ELEVENTH IN LINE
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A blog about my life, universe, etc. At any given time you might find something endlessly interesting or just me ruminating on something else, which no one (not even myself) finds interesting. That's the way blogs go, I suppose. Anyway, I was eleventh in line, and you weren't. Hah!
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Sunday, September 26, 2004
Something I hardly ever talk about on the blog, but probably should, Is home education. It's probably not obvious to casual readers of this blog (like all the visitors I still get from that one California Insider mention), but I was home schooled from seventh grade through high school graduation. I'd like to consider myself a home education success story. Certainly I did all right on the SAT and ACT (1380, 29). There was a tough transition into college, but that was a lot of "hey there's no one here to make sure I'm actually showing up to class..." and "wow, I'm 16, and there's 50,000 people here and tons of interesting things to do" and all that other growing-up stuff. I was over prepared for my humanities and language classes, in any case, and tested into an accelerated math program (I didn't show up to half the classes -- for what it's worth, if you see anything other than an "A" on my transcripts, it's because I didn't go to at least one and probably more like 15 class sessions; there is no college-level class that I've taken, attended all the classes, and NOT received an "A" -- so I ended out switching to the regular Calculus series after my first "D").
Having said that, let me tell you a little bit about the particular form of home schooling that I personally went through (I should tell you now that what I did doesn't bear a significant resemblence to the programs that Caroline and Laura have done, mostly because I started after 7 years of public school, whereas Caroline started after just a year of public kindergarten and Laura has never attended any other school -- also, I'm the oldest, also known in Family Studies classes as "She Upon Whom We Shall Experiment!")
There are a couple of phases here, and some of them I'm including because they're an important part of the overall not-in-public-school aspect of my education, even though they occurred before I was enrolled at either Stowers or Eagle Rock Elementary.
Phase I: "Teach Your Baby to Be BRILLIANT"
This would be the Glenn Doman/Suzuki phase of my education, which occurred from "way earlier than I can remember" (Mom, did you do the "listening to music during the pregnancy" thing?) through around the time of my parents' divorce (though I still sort of had Suzuki-ish piano lessons from Mom through elementary school on an irregular basis, thanks to custody quirks). Basically I did Suzuki piano, the "Teach Your Baby How To Read" curriculum, the "Give Your Baby Encyclopedic Knowledge" curriculum (BITS!!!), and the "Teach Your Baby Math" curriculum. We went to Philadelphia when I was a toddler and I had off-the-chart type reading skills (I believe that I was able to read before I could walk, though that's another "hey, Mom, am I right?" issue). I also had a big fat ZERO in physical skills because they couldn't get me to even WALK the running course. I was stubborn. Heh. Anyway, I attribute my good verbal memory (you know: read it once, remember it FOREVER) and bizarre estimations-at-a-glance skills (at Disney I would look at a disorganized assortment or pile of irregular plastic toys, make a random guess as to how many I'd need to fit our very arbitrary quotas, and then turn out to be exactly right, or at least within one or two units of being right) to the Doman books. I also wonder if I'd be better at reading music and worse at remembering the lyrics and music to my favorite songs if it hadn't been for Suzuki.
Anyway, that lasted until I was 3 or so.
Phase Two: Welcome to Aldersgate Academy
The second phase started when I was 11, and was basically the result of a confluence of three different trends. The first trend (probably the most relevant for my purposes) was the general lack of quality high-challenge public school options for extremely well-prepared smart kids over 10, particularly (though hardly exclusively) in Auborn Hills, Michigan. I went in in January of 1992 to be tested, to make sure I was ready for their version of seventh grade (I was being transferred to my mother's custody after five years with my dad -- during which time I had attended a Highly Gifted program for kids with very high IQs; there are about 300-400 slots in the Los Angeles Unified School District in this program -- that article, incidentally, mentions Mrs. Muraoka, who was my 2nd-4th grade teacher). As far as I remember, they wanted me to go into the high school, or at least 8th grade, after taking the test, and there were some concerns I'd be bored with the English and humanities classes they had at those grade levels. There was talk of going to 9th grade -- and I was a 5'1" 11 year old who had been with the same tiny group of 30 or so kids for five years.
