A tale of two colleges April 2, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, older son, societal commentary, teaching.
Tags: college, education, gifted education, higher education, older son
I quickly came to the realization, after coming up with a list of potential colleges for the older boy, that we should try to visit some campuses now. I teach in the fall and taking time off during the week would only be possible around Thanksgiving, so this would be our last chance before applications are due. We hurriedly put together an itinerary and are doing part 1 of the college tour. (Part 2 will be in another, more distant state and will therefore have to occur during the summer sometime.)
The first college we visited was close to the top of the list. It’s a nice state school in a great town, and the older boy was very psyched about the visit. Everything sounded great on the tour, and the overview presentation only reaffirmed that it would be great. Then, however, we talked to an admissions counselor. We explained that older son has his GED, has done or will soon finish all the necessary testing, and that most of his curriculum was courses that he CLEPed.
The counselor informed us that we needed to do the whole transcript thing and affirm that he had taken four years of English, math, etc. I took a deep breath and then asked, “But, does he really have to have four years of English classes, for example, when he’s already demonstrated he can do college-level work in the area?”
“Yes, the tests show he has some knowledge, but we need to see that he’s done the work.”
My first reaction was to wonder who in the world could really pass these tests without doing the work, in some form or another. Second, I wondered why bother saying you accept a GED if this is what is required. Third, I got angry. Is education really about parking your butt in a seat for four years and not so much about learning anything? Is that what will be expected of him at this college?
The worst reaction was when I looked at the older son and saw his face fall. ”Oh no,” I thought. ”I’ve totally screwed this kid over. How will he get into college? Did I just mess up his life because of insistence that he become prisoner to my educational values while ignoring pragmatism?” Of course, that’s utterly ridiculous. When you’re dealing with a kid who is gifted and learning disabled, the best way to ruin his or her life is to leave them in a situation where they are obviously miserable and non-functioning, which then destroys their self-confidence and motivation. No, I got him into a situation where he was learning and was able to demonstrate that using objective criteria.
Still, after that meeting, the older boy and I were both awfully bummed. After hearing a similar but slightly less uptight message at another school, I started wondering if maybe we needed to worry less about other criteria and find some places that were more friendly to homeschoolers. I’ve realized that we really need to talk to admissions counselors at each of these schools and see if there’s even any point in him applying if they’re going to be extremely skeptical of his accomplishments.
Today, we may have hit the jackpot, however. After getting an overview of this school’s very flexible and creative approach to education, we talked with someone about the older boy’s background and what we’d been doing for schooling. Rather than the reaction we had been getting, they said it sounded like he was rather accomplished. They were fine with his GED, saying that gave them a very good normative comparison, and were impressed with his accomplishments thus far with his CLEPs. That college is, as of right now, at the top of older son’s list. He’s really happy to have found a place that doesn’t view getting a degree as simply a matter of checking off items on a list of requirements.
All of this made me curious. I never knew why he had issues in high school, but it was obvious that once he took his GED and started studying for his CLEPs that he was suddenly excited about learning. I decided to ask him. His response was that he hated how you had to do everything together in high school. The stuff that was easy, they would drag out forever. When they got to stuff that he wanted to look at more carefully or had trouble understanding, he said they’d rush through it.
“College is a lot different, though,” he said. ”You’re expected to do a lot of work on your own, so I’ll be able to spend a lot more time when I feel like I need to and, if the class is going slow, I can spend my study time working ahead.”
Apparently something sunk in as he knows he can take responsibility for his own learning. That, in my mind, is very much the point. Education shouldn’t be just a process that happens to you.
A class of his own March 16, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in education, older son.
Tags: college, older son
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We’ve started making a list of potential colleges for the older son. It was fairly easy to do because he had some set criteria: location, size of school, religious affiliation, etc. Based on this, we narrowed it down to 17 choices…initially. Since then, he crossed off one, added two others, and is unsure about another because, even though it’s big, he still wants to check it out. We’re waiting for viewbooks to come in the mail. Once he’s narrowed down the list a bit further, we’ll do some campus visits to a few in April.
