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Between 12 & 20: An Interview With Some Homeschooled Teens

by Erin Chianese

Erin Chianese
Erin Chianese

As parents, the decision to homeschool is ours. We know in our hearts that it is best for our children and our families. Of course, there are nagging doubts to any important decision, especially when it goes against the grain of the surrounding society. I used to call homeschooling our family’s “grand experiment.” I used to wish I had a crystal ball to find out the results of our venture. One of the most informative homeschooling conference sessions I have been to is a Teen Panel. Listening to teens discuss their own lives can dispel some of the fears of how our own grand experiments will turn out.

Here is an interview with six young adults to learn their thoughts on homeschooling. They were homeschooled most or all of their lives. They practiced different homeschooling styles and are embarking on different paths.

What are you doing now?
Leif is nineteen, attending UC Berkeley in their Electrical Engineering/Computer Sciences Department. This fall he is studying abroad in Spain for a semester. He is interested in languages (attempting Hebrew now), and in hiking, ultra-light backpacking, and traveling frugally.

Alison is twenty and works at OSH Hardware, filling several different positions there. She stopped going to community college because “I felt like I wasn’t learning and progressing to where I want to go.” She had the idea she would like to be a teacher ever since playing “school” when she was a youngster. But, after taking Child Development classes, she decided teaching was not for her. She may return to explore other fields.

Burns is an entrepreneur at eighteen. He is an independent contractor, working on his first professional title as a Video Game Development Artist. He designs art and textures with 3D modeling.
Celeste, at eighteen, is entering the University of Oklahoma in the fall, double-majoring in dance and art history. She attends community college, two dance studios, and has a job teaching dance to four-year-olds.

Daniel is seventeen, attending community college while finishing high school at home, with the aspiration of becoming a heart surgeon. He looks forward to soon becoming an Eagle Scout and he enjoys outdoor recreational activities like hiking and backpacking. He also has had a passion for cars ever since he was young.
Mona, the youngest interviewee at sixteen, attended high school for one year this past year and will be attending community college in the fall. She wants to be a writer. She has many interests including photography, graphic arts, cosmetology, and dance.
How did you homeschool?

Leif, Alison, and Daniel used textbooks in a school-at-home sense. Leif started every weekday at 9:00 a.m. Their families made their own curriculum, two joining a school and one filing a private school affidavit with the State. Alison’s family supplemented textbooks with instructional videos and classes through their ISP.

Celeste and Mona were homeschooled in a loosely-structured fashion, using a few textbooks and workbooks (which were mainly rejected), field trips, historical fiction, and lots of trips to the library.
Burns was unschooled. To illustrate, he told this story: “When I was five or six, I had a calculator. It had a Mickey Mouse theme with a function that asked me problems to solve. I played around with it a lot. I had no idea how to do multiplication or division. I intentionally got the wrong answers and that is how I figured out the pattern of division being the reverse of multiplication. I ultimately taught myself division which is completely opposite from the way math is normally taught.”
All the teens interviewed enrolled in community college when they were fifteen, “double-dipping” as Daniel calls it: using classes for both college and high school credit. Alison actually started when she was 13, accompanied by her older brother.

Did you have a say in your studies?
Leif said he did not care that much at the time, but he thought that he would have had a say if he had wanted. Similarly, Amy said she did not, but that she did not ask. She knew she had to do the work even when she did not want to, but she is happy that she did it.

“My parents were pretty strict,” Daniel replied. “There were things they wanted me to learn. I wanted to learn German. They made me do Latin for two years and then I could learn German, which I am studying now.” He added that he now appreciates the rigorous curriculum his parents set for him.

Celeste responded that her parents asked her at the beginning and end of each school year what she wanted to learn.
Mona said, “Yes, I chose Philosophy. And I refused to do some things my mom wanted me to do. I didn’t like them, like math, or I was being stubborn, or I didn’t see the importance of doing it.”

As an unschooler, Burns had much input, his mother implementing his requests by researching whatever he wanted to learn. Sometimes his mom suggested subjects and these he learned through field trips and discussions.

Were you conscious of, or concerned with, what other school kids your age were learning in school? (Were you ever worried about comparing yourself to school kids as far as academics go?)
Leif and Amy were not conscious of, or concerned at all.

Burns interacted with a lot of schooled kids in his sports and other activities and this made him unconcerned once he knew what these kids were studying. In fact, it made him more confident and happier because he understood more than they did.

“Not until middle school,” Celeste answered. “That’s why I wanted to learn about clouds. People my age going to school were learning about clouds. I went to a high school for one year and sometimes I had no idea what people were talking about, like historical dates. I went to public school because I didn’t think I was as smart as kids in school. I couldn’t spell. My handwriting was terrible. But, then, I didn’t find I was less smart. The first week or two was horrible. In math, I was completely lost. But after I got into the swing of things, I quickly surpassed people in my Math and English classes. In Math, I became a tutor and English moved me up to Honors.”