The second trend was my sister's education. My parents (mom and stepfather) hadn't had kids in public school living in their house since I was in 1st grade seven years earlier, and I guess the kindergarten curriculum didn't impress them. They started talking about other options, including home schooling.
The last trend involves a total fluke in Michigan's teacher hiring rules. My mom had been a public school teacher in math (grades 5-10, I think), English (7-12, including students 5+ years behind grade level), and various humanities and social sciences, like Psychology (her college minor). But her degree is in Music Performance. So that's what Michigan schools could hire her for -- and they weren't exactly hiring music teachers in 1992 (I don't think anyone's been hiring music teachers, since before I started elementary school...) She spent a very long time looking for teaching work, to no avail.
So by March/Mayish, I guess, things were looking somewhat desperate, and my stepfather made a command decision -- "look, just home school them."
And that's what we did. I got word, and started getting really excited about the idea of a school situation where you could go as fast as you wanted and study what subjects you really wanted to. I told all my friends (and everyone else) that I'd be taking the SATs in a year (I didn't, which really annoyed me for the next four years, until I DID take them) and that I could probably be in college way before any of them (I was, though I'm also STILL trying to actually get my degree [paperwork... which I haven't been DOING, and need to be...], whereas most of them have graduated -- Anna at MIT, Ben at Princeton, the other Ben at UCLA, etc.) I recall some people being rather jealous at the time -- it was like a dream come true. A school where you could read any book you wanted? Sign me up, yesterday!
It wasn't really like that, though. Mom came from the perspective of having taught a lot of students in a traditional school, and there were certain, ah, "trappings" that appealed to her. So we rented a school room (actually a two-room storefront in a five-unit shopping center thing -- the front was Mom's teacher desk and Gene's consulting business desk, and the back room was our school; the dirt parking lot in the back was our playground during "recess"), walked to school each day (it was about five minutes from the house) in our blue-courdoroy-skirt-or-jumper-and-white-blouse outfits (my sister Caroline is permanently biased against courdoroy, and jumpers), said the Pledge of Alleigance, and then sat down to schoolwork. I used mostly books from the local junior college bookstore, our family library (10,000+ volumes, including the Great Books, Jr. Great Books, National Geographics from every year after 1967 and most years after 1945, and the Encycopaedia Brittanica), and my mom's cool educational finds. The one I hated the most, bar none, was the sentence-diagramming book that looked it came from 1970. Also, the history books (which we still have someplace) that smelled gross and were incredibly biased. I had to do things like read 20 big novels a year (writing a report on each) and 20 non-fiction books, too, chosen from a list Mom made (structured so that I'd have to read some Dostoevsky, some C.S. Lewis, some politics, some philosophy, etc.) There was also a lot of the "read the chapter, answer all the questions in the back of the chapter, then take the test based on the chapter" stuff, especially in the sciences and math. I hated Geometry more than anything else, unless you reminded me how much I hated Biology. I'm terrible at visualizing shapes, and I faint at the mention of blood (that's why I picked Marine Biology for my biology requirement for my bachelor's degree -- even though I get severe motion sickness on boats, and I knew I had to do a field trip on a boat...) I also got graded in Music and PE, on the basis of participation. Mom didn't mind giving me "C"s, as in Music in I think my tenth grade year (I was supposed to do 30 minutes of piano practice per day for 180 days -- I ended out with a total of I think 68 or 70 hours, mostly done in the last three weeks of the school year).
