Extra Credit--Homeschooling means more writing
[Here is one of our occasional letters from readers and responses from me.]
Dear Extra Credit:
I read your column religiously and have noticed that you have sometimes asked to hear from homeschoolers. After reading your column this morning on the demise of research papers in high schools, I decided to make the leap. See, this is one of the main reasons I am homeschooling (for the first time this year) my two middle-school aged children.
Since graduating from college 20 years ago with an English literature degree, I have worked in a field that requires a lot of writing. Over the years, I have noticed that new-hires--even those with degrees from prestigious universities--are coming into the workplace unable to write a coherent, grammatically correct paragraph; forget about making a reasoned argument in writing. My children's teachers, while quite good at some things, were not particularly skilled in teaching research and writing skills, which I think are essential to critical thinking, making persuasive arguments, and evaluating the arguments of others.
We are homeschooling this year, and early on, my 13-year-old son said, "You know, you're making us do a lot more writing than I'm used to." (This said, of course, as if I hadn't realized it and would give them some relief. Ha!) He has since dropped his objection and has started to make some progress on short writing assignments, which is how I'm starting out. My daughter, who is 11, embraced my writing requirements and is currently working on a 10,000 word novella for a writing contest (her idea, not mine). If your article today is correct, at completion, she will have done a more intensive writing project than most college freshmen.
I think your suggestion that some of the history requirements be junked in favor of a long research paper is a good one as far as it goes. The problem is that you can't wait until late in high school, drop a long research paper into kids laps when they haven't been expected to do much research or writing before, and expect anything other than frustration on both sides. I know punctuation and grammar are tedious. I know letting kids go in a library (on a regular basis) with a list of questions and instructions to find the answers using any reference media EXCEPT Wikipedia is time consuming. I know logic, per se, is not on the SOLs. You won't learn how to be a decent communicator (or thinker) in any other fashion, however.
Writing is, of course, not the only reason we are homeschooling this year. We may only do so for one year; we're reserving judgment on the success of this experiment. I just thought that you might want to know, anecdotally, how one trend you've noticed (homeschooling) has converged with another trend you've noticed (the demise of research and writing projects).
I applaud your bravery and resourcefulness. Let me know how this works out. Comments by readers have led me to change my mind slightly on the solution. I no longer was to cut out some of the history content and spend a month there working on a long research paper. I think it would be better to carve this time out of the 12th grade English class that everyone has to take. Maybe they can have you come in and advise a couple of classes on how to do that.
For more on Education, please see http://washingtonpost.com/education
| November 24, 2009; 5:49 AM ET
Categories: Extra Credit | Tags: Kathy Rondon, home schooling, student research, term papers
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