In the college guide we used, there was a statistic stating, for each school, how many people attending are from the top 10% of their high school class. At first, I just sort of took it as a measure of selectivity of school. However, we started discussing this.
I came from a high school class of around 200, so the metric has some meaning there. However, Mike’s high school class had twelve people. That means that he and 1/5 of another person (approximately) constituted the top 10% of his high school class.
And then there’s the older son: he’s the whole class as he’s homeschooled. He’s therefore in the top and bottom 10%.
Coming from that perspective, this metric is about as useful as grades. I have no idea how I plan to do some sort of transcript and am considering just telling him to report his GED scores. I could give him grades for the classes he’s done based on his CLEP exams. Honestly, though, that would be unfair to him. He completed a year of college-level US history as a freshman in high school, but he got an average score on the exam. Do I give him a C? Doesn’t it matter that he was doing work typically reserved for someone four years older than him? It’s so subjective.
Another issue I have is that colleges typically request you have so many years of different types of classes. I’ll admit that while I was pretty structured with his math, I’ve found that the easiest way for him to learn everything else was just to let him follow his natural reading instinct, although I would occasionally hand him a book and say, “Read this.” It doesn’t seem relevant, to me at least, whether he spent four years chugging through textbooks if he can easily pass a college-level course in the same area.
As you can tell, he’s going to have a lot of fun filling out college applications. I hope he’s in a very creative mood when he starts.
It’s here! It’s really here! March 4, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in education, older son, personal.
Tags: college, older son
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The older son recently celebrated another orbital trip around the sun, and it made me realize that it’s pretty much time to get serious about this college thing. Part of it was the realization that I teach in the fall (which came up because of other reasons), so if the older boy plans to make any college visits, it’d be ideal if they were in the next couple months. The fall will be difficult, at best.
Of course, we’re also sitting here wondering if maybe just staying local for a couple years would be fine. He could start here (or even keep on taking exams for placement), live at home, and transfer out should he so decide. However, I want him to evaluate all of his choices carefully. He’s starting to look at potential majors for college, we’re going through the mess of signing him up for standardized tests, and probably most importantly, Mike is panicking about the potential bills showing up in the mail which also has the older boy starting to think about scholarships.
You know, I thought looking for colleges was stressful when I was in high school. I don’t think it’s really any easier as a parent. In fact, in some ways, it’s worse (although in other ways, it’s certainly better). I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I am glad that I read Crazy U a couple years ago, though. I think it made me realize that getting really worked up about the whole process is probably counterproductive.
Inflexible students September 6, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in education, teaching.
Tags: college, notetaking, teaching
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One of the assignments I give my students is to choose a class and try three new note-taking methods in that class. This means that I ask my students to step outside of their comfort zone and try something new for three hours of their life. The idea behind this is to try and see if they find something that helps them learn better in my (admittedly weak) attempt to teach them to be self-regulating learners.
And it never fails: I have half a dozen students who will inevitably tell them that they simply cannot do the assignment. You see, some of them simply don’t take notes. Others already know that what I’m asking them to do won’t work. And then a lot of them have classes where they get powerpoints, so of course they have no need to take notes or consider trying new ways of notetaking.
When I tell them they must, they seem to think that I simply don’t understand why they have a very good reason not to do it and, if I did, I would obviously just excuse them from such a superfluous assignment.
The funny thing about this is that the notetaking assignment is optional. They don’t need to do it if they don’t want. But they always seem to come up to me and need to justify why they don’t have to do it.
The disappointing thing to me is that this demonstrates how rigidly some of them are stuck in their ways and aren’t open to new experiences. Isn’t that what college is about?
Paying for college June 25, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in education, older son.
Tags: college, older son, tuition
Nicole and Maggie’s post about teaching kids money management led me onto a slightly divergent path. I’m trying to figure out what to do about college.