But there was some flexibility. I was able to beg off of taking any more Spanish in 9th grade, though Mom made me pick another language. I tried French (we used a cheap "learn French for your vacation" book and CD for the trial phase) but learned how much I hated French (that book smelled really bad, too -- it's a chemical smell I only find in glossy paper textbooks) and switched to Latin, which I didn't apply myself to nearly as well as I wish I had, especially now that I'm really more interested in genuine language fluency. I did the first two years of this system (7th and 8th) in one year, by completing Mom's set of requirements fast enough; I was already young for my grade going in (born in late October) and had always been the youngest or almost-youngest in my class (excluding kids in grades below me -- almost all of elementary school was spent in either a 2nd-4th mix class or 5th-6th mix class). Anyway, I turned 13 two months into my 9th grade year.
I want to say that this vaguely lassaiz-faire yet still fairly strict phase of homeschooling lasted right up until we moved from Connecticut to Ohio (we dropped the uniforms back when we moved from Michigan to Connecticut right before 10th grade). That's when things got serious (at the beginning of eleventh grade).
Phase Three:Hey, You Remember That Whole Future Thing?
Yeah. So we trucked along, and I for one became bizarrely unfocused on the future, i.e. college. I'd always idealized college in my mind. It was this Ultimate Mecca of True Intellectual Bliss. It was ten thousand people who all wanted to do nothing more than read good serious books and then discuss them intelligently, who loved Star Trek and thought 90210/New Kids on the Block was the dumbest thing ever, and wouldn't dream of spending recess playing handball rather than reading. In other words, college was full of people just like I was when I was 9, except that the people there were way smarter, way cooler, and taller. Much, much taller. Their height couldn't be exaggerated; there was no way some idiot sixth grader would intimidate them, because they were all taller (and also smarter and cooler) than the sixth graders. Mind you, I was smarter than the sixth graders who terrified me when I was 9, but I wasn't really sure about that, and they were much taller than I was. I was really focused on height as a kid.
Anyway, in the absence of terrifying 6th graders and interminable "you can't sit at the benches, PLEASE just go and PLAY for crying out loud" lunch hours and mandatory fire drills and everything else that made me want to cry when thinking about going to school each day (tests didn't bother me, homework only bugged me when I put off doing it, and once I memorized my multiplication tables, math was only a minor crisis -- I'd have much preferred staying in the classroom and doing schoolwork to facing recess, or the school bus), The Future In the Form of The Heaven That Will Be USC or Some Other Good College wasn't the most pressing escape in my mind. I didn't need one nearly as much anymore, and what I did need I got out of reading and watching Star Trek.
That all changed right around the time we moved from CT. First, we became active in the church again, which meant I started Seminary (the high school scripture study program the church runs). Second, I started looking at colleges I might want to attend -- and realized exactly how much they cost (and how little I had to pay for them!), and what needed to be done to get into them, and what I might like to major in, and all that stuff. I took the SAT and did well; then I found out that my then-dream school, Notre Dame, required home school students to take five SAT-II subject tests before being considered for admission (believe it or not, that's why I never applied to Notre Dame). I took the ACT because Ohio University (in Athens) required it, and did almost as well as I had on the SAT (SAT breakdown: 770 Verbal, 610 Math; ACT breakdown: 32 Reading, 32 Writing, 30 Science, 24 Math) I did a few college visits: to Hillsdale (a top competitor in my mind, as they had politics and morals I agreed with and welcomed home schoolers), to St. John's in Annapolis (which left me feeling very weird -- all the students were very avant-garde, they all smoked, etc. -- even though the curriculum was a dream come true), to Ohio University for interviews with the directors of the History and Physics departments, and to Ohio State for a generic admissions interview at the Honors House. I applied to Ohio State, Ohio University, and Hillsdale, and was accepted to all three (OSU put me in the Honors program; Ohio University did not -- I think in part because I told the Physics director that my Physics textbook was Creationist, from Abeka Books). I should point out that I might have gone to college after 11th grade (i.e. at the age of 15), but at the time I was intending to be a dual major (History and Physics) in the Honors department (that's why I had to get interviewed by BOTH directors at OU), and my mom thought I should take a full year of I think Trigonometry and Analytical Geometry beforehand. It was probably overkill in the end (I think I would have done better to do upper-level math at an actual community college, which is what Caroline and Laura have done/are doing), but I'm glad I wasn't 15 when I moved into the dorms. As it was I was one of the 20 or so youngest people at Ohio State (the average freshman is 19), and one of the very youngest in the dorms. My first roommate was 19 (and taller than me, sigh).
