Unschool to College Is Un-Homeschooling Too — Let’s Call It Real Education

16 01 2008

There is a big email list called “homeschool2 college.” It is exhausting just to read! I can’t imagine and surely couldn’t bear such intense pressures on the family, of trying to do everything schools do fulltime for — to? — many children at once, as large homeschooling families taking this approach must do.

I suppose I always vaguely knew but never felt the real impact, of what all school-driven folk homeschooling or otherwise, go through to get their kids into college, even when all the schooling and drive is, well, homework. So here I am, hit upside the head again with the glaringly clear truth that anybody schooling at home has more in common with charter school parents than our unschooling does, by FAR. We’re the ones who should be griping about the confusion!

Wonder if that’s why they strain at any gnat of difference they can conjure, rightly afraid they are in fact indistinguishable from those schooling at home exactly as they are and for the same reasons, except with some public assistance to pay the bills?

All the while, you can’t help laughing to see them swallowing the camel of our differences within home education! (Matthew 23:24 for the non-bible readers among us)

Anyway, back to getting our kids in college from home: I wrote a note to the 1500 or so other homeschoolers on the list, with whom we apparently have so little in common that they should stop calling what they do home “education”and stick to homeSCHOOLING:

I’ve been reading here since joining and haven’t seen a story quite like ours yet, so I’m just adding it to the wealth of info here. If it’s needed by someone particularly, let me know and I can provide details, etc.

First let me say we planned nothing. And enjoyed everything.

Starting at age 15 under our state’s dual enrollment provisions, now 17-year-old Favorite Daughter happily and gradually made the transition from radical unschooling (no curriculum, courses, tests, grades or textbooks at all, including no SAT or ACT type admission tests) to college, where she’s on the president’s list and loving the honors program. Her professors are offering her small English and arts scholarships even, as they see what she can do and the sheer joy with which she does it.

She’s more than halfway through the associate of arts degree at this point, and blossoming academically in all directions at once, as she prepares to make that next transition, to university and then grad school in the liberal arts.

So after all that, last month I finally “graduated” her from home education, figuring that — in a reverse of the usual reasoning — the course credits and grades on her COLLEGE transcript were in good enough order to earn her a HIGH SCHOOL diploma! 🙂



21 responses

17 01 2008

JJ, I came over here after reading your post on HS2College. I had figured on just saying Hi and commenting on the small world we have where it turns out you know Ben (Bennett). Some reason that shouldn’t have surprised me.

Anyway, after reading your post, now I figure I need to comment on it.

Yeah, we are going the traditional route of high school and then a 4 year college, and on the surface maybe we don’t seem that different from a charter school education.

But if your daughter has been taking community college classes since she was 15 then she hasn’t really been doing much different. The bonus she has is that since they were organized classes, she won’t have to deal with these nit-picking college entrance exams to go to the college of her choice. (I am assuming that since you are referring to an AA degree, she has been at a CC where most AA degrees are awarded.)

Where our son has spent the last four years freely building an education that covers what he wants and positions him to go directly into a top ranked college (again, his choice, we’ve actually suggested that he might not want someplace that intense). Aside from a couple of classes offered through a homeschool group out in New Mexico (while we were there on sabbatical) he has not been in a classroom in nearly 10 years. And over those four years, he has chosen how he was going to learn each subject and then two of us have set up a syllabus to achieve his goals. (Okay, maybe not when we started, but certainly the last few years.)

Has he been unschooling? – NO. But he has had control of his education and that’s what makes homeschooling home Education, not a government institution.

Personally, you aren’t the first homeschooler to use the dual-credit route to get into college. (It comes up on HS2College often) I’ve also known more than a few unschoolers that have skipped that route and gone straight into a 4 year college with no transition. (Now that’s something that is unique.)

Yeah, the list covers a lot of details that haven’t been part of your family’s experience. But it’s one thing to say that you’re going to use the dual-credit program to cover something, and something quite different to do it on your own.

17 01 2008

Hi Meg —

Glad to hear your son is having such a good experience.

I think we may be playing definition games with this part of what you wrote —

“Has he been unschooling? – NO. But he has had control of his education and that’s what makes homeschooling home Education, not a government institution.”