Growing up, we had no money. I was basically told that if I didn’t want to grow up to be in a situation like my parents’ , I should get a college education. (Although I’m sure the education will help in the long run, it has not yet paid off. I’m in a decent financial situation because I happened to marry someone who was gainfully employed and didn’t mind that his wife was an educational junky/freeloader.) That being said, I was expected to pay for my own education as my parents really had nothing they could contribute. I took out student loans and am paying them back as we speak.
But what do I do about my kids? I don’t like the idea of saddling them with debt for an education. On the other hand, I think they ought to assume at least a chunk of the expense as their own responsibility. If they are going to benefit, shouldn’t they invest in it, as well?
By the time the older son starts school, I am hoping to have a job somewhere…maybe even a university-type place. That then begs the question of whether older son ought to be required to go to such a school if I get a discount. But what if it’s not a really good school? I have also been reading about the trade off between a nationally recognized alma mater and actually being able to afford one’s tuition.
I have to admit that this looks like a majorly difficult optimization problem…and it’s difficult because of the variable and unknowns.
I do have some thoughts on this…but I’m curious what other people think. How do you plan to handle college expenses? What is a fair trade off between what you want and what the kid wants? Are there certain places that are worth it no matter what?
In set of overlapping quandries… June 10, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, older son.
Tags: college, homeschooling, older son, online learning, transcript
I spent some time looking at options for the older boy.
First, I’m really not thrilled with the idea of a transcript (as you may have guessed) because I don’t feel it’s legit to write one up. Yes, he spent time studying some physics in the form of reading a book on the thermodynamics of cooking and doing some experiments. I’m sure he learned a lot about heat and thermo and it’s practical applications. BUT. He didn’t have a formal high school physics course, and I don’t feel comfortable putting down just “physics” on a high school transcript. I don’t know that it’s ethical to represent what he did that way. That’s the sort of thing I’m wrestling with.
I’m very reluctant to just throw something together because if I put down ‘physics’ and someone finds this blog post, for example, they could claim I lied on the transcript. There are some potentially very real repercussions, including the possibility that he gets kicked out of school because he was accepted on the premise that he took a physics class which they believed contained certain content but which actually didn’t. That’s not fair to him, obviously. On the other hand, I think a transcript is the worst possible way to show what he’s done. A lot of unschoolers bypass this issue by putting together portfolios…but the school won’t accept that: they want a transcript. Period.
(I am not sure what you would call our schooling style, BTW. It was something along the lines of “use what works, throw out what doesn’t.” I was primarily concerned that there was a lot of competence established in math and language arts because ability in those areas will help with other areas like social studies and science. Those are a foundation…other things are icing on the cake. But that’s just my opinion.)
The other problem I have with the transcript business is grades. As an example, it’s pretty clear cut that he did a macroeconomics course. In most high schools, this would be the equivalent of AP Macroeconomics and would probably be a year-long course. So I’m totally fine with putting that as a course. However, when it comes to assigning a grade, I don’t feel good about that. He worked pretty diligently, but I wasn’t examining what he was doing on a day-to-day basis. I wanted this to be his thing that he did because he was interested. My evaluation was just likely to kill that interest. He was working through the text and the study guide as well as watching a video course. When he took the CLEP, he got a 50, which is what ACE says is the lowest passing grade and equivalent to a C in most college courses. So do I give him a C because that’s what he got on the CLEP? Or do I give him an A for passing a college-level class as a sophomore in high school?
You see…there is no objective standard for grades. Grades are almost always context dependent and don’t, in my opinion, honestly reflect mastery of material. A lot of what goes into grades (and I can say this as a teacher) is understanding and meeting requirements in a timely manner. In other words, did you do what the teacher wanted, when s/he wanted it? Some of these requirements have little to do with mastery of material. (Not all, mind you…but some.)
In looking around, however, I found a program that actually is for high schoolers to take college classes online through a reputable university. (There are several of them, BTW, but this one has a couple of majors that the older boy is interested in.) As a homeschooler, they have several requirements for exams, such as SAT and subject tests. But they also will accept a GED…and if he has the GED, he can bypass submitting things like SATs.
