Sunday, June 15, 2008

Unschooling at high school

A little update from the unschooling via high school saga.

The principal said "yashure!" Well, I don't suppose she really said that. She's a fairly straight-laced school administrator who doesn't exactly effuse. But she said she'd like to make the Facilitated Learning Centre option work for Erin on a part-time basis. She's still not totally sure how the funding will work, but she's sure it will work. In a tiny school within a district suffering from chronic declining enrolment, any student, no matter how outside-the-box, is welcome.

So we went to talk to the Guidance Counsellor together, Erin and myself. Fiona came too, of course. She comes everywhere, because she likes to get out and about, and this is a small town where anything goes, so that was fine.

It became apparent that the school's main hesitation, if you could call it that, was that the FLC is mostly used by older teens, those in Grade 11 & 12. There was a disastrous experiment 6 or 8 years ago where the whole high school (all 45 students) was put on an FLC model. Many students, particularly the 14/15/16-year-olds, crashed and burned. With the sudden freedom to self-direct and self-pace, they slacked off and failed course after course. Since that time the FLC model has been mostly reserved for older teens seeking courses not available locally. While there was a general consensus that a homeschooled kid was likely better equipped to handle an individually directed and paced coursework approach (whoot! hear that?!!), they were a little concerned that Erin might feel intimidated or out of place working independently in a room populated by mostly older students.

Umm, no. She's not used to spending her days with 13 & 14-year-olds. She has never ever been in an age-stratified group learning environment. All three of her friends in the high school happen to be 18-year-olds. The group social environment she currently relishes the most is the community choir, full of adults.

Once Erin reassured the GC that she was just fine with older teens, thank you very much, and I pointed out (gently) why that was so, there was the sense that we'd put that concern to rest and could now get on with the nuts and bolts.

Erin had been interested in a writing course (because that's one of her passions), a math course (because that's not) and a science survey course just because she doesn't do much systematically in the science vein and thought it might be nice to fill some gaps. The GC actually teaches a classroom-based writing course that is multi-age and multi-level and seems to be quite popular amongst a range of students. She clearly wanted Erin to be a part of that class and honestly I think it would be wonderful for her. But it's a classroom course, with three hours of scheduled class time a week. "But students don't need to attend all the time," the GC said. "If she was gone some days, or some weeks, and wanted to just carry on electronically, that'd be fine." The on-line writing course, at the Grade 12 level, looked pretty sterile. Erin has decided to try out the classroom course. I figure one to three hours a week until December won't cramp her style too much.

She'll be meeting with the FLC teacher in a week or so to try and figure out appropriate math and science placement. I don't get the feeling that they need her to prove on their terms that she's ready for Grade 9, but that they want to put her where she'll be challenged according to her liking -- and that it's fine if that involves a combination of levels to patch holes and send her forward. The FLC teacher is a math and science specialist, and everyone seems to think he's wonderful and very open-minded (he and his wife have been coaching Sophie's soccer team and he seems like a nice guy). I think we'll just take the math texts that Erin has completed and let him have a look-see at those and suggest something.

On the science front things may be a little trickier for him to call. Erin has done nothing systematic in science -- she's just grown up in a sciencey family, been privy to lots of conversations, had lots of resources around her and lots of exposure. My own sense is that Erin will find the early high school courses a bit of a disappointment in terms of difficulty. But that may be something she and the FLC teacher have to figure out by trying. Nothing will be cast in stone.

My only slight reservation is that if she gets a few weeks into this and decides that all or part of it is not serving her needs, that the required hoop-jumping is too much considering what little she's learning and she decides to drop part of all of it, that the people at the school -- students and teachers -- will think to themselves "yeah, a homeschooler who tried school but couldn't hack it." But I will not let my concern about political perceptions interfere with my own kid's right to direct her own education in ways that make her happy and keep her productive.

After our appointment at the school we went and got Erin and UnDriver's License. In BC the motor vehicle license people have a card they offer that's as official as a driver's license, being a signed, provincially-issued, birth-certificate-backed, parentally-co-signed plastic photo ID, but is intended for non-drivers, especially teens who for whatever reason need a piece of valid photo ID. If we're sending Erin across Canada and overseas, we thought it might be helpful to have a piece of photo ID besides a passport. Especially to back up a credit card. She'll be having to pay for occasional hotels, both in Edmonton and Asia, to share out the costs with the adults she's travelling with, and I know from experience that they often like photo ID.

Then we stopped next door at the credit union to ask if it was possible to get a credit card for a 14-year-old. I was pretty sure it was possible, as was the teller, but she wasn't sure exactly what type of card would be best, who would need set it up or how it would be done. She said she'd have her supervisor call us. No problem. We headed home. Almost as we came in the door, the phone was ringing. It was the teller calling to say that actually it turned out it was no problem, and she'd already set up the credit card account for Erin and she and I just needed to come in and sign, and choose a credit limit.

Wow, that was easy. Who'd have thought? Well, it was easy because Erin and I already have a joint credit union account together, and adding a subsidiary credit-card-based debit account to that primary account was just a matter of a few mouse-clicks. Cool!

So many firsts for this kid, so quickly one upon the other. Cross-Canada travel. Self-directed coursework with the senior kids at the local high school -- on her terms. Passport, UnDriver's License, parking lot driving lessons, her first credit card. Overseas travel with friends. I always said that we're not doing adolescence in this family, or that we'd at least try to compress it into a brief transition rather than let it ooze out at both ends into a decade-long period of not-quite-adulthood. It seems like it's actually going as planned so far.


  1. My only slight reservation is that if she gets a few weeks into this and decides that all or part of it is not serving her needs, that the required hoop-jumping is too much considering what little she's learning and she decides to drop part of all of it, that the people at the school -- students and teachers -- will think to themselves "yeah, a homeschooler who tried school but couldn't hack it."

    That's one of my biggest worries too. It's more that a "slight reservation" for me though. I suppose I am tough enough to handle it though . . .

  2. My son is 14 and started taking online classes through the local junior college last year- he's taken 6 classes all together so far. I was freaked out when he started, since he has been at a "free school" for the past 3 years with no grades/required work/"have to's" but he fell right in on his own terms. And he is actually enjoying the "mind game" of doing impressive scholarly work and finding it easy. My worries were for naught. He's taken all writing and communication classes so far, but is dipping in to american government for his summer course. He's also going to the AERO conference next week, driving cross country with three of his adult friends/advisors at the free school. Seems that our wonderful kids are on similar paths- just wanted you to know there were others of us out there! :)
    melanie in portland, oregon

  3. This is fantastic. I love the independence that Erin is growing so naturally into. I've been reading "Reviving Opheila" by Mary Pipher, and wondering what I should be doing now to help my daughter's teenage years. I survived myself by determining to do exactly what you are hoping to arrange for your children. My parents thought like you and gave us adult-type responsibility comparatively young, but I resolutely kept up "childish" things like lego at the same time. The only thorn in our sides was the toxic environment of our school. Currently my kids' school is lovely, without the issues of junk culture that most schools have, but I am terrified for high school. Perhaps we will homeschool then, or just drive up Africa for a while and forget to go back to school..... ;)


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