What was your favorite homeschooling experience?
Alison’s favorite memory was attending a homeschool convention at the Disney Hotel with her best friend. Celeste liked museums, especially the Museum of Tolerance (a Holocaust museum in Los Angeles, which challenges everyday tolerance issues). Mona enjoyed her book clubs and writing clubs. “I liked discussing things,” she said. Daniel’s answer was “the openness about everything.” He meant that the people who homeschool are nice, warm, loving, and not judgmental. He appreciated their attitude that all is considered learning, even the mistakes.

What did you like about homeschooling?
“Free time,” Leif immediately answered. “I was able to get ahead to then choose whatever I wanted to do. I liked that there was less structure than regular school.”

Alison was happy there was “no busywork and no drama. All my friends are homeschoolers that I have known since we were small. We are still a tight-knit group.”

Daniel remarked that the academic standards are much higher than those in public school and these he now sets for himself. He added, “A homeschool [parent] is concerned about you, rather than a teacher, who is concerned about a job.”

Celeste said, “There are too many to name. I liked going on field trips a lot and doing mostly hands-on things when I was younger. Book clubs. I liked all the activities we did with people, like chorus and the little English class I took with Ellen (a homeschooling mom). I liked sleeping in and having my own curriculum, and not taking the SAT.”
Mona liked all the free writing. She could write whatever she wanted, being more creative than if she had a specific assignment. She also liked the freedom and openness of her studies instead of the busywork she experienced in her one year at high school. She is glad she went to a lot of museums, even though it was not her favorite back then.

What did you dislike about homeschooling?
Burns gave the perfect answer, “I loved it all.” That stated, here follows the rest of the comments:

“The one thing I wanted to do was go to a prom,” Alison replied. “I went to a winter formal when I was sixteen. And I had a graduation. But the prom is one thing I wished I had.”

Leif thought in retrospect that the socialization was not enough. At the time he didn’t notice. He liked being alone and he spent most of his time teaching himself computer programming. Now that he is in a college dorm with sixty other people, he is interested in knowing different people. He enjoys talking with them and he considers this very healthy.

Daniel had an intriguing observation. The only thing he disliked is the lack of motivation by parents. He himself was not that motivated until he was about ten years old. He saw this in others, too, and feels that kids have more potential. He recommended a little added structure to motivate kids.

Celeste answered, “I feel like I missed out on a lot of things in school, like seeing my friends every day and dances and social things like that, but only when I was older, about middle school age. I don’t feel I had as big a social life as I would have wanted. Lots of my friends now have known their friends since kindergarten and that would have been a fun experience. Like at a prom, everybody knows everybody there. I disliked the fact that in my particular homeschool group, high schoolers didn’t exist. So seeing all my other friends was difficult because of their school schedules. I met my friends through dance classes and the high school I went to for one year, the community college I go to now, and through friends (meeting their friends).”

Could you comment on socialization?
Burns felt fulfilled socially. “I am happy that I homeschooled because I had more time than those in school in which to play with my friends. I spent a lot of time at their houses playing and learning together and bonding further. There were not the same age boundaries that are drawn in school and my friends were both adults and kids that were three to four years apart. There are not strict social roles for each age. I had a close group of many friends that I grew up with. I know we will remain close for a long time.”

Alison offered, “I liked my socialization because all my friends I have known forever. I was a shy person. I don’t know if I could have handled the socialization in school. I wasn’t outgoing. I am not as shy after working for two years. Greeting customers has helped.”
Daniel has had his best friend since they were five. His friends now are from different homeschooling groups within his town and also from Boy Scouts.

Celeste replied, “I get along with pretty much everyone. I’m not embarrassed to go up to people to talk to them and get to know them.”

Do adults or your peers treat you differently when they find out you were homeschooled?
“I am proud to be homeschooled,” Mona explained. “People should be interested and I believe in it. If people had a problem with it I didn’t care. Some adults are impressed or interested. Once an adult asked me, ‘What are the three branches of government?’ I told her that wasn’t very nice.”

Celeste said, “Yes, they treat me differently. Usually kids immediately ask me if I have any friends and how does it work. Sometimes they think you’re incredibly lucky and sometimes they say it’s weird. If people ask me where I go to school I say, ‘It’s complicated.’ I say that so I don’t have to say I homeschool. “Adults usually are doubtful and critical. They ask me lots of questions to figure out how it worked. I’m always very positive when I talk about homeschooling with adults.”
Daniel remembered younger kids, unsure of homeschooling, calling it “weird”, but his fellow students in community college are curious about it.

