College Success Secret: Accentuate the Positive

24 11 2008

Homeschooling or not, how well are you as thinking parents preparing your kids to interact beneficially with college faculty? Think about it.

The Chronicle of Higher Education
From the issue dated November 28, 2008
Studies Examine Major Influences on Freshmen’s Academic Success

Three new studies of college freshmen suggest that even the most promising among them can run into academic difficulties as a long-term consequence of experiences like attending a violence-plagued high school or being raised by parents who never went to college.

. . .Taken together, the reports not only challenge many of the assumptions colleges make in admitting and educating freshmen, but could also influence discussions of how to improve the nation’s high schools to promote college preparation.

So let’s discuss it. Say Thinking Homeschoolers applied these finding to home education college prep. No violence would seem like a no-brainer. Home as the learning environment should feel safe and comfortable and stable, not threatening and scary and painful. Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy: an insecure child can’t care about academics until his basic human needs get met.

But what about “being raised by parents who never went to college” — why does that matter, according to the research?

. . .while students on the whole appeared to benefit from interactions with faculty members, first-generation students who experienced the most contact with faculty members generally had the worst educational outcomes. The findings, the researchers concluded, suggest that those students “have not been conditioned to the positive benefits of interacting with instructors.”

Wow, imagine that, so it’s important that students be conditioned to the positive benefits of interacting with instructors! One might logically question then, whether compulsion, control and restriction, constant supervision, criticism, correction, standards and rules and “discipline” — even without violence — have the assumed academic effect or whether they may outwardly force kids to “do” their lessons while in fact they internalize the opposite of successful academic attitudes and behaviors.

I thought about how Favorite Daughter has been conditioned to the positive benefits of interacting with instructors. Mostly by none of the above!

So Favorite Daughter is having a superb community college experience and not just because of the quality of the faculty members, but because of the very high quality of her many positive interactions with them. She is enthusiastically creating her own education in direct one-to-one collaboration with them as her academic colleagues and partners, never mind other students. Because she wants to! It feels good. She is self-motivated.

There’s all the institutional interface stuff which I did consciously prepare her for, and then provided lots of support and backstopping of problems after she enrolled. Even leaving out financial aid and scholarship applications, every kid needs survival prep to operate inside an academic institution from reading a course syllabus and budgeting your study time, to figuring out and sequencing prerequisities, registration appointments, parking passes, attendance, class participation, GPA maintenance etc etc —

But to me this “positive interaction” prep means not the institutional but the personal, real relationships with real mentors, the “being there” around these learned minds and getting in the real game with them — not how to play the system but how to actually be an academic and enjoy it.

To me unless you want to be there, why go at all? — and I guess that’s what she absorbed at home all those years. She’s so excited now about getting through her bachelor’s and into grad school, where she can commune with the prominent poets and authors who conduct the writing seminars and whose work she’s read already and loves, that she’s salivating. She’s working her head off with extra stuff at a heavy pace, just so she can get to them sooner.

I’ve been happy to see this, of course, but reading this story makes me realize that I never gave the importance of that approach a conscious thought as college prep; she must have developed it on her own from the unschooling model, how her father and I interacted with her all these years.

We did both go to college as the research found was likely — but it seems to me once parents know how important this is, any family can choose to live and learn the same way at home, so their children will reap the same benefits in college (and pass it on to the grandkids!)



4 responses

25 11 2008
Jacob Godwin

I’m homeschooling my kids now. Though they are no where near college age, the thought of how I’m going to handle that time has worried me.

I used to be worried about how they will adjust. I plan to homeschool my kids all the way through high school. Until that time comes, I am trying to instill in them the benefits of education and learning without overdoing it.

As homeschooled kids, I rarely have to worry about discipline. It’s not easy to get away with doing homework when the teacher lives in the same house.

This study certainly brings up many questions, but one really sticks in my mind.

I wonder how much the threat of discipline takes away from a child’s learning and education experience?

25 11 2008

Hi Jacob — I was a public school professional too. I have to run now to take 18-year-old Favorite Daughter to the passport application office (she and a friend are planning their own backpack-around-Europe trip for next summer) but I really am glad to see your comment and eager to take up your question.

It sounds like you might not have explored “unschooling” yet?

Maybe while I’m gone you could have a look at the Snook post here and then check out some unschooling pages from Pam Sorooshian and Joyce Fetteroll? Just so we can talk later?

Pam is a longtime community college math teacher and writing coach btw. All her unschooling daughters love learning and have thrived in college with no homework, punishment, schedule, chores or curriculum to “prepare” them. . .

25 11 2008
Crimson Wife

I couldn’t access the full article, but I wonder if it’s a class conflict issue. There’s a whole different set of social norms & expectations among people from an affluent background (the typical college professor) and people from a working-class background (the typical first-generation student).

I ran into this issue a lot during my 5 years as an Army wife. It was a big “wake-up” call for me that showed just how much the social milieu in which I’d been raised and gone to college contrasted with the one in which I found myself as a military spouse. Things that I’d always just taken for granted as “just the way things are” turned out to be very much a social construction.

There really *ARE* “two Americas” that are quite different from each other…

25 11 2008

The researchers reported having controlled for class differences in the way you mean, I think:

Using data on 2,500 students from the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen, the two researchers found that freshmen who entered college with comparable academic records and family backgrounds had levels of success that depended on their high-school environments. Those from schools with high levels of violence tended to have lower grades. Having attended a well-maintained and well-equipped school seemed to offer many freshmen an advantages over their peers.

A study published in the University of Arkansas’s Education Working Paper Archive also considered high-school quality in analyzing the records of 2,800 students at an unnamed midsize, moderately selective public university.

Serge Herzog, the study’s author and director of institutional analysis at the University of Nevada at Reno, found that, even after controlling for differences in background and academic preparation, low-income freshmen tended to post lower grades if their high schools had high levels of violence or disorder. The same was true if the schools had enrollments that were heavily black or Hispanic, or had a high percentage of students with limited proficiency in English.

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