Sunday, February 27, 2011

Homeschooling and College

I am utterly amazed at the passing of time and how quickly years can pass us by. There was a time, when I was a bit younger, in which I marveled that I was now an adult and in college. I have since gotten use to my adulthood, but now I am feeling it more keenly because kids I have known since they were 13 or 14 are now starting to go off to college themselves. It is one thing to feel oneself become an adult, but quite another when you see people you have always known as kids starting to become adults themselves!

As these youngsters grow up and start going off to college, and as most of them are from homeschooling backgrounds, I am led to reflect on some things I have been thinking about with regards to homeschooling and college. The one thing that constantly astounds me about homeschoolers is their phenomenal drive to accomplishment. Many homeschoolers are already taking classes at college when they are 16 and often graduate a year or two ahead of their public school counterparts.

This is praiseworthy, of course. But as these youngsters finish up, I have noted an extreme rush to get off to college immediately after high school. In fact, it is almost expected. Nobody asks anymore whether one is going to college, but simply asks what college one is going to. Most homeschoolers I have encountered are already fretting about college their junior year and by the second semester of their senior year are already accepted to some college somewhere, usually in a liberal arts program. Often, because of their extreme intelligence, they receive very large scholarships as well.

It is seeing student after student take this course that has led me to reflect on this matter, especially as I started noticing that I felt ill at ease with it. We homeschoolers (and I count myself among them) choose to home-educate because we believe it is in the best interests of our child's education and the good of their soul. But does rushing our children off to a liberal arts college immediately after the conclusion of high school really suit our children's best interest? I can't speak for any other family or pass judgment on anyone, but I will share my own thoughts on the matter, and why, for me, the idea of sending kids off to a liberal arts college, even a Catholic one, immediately after high school is not a good idea.

In the first place, I have always found a disconnect here between the protective motivation for homeschooling and the tendency to shove a child out into college prematurely. Here is what I mean: most homeschoolers choose to homeschool in part in order to protect their child from the corruptive influence of the world, which tends to rob them of their innocence prematurely. Public schoolers may learn about sex on the bus in 6th grade, but in a homeschooling family this topic will be brought up much later and in the safe environment of the home. Parents lovingly look after the moral upbringing of their children and forbid them from doing many things that their public school counterparts get to experience much earlier. Dating. Overnight sleep overs. Taking a car out unsupervised. Getting a job. In most cases, these are things that come for homeschoolers much later than public schoolers. 

But my question here is, why go out of the way to protect our children from some of the ways of the world only to shove them off to college when they are only 17? Why go out of the way to shelter from the world only to force them into it prematurely? In my opinion, a girl who is not allowed to date at 16 is not ready to go to college at 17. A boy who is not allowed to have or go to sleepovers at 16 is not ready to go to college the next year. My suggestion, of course, is not to let girls date earlier, but to postpone college till later.  If they haven't lost their "childhood innocence" by age 16, then shoving them off to college at age 17 is going to be a culture-shock that I am not sure they will be equipped to deal with. It doesn't matter what college - there are worldly people at every institution, even the most Catholic. If we go to such pains to preserve the innocence of our children and ensure that they are not robbed of it in their tender years, I see no reason to compel them to go off into the world at an age when most other kids are still living at home wondering what they want to do in life.

Which brings me to the second point: It can take awhile to discern what you want to do in life, not only what state of life you are called to, but what specific trade or career you want to pursue. Perhaps I am making an over-generalization based on my own experience, but I was absolutely in no position whatsoever to know what I wanted to do with my life at age 17. I had no clue; well I mean, I had some notions, but they turned out to be ephemeral, fleeting, based on emotion and sentiment rather than on any rational thought about a career. It was not until I was 22 that I realized what I wanted to do with my life. In fact, so unprepared was I to make such long-term judgments at age 17 that I ended up enrolling at a classy art school in 1998 on the premise that I was going to be an artist! A year later and about $8,000 in the hole shocked me out of that fantasy; I realized I hated art school and dropped out after one year and I stayed away from college for the next four years until I had matured. Like I said, perhaps this was only the case with me and many kids are better prepared to think about this than I was, but I think in many cases a 17 year old is a 17 year old...

