A few thoughts on publishing our high school homeschool experience

It's that time of year again. I'm in a homeschool frame of mind. It happens like this every year. I've checked the archives.

In September and October I do a flurry of publishing about homeschooling because homeschooling is on my mind. It's on my mind all throughout the year, seeing as it's one of the "things" I do. But in late summer as I plan our coming year and reflect on the past, I am definitely in a homeschool headspace.

And so I have a post ready to share about Celine graduating from high school, which happened in May of this year.

This is a big deal in Celine's life, a huge milestone and threshold. (I love the writing of Irish philosopher and poet, John O'Donohue, for giving language to the inner landscape of threshold experiences. To Bless the Space Between Us is a wonderful book for these reflections.)

This is a big deal in my life, as a career homeschooler, mother, and writer.

I wrote that post and I asked Celine for her feedback and permission before I publish it. She's ok with the post but she commented on the irony of being a private person who's mom has a very public blog. A mom who has written quite a bit about her children over the years.

I've always checked myself before publishing things about my children. Not so much in the early days when they were little and seemed like an extension of me. But as they started developing and differentiating into themselves, into their very unique characters and personalities, I would catch myself before publishing details of their lives. Is this my story to tell? Is this fair to my child? Does it feel right for this to become part of the permanent and public record?

Honestly, there is so much data that is part of the permanent and public record of modern humans, that what I write isn't even a drop in the bucket but it is significant in our lives. And it's that significance that matters.

Those questions are not easy to answer and memoirists will draw different boundary lines. I've done my best to draw the lines in a way that allows me to share a story about my people while still honoring my people. The boundary lines for what I share about myself are much more expansive. You can judge me harshly, but don't you dare judge my people harshly. I'm sure you understand the sentiment. I am extremely loyal and protective of my close relationships.

Celine is probably the most private person in our family. The fact that I am one of the few people on the planet who knows this beautiful and interesting person so intimately feels like such a gift to me. A gift that is uniquely mine to cherish. And as much as I want to show off my daughter, all my children, I must do so in a way that honors who they are.

And as I thought about all this I wondered what and if I should publish that post at all. But one more post doesn't make any difference, it can't change what has already been done, all the words, photos, and video (hello AT thru-hike project) I've already published. This is part of who I am and part of the work I do. And I will always walk this line as a writer, mother, daughter, and wife. What to share. What to withhold.

In case you're curious, the post is not all that revealing. It could appear that I'm building it up to be way more than it is. It's a rather pragmatic accounting of how Celine's high school education ended and the new beginnings of post-high school life.

Which is the very reason I feel it's important to publish it.

Celine's high school story is non-normative. Not in a "aren't we special" way but in the "every kid and every family is unique" way.

A lot of homeschooling through high school stories on the internet end with, "and then we created the transcripts, applied to these colleges, he was accepted here, here and here, got this scholarship, and now junior is off to college. Look at how successful homeschooling is!" (They may not add that last sentence but it can implied by either the writer or audience.) And if that blogger has a business supporting homeschoolers, they may add, "let me show you how to achieve the same results."

And there is an implicit, or sometimes explicit, bias that a successful high school experience is one that ends in college application and acceptance. Certainly within the wider cultural context I think this is true. Life in North American society is supposed to proceed a certain way and it's ok, maybe, to homeschool your kids, but only if there is a successful college entry at the end. I'm using some hyperbole here, but I don't think it's too far from the truth for some people.

University or college acceptance can be an explicit aim for many homeschool families as they homeschool through high school.

I have no criticism for any of that. I absolutely respect a parent's authority and intention for their children's education. It's our responsibility as parents to guide and direct our children, and families do that in different ways. Not to mention the huge (and I would say, primary) factor of the student/child's own educational desires.

But the prominent telling of just these stories, "how my homeschooled high schooler got to college", can skew the reality of the situation. Not all homeschoolers go to university, right away or ever.

Maybe I'm just reading the wrong blogs or a very limited set of blogs (which is absolutely true), but college acceptance and kids leaving home at 18, is not the only story out there.

And so my caution in telling Celine's high school story (because I want to be very careful about boundaries and privacy) is balanced by the need to tell diverse stories of the homeschooling through high school experience.

How you do it, how it ends, what comes next... It depends on the family. It depends on the student. It depends on where you live.

I have three teenagers, my oldest just graduated high school, my youngest is just starting and each of them is having a unique high school experience. Their coursework is different, their interests are different, their end goals are different (not every one of them can identify an end goal, as you'll read in the accounting of Celine's grad), the methods are different, the support Damien and I provide is different. You'd think we're homeschooling three different people. (My silly attempt at sarcastic humor.)

Here's the other driving reason to publish our story of homeschooling through high school.

My kids are so normal.