Why did you homeschool or not in high school?
When Daniel was between eight and ten years old, he felt isolated because his friends were in school. In middle school he was bothered that his parents set a different curriculum for him than the public school and he wanted to go to school then. But by the time he reached high school age, he realized that homeschooling is more efficient than school. He is glad his parents said no to school and he is happy he can follow his own interests.

Alison had the option to go to high school but felt content homeschooling. She was wary of cliques and the notorious treatment of a newcomer in school.

Leif said it was a matter of inertia; he thought it too much trouble to change. It was better for him to homeschool. “High school is a good thing to miss.”

Celeste went to high school as she mentioned earlier, “I went one year and I absolutely loved it. I would have stayed, but it was too far. I tried a large public high school here and hated it so I left. I decided to go to college.”

Burns’ parents are divorced and his mother has worked hard over the years to be able to homeschool her two sons because her ex-husband was against it. Pressured by his dad, Burns did attend a high school magnet, but only for one semester. The compromise at that point was to join a charter high school where he attended 2-3 days a week for an hour and a half. He then took the California High School Proficiency Exam (California’s equivalent of the GED for those under 18) to officially graduate in his dad’s eyes.

Mona attended a small high school for one year. There were only one hundred students in the school and she chose this because she considers herself a quiet person. “When I was little, there were more people to be friends with, but when everyone got older, many left for school. It was harder to meet friends who were homeschoolers. When people got older too, more of them were into being cool, so it was harder to open up with them. I don’t think this has anything to do with homeschooling. “I really liked homeschooling but I eventually decided to try high school for the social atmosphere and the school experience. In school I liked having different teachers for subjects and I liked having a more strict schedule. I liked the more social classroom situation. But the school system is not good. There are so many bad teachers and the kids don’t want to be there.

“Since I went to high school I’m afraid I think less. I’m lazy now; I don’t want to try my best. It’s your choice, but I made the choice to not do 100%. I became lazier, unmotivated and uninspired. I was more inspired homeschooling.”

Do you feel there is a difference between yourself and traditionally schooled students your own age?
Alison and Leif agreed there is no difference.

Daniel said, “I am now more intelligent than the students in my community college classes.”

Burns thought he was well prepared for adulthood and wanted to dispel any fears about being homeschooled. “There is a big difference but I have no disadvantages or deficiencies. Entering the adult world, I know how to act and hold myself.”

Celeste said, “I’m not as materialistic or sexually active. I have a great connection with my family. A lot of people’s parents are just slaves for them. I see kids treat their parents in a mean way and order them around. I’m more aware of people to be considerate. I’m more aware of the world around us. I’m not separate from the world.”

Mona used her experience in high school to answer. “Yes, because a lot of my classmates aren’t free thinkers. They just write down answers and don’t think for themselves. It bugs me a lot. Also they think they aren’t smart because they base their smartness on their grades. They only have their teachers’ opinions. But I go to a private school so maybe it’s different for public school students.”

Anything you would like to add?
Leif is really enjoying college. “I was focused so much on computer programming when I was younger and now I am broadening my focuses. It is nice now to meet a lot of people with so many ideas. It is more stimulating. Homeshooling prepared me well academically.”

Celeste said, “I think the whole point of homeschooling is not having your child sit down for three hours and do homework. It’s not the most educational way to learn at a young age. Think outside the curriculum box. “Right now I am really interested in having a good time. I am going to college and learning about a lot of things. I think I am happy I homeschooled as a kid because I gained a big interest in learning about anything and everything. I have a certain confidence that I can learn anything quickly, except for the drums,” she laughed.

“Homeschooling is loose and relaxed,” Daniel explained. “There is flexibility to learn what I want to learn. I am really glad my parents were as strict as they were. I have more passion to do the things I want and I have figured out what I want to do in life.”

Burns responded, “No matter what my interests were, I could gain the skills I needed. For me, education is really important. A degree might help me eventually, but it is not entirely necessary for me now. I have been doing this (video game artist) for the past four years and am now working on my first professional title. I am happy where I am at, working in my field. The hardest step is getting into a job.”

Mona said, “Homeschooling helped me develop my many interests. I could play around with, say, graphic arts. I had all the time in the world to edit and learn. I had all the time to read as many books as I wanted to, even about applying make-up or whatever. I had more opportunity to dance. I was really supported by my family. The homeschooling outlook has not so many rules.”

___________________

This particular interview was about homeschooling itself, but a lot of other things shone through. Self-assurance and confidence, maturity, and the ability to make critical observations are part of the package of developing into a whole person. These are not part of a school curriculum, and they are not automatically acquired by every homeschooling experience. However, it came up six out of six in this pool of interviewees who had different families and homeschooling methods. For the grand experiment, that is a pretty high statistic in my book. E.C.■