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What is it about High School? January 17, 2010

Posted by Beth in Education, Miscellaneous Musings, Personal.
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I am reading an interesting article pointed out to me by Janine Cate at Why Homeschool on the social experience in Jr. High and High School relative to the social experience in “the real world.”  This reminded me of some thoughts I have had tumbling around in the back of my mind about the high school experience in general.

I have watched my son go through high school and pretty much languish. Nothing seems to have inspired him. He started out gung-ho as a freshman, but each year since, he has seemed more and more apathetic about his classes, uninterested in actual learning or working to acquire skills for the future. Granted, he is in a government school, which is less than ideal, but when it became obvious that he needed to get out on his own away from me and homeschooling, that’s the alternative we chose. Where we live, any private school would have been a 30-45 minute commute each way, and both he and I wanted to stay within our community. I knew of good kids who seemed to have thrived at the school, so we thought it would be ok. I am not sure we made the wrong choice, but it definitely has its down sides.

Lately, it has struck me just how much like a prison the high school has become under the control of a new principal. The last one wasn’t so great either, but had a healthy dose of benign neglect that now I am missing.

So, what is it about high school?

I do think the social scene is better than in Jr. High. The kids are a bit more mature and not so cruel. There are definitely opportunities for growth—-although less so academically than in the extra-curricular activities offered. A passage from the article I mentioned above has a clue:

I think the important thing about the real world is not that it’s populated by adults, but that it’s very large, and the things you do have real effects. That’s what school, prison, and ladies-who-lunch all lack. The inhabitants of all those worlds are trapped in little bubbles where nothing they do can have more than a local effect. Naturally these societies degenerate into savagery. They have no function for their form to follow.

When the things you do have real effects, it’s no longer enough just to be pleasing. It starts to be important to get the right answers.

To this I would add, you also have a much greater degree of choice.

I don’t think that high school has to be like a prison—although I can see that avoiding this atmosphere would be very difficult for a government school whose main thrust is complying with compulsory attendance laws. I mean, what’s the big difference between a high school senior and a college freshman? I don’t think it’s the kids that change so much over the summer–but something is clearly different in the college environment that makes it a superior experience, while high school is marginal at best. A big part of that is the degree of choice college students have–not just in whether or not to even be there, but also in the classes they can take.

I have tried to do what I can to help my kids work outside of the box the high school tries to lock them in. Both only went half-time as freshman and both are taking advantage of courses offered at the local community college to better meet their unique interests. Both know that they don’t have to be there–that there are workable alternatives.

However, with the bulk of their curriculum uninspiring and with minimal alternatives, the emphasis in high school turns to the social scene. For those whose strengths are academic not social, it’s a tough ride.

At this point for my son (he’s a senior), I can only hope that once he gets to college, he will find a way to reignite his spark. My daughter, who has 3 1/2 more years left, has immersed her self in the extra-curricular activities and social scene. It will be interesting to see how she navigates her remaining time there.

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