Another problem I have with sending kids off to liberal arts colleges right out of high school is that they learn no trade, either before college or at college. Now, I love the liberal arts, but as one who has a liberal arts degree, it is about the most useless degree you can ever get. I don't think any college graduate gets paid as low as one who gets a liberal arts degree. You come out with no skills learned, no trade and no specific certification in anything at all.

Now some will say, "It is not about making money; it is about getting educated." Fair enough - in fact, I agree. But, if it is just about getting educated and not about money, then just stay home from college and read books on the side while you learn a valuable trade. College might not be about "making money", but when most college graduates are walking away with their BAs $30, $40 or $50,000 in debt (and that's on the low end), then you had better be thinking about money and earning potential before you sign away for those student loans. If a liberal arts education is really based on reading the "classics" or the "Great Books," then you can read those books at home. There is absolutely no need to go away to college to get a liberal arts education. In my opinion, high school is the time for liberal arts. College is the time to learn a practical trade, if you choose to go to college. If you choose to spend tens of thousands of dollars on an education, then good heavens, it ought to be on a practical education in something you can at least make your money back on.

Is it important to know a practical trade? As one who doesn't know one, I believe it is. I can't tell you how useless I feel when I meet people who have the ability to tear a car apart and build it back up from scratch, or can build a house, or do electrical work, or plumb a new construction, or do finished carpentry, or any number of skills that I lack. There is something liberating about knowing a trade, something that makes you free from subservience to others. The ancient rabbis used to compel their students to learn a trade before they were allowed to begin their rabbinical studies; St. Paul was trained in tent-making, for example. This was to prevent the proliferation of a class of useless intellectuals. I can see great value in this thinking          

Youngsters who go right to college from high school also will graduate with no real work experience. Most homeschoolers I know do not let their kids work during high school, preferring instead that their children focus on their studies. Then they go right to college and return with no real work experience. Besides having a degree that is not much valued in the workaday world, these persons will also come into the labor market doubly burdened with a lack of experience. Nowadays, since labor is so plentiful, employers are seeking applicants with experience over education. Besides this, a year or two of steady employment is the best education there is in teaching a teenager responsibility. In my opinion, a teenager who takes a full time job right out of high school and keeps it for two years is going to be much more mature and have a much better grasp of what it means to be an adult than one who goes right to college from high school.

Added to all this is the fact that many people, homeschooling or public schooling, are ignorant to the racket that college has become and that, due to our "culture of credentials", college is becoming increasingly a waste or time and useless, even as it becomes more mandatory for social mobility in our culture. College is no longer about being educated; it is about getting some credentials that says you are competent to do X,Y and Z. And, paradoxically, since our college culture has become mainly about credentials, we have many people getting "credentialed" who are not educated and may even be unfit for the job they are credentialed in. I witnessed this first hand at my University as every year dozens of people who should have been nowhere near a classroom were "certified" as teachers. There is the very real possibility that your kid may just be wasting their time at college.
Do I regret going to college? No, if only because a degree of some sort is a prerequisite for advancement in many areas of our society. But, yes, absolutely I regret that I had to go to college. Even at Ave Maria, which was a very quality school when I attended, I'd say no less than 50% of my classes were total wastes of time in which I learned very little. My other University where I obtained my teaching license was almost a 90% waste, day after day of wondering, "Why am I here?" and "What a waste of money!" and such thoughts.Realize, parents, before you send your kids to college, even to a Catholic college, that this is not about education or knowledge. With the advent of the digital age, there is no monopoly on knowledge anymore. Knowledge about anything is available for free. If this is really about education and bettering oneself, then read some books. You don't need to dump $25,000 and four years of your life to do it.

Like I said before, I judge no other family and admit that these opinions may be biased based on my own experience. But, here is what I plan to do when my kids finish high school, which in the case of my oldest, will be in about nine years. These are not set-in-stone rules, but general guidelines that can be modified as circumstances require; overall, I think they are prudent:

1) I will encourage my kids to think and pray about what they want to go into they grow up, but will in no way exert any pressure on them to come up with this answer as a teenager. The teenage years are fleeting and very precious, and I will not crowd out my children's enjoyment of them by compelling them to keep their minds fixed on their impending and boring adulthood.

