Spring 2010

Spring 2010

I was catching up on my blog reading yesterday and came across a post at Here in the Bonny Glen. In it, Melissa links to a fascinating Study Hacks article. The article challenges the premise that in order to get into college you have to pad your transcript with tons of activities. He takes the case of a girl who applied for and received a prestigious scholarship at the University of Virginia despite (or, so he argues, because) of her minimal extracurricular activities. He argues that rather than writing off her success as an exception, (what he calls an “outlier”) it can be used to turn conventional wisdom on its head.

For these students, extracurricular activities play a different role than for their peers.  They don’t use activities to signal their qualities, they use them instead to transform themselves into more interesting people. In other words, what’s important about an activity is not its impressiveness, but its impact on your personality.

He goes on to discuss what he calls the interestingness hypothesis:

In other words, to become more interesting…

  1. Do fewer structured activities.
  2. Spend more time exploring, thinking, and exposing yourself to potentially interesting things.
  3. If something catches your attention, use the abundant free time generated by rule 1 to quickly follow up.

Obviously as a homeschooler, this caught my attention. One of the benefits of homeschooling is that we are often in a better position to give our kids space…space to think, space to explore, space to breathe. I have been doing a lot of thinking recently about what I want the boys to take away from their homeschool experience. Not so much what they specifically learn, but rather the bigger take-aways.

One of those very important take-aways, in my view, is to follow their interests and passions. Most people give lip service to this sentiment. But if you look at the culture at large, the main message that seems prevalent is more about doing what is expected in order to “get ahead.” To join in the hopes of winning the rat race.

Sure, our movies and tv shows geared towards kids (and sometimes adults) talk about uniqueness and creativity being important and desired, but then you look at how most schools are structured and what they focus on and it is definitely not creativity and uniqueness.

Kids like Michael Phelps are written off at an early age and told they will never be able to focus on anything. Right-brained kids are labeled because they are not reading when the school thinks they should. Any child that learns on a different timetable is considered “behind.” More and more schools are focusing on test scores as an indicator that they are “successful”. As kids get older (at least around here, outside Washington DC) there is increasing competition in schools…I live right around the corner from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (a magnet school which is consistantly rated one of the best high schools in the country) and while they are doing some awesome things, it also looks exhausting and I have heard from friends that the homework load is pretty intense.

But it is hard to go against the common wisdom. Even by admitting this, I worry that I will open myself up for criticism by people who think this means that I am not going to do anything with the boys. Please know that there is nothing farther from the truth. There is a big difference between doing nothing and not joining the rat race. The Study Hacks article hit on the key difference…you do something because you are interested in it, not because you think it will score you points…or get you a better grade…or increase your chances of getting into college.

The more and more I look at my life, the more I see that I am better served by knowing myself rather than simply doing what the outside world expects. I have to believe that allowing the boys space to explore, to experiment, and to enjoy will serve them well in whatever they do.

And please note, for my friends whose kids are in school…I am not saying that homeschoolers are the only ones who can do this with their kids (the girl profiled in the article went to a small private school). I just think that homeschooling makes it much easier because there are fewer hoops to jump through and not as many outside pressures to counter.