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Abolish High School?

By Mary Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #9, 1995.

The high-school years aren't necessary when the courses you would have taken are repeated in college
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Mary Pride

I have been thinking about our children’s high school needs for years, and have come to the following conclusion:

High school ought to be abolished.

The reason is simple. Today, the first two years of college repeat the last two years of a decent high school program. Or, to put it another way, the freshman and sophomore years of college have become what used to be high school.

Thus, you can take American History I in high school . . . and in college. You can take Creative Writing I in high school . . . and in college. You can take Algebra I in junior high school . . . and in college.

State laws and college entrance requirements aside, I see no reason why a well-educated, homeschooled eighth-grade graduate couldn’t go straight to college and do well there. This would not have worked forty years ago, when you were supposed to have competence in a foreign language and in science and math before entering college. But today, when you can take basic literacy and remedial math and get college credit for it, why settle for high school credit for the identical courses taught in college?

I don’t believe in acceleration for acceleration’s sake. But those of us with family businesses find it a real hardship to have to wait until Junior is 21 before we can start apprenticing him to the family trade. Wouldn’t it be great if our kids were able to get a year or two of experience in a real job or ministry before they were in the midst of marriage and family life?

How to Graduate High School Early

State laws, unfortunately, do not yet recognize that homeschooled students are already accelerated several years ahead of public school students. They assume that a student must stay in school 13 years, or be considered a dropout.

At present, you have several ways around this:

  1. Prepare your students to take the Advanced Placement tests. A.P. students are allowed to count their courses towards high-school credit, and depending on their A.P. test results, they can earn college credit as well. I am not certain about whether just any kid is allowed to take the A.P. tests, or whether you have to somehow get your homeschool “approved” in order to qualify. More on this in a future issue.
  2. Design your high-school records to reflect an accelerated curriculum. If I, as a public-school student, could graduate high school a year early by taking extra courses (which I did), then homeschool students who take extra courses at home should be able to graduate early as well. So, for example, you could create a curriculum of your own which includes in one semester a French course (for 3 credits), American literature (your own choice of books and assignments, for 3 credits), algebra (3 credits), a social studies unit-study course incorporating history, geography, art, and philosophy (6 credits), physical science (3 credits), music theory (3 credits), physical education (1 credit), and quilting (as an elective, for 3 credits). This would give you a total of 25 credits for that semester, as opposed to the usual 15 credits, enabling your student to meet graduation requirements much more quickly.
  3. Do as the Swanns do and take a correspondence course which you complete according to an accelerated schedule. This is much easier with American School or Cambridge Academy than with University of Nebraska-Lincoln, as the former design their courses to be completed at your own pace, while the latter provides traditional classroom courses transposed to the correspondence-school format.
  4. Pre-enroll in college. One of our local Christian colleges has started recruiting 16-year-old homeschoolers to take some college science courses. Community colleges will often do this, too. You take the course while in high school, then it is counted towards college credit upon receipt of proof of high-school graduation. Just make sure that the college of your choice will accept transfer credits from the institutions in question.

Once your child has officially graduated from high school, you have the option of a year or two off for apprenticeship, community service, ministry, or whatever. This solves the problem of worrying about sending a young child away to college. A couple of years at the local community college are also an option. Alternatively, as distance education begins to proliferate, your student can attend college right at home, via computer modem and fax.

If You Have to Have High School . . .

Those of you who are not convinced that high school is meant to be skipped might consider this:

The courses taught in high school today leave out much of what is needed for survival and success in today’s world.

Colleges, for example, still insist that entering students have at least three years of science courses. Now I don’t know about you, but I took a lot of science courses in both high school and college. Yet, when I want to learn about some new scientific thing, I just subscribe to a magazine or read a book. I don’t take a science course.

The current high-school science program was invented after the launch of Sputnik, to counter what was perceived to be a superior Russian science program. The idea was to teach science to every kid, in hopes that we would be able to attract enough talented future scientists. But an average American who just reads magazines will find out about the history and theory of each new scientific advance that affects him, without needing to struggle through years of science courses.

On the other hand, the high-school curriculum does not include any courses in nursing or doctoring. Yet every one of us will get sick or hurt in some way, or have a family member who gets sick or hurt. I just throw the thought out to you that three or four years of instruction in basic nursing, paramedicine, herbalism, and the like would be far more useful to most of us than three or four years of the science potpourri offered in school.

Another area neglected in the high-school curriculum is office work. The vast majority of students will have to know how to take phone messages, send faxes, type rapidly, keep organized files, balance checkbooks, and dozens of other office tasks. Even those of us who stay home find ourselves needing to know all this! But do high-school kids get trained in how to develop a pleasant phone personality, how to deal successfully with managers, employees, and peers, or how American business works? Very rarely. The few entrepreneurship courses I have seen are all about how to make money and get your product out, and nothing about how to deal with the machines and people—in other words, the work that makes up 90 percent of your business day.

Yet another neglected area: family management. What are the roles of husband and wife, mother and father? How do you solve the disagreements that arise? How do you take care of a baby or potty-train a toddler? Family-life courses in schools duck these issues by instructing you to pick a daycare center and making divorce and unwed parenthood sound equivalent to marriage. We homeschoolers can surely do better than this.

Let’s Redesign High School!

In conclusion, I would like to say that we need to rethink the entire high-school curriculum. If we accept the curriculum as it now is, we shouldn’t give those courses, just to have them repeated in the first years of college.

More fundamentally, we need to think about the skills our children really need and will call on every day. This includes a solid worldview background (art history, literature, philosophy, theology, history, and current world affairs), communication skills (reading, persuasive writing and speaking, plus for some of us desktop publishing, animation, radio/film/TV production), analysis skills (math, basic scientific theory, media analysis), health care, education (how to teach your children how to teach their children), family management, business management, creativity skills (art, music, performance) . . .

I’m sure I forgot something, so write and tell me what it is! With your help, I’d like to create a new Suggested High School Curriculum. Or even a choice of Suggested Curricula, since not all of us have the same skills or priorities. This new curriculum (1) should not duplicate the first years of college and (2) should truly prepare a student for success in his world, which for some of us is high-tech and for others involves farming with draft horses. We’re waiting for your suggestions!

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