2) I will discourage my children from going to college immediately out of high school. Upon graduation, if possible, they will move out on their own and maintain steady, full time employment for a minimum of two years before applying for any college, even community college. If they remain at home, they will definitely work. None of my children will participate in college programs that allow them to get credit while still in high school. If any of my children choose, on their own, to attend college right out of high school, I cannot prevent them, but I will not contribute a cent to it.

3) Each child of mine, even if they are bound for college or the academic life, will learn a skilled trade, even if it is just on the side. Some friend or uncle will teach them carpentry or mechanic work, or rough framing or something. I will encourage my kids to take part time jobs during high school to learn these sorts of skills.

4) I will not pressure any of my kids to go to college at all. I will encourage them to explore entrepreneurship, skilled trades and other avenues for their creativity. I will not discourage college at all, but will not push it either.

5) While I will be happy if some of my kids have their career plans figured out in their teen years, as a rule, I will not expect them to have it sorted out until their mid-twenties.

That's enough for now, but next time I post I want to give a run down of the top ten fields I think homeschooled Catholics should go into (instead of liberal arts). In the meantime, what do you all think about college and sending homeschooled kids off right out of high school?

Click here for part two on the top ten careers Catholics should consider going in to.


Nick said...

I'd like to comment upon something you said:

"Upon graduation, they will move out on their own and maintain steady, full time employment for a minimum of two years"

Just as with the pressure to force kids to go off to college is a simultaneous pressure to "get them out of the house." But this "parenting" is just as disastrous as forcing them to chose a major when they're still not mature enough for such a big decision. It's pushing the young bird out of the nest prematurely either way.

As for your main thesis, I totally agree. And even though I don't have children yet, I thought those very things when I was in high school. I looked at myself and others and realized I had no idea what I wanted to major in, nor the maturity to know how to approach the situation. All too often those pushing you for college don't tell you the potential for massive debts, which in itself is the sin of neglect on their part to hide that information from kids.

And I've seen first hand homeschoolers who come to college and are simply too young to be hanging around much older people, especially when many of these young adults are living sinful lifestyles since the parents aren't around. It will scandalize the homeschooler. On top of that, the homeschooler can be more easily manipulated by professors and other students.

One final but very important point: many people look down on community college and encourage kids to go directly onto universities. This is wrong for many reasons, for example it's too fast of an academic leap for many kids, and it costs many times more for what are essentially the same first two years of classes you can take at community college. Further, at community college you CAN STILL learn trades for relatively cheap and usually smaller classrooms.

Community college allows kids to go at their own pace without committing to anything big (be it a major or financial costs). So you very well could modify your post to encourage community college to some extent.

Boniface said...


You know, that is a very valid point and I accept that critique. In that statement, "they will move out on their own and support themselves with steady employment," the emphasis was meant to be more on the "steady employment" rather than on the moving out. I wouldn't mind my kids staying home if they were (or were trying to be) gainfully employed.

Great comment on community college.

CO said...


Good points. I concur with the Liberal Arts comments. My following comments are more towards the career side of your post.

Rule #1: Pick an actual productive career. I suspect the 4yr+ state university model is not sustainable much longer; good riddance! (This is coming from a State University Ph.D student. Over-education is not productive. Ouch....)

Rule #2: If your career is not productive, refer to Rule #1. :)

You might be interested in what Gary North has to say about education: here, here, etc. He advocates some ideas differing from yours (mainly to reduce the time spent at college and thus the final college cost). In the end, the decision just depends on the *informed* child's interest and dedication level...

An aside: When my younger brother was deciding on a career, my father took him on a walk (maybe "trek" is a better description) around a university. "Son, just look at the buildings. Which departments have more space? That's where the demand is." He chose engineering. He loves it.

Joe said...

CO- Have you seen Gary Norths material? Ive hesitated purchasing it because Its kind of pricey and I'm not sure its worth it.If you have read it i would appreciate your opinion

Fr. S.A. said...

