Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Is college worth it?

In Reconsidering the Value of College, Cathy Arnst quotes several recent studies and articles about students who are not prepared and not intelligent enough to succeed in college. The news isn't much better for the students who do succeed. After acquiring tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, they wind up in jobs that do not even require a college degree. We probably all know someone who is overqualified for a job. I know someone with a geology degree who works at Wal-Mart. I know another person with a public relations degree who tends bar and another with a journalism degree who works in a women's clothing store. The list goes on and on.

Arnst quotes a Chronicle of Higher Education article by Marty Nemko. He starts with this story:

Among my saddest moments as a career counselor is when I hear a story like this: "I wasn't a good student in high school, but I wanted to prove that I can get a college diploma. I'd be the first one in my family to do it. But it's been five years and $80,000, and I still have 45 credits to go."

Colleges are businesses, and like most businesses, they have done a great job of "selling" their product. Americans believe that a college degree is required for success as much as they believe the sun will rise tomorrow. Even parents who make six figures a year without a college degree insist that their children go to college. Nemko goes on to say:

Among high-school students who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their classes, and whose first institutions were four-year colleges, two-thirds had not earned diplomas eight and a half years later.

These students sit in my classes every semester, and I try to tell some of them that they should not be there. They don't want to be there, and I try to let them know that it's okay to leave. They didn't enjoy high school, and they couldn't wait to graduate, and now they find themselves stuck in a world that they have never liked.

As a homeschooler, most parents hear the question, "But how will your child be able to go to college without a high school diploma?" Although many, many homeschooled kids do get accepted at top universities across the country, it's a shame that so many people measure success by whether or not a person can be accepted into a college. And if you read farther into the Nemko article, you'll see that it really is not that difficult to get accepted into a college somewhere. Nemko said that only 23% of the students who took the ACT in 2007 were ready for college-level work -- yet colleges accept them.

For almost two decades I've been saying, "Homeschooled kids have no problem getting accepted by colleges," but I should have been saying, "College is not synonymous with success." Bill Gates (Microsoft) is a college drop-out, as well as Michael Dell (Dell) and Steve Jobs (Apple). When I was a reporter in Kane County, IL, I interviewed the Man of the Year about ten years ago, and he had been kicked out of high school about 20 years earlier. He went on to start working in construction and to start his own construction company, and before he was 40, he was successful both financially and socially. He was a well-respected member of the community because he was a fair and honest business owner, and he had completed many construction projects in the county that were well done and less expensive than his competitors. Such stories are not all that unusual.

If people sat down and started making a list of people they know with college degrees and those without, they'd see that the college degree does not equate success. I used to know a mortgage lender who complained to me one day that she couldn't get a loan approved for a physician because he handled his money so badly -- $350,000 a year. But most people don't think. They just follow the script: go to school, get good grades, go to college, become a success. There just isn't a recipe for success that is so simple.

Since my children are all in college now, I probably won't be hearing the "what about college" question very often, but if I do, I think I'll be less defensive about their ability to get into college and simply tell them that my goal in homeschooling my children was not necessarily to get them into college. My goal was for them to find a passion for learning and to follow their passion, regardless of whether that led them to a college or a cosmetology school or a job in retail.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Time for recess!

If the state of Illinois is to be taken seriously, physical development and health are a required part of our curriculum, so here's my two cents on that subject this fall. A friend sent me a link to this article about the importance of Vitamin D. I first read about Vitamin D about four years ago when I thought I might have fibromyalgia. At that time, I learned that many people who are deficient in Vitamin D will exhibit many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia. It was winter, which meant not enough sun in Illinois to get enough sunshine for proper Vitamin D synthesis, so I started taking a D supplement, and most of my symptoms disappeared. Since then, I've been spending more time outside in the summer and not using sunscreen unless I know I'll be out long enough to get burned.

So, other than educating our children about Vitamin D, what does this have to do with homeschooling? Quite simply, we need to make sure our kids get enough sunshine. As I read several years ago, the RDA for D supplementation was established more than half a century ago when people spent lots of time outside, and it was only established at a level to avoid rickets. As this new article points out, D-deficiency has now been linked to many diseases including several types of cancer. D is not present in any great amount in foods, which is why milk is fortified with D, although it is fortified at a level that scientists now know is not nearly enough. Vitamin D deficiency is becoming a real problem. Here are a few reasons why:

“The tendencies of people to live in cities where tall buildings block adequate sunlight from reaching the ground, to spend most of their time indoors, to use synthetic sunscreens that block ultraviolet rays, and to live in geographical regions of the world that do not receive adequate sunlight all contribute to the inability of the skin to biosynthesize sufficient amounts of vitamin D.”

To get enough Vitamin D, we need to spend time outside with our skin exposed to the sun, or take supplements -- 2,000 IU, according to the UC researcher, which is 10 times what the US government still says we need. Of course, when it comes to the sun, we need balance. With the current awareness of skin cancer risks, many people avoid the sun at all costs. I understand this, since my husband is a skin cancer survivor, but moderation is the key. I've read quotes from some dermatologists who get very angry about people "baking" in the sun. In another article, I read that you only need about 15 minutes of daily exposure on your face and arms to get enough D, so that's a far cry from baking or broiling or burning.

So, not only is physical education an important part of your child's overall education, but getting exercise outside in the sun is important for good health as well.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Making gifts

Just found this great blog post by another homeschooler who talked about making gifts for the holidays. We had already decided to do this, mostly knitting socks and hats for family members, but this post has a long list of gifts you can make this holiday season.