Yes, they are exceptional, in the way every human has potential to be exceptional. They have some amazing skills and talents that have grown and developed from having time to practice them. But my kids aren't particularly precocious (no offense to my beautiful children). Their favorite activities are shopping and playing Overwatch. They struggle with indecision and laziness. They are strong in some skills, weak in others. They are as flawed, and as amazing, as any human. They are normal healthy teenagers.

Some of the stories you read online about homeschool high schoolers focus on the prodigies. And I'll admit those stories provided confirmation and encouragement way back when I started this journey, eighteen years ago. Look at the potential. "This homeschooled fifteen year old got accepted to Stanford". "So many National Spelling Bee winners are homeschooled!" "Did you watch that YouTube video with the homeschooled cello prodigy?" etc...

Homeschooling can really nurture this kind of exceptionality because you're not tracking with an age-segregated group and the student can receive a lot of one-on-one attention. But the exceptional stories are just that, exceptional. Most kids, in my experience as a parent, homeschool co-op member, and homeschool mentor, are just normal. Delightfully normal.

They excel at some things, as all people do. They struggle with others, as all people do.

Over the years as I'd come across amazing homeschooling success stories, I would excitedly tell my kids what I'd heard or read, "look at this homeschooled kid saving the world!" Yes, I wanted to inspire my kids with "success" stories, but mostly I was the one seeking affirmation and validation, proof.

The precocious child success stories do neither. My kids will have their own successes based on who they are and what we're able to offer them as parents. (To be sure, there is a lot we haven't been able to offer.) And my kids have told me the "ten year old starts non-profit agency to save the whales" stories are discouraging, not inspiring.

I completely see where they are coming from. Stories of superhuman efforts and achievements feel exactly like that - super human.

Like I've already said, my kids are normal. They have "average" abilities in a lot of their interests, endeavors, and studies. In an academic context, they are below average in some areas. And in a few aptitudes that they are both naturally gifted at and have spent a lot of time developing, they are above average. These exceptional qualities show up in a variety of disciplines, skills, and attributes: fine art, computer programming, empathy, cooking, video presence and engagement, etc...

We all excel at different things and our diversity of stories and experiences is important to share. Which brings me back to homeschooling through high school. In a home with three different kids I will be writing three different high school graduation stories.

The stories of three much-loved and very normal teenagers.

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Graduating from homeschooled high school »
  • Heather

    Heather on Sept. 28, 2017, 2:30 p.m.

    Love every word here, Renee. I often wish I had more than one homeschool story to tell, because the one I had fell under the category of college-bound-precocious-teen. I never minded sharing, as our story was always "this just happens to be who she is" not, "oh, look at what a successful homeschool program we're running!" But, nevertheless, people naturally interpreted our story as something that was the result of my homeschool mom prowess. (Hardly!) I've often thought if I had more children, I'd have more diverse homeschool stories to tell... so I am thrilled you will be sharing your family's. In the Homegrown Ed program that I did with Ben Hewitt we talked extensively about celebrating our kids' "averageness"; their humanness. It is an important topic that is not talked about often enough in parenting conversations, homeschooling or otherwise.


  • Casey

    Casey on Sept. 28, 2017, 2:41 p.m.

    Thank you for writing this! My tenth grader probably won't goon to college, and I definitely feel that unspoken pressure in homeschool circles that successful homeschooling through high school ends with college. Letting go of that has allowed me to really tailor her work to her interests and future job possibilities, instead of wasting time on college requirements she has no interest in or aptitude for.


  • Catherine Forest

    Catherine Forest on Sept. 28, 2017, 6:21 p.m.

    Your voice is so important in this regard. I found myself nodding all along. Homeschooling is such a journey and we need to share it as it is. I often heard people say they couldn't homeschool since their kids had no specific passions or interests or if they were not prodigies...


  • Cassie

    Cassie on Sept. 29, 2017, 12:35 a.m.

    Thank you so much for sharing this very important story. We are in our last year of our elder daughter's homeschool high school story and it's been amazing and terrifying at the same time. The question has always been, "how will they get into college?" And to that we've always responded," they will get in if the want to." It does feel like there's so much to prove to others when you homeschool...never mind the fact that so many teens fall through the cracks in traditional high school all.the.time. Like your children, our girls are "behind" in some things and really excel in others. Our 17 year old almost high school graduate has amassed a disproportionate amount of piano/music hours while she has completed almost nil in some academic subjects. She is following her heart language and we fully support that. Right now she does take community college classes (music, of course) but she's not sure about getting a degree...only time will tell, and we're fine with that too. Our younger teen daughter loves all things circus and dreams of performing with Cirque du Soleil one day. I've always said that one day she was going to run away with the circus, and here we are! Wishing you and your family all the best in your journey!


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