Recently my teenage daughter and I listened to someone give a dry run of a speech about education. The speaker talked about his experiences teaching at a public high school. When he finished, my daughter, as one of the teens in the audience, was asked for her feedback.
She explained that since she doesn’t go to high school, she had no direct experience with the specific details in the speech. “I do take classes at community colleges, though,” she continued, “They don’t know how old I am, so they just treat me like the rest of the adult students, and I like that.”
I wondered whether the assembled adults would absorb the profundity of that statement. Homeschooled teens have the opportunity to enroll in advanced classes, get jobs, volunteer, or otherwise function as adults out in the world. Time and again, I’ve seen my own kids and others rise to the challenge with flying colors.
When the kids are outed as kids, the adults are inevitably surprised and impressed. But here’s the thing. In the kids’ minds, they’re not rising to any sort of challenge, they’re just pursuing something they care about, without the impediment of any pre-conceived notions about what they’re capable of because of their age.
So often when I hear people talk about education, whether it’s school professionals or homeschooling parents, the emphasis is on how to make students do or learn particular things. What materials will bring out the best in them? What methods will get them to learn what we think they need to learn?
What if all these methods and materials are actually obstacles in our kids’ way? What if we cleared the path and let them lead? What if we believed in them enough to send them out into the world to pursue what they care about?
Believing in the competence of teens to learn, work, and make meaningful contributions can be a challenge in our culture, which tends to portray teens as lazy, immature, and sometimes even scary, but the rewards, for all of us, are immeasurable.