The thing that I’m questioning is that it’s all online. I was hoping he’d get the experience of having to go to classes and set up a schedule and figure out when to study. He has said things go better for him when he works out of the house. Now, I imagine that if we do a similar situation like we did with his CLEP, only he totes a laptop with him, it may go alright. He’s still getting out and following some sort of schedule, right? And he’s definitely learning some independent study skills as well as knocking out some college classes. (I really also think he’ll enjoy the college level stuff more, and I’m hoping he’ll try some classes just for fun.)
On the other hand, he can actually complete a degree entirely online through this program, and so is there really a need to physically go to classes? (Although, once he’s old enough, he could hypothetically attend this college in person.) I’m not sure. I don’t know what the best approach is for learning those “life skills” he’ll need when I’m not there to drive him to the library in the morning. I also have this gut feeling that the more college he has under his belt before he leaves home, the better. I have this hope that it’ll improve his chances of finishing because he’ll be into the ‘fun stuff’ in his major and not feel like he’s wasting his time doing all the general ed-type stuff. (I’m also hoping he’s got a more solidified direction after trying some general eds and seeing what he likes.)
I really had no idea that trying to figure out what to do with my kid in high school was going to be more of a mess than when I tried to figure out what to do for college.
Tags: college, graduation, graduation requirements, older son, transcript
So who’s bright idea was it to homeschool anyway!?
Oh yeah. Mine.
So I had things all worked out with older boy. I have always been adamant that I will not give him grades because there is no way I can be objective. I had always assumed college admissions counselors would see things this way, as well. I’m a parent, so I can’t be trusted to be objective about my child. My solution therefore was to have older son take the GED. It’s a nationally recognized and relatively objective standardized test that shows he’s learned the equivalent to that of a high school grad.
Except that I was apparently very wrong.
After several discussions among Mike, the older son, and myself, we decided that older son should try to start taking classes at the university next fall. Admittedly, he’s doing pretty well with the CLEP stuff, but I want him to start getting a handle on time management and working around classes and such. Therefore, it was decided he should apply to start classes in the fall. (We have open enrollment, so applying this late isn’t a problem.)
What a fiasco.
Older son couldn’t complete the online application because it didn’t allow his birthdate. We also found some verbage saying that students who take the GED must be at least 19 before they enroll. So we got frustrated and went into the admissions office.
It turns out that the age thing is some sort of statewide effort to prevent students from leaving high school early. (Why in the world does it matter so long as they’re done?) However, it turns out that it’s not going to be an issue. All I have to do is write up a homeschool transcript…complete with actual grades. And the transcript has to show that he completed the requisite number of years of each of the required core classes listed in their admissions requirements.
Really?! They’re going to believe me that my kid did this stuff rather than take a test that shows he has the equivalent of a diploma?
Oh yes, and they need SAT or ACT scores. Fortunately, older son took the SAT two years ago and those scores are above their eligibility requirements.
So yeah…my kid who should technically just have finished his sophomore year of high school but got super high scores on his GED AND had SAT scores making him eligible for college at the beginning of his freshman year AND has already CLEPed out of 3 classes can’t go to college until MOM makes a transcript for him.
I really don’t get it.
I guess this has reinforced some of what I’ve told older son about a big part of college is just learning how to jump through hoops. Now if you excuse me, I have to go cobble a bunch of useless crap together.
Taking the CLEP exams July 2, 2011Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, older son.
Tags: CLEP, college, US History
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At the beginning of the last school year, I discussed how the older boy was going to be doing some work that would end up with him taking the CLEP exams. Some of that went well, and some didn’t. His math did not go as well as we’d hoped, and so we’re shifting gears and trying some other curriculum next year. On the other hand, he now has a full year of US History, complete with college credits, under his belt.
We had to change a few things around, and we found that it helped to start with the Teaching Company’s video course on US History. After that, he read both Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and A Patriot’s History of the United States. Finally, we used the REA study guides for both tests.
