Friday, October 21, 2011

College success

J. and I have been having a wonderful time watching M. succeed in her first full semester of college.  She is doing quite well in her classes, was cast (in one of only 6 parts) in the fall show (Hideous Progeny, about the Shelleys and the writing of the book, Frankenstein), and is making some really good friends.  All in all, she is having a ball and learning a lot.  What more could a parent hope for?

And I know the burning question in many people's minds (homeschoolers in particular) is, "What did we do?"  How do I know this is the burning question?  Because I've received it more than a couple of times and I came across it once again today.  In truthfulness, the question is more along the lines of what did we do to get our child into college.  This has always struck me as a slightly odd thing to worry about.  (Odd that is, after I survived homeschooling our first year of high school and realized it wasn't the huge deal I had made it out to be.)  Because, really, there are so many colleges around the country that there is a place for everyone if you are flexible in your choices.  If a child (parent?) has their heart set on an Ivy, it's a different story.  There are only so many spaces and you're in good company if your child is rejected.  Since I am of the firm belief that wonderful educations can be found in many places, not just the ones that come with bragging rights, that wasn't really a concern.

By focusing on getting into college, it's as if parents (and consequently children) forget there is an entire four years of learning that comes after that.  Learning that is the student's responsibility.  No longer are Mom and Dad there to be sure that the learning happens.  Isn't this what we should be concerned about as parents?  Or why stop at just getting through college?  Why are we not all asking how we can prepare our children for living a purposeful life?  College is only four years out of many; the years spent out of college are far greater than the ones spent in.  Why not focus on how we can prepare our children for living their life in a meaningful and productive way?

We get caught up in the hype and fear that is promulgated around the whole college application process.  We buy into the idea that there are only a handful of schools which can give our child a sound education.  We forget to enjoy the process of watching our child learn and grow and instead fixate on whether what they're doing is going to help their college application stand out.  And we leave God out of the whole equation.  Do we think that God doesn't care where our child attends college?  Do we think that the college application and acceptance process is outside of God's control?  There are some days we certainly act as though we believe these things.

But that still doesn't answer the question of what we did to cause M.'s success.  My answer is going to disappoint you.  I don't know.  And really, the success is M.'s and not her parents.  It is her choice to work diligently in her studies, to audition for shows, to make friends.  We didn't tell her to do these things, they were her choice.  And maybe there is my answer.  We gave her the opportunities in high school to gradually take charge of her own life and learning.  We tried not to make use of the threat that if something wasn't done it would jeopardize her college acceptance.  We spent time with her. We listened to her.  We gave her space to pursue her own interests.  We read books together.  We made suggestions (some of which were listened to).  We discussed ideas, big and small.  And we were not perfect, any of us, and we made mistakes.

My one piece of advice to parents who ask about how to homeschool high school has become this:  Don't let fear take over.  The thousands of homeschoolers who have attended college, done well, and graduated show that it is not an impossible venture.  Fear causes us to make choices we would not naturally make.  Fear causes us to not enjoy what should be enjoyed.  Fear causes us to mistake who is in charge.  Fear causes us to give away time in worry that could be used in so many other ways.

Fear does not come from God.  He is with us; we have nothing to fear.  Even high school.

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