We are unschoolers. But my DD is already (13 yo) taking courses online and used a set of workbooks (Singapore Math was what worked for her — note to JJ 🙂 ) recently. So it doesn’t look very unschoolish from the outside.

But she is, as your son is, in charge of her own education and making these choices on her own.

So whether someone else wants to call it unschooling or not really doesn’t matter.

There is a big difference, though, between homeSCHOOLING and anything we do. And that difference has nothing to do with the government or who is paying for what or anything outside of who is making the choices.

Interesting note (maybe?) — DD was recently asking me about whether she needs to get a GED or a diploma and we talked about the community college to college route as one way to go that cuts out the silly piece of paper business.

OTOH, DS shows no interest in any of this. 🙂


17 01 2008

Hi Meg, fellow FOB then? (Friend of Ben) — thanks for commenting so directly, and in case there’s a mistaken impression coming through what I wrote above, let me get myself back clearly on the side I am really on!

Which is, the side of creative connections, academic freedom, collaborations, every family and every child experiencing their own educational journey as unique, etc.

I grew up in an academic family in a college town; my educational ideal for any child could be called the “authentic academy” experience. I work against the side of quarreling over whose way is more acceptable to our community interests or what to call it, or who gets to be free versus who has to dance in the government’s strings. I think people can make almost anything work, when it works for them. And that’s what I am all for protecting. 🙂

Here’s the important part: I don’t just mean for “homeschoolers” — every family has the power, and infinite important choices to make as they embrace that power. As an education policy analyst by profession before I became an unschooling mom, I now work toward making us all freer and better integrated as learners and neighbors, which means I actively resist what I see as homeschool voices working to keep all the other families “in their place” and out of their way!

They don’t call their ethnocentric self-interest this, of course — it is packaged as “common sense” and “kindness” or “clarity” and “legal research” and “information.” Maybe a few of them still really can’t see or hear themselves from any angle but inside their own heads?

Real education at home or school, can’t be artificially chopped up into standards and then boxed up in measured servings for this year or next, here or there, home or campus, this subject or that teacher. So when the charter school definition “kindness” crowd gets too wound up parsing (untenable) differences between schooling and homeschooling, I sometimes push back with the differences between education and schooling, as I do above.

This neatly puts THEM on the wrong side as freedom fighters, so they can see how it feels — I wasn’t really wanting to divide us up — and it helps most parents see past their “kindness” and unsolicited “information” more easily, to better thinking for themselves about academic freedom indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. 🙂

Of course, different fields of study have different kinds of demands and we haven’t done squat with formal math and science here. (It might actually be unique that FavD got into college without even being exposed to those studies, much less mastering them as college prep. I am not bragging; it HAS been a struggle for her to manage without, and it’s coming to a head now.)

Some parents scold that by not dutifully “schooling” her in society’s expectations for high school math and science, I am a bad parent. And a few “homeschool evangelicals” (who take “home education” much too religiously, as if it were church doctrine) accuse me of making this institution they worship look bad, thereby risking their “freedom” — they insist that I risk their freedom to conform, by not conforming, by taking our educational freedom out of the box and playing with it. 🙂

I admire and respect any child who sets his or her own course for a certain major, university or career and does rigorous academic work to achieve that personal goal. But I also admire and respect good minds of any age, however they choose to learn, create and contribute.

I personally love the academic life as I experienced it, from the mythic black robes to late nights in library stacks, the pastoral grounds, lively dorms, social life and sports. Because I love it, I personally was always very good at it. I even liked sitting for the major exams, what a thrill! Acing the GRE and being hooded as “doctor JJ” were right up there with giving birth, for me. Dunno yet, though, what will make my children feel that way. Maybe the same sort of experiences, maybe not. Favorite Daughter does seem to be going in the academic delight direction, but she also loves opening nights onstage and writing political satire, so who knows?

What matters about any learning is how the child experiences it, as Nance says, not just who requires or delivers or pays for it, much less what the law labels it. And that principle is my political rock over the years, not some claim that I am unique or unschooling is best but the escalating pushback against those few voices who run a never-ending campaign to define ALL PARENTS home-educating or not, by public money and taxes, the letter of school laws, and how adults choose and compete, get along or not, in support groups, politics, church and community.