We found that the videos provided a good overview of what had happened. Before we got those, he seemed to remember various things, but not enough to pass the test. The videos really helped to tie things together for him. In addition to finding the lectures very entertaining, he used the manual included as a study guide, reading it 2-3 times. We found that this was probably the best overview of history and helped him to remember things better than any of the other books.
Reading the two ‘guides’ was entertaining for him. He definitely got vocal and felt it necessary to discuss some of the things he’d read. My personal feeling is that a good history course ought to create some sort of emotional response, so I viewed this as a success. It also gave us a lot of opportunities to discuss various historical events and what we thought of them or provide a view counter to what he was reading.
I will say that the prose in Zinn’s book are a lot easier to understand than the Patriot’s Guide book. Sometimes I would read a page and not have a clue what point they were trying to make because not only was it extremely long-winded but drew in a lot of information that didn’t seem relevant to the point they were trying to make. Aside from that, the older boy got REALLY upset when reading about Robert Oppenheimer in the Patriot’s Guide book. He’d done a history project on Oppenheimer a couple years ago and felt they completely misunderstood and misrepresented him. I suspect that lowered the authors’ credibility in his mind. Either way, both books did a lot to make him think about the fallout from past events.
Finally, he read through the REA CLEP manuals and did the practice exams. The most useful thing about these books isn’t so much the summary of history as the practice exams and answers.
He passed the first semester exam with a fairly high score, and he was one point short of a B-level on the second semester. Even with that, he still scored above the ‘passing’ score, so almost any college that takes CLEP will probably give him credit.
Finally, we have to look at cost. We spent $200 on the videos and about $100 for all of the books. (Actually, you can get them for less than that if you buy used.) The exams themselves were about $100 each. So that means we spent a max of $500 on both classes. For six college credits at most places, that’s probably half the cost. I can’t honestly say he spent any less time than he would have had he actually taken the class in college, but I do imagine the decrease both in transportation time and costs was probably significant.
Aside from the financial aspect, I think this was a huge self-esteem booster. He worked hard to get through everything, spent lots of time on it, and he managed to earn a year’s worth of college history credits. Not too shabby for a high school freshman. I think that even if everything else had come out a wash, the exercise of setting out to accomplish something, finishing, and succeeding were all good lessons for him and made it worthwhile .
Book Review: Crazy U April 6, 2011Posted by mareserinitatis in education, older son.
Tags: application process, college, graduation, high school, older son
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I have about 10 books on my nightstand. Looking at them a couple weeks ago, I decided that none of them sounded fun to read. I’d recently read an article on the book Crazy U and thought I’d check it out because I needed something more light-hearted than the physics books and biographies lying there.
For those of you not familiar with the book, it is written by Andrew Ferguson about his son’s experience applying to college. Given my older boy is a teenager and there have been more than a few discussions about college, I thought maybe the book would give me a humorous perspective on the whole experience.
I guess I’m very surprised at how my son is approaching this because it’s very different from what I did. I was the one who chose where to go, did all the leg work on the applications, wrote all my own essays (and can’t even remember if I asked anyone to proof them for me – I may not have), and agonized all through high school about how I would manage to pay for it all. I was blessed with a bit of guidance on the application process from a professor at the university. My parents’ contribution was to pay for an SAT prep course and to fill out my FAFSA, late (that is, after my first choice college had passed the financial aid application deadline). It’s not their fault: neither had college degrees and neither had ever tried to go any place for college except for the state school, which has minimal requirements. They had no idea what it was all about, other than that getting a college degree was important. Given what a big deal it was to me, I’m perplexed by my son. He’s more of the I’ll-worry-about-it-junior-year type. I guess that’s better than waiting until senior year.
Ferguson begins his journey during his son’s junior year, when promotional materials from a couple schools show up. He decides to look into professional counselors for some guidance, and is told he’s started about 3 years too late…or maybe more. His whole perspective is very funny, and his cynicism is refreshing. Reading the book, however, has been a more sobering experience than I thought. Being in grad school with hopes to stay in academia perhaps has given me a very skewed view of the university. The book is written from the perspective of someone who is not in academia and hasn’t been since he left college. When you look at it from the outside in, you kind of realize how ridiculous the whole rat race is.
