Sunday, September 7, 2008

How do you define success?

A lot of people get caught up in the question of success ... will my child be successful if we homeschool? Well, it's tough to be less successful than the public schools. My last post talked about how some public school graduates are incapable of critical thinking. But the sadder half of that equation are the kids who never graduate from high school. According to, the high school graduation rate for 2005 was 68.8% in the United States. It varied tremendously from state to state with New Jersey having 87.6% graduation rate and Nevada having only 49.1% of entering ninth graders completing high school. If high school graduation is your criteria, then I have been successful with all three of my children, since they have all started college. I don't think high school graduation is a huge hurdle for most homeschoolers.

What about success in college? HigherEdInfo says that only 29.1% of students at community college receive their associate degree within three years. My oldest daughter did receive her first associate degree within three years, so she succeeded. My son did not finish an associate degree within three years, but then that was never his goal. He just wanted to take a class or two for fun. So, now we are getting into a gray area ... how do you define success? Was he not successful?

We have become a multiple choice society, and I can't help but believe that it comes from the fact that virtually all of us went to public schools, where answers to every question were either A, B, C, D, or E.

How do you become a success in America?
A. Get good grades in school
B. Graduate from high school
C. Graduate from college
D. Homeschool
E. A, B, and C

Most people choose E without question. Every semester, I've had at least one student confess to me that she didn't want to be in college. Usually several students tell me this every semester. But, they are "forced" to go to college by their parents. When I ask them what interests them, they either say that they don't know, or they want to do something that does not require a college degree. In May, one girl told me she wanted to be a personal trainer like her dad, who didn't have a college degree and was quite successful. But her dad believed a college degree was absolutely essential for his daughter to be successful.

Many of those students will not be graduating. With no personal motivation to be there and no goals, they don't try very hard, and many of them wind up on academic probation at the end of their first semester. They fail. But I'm not saying they fail because they flunk out of college. I'm saying they fail because they waste a year of their life following someone else's path, rather than exploring or moving towards their personal goals.

My daughter started college at age 13 and received her first associate degree at age 16. Although she was accepted into five universities to complete her bachelor's degree, she decided to stay at the community college to continue exploring different subject areas. After earning two more associate degrees and still not being sure what she wanted to pursue for her bachelor's, I suggested that she take off a couple years and explore the real world. She worked in retail for a year and a half, which became a very frustrating time for her because so many friends were wringing their hands about her impending poverty in life. A few good friends, who knew her well, were not concerned at all. We knew that she was highly motivated and a perfectionist, and she would find the path that was right for her.

When she started the job, she loved it as she was learning how to do everything. Once she'd mastered her job, she started to hate it. She applied for a management position, and she was promoted. She loved it as she was learning to do everything. Once she'd mastered that job, she started to hate it. Do you see a trend here? She did. She learned something very valuable about herself -- something she would have never learned in school. It was something I knew, but it was something she had to learn for herself. She needs a job that can't be learned in a few weeks or a couple months. She needs something that constantly challenges her mind.

I don't define success with something simplistic like a college degree or a high-paying job. Success is not reached by following a straight line from high school to college to Wall Street. Success is not a destination. It's a journey up and down winding roads and across wide open fields. It's a journey that never ends as long as you're motivated to keep going.

1 comment:

Cathy said...

I love this post. My personal goal for my kids as they follow an unschooling life is to have a great relationship with their family members, have a love for learning, and respect themselves. If they accomplish these three things (not if, they already have) then everything else falls into place. They wake up each and every day with a smile and goals they want to accomplish for the day. I love it!