Education is about the kids themselves, their own power of story as learners, captaining their own good minds. I get to go along for their ride. I thought as an educator I would “teach” them but my role these many years turned out to be protecting them politically, against any learning and life limits wrongly imposed on them whether by government or their peers, or any self-interest group from the PTA, the teacher unions, and young feminism, to dominionists, young earth creationists and young republicans. (Not to mention magazine, textbook and curriculum hawkers.)

I didn’t bring up these arguments against what those folks do to “homeschooling” over there because afaik, Sylvia and her college list folks are too engaged in real education and real collaboration with each other to bother with such jockeying. I like that about the list. 🙂

We could all learn something from that!

17 01 2008

Fair enough, I appreciate the explanation since I read your post as a negative impression of HS2College. I’ve been over there for about 4 or 5 years now and while not everything that ends up discussed is worthwhile for us, there is a lot of helpful information to file away.

You’re right also in observing that there is a real collaboration going on on that list that hasn’t disintegrated into people slamming each others’ methods and name calling. I have a theory why though. LOL – Sylvia keeps everyone on moderation and watches carefully what gets posted.

Does it work? yes, but sometimes I wonder at the cost we accept for the group to stay on topic. On this list it works, but would I want it for more general discussions? NO WAY.

The list is lucky to have someone moderating who works hard to keep it working.

17 01 2008

Yes. 🙂

Kay Brooks does that on her narrowly focused HS Watch list, and Nicky H. used to do that for us all at NHEN-Legislative — very tough, because it was indeed wide-ranging discussion about “matters of ultimate concern” — and Sandra Dodd with Pam and Joyce et al found part of the secret in their unschooling resources, too.

They figured out what Sylvia seems to have discovered, that sharing real individual stories and questions specific to our own needs and life, at the time we need to know and seek out support and counsel, is what real learning is about (for us as well as the kids, right? 🙂 ) and where any discussion is most valuable.

The rest is mostly blowing smoke, showing off, throwing sand or just plain politicking. 🙂

18 01 2008
Crimson Wife

Didn’t the transfer application require SAT/ACT scores? Or did your DD go to one of the schools like Bowdoin where it’s optional?

18 01 2008
JJ Ross

She’s still 17, not quite at that point yet, but we know that our state’s articulation arrangements give community college AA students automatic transfer (without the SAT/ACT) as a junior to any state university here.

What I like best about this as an educator (and unschooling mom) is that she’s actually doing the college work so she knows — and they know — exactly what kind of college student she is, instead of vesting so much effort all around in a test that supposedly helps predict how she could do college work.

What a concept! 🙂

18 01 2008
JJ Ross

Maybe she will go to FSU or UF. If she winds up at UF (my alma mater) then apart from dodging tasers, she’ll no doubt continue the Great Definition Debates of Our Day about the power of story in education words, and maybe get herself a snazzy nickname like the one I was called over at unity-n-diversity the other day: “Big Words.”

I like this a lot, which is puzzling. Seems to me “Big Words” doesn’t work as a slur for an intellectual — it would, as a fond, friendly nickname like “professor” or “doc” or else as a sardonic put-down of someone barely able to grunt out a basic vocabulary. But how is “Big Words” any insult to someone who does in obvious fact love and use a full palette of words, including many “big” ones? Don’t you risk the confusion of your slur being taken literally as complimenting the person you mean to deride? And using two such short, boring, single-syllable words to do it — economy of expression as if each of the eight letters was priced separately! — leaves one wide open for the denouement such as the Hero Wesley in the Princess Bride sneering, “I’m glad you asked. . . and I’ll use SMALL WORDS, so you’ll be sure to understand!”

Oh well . . .but we were talking about college-quality words in this thread, not little words for little minds.

This morning’s public radio is reporting that Dr. Kevorkian spoke at UF last night to about 5,000 students, his first appearance since being released from 8 years of prison. Among his controversial and mixed remarks, he said euthanasia was slowly being legalized but incorrectly (ah, so it does matter HOW we think through and then do these things! Thought so) and that his method — courts called it “second-degree murder” — was a dignified “service” all terminally ill individuals should be legally able to privately choose, or not, as a universal freedom, a human and humane civil right, and (here’s my word connection) that one way to help that consciousness change would be to call it something else, something more accurately descriptive.