Boniface, it seems you have it all figured out. Problem is, kids aren't that simple. When I read your plans I thought they came off as quite harsh and absolute. Speaking as a pastor of a parish with home school families, I see the reason for home school as a chance to protect then and teach them the Catholic Faith until they are old enough to go out into the world. At 18, I hope they're old enough to go to college. If not, you've missed something in their Catholic home school education. As Nick said, the work place can be just as bad (if not more so) on a young person than school. Some young people really need to continue school or run the risk of not going back. I'm not going to try and convince you that you're wrong, but good luck with this.

Joe said...

Boniface-You make some very compelling arguements. My wife and I have had similar thoughts for some time now with our two oldest currently racking up college debt and our next one ready to graduate highschool this spring, we have been seriously questioning the wisdom of going the typical route of 4 years of college right out of highschool. A couple of additional points I would add:
1. The university environment, almost without exception, is dominated by femenism and political correctness and tends to emasculate the male student and foster a mine field of moral hazards for both men and women.
2. Students are now leaving college with considerable debt. As they enter marriage, not only are they handicapping their marriage with the financial burden, they also find , in their indebtedness a reason to delay starting a family. Contraception is often seen as a sollution until that far-off day when the loans are paid down, the house of their dreams is mortgaged, both husband and wife are settled into their respective carreers and "the time is right".
Entering marriagewith $50-$200,000 in combined student loans has probably done more to make one and two child catholic families so common than any other single factor.
I also found your contention that 17 year olds are not mature enough to know what to do with their lives interesting. For the most part I agree with you, but i think that that is a more recent cultural phenomena, one that we should not view as unavoidable or desireable.Adolescence has been extended later and later and as a result the average age for marriage has been climbing as well.In a dozen different ways, our culture sends the message to our youth that they don't need to grow up and become adults any time soon. Better to enjoy their young years playing video games, hanging out at the mall,go to college and party for 4+ years with spring break trips to warm beaches where they can hang out with thousands of other peers who also cant change a flat tire, fix a leaky faucet or cook a meal without a microwave. I have often thought that a society that encourages its sexually active members to delay marriage and adulthood for 10+ years is asking for trouble. Contrast our societal transition to adulthood with that of the Amish whos young people are ready to earn a living and be married by their late teens or early twenties, and avoid frustrating their sexual drive by abstinance, or giving in to it by fornication which is all too common among our young.
I am not advocating the Amish model but i do think we could learn a thing or two from them. I will advocate for seeing the prolonging of adolescence, as it is today, as neither normal or desireable.

Boniface said...


Yeah, the debt is terrible. I just finished my second bout of college last year...I think my accumulated debt is somewhere around $19,000, but it may be higher; one document I saw said $49,000...I'm still sorting through everything. This is even more debilitating if you plan on being a single-income family. Unfortunately, many homeschooling families I know seem to imagine that their kids are ALL going to get full-ride scholarships and never need to use loans at all. This may be true for some, but it is imprudent ti just assume your kid is going to get a full-ride, 4 year scholarship somewhere.

Regarding 17 year olds not being able to know what they want to do in life, I totally agree that this state of affairs has been exacerbated by the artificial extension of adolescence. However, now that we are in this state of affairs, we have to deal with it.

CO said...


Sorry, I do not have a paid subscription to GN's site. The previously linked "study habits" and "college finances" are free (except for your time).


Anonymous said...

I think that the years between finishing the bulk of high schooling and going off to college should be filled with work. Entrepreneurial work. Not flipping burgers, but going out, learning a skill, and selling it. It could be gardening, mowing lawns, housecleaning, errand running, or such like. It could be buying broken and free things from craigslist, fixing them and selling them. It could be learning a trade or doing handy man work. You can learn light plumbing (fixing a drippy faucet, leaky toilet, or replacing a garbage grinder) and advertise for that. Can preserves & pickles and sell them at a farmers market. Grow a garden and market the produce to local restaurants. But spending two years learning a skill and selling it will do much for the kid, and will help mature his/her sense of responsibility and put him/her in a situation where the immoral allurements of college life seem much more childish.

You do not have to make money at these jobs. That is not the point. Live at home, and learn to build a business with your own hands. That is the point.