This is an email I received recently:

I love reading your posts. You have some frank, insightful ideas. My daughters have enjoyed all of their education in Montessori schools which we have all loved. They have had a lot of control over what they learn and how they learn it with no homework or tests which is important to me.

My oldest is an 8th grader this year and wants to go to public high school next year. She is convinced she wants to go to a bigger school to make more friends (and probably boys). I don’t like this idea on so many levels but I’m torn. Is she old enough to decide how she spends her days? Even though she has no idea what she is really talking about.

I would like to homeschool for high school. I have reservations though. Most homeschoolers around us are Christian conservatives and are serious school-at-home types. We would not fit into that. I’m not sure how she would make friends her age which is her biggest fear.

And–sort of related–she wishes to be a dolphin trainer. I’ve found an intense training school in Florida she could go to at 18 for 9 months. Animals have always been her passion and she definitely has a gift with them. She has been volunteering at an animal shelter since she was 9. Do we encourage this as a career plan even though the average salary is 18-20 k?

Lastly , it isn’t easy to find such a great supportive group as you have for homeschooling older kids. Do you know of any great blogs written from that perspective?

This father brings up a lot of interesting issues, and I thought we could all answer his questions. But, since it’s my blog, I’ll go first.

Kids can’t choose when they don’t understand both options.
I don’t think an eighth grader can necessarily decide not to homeschool. All the kid has ever known is school, and that’s probably true of the parents as well. So you are asking kids to choose between the known and the unknown; something has to be absolutely scathingly terrible for someone to choose the unknown.

Some of the kids who most need to get out of school are the kids who like it the most: The kids who are great at school. Or the kids who love to socialize. Maybe the kids who love sports. These are the kids who most need to get out of school, but they don’t know an alternative, so how can you expect them to come up with one?

Research tells us that high school is terrible for kids
In an article publishing in New York magazine, Jennifer Senior discusses a wide body of research to show that high school is infantalizing and demoralizing for teens.There is no reason that kids cannot choose what to read or think or do with themselves. They are old enough to fight in a way. They are old enough to drive. They are too old to be in our school system. You could get a Ph.D in child development if you read every primary source in Jennifer Senior’s article.

It’s Complicated is a great book by Principal Researcher at Microsoft and Visiting Professor at New York University danah boyd. The book is a phenomenal compendium of data to show that high schoolers crave time away from their parents to do what every teen since the dawn of time has done:  separate themselves from the adults who protected them. But boyd finds that while technology assists kids in growing up in normal, healthy ways, school holds the kids back and drives them (literally) crazy.

The best part of danah boyd’s book is the review area on her Amazon page. There is a long long list of respected publications raving about her book, followed by a long list of self-identified high school administrators and teachers saying she is an idiot.

High school doesn’t make career paths, so homeschool can’t be worse.
When you think about what are paths lead to successful adult lives, none of them involve school. School is not putting your child on a clear path to success, so don’t bother worrying that you do not have the key to that path at home. What we do know, however, is that alternative, non-school paths open more doors for kids as they enter adult life.

The photos on this post from photographer Ellie Davies make me think of the process of creating a path. Not just the gorgeous, clearly defined paths (up top) but also the the dark path we should never have taken, strewn with shards and sharp objects, like this one:

What makes this good art is that it reminds us that all paths are beautiful because they are what we chose.

So maybe your child will choose their own path and it will be a path of little pay. But no job pays so little as high school, which monopolizes all a student’s time and pays nothing. So maybe just take joy in the fact that your child is learning how to forge their own path. Because really, what else is there to adult life?