The book is well researched and informative…and this is what gives rise to the cynicism. By the same token, this person is one who desperately wants his kid to go to college. He talks about several contradictions in what colleges say and what they do, such as how they don’t want to have to market their schools and yet spend tons of money to do so. He talks about US News rankings, getting the perspective of the statistician who supervises all the calculations. He then discusses how schools simultaneously condemn them and yet do a lot to make themselves look better, including changing their data. He talks about how the schools are all similar – similar materials, similar emphasis, similar groups on campus, and even similar tours.
And reading through this, I have realized how ridiculous all of it looks. As a parent, I am thinking that maybe it’s a good thing my son isn’t drinking the kool-aid. This was especially obvious when Ferguson discusses a tour of Harvard, realizing, with all the other parents in the room, that Harvard wants everyone to apply, even if it’s obvious a person doesn’t have a chance…which, realistically, they don’t.
I appreciate a lot of the insight in how parents feel while going through the process. One very memorable discussion is how preparing a kid for college is, in essence, making yourself obsolete. I know this is true of parenting in general, but I wonder how I’ll feel about it once I’m staring it in the face.
Overall, I have really enjoyed the book. I like books that are informative as well as funny, so I consider the different perspectives and information on the process a bonus to the humor. And really, the best perspective I could have is to realize how ridiculous it is…and that maybe waiting until junior year won’t be the travesty I’d feared it could be.
Coming of age August 11, 2010Posted by mareserinitatis in family, older son, societal commentary.
Tags: adulthood, college
There have been a few interesting comments in regard to the discussion about going to college or not. On some of the other blogs I read, the discussion has more than once come to the fact that an 18 year old is really not in a place to decide what they want out of life.
I’m not sure I can buy that one. I started my first job at 14. I moved out of my parents place at 17 1/2. I knew where I was going to college, I knew what I wanted to major in. I knew that I could support myself because I’d already had a job for 3 years.
I won’t say that any of it came out the way I planned. On the other hand, I don’t think my parents should’ve coddled me. (There are other things I think they shouldn’t have done, but coddling wasn’t a problem.) I think that at 18, one should no longer depend on their parents. Eighteen-year-olds are legally adults, and I think there’s a nasty kind of psychological damage that goes along with supporting kids excessively beyond that point. I’m not saying that parents should cut all ties, but they should be preparing their kids to support themselves and live on their own by that point. I have seen too many people end up with unhealthy co-dependent relationships with parents, and later on, other people, because appropriate boundaries were not set when they became adults.
I believe that a lot of this is because, by allowing a child to remain dependent longer, you are communicating to them that they aren’t capable of handling the responsibilities. Teenagers already have enough confusion about when to act like an adult and when to act like a kid. I don’t think this needs to be confounding any longer than necessary: once they are an adult, they need to be responsible for their life decisions. And, ideally, a parent will have been increasing their responsibility as they got older so that it’s not a sudden jolt at that point.
I’ve been thinking about this because my older son is now the same age as I was when I started working. I’m not going to force him to get a job, but I am going to tell him that if he wants something beyond lawn-mowing money, he’ll have to consider it. Likewise, I am not going to tell him he has to go to college. I am fortunate that he’s already expressed an interest, so we’re going to be having a talk soon about the realities of college financing and the importance of grades and extracurriculars for finding scholarship money. Likewise, he needs to think about the alternatives: if he’s not going to college, how is he going to support himself once he’s done with high school, where will he live, etc.
In four years, he’ll legally be an adult, and I need to both let go and make sure he’s ready to take on those responsibilities. And yes, at 18, I think he had better be prepared to make those decisions. I know this makes me sound like an old kraut because I am prone to saying things like, “When I was your age, I was taking care of this or that.” On the other hand, not letting him learn about these responsibilities now will deprive him of the opportunity to the same thing when he is my age (which, according to him, is very, VERY old).