By Dr. Yvonne Fournier, Scripps Howard NewsWire
Dear Dr. Fournier:
After several years of home schooling, we enrolled our eighth-grade son in a private school this year. Before attending the new school, our son excelled in academics; he started algebra in sixth-grade and reads voraciously. His verbal skills are extraordinarily developed, and he converses with adults in ways that astound them. His passions are physics and art and their combined influence on architecture and inventions throughout history. Unfortunately, this past year has been a disaster. He has experienced difficulty with tests, homework and deadlines, and as the year comes to a close, he could end up failing the grade. What should we do?
Home schooling can be a wonderful experience. However, many students face difficulties making the transition to a traditional school environment. Ironically, the benefits of a home-school environment can be obstacles during the assimilation process. Home schooling gives children the chance to explore topics according to their inspiration and curiosity, eschewing the time constraints of a structured lesson plan and classroom.
It is not surprising that the end of the year has become even more difficult. During the school year, time is divided by so many obligations: standardized tests, vacations, holidays, field trips and other special activities. At the end of the semester, teachers are often rushed to finish curriculum requirements and prepare for final exams.
Since your son has been home-schooled for several years, he probably was not prepared for the final push to quickly cover content and then demonstrate what has been learned through tests. A home schooling approach focuses on developing a quest for knowledge and strengthening basic skills, while the traditional school model revolves around curriculum-based testing.
WHAT TO DO
Analyze your son’s difficulties from three perspectives – cognitive, strategic behavior and emotional – to determine the fundamental problem. Cognitively, it seems that your son is a very capable and eager student. He excelled in the home-school environment and obviously passed the school’s entrance exams.
From the strategic-behavior perspective, ask yourself: Does my child have the necessary behavior skills to succeed in a more structured environment? I would venture to say that he was not adequately prepared for the transition. Projects and homework have to be turned in when due, not when your son feels he has completed his inquiry. He must learn that he cannot pick and choose what is important, according to his own interests. All assignments require equal respect, discipline and responsibility.
Emotionally, I think your bright, inquisitive child was not prepared to go back to a more structured learning approach where his interests aren’t paramount to the curriculum. A disconnect exists between his freedom for intellectual inquiry and a school environment entrenched in tradition. Your son wants to ask intuitive questions and explore possibilities in the world around him. His school wants to teach and have him answer test answers.
Consider withdrawing your son before he fails. Your intention was good, your decision was rational and logical, but the execution backfired. In this situation, no one is to blame. Use the summer to complete his eighth-grade at home. During that time, have your son write down the difficulties that he faced. A probable stumbling block was his perception of the learning process.
Decide whether he is able to conform to the school’s paradigm for learning, or if he needs to remain home-schooled until moving into the college paradigm. Find mentors (instead of tutors) and spend your dollars allowing your son to explore areas of interest while he continues to cover the new basic skills of high school. Most importantly, remind yourself and your son that he possesses the abilities for success, but his current school situation may not be the place where he can reach his full potential.
Dr. Fournier answers questions from readers in her columns. If you have a question you’d like to submit, please send it to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at firstname.lastname@example.org.