Homeschooling the Teen Years

by Marjorie A. Meyer
Founder, School of Abraham

An online resource designed to help parents facilitate the education of their Ideal Homeschooling Teens (IHT’s) with their own specific Ultimate Goals (UG’s) in mind.

“Every man spends his life fashioning himself. And in fashioning himself, for good or ill, he fashions the human race and its future.” (I. F. Stone)

Home educating during the “Teen Years” is, well, as the saying goes, “a horse of a different color.” By now, your child should know how to read, write, and do math. Having come this far, you may stop and catch your breath. OK, that’s all. Time’s up. Time to move on, farther, faster, and better equipped than ever before. You’ve taught your child to be an autodidact, of course. “A what?” you ask. Well, a child who is an autodidact is the answer to a busy mom’s plea for more time and energy. The meaning of the word “autodidact” is “one who is self-educated or self-taught.” Kind of similar to the saying that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach him to fish, you have fed him for a lifetime.

OK, so let’s say that you’ve reached the point that your precious (but growing) little darling can take some responsibility for his or her own education and learning processes. Now what? Well, the answer to that question varies as “the night, the day,” as Shakespeare said, and depends on many factors, such as the age of your child, his or her personal interests and abilities, the facilities and resources– including money–that you have available, your teen’s and your prioritization of the most important ideas, facts, and subjects to study in a limited amount of time (see Ultimate Goals, below), her inner motivation and desire to learn, his eventual goals, the number of hours in a day . . . wait, no, that last one was from the “can’t do anything about it” list.

Homeschooling pioneer John Holt wrote that “learning is not the product of teaching, and teaching does not make learning. Organized education operates on the assumption that children learn only when and only what and only because we teach them. This is not true. It is very close to one hundred percent false. Learners make learning. Learners create learning.” [Learning All the Time. Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 1989].

“Will the mind of each succeeding generation become more atrophied by the ‘professionals’ appointed to teach the young?” (Martin L. Gross)

Well, mom (or dad), take off that apron (face it, the strings are just about cut anyway), and roll up your sleeves, because it is time to really dig in, time’s a-wastin’. “The desire to learn,” writes Cyril O. Houle, “like every other human characteristic, is not shared equally by everyone. But in a world which sometimes seems to stress the pleasures of ignorance, some [do] seek the rewards of knowledge . . . The desire to learn seems, in fact, to pervade their existence. They approach life with an air of openness and an inquiring mind.” [The Inquiring Mind. University of Wisconsin Press, 1961]. Sounds like a description of the Ideal Homeschooling Teen (IHT) to me!

Let come what may, college or vocation, your homeschooled teen needs to be prepared to meet life head-on, with no regrets, no hesitation, and no looking back. “Look out world, here we come,” (they say), and strengthened and prepared from their hours and days “in the nest,” there is no need for the common “ready or not” problem. Your homeschooled teen can be ready to take up the responsibilities and opportunities that await her as an adult, and your heart will swell with pride and gratitude that you were able to celebrate life and learning with her as she developed during the crucial years leading to adulthood.

Being an autodidactic learner is essential for effective learning in the teen years. “Exploration of the full range of his possibilities is not something that the self-renewing man leaves to the chances of life,” wrote John Gardner. “It is something he pursues systematically, or at least avidly, to the end of his days.” [Self-Renewal. Harper & Row, 1963].

A-ha! Now we’re getting somewhere . . . I really like those terms: “systematically” and “avidly”. The keys to lasting success, I might add, are Accountability, Exactness, and Honor (further detail). Let’s go on to discuss just how systematically and how avidly our Ideal Homeschooling Teen needs to approach his autodidactic education.

Step One. Decide, once and for all, that homeschooling your teen is really something that you and s/he want to do. The teen years are the most demanding years of home education, both for the teen, who needs to launch and make Many Important Decisions, and to self-motivate academically, as well as for the parent (you), who needs to provide access to ever-more challenging academic subjects (under girded with Accountability, Exactness, and Honor) for your fledgling scholar. Does your child belong in public high school, private school, or some combination of the above? Or would s/he do better, “take flight,” as it were, with the enriched resources of a home environment, distance learning, or early entrance to college? Only you and your child can judge, but judge wisely, for the strength of youth needs the wisdom and guidance of the older generation in making decisions which will impact the whole of their lives, and indeed, perhaps also their children’s lives.