Of course, art is an important part of any education, and the thing I loved about homeschooling is that I was never overrun with toilet-paper-tube Christmas trees and other garbage-art from public school art classes. When homeschooling, you can provide the one-on-one attention needed to teach your children useful arts, such as knitting, crocheting, quilting, spinning, sewing, painting, photography, etc. Art is not gluing the teacher's cut-out Christmas tree onto a toilet-paper tube that you have painted green. It is about creating your own beautiful work. In fact, my daughters have both gone far beyond me in their spinning and needlework skills. I only know how to knit fairly simple designs, but both of my daughters have taught themselves to crochet, and they even create their own designs, including mittens, socks, and hats, which are all items I've never created.

Are any of you going to make holiday gifts this year?

Monday, October 6, 2008

The TV choice

Television is one of those things that causes a great debate among unschoolers. While some don't even own a television, others believe that there is no such thing as too much television. They completely trust that their children will watch whatever they need and that restricting television causes children to binge-watch whenever they get a chance. I've sometimes found myself to be the only moderate in the midst of such a debate, but today I found this blog, and the author sounds a lot like myself. He grew up a total addict but now tries to foster a more moderate viewing philosophy.

I've heard some parents say that they tried unschooling, but it didn't work for them because all their children did was watch cartoons all day. While some unschoolers would give an unqualified thumbs up to that practice, I would ask a few questions and suggest that they not throw out the baby (unschooling) with the bathwater (TV).

First, exactly how many hours are we talking about? Some parents might mean all afternoon when they say "all the time," while others might mean every waking hour. All afternoon is less troubling than every waking hour.

Second, what type of activities does the child have available other than television? Many kids today do not have a lot of options if they live in the city if their parents believe that unschooling means a total hands-off approach. They need parents to take them places, such as the library, museums, and parks. One woman asked if it was okay that her four-year-old son watched the same violent video game over and over again. After a bit of discussion, I learned that the family only owned that one video game. The child had no other options for video games. Still, I would not want a child that age to play any video game for an extended period of time, because they should be outside running around, getting exercise, and breathing fresh air.

There is all kinds of research available on the problems with watching too much television, such as obesity and lower academic performance. Television, like many things, is okay in moderation, but a steady diet of TV, like a steady diet of potato chips and candy, is not good for you. On the blog mentioned earlier, the author talks about his family's viewing habits. I personally don't watch any television, but I do watch a movie on DVD once a week. We don't have cable or a dish, but we subscribe to Netflix, which means the family doesn't watch more than three or four movies a week. Some members of my family do watch a couple of TV shows every week through the Internet.

I don't think that television is inherently bad. Indeed, I think there are great ways it can be used. Three years ago, my youngest child and I spent autumn watching all of the PBS House shows -- Frontier House, 1900 House, Colonial House, Manor House, etc. They're reality shows where people go back in time to live like people in a particular era, and it was the most fun history lesson imaginable. We learned so much and were very entertained in the process. It caused us to talk about how we would respond to living in such conditions, and ultimately we decided that although the clothing was pretty cool, we really like having toilet paper and indoor plumbing!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Learning to write; Preparing for college

This little statistic came as no surprise to me. In Colleges spend billions to prep freshman, the author states,

... one-third of American college students have to enroll in remedial classes. The bill to colleges and taxpayers for trying to bring them up to speed on material they were supposed to learn in high school comes to between $2.3 billion and $2.9 billion annually.

If you doubt this statistic, just check the schedule of available classes at community colleges. There are dozens of remedial classes taught every semester in math and English. I know high schools are not preparing students for college because I have students in my college classes every semester who cannot write a complete sentence. This article tells the unfortunate -- but not uncommon -- story of one young lady:

Christina Jeronimo was an "A" student in high school English, but was placed in a remedial course when she arrived at Long Beach Community College in California. The course was valuable in some ways but frustrating and time-consuming. Now in her third year of community college, she'd hoped to transfer to UCLA by now.

Like many college students, she wishes she'd been worked a little harder in high school.

"There's a gap," said Jeronimo, who hopes to study psychology. "The demands of the high school teachers aren't as great as the demands for college. Sometimes they just baby us."

I have had students who were shocked to receive an F on their first paper, because they were A students in high school. Sometimes, they were even in the honors program. These are smart kids, but they were stuck in a system that had unqualified teachers working in an archaic system. When it comes to writing, no one is going to learn to write unless they read and write a lot! They do not learn to write by diagramming sentences or labeling nouns and verbs -- but it is so much easier to grade worksheets instead of essays.

A teacher in a class of 30-40 students (times five classes a day) does not have the time to provide feedback on the amount of writing that most kids need to do in order to become proficient writers. It really does not matter what kind of writing they do -- they can write movie reviews, letters to Grandma, or short stories about their favorite subject. (My youngest has written dozens of stories about horses.) The point is that kids have to write!

And they have to read, so they can see good writing. If they want to read Harry Potter 15 times, that's great! So-called "reading books" are one of the things I blame for so many kids hating reading. As every agent and editor in NYC will tell you -- publishing is a very subjective business. Most best sellers are rejected dozens of times before an agent agrees to represent a book, and then it is usually rejected even more before a publisher buys it. That's because not everyone loves even the most popular books. Between my three children, the only thing that all of them like is Harry Potter. Otherwise, they can't even agree on a genre. My oldest loves fiction; my middle child likes non-fiction books about movies; my youngest reads fiction and non-fiction, as long as the subject is animals.

All of them became competent writers with almost no help from me. They wrote things that interested them and excited them. I never told them to write anything, and yet they wrote prolifically. They wrote fan fiction, forum posts, short stories, and novels. They wrote because they loved the subjects, and they wanted to share their thoughts with other people. Just like playing the piano or shooting hoops, the more you do it, the better you get!