Away From Home
(Originally published in the April, 2008 issue of Homeschool Horizons)
The word going around our homeschooling community is that Dr. Phil believes that homeschooled kids should go to high school. I went to his web site to check this out, and found a summary of a show from a few years ago. Dr. Phil, though generally supportive of homeschooling, said, about the teen years, “…once kids get to high school age, social development is important. They become more independent and benefit more from being in a public or private school.” The concepts of “social development” and “independence” are noteworthy; but I think that the leap of logic suggesting a child must therefore attend high school is faulty. Such a conclusion assumes that high school is both the best and the only place where youth can learn these important things. It’s easy to reach that conclusion when high school is all we know.
When my husband and I reminisce about our younger days, our memories often begin with, “When I was in school…” I wonder if our homeschooled kids find it odd that we have dismissed a system that was such a significant part of our childhood. However, most of our positive high school stories have to do with teachers; and neither of us identifies our high schools as the places where we fully developed socially, or came to value independence.
In my case, I found the social scene at high school too bewildering to even attempt. I was quite content to be an outsider, since I had a secure home and the positive influence of close adult family-friends. It is to these that I attribute the fact that I was bold enough to leave home and establish my own life. In my husband’s case, he found interests and positive influences outside of both school and home. As a teenage Ham Radio operator, he was treated as an equal by the adults he spent his time with, and gained technical knowledge that helped further the early part of his career.
Inherent (but often ignored) in the concept of “gaining independence by going to high school” is the idea that youth should be influenced by adults other than their parents. The homeschool can easily replicate this by all the usual means: sports, youth group, choirs, Scouts, Guides, Cadets, etc. Encouraging a youth in their area of interest is sure to get them in touch with others of their age (if we consider such contact important for social development) as well as adults who can relate to them around a common interest; as in the case of the Ham Radio operators my husband hung around with.
Our oldest daughter, Grace, ended up with a friendship group in the ballet world which included many different ages. By the time she was fifteen, she and her group were successfully and happily (and independently) navigating the local restaurant scene. Her ballet school invited her to take a daytime anatomy class that was being taught in the teacher-training program. She made some adult friends there, and was attending their baby showers by the time she was eighteen. To accomplish all this, she learned to use the local bus system and, once she got her license (very necessary for the independence of youth), how to get herself around town. All of this must have given her what she needed: in Nashville, where she is currently living, she is successfully managing her own affairs, and has made friends both in and outside the ballet world.
Our youngest daughter, Naomi, is now entering the age of growing independence. She has fewer outside influences than her older sisters did at her age, but she is demonstrating an interest in looking outside the home. Naomi doesn’t want to go to high school, but is enjoying her online courses and would rather be answerable to her teachers than to me. Naomi’s main interest is archaeology. Last summer, she enjoyed participating in a dig at Tannehill State Park in Alabama. The university that organized the dig was set up to house (“tent”, actually) and care for teenage participants, but many different age groups attended. They spent two weeks together sharing a common interest in archaeology. I believe that Naomi’s “social development” is coming along just fine.
Today’s young adults are the ones whose reminiscences will not necessarily include attendance at a school. Many of their stories are found in this magazine. On rereading them, I see confident youth taking a great interest in their own independent futures, whether that is in business or further study. There are a large variety of young people, and an equally large variety of ways to develop socially, and to learn how to be independent. One particular institution cannot possibly be ideal for everyone.