Anyway, the last two years were filled with lots of testing (which I hadn't done since elementary school, really). I took the State of Ohio 9th Grade Proficiency test, because the local superintendent wanted to try and get me a "real" diploma from Bucyrus High School (I passed easily, but because I hadn't ever enrolled at BHS, I wasn't eligible). That day I took the test, interestingly, was the first time I went inside of a public high school (other than visiting my mother's workplace as a first grader). That experience was all I needed to vindicate the home education decision (though I was even happier about it after I got through my first day in Honors English 110C).
They were also filled with lots of "oh, you need to get this done" stuff -- second-year Latin, a year of four different sciences, that sort of thing. The focus was less on interesting books and "think this through and write in your reader's journal using these six questions" and more on the kind of stuff you usually do in high school (as far as I know, it was all junior college level stuff, though -- Wheelock's Latin Grammar and such). Bizarrely, though, I also got to use some more personally-gratifying activities for school (which helped my grades -- PE for 11th and 12th grades was my Irish Dance practice), and I got to volunteer in the community (I did two weeks of Recruiting work with the Navy in Mansfield for Sea Cadets, and worked for 8 hours a week for about a year as a reenactor/docent at the Ohio Historical Society). There was less to do in the way of "normal teenage" stuff, compared with our time in CT, though (in Connecticut I was a part of the Naugatuck Teen Theatre's innaugural production, "Fiddler on the Roof" -- we moved to Ohio in the week that they had the first meeting for "Jesus Christ Superstar"), though I still did Sea Cadets (and actually became Lead Cadet in the Mansfield unit -- if I join the Navy or Coast Guard I'll automatically be an E3 from all the work I did there) one weekend a month. I also volunteered at the Los Angeles Children's Museum during my summer in Los Angeles with my dad, between 11th and 12th grade.
Concluding Stuff: I Got to Design My Own Diploma!
One cool thing almost no public high school student ever gets to do is decide what their diploma is going to look like. But I got to pick everything, right down to font sizes and the placement of the signature lines. We had the graduation party on May 31st, 1997 -- which is why that's the date I use for forms that need it. Ohio State called me one day, while they were trying to put me in as a Political Science major: it turned out that they didn't have an official graduation date for me, because someone had removed the extremely impressive transcripts my mom drew up for my five years of home education, and that's where the date had been taken from. I had to look up my own resume to figure out what the "official" date was; it was an utterly arbitrary date (I'd been done with my work for weeks), picked as much because it was a Saturday as anything else. I got a job at the Wendy's in the Ohio Union (the student union near the High Street border of the OSU campus) and worked there all summer, driving down with my stepfather each morning (he worked in Newark at the time), doing 40 hours a week and getting to know all the professors and advisors (the Ohio Union is the closest source of fast food for all the departments I've majored in -- History, Political Science, and Physics -- the Honors College, the University College freshman orientation offices and admissions office, and most other academic buildings on campus, other than the medical school and Dept. of Athletics). I found out I'm scarily good at "upselling" and really good at counting money and a lot of other things that my home schooling hadn't really covered yet still somehow prepared me for. Hmmmm...
Anyway: Back to Today
That turned out to be a LOT longer than I meant it to be. It also took over an hour to write, which just shows that writing when you bother to fact-check and look up URLs takes a lot longer than writing by the seat of your, uh, pajamas. Yeah.
Anyway, I'm going to try and make a more concerted effort to talk about home schooling stuff some more. In the meantime, go look at Brian's Education Blog. And Homeschool & Other Education Stuff. They're both in the BlogRoll and have been for a while.
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