One homeschooled teen shared his motives when he wrote: “I have two basic reasons for homeschooling: freedom and time. Having a lot of freedom in my life is a necessity. I need the freedom to learn things in my own way, at my own pace. I have my own unique way of learning, as does everyone, and I feel the public school system could not possibly accommodate my learning style. My time is my most valuable asset. I only have a finite amount of time (like everyone else), and I want to make the best possible use of it. In school your time is under the control of practically everybody BUT yourself. That’s definitely one of my major reasons for not attending school. I refuse to spend my time doing their busywork and taking their tests. I feel that I have better things to do with my time; learning things that are important to me personally, that will enhance my life.

“With all of this freedom and time comes a lot of responsibility. The fact that I can choose what I want to do and when I want to do it also means that I’m taking on the responsibility for my own education. In school your work is graded; you know at all times whether you’re “passing,” “failing,” or just scraping by. In other words, someone lets you know when you’re supposedly sufficiently “educated.” Because I don’t follow a set curriculum, I have no such simple way of knowing when I know “enough” about a subject; no one grades me on my work. Thus, I am not misled by a false sense of security–but on the other hand I have to be aware of exactly what I need to learn in order to accomplish my goals. Sometimes I get a little worried that I’m not learning everything that I need to know. However, although I may not be getting [an] average, generic education, I am learning something all the time, and I know I’m capable of learning whatever I need to learn.” [Jeremiah Gingold, Real Lives: eleven teenagers who don’t go to school. Lowry House: 1994].

Step Two: Use resources outside the home. That may seem oxymoronic to you and to your Ideal Homeschooling Teen, but bear with me. It really is important that you realize that you are no longer the font of all wisdom and knowledge for your child. (The apron strings are cut, remember?) Teach your teen to reach out to mentors, to professionals in areas of expertise in which s/he is interested, to enroll in distance learning or the local community college, in brief, to expand his/her horizons. You will find this is essential to the giant academic leaps required to adequately prepare your IHT for what lies ahead.

Step Three: Relax. Successful (self-)education in the teen years is not something that is going to happen overnight or easily. It will take inspiration and hard work, the utter cooperation of your IHT, help from your spouse (preferably), and an unwavering commitment on the part of all for the process of Homeschooling the Teen Years to succeed. Fulfillment, synergy, enthusiasm, intellectual stimulation, discovery, and the joy of a job well done will be part and parcel of the journey.

Step Four: Begin with the end in mind. What are the Ultimate Goals (UG) that your IHT desires to accomplish? Entrance to an Ivy League college? A better job at the local Representative of Corporate America? A running start at the local community college—prelude to completing a baccalaureate degree at another university? Hands-on technical training? Entrepreneurship following an extended mentoring relationship? The capacity to think and reason well, and to articulately communicate? “Begin with the end in mind,” Stephen Covey wrote. The establishment of your IHT’s Ultimate Goals is most important, as this will form the roadmap for all which is to follow.

Step Five: Don’t be afraid. Expect the love of learning to grow deep and to become (or continue to be) an intrinsic motivation to your IHT. And by the way, do plan to join in for the intellectual ride–you will find it exhilarating and life-giving. “Whether we know it or not,” wrote Mortimer Adler, “we are all philosophers. We all think–well or sloppily, enthusiastically or inattentively. The slightest sense perception–a falling leaf, a twinkling star, a smiling child–awakens our minds as well as arouses our feelings and forces us to ask: Why? What? Whence? Whither? . . . We often think of ourselves as living in a world which no longer has any unexplored frontiers. We speak of pioneering as a thing of the past. But in doing so we forget that the greatest adventure of all still challenges us–what Mr. Justice Holmes called “the adventure of the human mind.” [Reforming Education: The Opening of the American Mind. New York, NY: Macmillan, 1990].

Step Six: Stay the course. Homeschooling can be a lot of work, and some days can be harder than others. Let’s not kid ourselves: homeschooling requires sacrifice. It requires our hearts, might, mind, and will. Some days it seems that it requires more than we have to give. It is then that a kind Father in Heaven shows us a bright spark in the eye of a child as they understand something new, or allows us to see in our mind’s eye what the public school alternative would do to the spirit of our teen. He gives us one more fresh surge of energy when we are already filled to the brim with duties and obligations. Yes, he tenderly cares for us as we care for his children, in return. Let us never forget that we are about our Father’s business as we homeschool eternal spirits on their journeys toward eternal life. This is not just about academics. For some of us, our children’s spiritual lives are at stake, whether we know it or not. And that is the truth.