Homeschooled for the big school
Alex Hilbert QC’12 and Jim Stellar
Early on in my first year (last year) at Queens College, I met an honors student who was also an accounting major. We worked together with another student and a professor in the Provost’s Office doing some analysis of publicly available data to help Departments better understand their operations. One day at a honors reception, I met her family and it came out that she was homeschooled in the very large borough of Queens. I thought that presented interesting opportunities for us to discuss “other lobe of the brain” type processing in adjustment, learning, etc. So here we are.
Alex, let me ask as a first question about your home schooling experience. What were the reasons you and your family decided to do it, what was it like, and how do you feel it plays into your experience at college?
I was pretty young when we began homeschooling, my older brother was in 6th grade, I was in 3rd and my sister was in 1st , my four younger siblings had yet to begin school. There were two main reasons why we began homeschooling. First was me, my teacher was constantly sending me home with additional work for my mom to do with me because I was not keeping up with the class. The second reason was the opposite, my brother very smart and was being held back by the pace of his class. Homeschooling allowed my Mother to design curriculums and find materials which targeted our weak points and helped us to excel.
By the time I was in high school I could work mostly on my own, leaving my Mom with more time to spend with the younger kids. My Mother would administer tests, grade papers, and generally make sure I was on track, but I made my own plan for how I would accomplish my work. How much I took away from my education was up to me. This sense of responsibility was one the most valuable things I took away from homeschooling. I have been in charge of my own education since I was young, so by the time I graduated and began College it was like breathing, natural. College is a lot harder then high school I’ll admit and I’ve faced many new challenges, but there is a large overlap in the methodology of homeschooling and college. I’m already used to seeking out my own opportunities, figuring things out for myself as well as recognizing when its time to ask for help, and managing my own time and commitments, these things homeschooling has taught me.
You talk about the sense of responsibility for your own work being natural because of the homeschooling. When you came to the “big school” did you feel that responsibility-taking made you any different from the other students, particularly in the beginning?
Yes, I think it definitely prepared me better. Coming into College I already had a lot of the skills that many other students now had to learn for the first time. There were, of course some things that were hard to get used to, large classes and fussy teachers, and some things I will never like, for instance group projects, but what I believe what I faced coming in is nothing compared to what the average high schooler had to learn.
I’ve always found regular High Schools fascinating since I’ve never attended one, most of what I hear about them leaves me feeling quite incredulous. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine before she took her first Literature class in College and she was honestly surprised that she would have to do the readings as homework since in High School the class had always done the readings during class time. Most of the stories I hear are along this vein. When students are coddled like this through high school it is no wonder that when they get to college there is a steep learning curve. There are those who know these things innately, most of us on the other hand have to learn them the hard way and the way I see it I got a four year head start and that definitely gave me an advantage.
“Coddled” is an interesting word, since one could make the opposite argument and say that by staying home you did not have to face the social pressures of how to get along in school. Yet it seems the opposite in that you are thriving at Queens academically and as a person. To me this proves the point of the power of learning when the student is engaged, and you obviously were engaged by being home-schooled. Could you talk a little about what you think it is that produces this engagement with learning? Do you think there is more to it beyond being used to taking responsibility for one’s learning … or is it just that simple?
I use the word coddled simply to describe the academic side of most public schools, not all, but quite a few of them. It is true though that there are many other pressures and challenges when attending public school and I am grateful to have avoided them for the most part. I never had to worry as much about fitting in and sticking out, it gave my childhood more freedom and helped me become the person I am now. When being home schooled I didn’t have worry about the social dynamic in the classroom, I didn’t have to worry about falling behind or have to wait for others to catch up, my schooling moved at my pace.
As for the second part of your question. There is definitely something to be said for being engaged not only do you get more done and retain more over the long term. I had more freedom to branch out when things caught my fancy, if a certain aspect of my history lesson, for example, interested me I had the freedom to write my history essay about it instead of what was already planned. Things like this kept my learning interesting, which in turn kept me engaged and focused. There is as well the knowledge that I was going to sit there till my assignments were done no matter how long it took, but if I finished early then I could move on to more pleasant activities, things tended to get done sooner rather then later.
Homeschooling is experiential education, at least in this case. We say that because this story involves components of learning that are transmitted personally in addition to the information and theory that are deposited with the student. Alex reports that her mother said that Alex was her toughest student. And by that Alex means that her mother had to push her, let her make every mistake, and do all of the other things that students do when learning. But it was a family member doing the teaching and Alex was encouraged to try again. While she was learning, she was learning to learn and to love learning. This is one of the highest goals of education, particularly in the latter years. It prepares a student for a world in which new information and ideas will be introduced and they have to be incorporated rapidly into one’s ongoing perspective, produce change, but not cause a loss of one’s voice or perspective. It does not happen (or happen easily) with the information alone. It requires people to engage in some kind of relationship with each other and with the information - the older teacher/mentor guides the younger student/learner in evaluation and joy, showing affection or even joy in the knowledge discovery. If it works, the parent teacher can play that role superbly. Maybe this is why in a recent post the laboratory was referred to as a family. Emotional processing on the value of and perspective on the information runs along with the mastery of the information itself. Thus the whole student is educated in college or even before, in some cases.