He says it’s not about “death” and ending life, but about ending pain and suffering.

So instead of euthanasia, he proposed it be legally called “patholysis.”

The crowd reportedly liked Kevorkian’s speech, until he brought in other public policy topics where emotion and common culture vested in certain words, block clear thinking and communicating, thus complicate public policy — for example, how we must support every member of the military as a “hero” just for doing what he considers a “job”. He was roundly booed for that. (Although it was the same point they applauded earlier in his remarks about euthanasia, how the words used unconsciously in our culture, can cumulatively create our reality, whether we can acknowledge it or not.)

Back to homeschooling and college admission, I see this effect everywhere in the words and policies of the process — so does Favorite Daughter btw (I secretly predicted to myself that she would become a linguist but for now, she’s leaning toward poet-novelist or maybe political satirist a la Stewart-Colbert.)

Take the word “test” for example. As in SATest or ACTest.

In the scientific method of inquiry, “test” means to actually do the intellectual work of applying your hypothesis under defined conditions as an academic, to see what happens, yes?

So academically, test doesn’t really mean to market a form full of multiple choice questions to an entire population of non-scientists, to predict who would be most profitable to the institution if allowed to access the facilities, where they might someday qualify to start thinking like scientists and apply a hypothesis and finally start to learn something under their own power. . .

But college admissions word confusion like this, is culturally so ingrained that we can’t even see it, so we can’t think about it clearly, much less talk about it publicly to change policy. And without that, we can’t fix any of it “correctly” (as Kevorkian says) in law.

So I guess we soldier on (not as heroes, just doing our job as parents and students?) as plucky individuals undaunted by a murky sea of quasi-legal education words, that don’t mean much of anything in the context of real education.

18 01 2008

I just had to write a quick to to say I’m enjoying the “conversation.” 🙂

18 01 2008

Hi Colleen – don’t let us oldtimer unschoolers scare you! 🙂 🙂

18 01 2008
Crimson Wife

If colleges actually cared about admitting the best students, they would require portfolios from applicants in lieu of standardized tests and traditional grades. Anything that an SAT/ACT score and GPA tells about an applicant could be easily figured out from a portfolio of his/her work. Plus it would provide a fuller picture of who that student truly is. The thing is that college admissions officers are too overwhelmed by the sheer number of applicants (typically in the tens of thousands) and they use external markers of achievement as a way to make their job easier.

I’m not sure how to get around the application numbers issue. How can a school weed out unqualified applicants in an efficient manner without the use of standardized tests & grades? It’s a tricky dilemma…

18 01 2008

Hmmm – I think my views have changed on that over the years since I left organized education. Now I see it upside down, sort of, the standardized mass schooling “to” college, as causing the biggest admissions problems at the college level, where things used to be just for kids who really wanted the esoteric academic life, and the matches not so hard to make! 🙂

20 01 2008

To Meg – I may have to take back that unqualified praise for how the list is run. Unapproving a message because the moderator doesn’t agree with the way I used the word “often??” Ridiculous. More likely it is because I am JJ, and as soon as I made that first post, backroom screams of protest went out to Sylvia demanding I be purged or they would leave.
[should be a sarcasm icon here]
See which you think is more plausible.

The question was about how a young teen homeschooler with little money could take some college courses, perhaps Pell grants? I responded but was not approved, with this rationale from Sylvia:

Not “often” according to reports on here.

> Community college courses are often provided free of tuition to high
> school age students, including homeschoolers. She can ask her local
> community college about “dual enrollment” provisions or check online
> with the college, or state DOE.

Okay, she’s
just really a stickler? Nope, look what was WAS approved, for example –

However, many of the community college systems offer reduced or free tuition for dual credit students.

“Many” is so different from “often” that a moderator should pick and choose, call one right and the other wrong when neither is specific?? And when the point supposedly is a diverse and useful exchange of ideas and information.

A different published poster offered:

For dual-enrollment,
you’d have to check your state laws and policies. Some states allow
highschool students to attend nearly free, but place restrictions on what
courses are allowed, etc.

