Tuesday, December 27, 2011

School Just Isn't

Mera Goes to High School
Uploaded by toastfloats
It is time to close the Don Quixote Academy. Homeschool for the Conger family is over. There are two major reasons for making this move: social and financial. While we have met many great homeschooled teenagers, there are definitely some advantages to socializing your children with the great unwashed in the soup which is public high school. Every bit of frustration and mediocrity and pettiness they experience in a big institution will go towards thickening the skin in preparation for leaving home and heading out into the much more challenging working environment. Also, good high schools have opportunities for sport, performance, and hands on science which are almost impossible to replicate in the homeschool environment.

Then there are the financial and professional motivations. We have drained the cruising kitty bone dry. College and/or trade schools loom on the near horizon with almost literally nothing in the bank to fund them. Don Quixote herself needs some expensive upgrades and maintenance. While DrC’s salary is good and we live simply and small, saving is slow with one income. Two would be considerably faster. Moreover, I want to work. I’ve been on sabbatical for a very long time. Even with the contracting, getting back into the professional world will be a difficult and slow process. Women who off-ramp to raise children are inevitably penalized, professional careers damaged sometimes beyond repair. The longer I go without full time work, the less likely I will ever be able to obtain the kinds of responsible management positions which are my favourite way to earn a living.

So, long ago we made the decision to close our homeschool and send the girls to public school on returning to New Zealand. On our arrival, we immediately went to the local schools to enrol the girls only to come up against a number of obstacles. First, it is near the end of the school year. For kids Jaime’s age, exams were about to start. No one saw any point in Jaime attending school for a week and then stopping. Second, the intermediate school refused to enrol Aeron. They said she was too young and must attend primary. Aeron just isn’t primary school material – she’s bigger, more mature, and academically near mid-high school.

This leaves us with only Mera. Mera started school two weeks ago. She attends Takapuna Grammar School as a Year 9 student. Year 9 in New Zealand is roughly equivalent to 8th Grade in the United States except kids in Year 9 attend with all the high school kids. Secondary school as a result is 5 years long – Y9 to Y13. Takapuna Grammar is a high decile school which basically says that we live in a posh neighbourhood with a lot of families who are well-educated and send their kids to university.

While it isn’t a sure bet, high decile schools in New Zealand are generally thought to provide a better quality education as well. Active, engaged, educated, and wealthy parents are highly correlated with good schools. Apocryphally, there are statistics, damn statistics, and reality. While Takapuna is a high decile school, it is still a public high school. There are a lot of children, few teachers, and an insane amount of aerosolized human hormone. While there are lots of really smart kids and probably some fantastic teachers, the pill sorter process which dumped Mera into classes during the final weeks of the school year has ensured that my daughter doesn’t get to see these academic pearls. Mainstreamed into the general school horde, Mera is largely unimpressed.

Part of the problem is that we run a rather strict homeschool. When it is time to study, we try to keep quiet, listen to each other, focus on our work. In the classes Mera attends, students speak out of turn, the teachers yell to little affect, and there appears to be a complete and utter disregard for the learning process. Another issue is the incredibly poor quality of the course materials. Mera mastered the subjects covered in her year 9 textbooks years ago. In fact, the entire tone and level of the books seems grossly dumbed down. I would swear we’ve been using age appropriate texts to teach the girls, but you would never know it comparing the materials used in Don Quixote Academy with those used at Takapuna Grammar. I would be hard pressed to find a lesson in either the science or math books that Aeron has not already mastered long ago, let alone Mera.

Yet, Mera insists that the best thing is to remain at the school in the mainstream classes. Tests for accelerate courses are given later this year, and she has already spoken with the dean to ensure her opportunity to take the placement exams. During the short time before school adjourns for summer, Mera intends to concentrate on learning about the school and making friends. She believes that were she to transfer classes, her efforts to fit in would be seriously hampered.

Rescuing Discovery -- Again
Uploaded by toastfloats
Fair enough. Mera’s probably correct. We don’t really care if she learns much academically during this next month or two anyway. While she may be light years ahead in history, social science and English, she still hasn’t grasped even the basics of being a teenager. Example? Jaime nearly despaired of Mera ever passing Cell Phone 101 after we discovered that my middle daughter had left the thing in the car on a trip to the mall. So it is a very constructive use of her time just meeting people and figuring out how such strange and perverse creatures as high school teens function. For Mera it is an immersive, foreign language experience.

After all these years of worrying if we were “keeping up with the Jones,” it is clear that we drastically overshot the mark. Yet, it doesn’t feel that way. The girls don’t seem abnormally smart or clever. They are bright, healthy kids with reasonably good study habits. It makes sticking to our “close homeschool” plan extremely difficult. It is hard to know if we are doing them any favours enroling them in schools which hardly appear capable of understanding my girls, let alone educating them. Can any amount of socialization balance the fact that they will effectively be treading water intellectually for years until their peer group catches up? There really is no way of knowing.

I do know that I never thought when we started homeschooling that one of the hardest bits would be stopping.

*Update: Another article written during the November push for NaNoWriMo (which again I completely failed to get anywhere near 50K). Mera is out for the summer, accepted into the Y10 accelerate classes for next year. We'll see.


S/V Zephyr said...

What did you expect? I have yet to meet a boat kid that wasn't years ahead of any land lubber kids. Most can hold a conversation with adults far older(not necessarily brighter)than they are. Teachers in the US have such a strong union that it doesn't matter how good they are, you can't touch them. Perfect job security(wish I'd had that).
Enjoy the fact that you have done such an excellent job teaching them that while they may be young, their intelligence is far higher than others they meet on land.

Funcle Glenn said...

It won't be a problem for the girls to have this period of being ahead of the crowd. They will be smarter, wiser and more self confident than their peers. It helps that they are physically attractive and personable. It's far better to have those advantages when dropping into an alien land than to be at the opposite end of the spectrum. The challenge will be not letting the popularity go to their heads; Jaime.