  5. Jonathan Buttall
    Jonathan Buttall says:

    The boy is naive. Psychology is not an easy field to learn just to skate by, it has to be for those wanting to make a difference in the world and study vast amounts of knowledge. This kid is self centered and immature and so this is NOT the field for him. I recommend McDonalds….no wait, you have to work hard there as well. He doesn’t want academic freedom, he wants to have someone support him all his life. Good luck with that in today’s economy.

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