So we don’t agree objectively on the meaning of even simple words like often, many and some, much less the meaning of “homeschooling.” The tentacles of the “who belongs and who’s a heretic” are long and tenacious indeed. And they do not serve “homeschooling” freedom well.

20 01 2008

Cross-posted at unity-n-diversity:

Eleanor Clift just said on MSNBC that Bill Clinton needs to get straight “where he helps her and where he hurts her” because he does both, and it’s such a “combustible mix.”

So well-understood and explained. Even principled politics is combustible, and its rhetoric never simply “right” or “wrong” — also the Clintons are in many ways contradictory, and victims of their own success (and failures, and egos, and rhetoric, and of the personal attacks they both give and get.)

Pretty much sums up how I understand homeschool “protection” efforts. . . a contradictory, combustible mix with personal attacks that can’t be stopped but can (usually) be risen above for the greater good, by sufficient commitment to larger ideals than one’s own ego and family ties.

20 01 2008

Then I drove Favorite Daughter to the theatre for her matinee call at 12:30, heard Tom Brokaw, Tim Russert, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Peggy Noonan, Jon Meacham, et al having the most intelligent, high-minded, informative sort of meta-discussion about what’s happening with the rhetoric of the presidential candidates.

The real point was how these historians and professional analysts of all things political, were reading “we the people” and their comments rang SO true, and apply to homeschooler attitudes and state of mind now too:

“People are rejecting dogma. . .”

“People are hungry for solutions, and tone. . .”

And how Bill Clinton’s finger-jabbing and red-faced anger attacking other Democratic candidates who are supposedly allies compared to his real enemies, raise the legitimate question of whether he would be a divisive loose cannon as First Spouse, out of step with our current attitude. . .

21 01 2008

I don’t care about tone. I want solutions. If the tone isn’t all that nice but the potholes get filled, I’m fine with that. If the tone is peachy and nothing gets accomplished, who cares.

It would be nice to live in a world where compromise and consensus worked and we were all ladies and gentlemen but we don’t.

Not to suggest the Clintons are doing anything but politics-as-usual . . .


21 01 2008

Of course you are “unusual” if not singular though? 😉

Seriously, I wouldn’t argue with that sentiment at all. I would just point out there are two other possibilities — sour tone that fails miserably, and better tone that succeeds with real solutions. I’d go for the last, natch . . .and I’ve had quite enough of the former!

21 01 2008

Of course, better tone with real solutions wins every time.

Unless your definition of “real solutions” is just a tiny tweak of the status quo.

The pols have been pathetically transparent in their willingness to pander to any and all sides, though. So language and tone are useless in evaluating much of what is going on.


21 01 2008

Good point — and playing with the words and the tone, just to make it sound like solutions when it isn’t and isn’t even meant to be, used to amuse me, then exasperate me.
Now it infuriates me!

21 01 2008

Speaking of which, just remembered this:

Maybe that isn’t entirely School’s “fault” but public education could do much better at preparing the next generation to be Thinking Citizens. Imagine what a culture that could be, and what kind of politicians would thrive in it, rather than what we know now.

There’s even an educators’ argument coalescing around the idea that education IS democratic engagement”. . .

And then it goes on, about how we might have to change both liberal and conservative attitudes to get there, and take School to get it done, not just Homeschool and/or Unschool:

. . .so why doesn’t our school system prepare kids to grow into adult citizens who embrace and celebrate difference, and succeed as originals rather than clones (I thought conservatives were AGAINST human cloning??)

It’s not a trick question or test question, it’s immediate and real-world: which way does your own liberal education and intellect “compel” you to lean on the issue of school compulsion and coercion? Does school meet its own huge ideological burden anymore? Is it perhaps time that “liberal-leaning” thinkers re-think what education is and how to create it, to test our own beliefs and expert analysis under our own intellectual standards, in light of new evidence and old disappointments?

Schools teach the last test. Education writes the next one. Which is better for progressive politics? The answer to that is easy, but getting activists to understand and ask themselves the question in the first place is hard. I attribute it to too much schooling . . .

9 03 2008

“Math Suggests College Frenzy Will Soon Ease” – if you’re sweating how to get your kids into almost any college, this will cheer you (and them) up . . .OTOH, if you’re using college to strike fear of the future in their hearts and force them to do all their homework, you might not want to let them find out about this.

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