1 October 2014
THERE’S NO EASY WAY TO DESCRIBE HOW A HOMESCHOOLING CHILD LEARNS, OR HOW HIS PARENTS TEACH. More than methods and techniques – and certainly more than a set curriculum – it is a mindset, driven by an inner conviction that children are natural learners, that they will learn if you let them. Continuing Part 6 of our homeschooling story, our oldest son Ethan offers a backward glance at a journey that ended when he graduated (and got married) last December, 2013.
The Importance of Doing What You Don’t Love
Homeschooling allowed me the freedom to pursue my interests. It taught me that learning was done best when there was passion. Passion, or interest, became the guiding light in my life. And that made me an awful student.
Consider the two wasted years my parents sent my brother and me to Mandarin classes. We spoke English at home, at church, with our friends, and all our learning was in English. I suspect we went anyway because society expected Chinese to speak Chinese, and homeschoolers are prone to peer pressure too.
I remember our beleaguered Mandarin tutor, a college student making some extra money, who tried to motivate clearly unmotivated students with every trick in the book: affirmation, scolding, little treats and little breaks (my brother and I shattered one of his lamps during one of our little breaks). However, what impressed me the most by far were his earnest attempts to convince us that we needed to learn Mandarin because it would help us do business with China, a growing economic powerhouse. The ten year-old me had no intention of doing business with China.
When I was eleven, there was a ballet school in town that began offering free ballet lessons to boys for the first year – due to a complete lack of male enrollment. It seemed like good fun at the time. My brother and I began our lessons along with three other boys: two homeschoolers and one non-homeschooler, united in the understanding that the best things in life were free. When we strapped on our form-fitting dance pants, ballet shoes, white t-shirts, and pranced about the dance studio for the first time, and all the girls stood by and giggled, blushed, pointed at us, something glowed within our tiny chests.
The ballet instructors greeted our prancing about with joy, and all that positive reinforcement worked. We were hooked. So once a week, our mothers shuttled us to the ballet school. As the weeks became months, it became evident our benevolent ballet instructors were not content to allow us to have much more fun. When my brother and I revealed we weren’t interested in doing the exam, much less continuing ballet the next year, our ballet instructor’s face was one of unsurprised disappointment.
Another soul unfortunate enough to have me as a student was my piano teacher, who drilled into my head the importance of playing three pieces every year to pass a music exam. I didn’t start learning the piano with such curiosity and enthusiasm because I wanted to pass music exams. Why continue learning the piano if that was all there was to it, then? Waning interest made my fingers stiff, cold, and the thin, stern line that was her mouth sometimes parted to announce I was lazy. The lessons became this inexplicable hole in the space-time continuum where time took forever to pass. I’m sure my piano teacher felt the same way. I quit after barely passing the grade five exam. To this day I have an irrational dislike for classical music.
I had imbibed, perhaps too much, the philosophy of pursuing my interests. I didn’t learn anything I didn’t want to learn. What was worthwhile was what I was interested in. Discipline as it was known to my peers – schedules, homework, tuition – didn’t work for me. The time tables we drew up never stuck because, for one, I never knew when I’d wake up in the morning. And because our days were largely unpredictable. I did what schoolwork we had whenever I would. People used to tell my parents, or me if they felt like being honest, that I’d have a hard time in college (at least the nice ones assumed I was going to go to college).
When I think now about what I learned, and how I learned what I learned, I feel amazingly lucky that I learned anything at all. When my brother and I were really young, seems like six or seven, my dad imposed a year-long ban on computer games and television because we hadn’t finished our dinner one night. We were young enough to not know to be outraged. And we were young enough to not know to cheat. So, being homeschoolers, we were stuck at home every day without the privilege of computer games or television.
In a desperate attempt to get through the day, we picked up the books about the house. We read. And read and read. We read so much that by the end of the year, we didn’t feel like we’d been deprived of anything. That was when I began reading, and nothing has been the same since. Over the years, what was important wasn’t just that my parents bought books. It was that they read those books with us. It was that we read widely, voraciously. We could talk about books, the ideas within the books, the characters within the books, and often without meaning to, we were learning.
I remember writing in my journal, putting down my thoughts about the day, for years thinking I could be as great a journalist as Anne Frank, simply because mom and dad had given me the book when I was six and told me I ought to write something every day. I loved writing, recording, thinking, forming sentences, playing with words. I needed no prompting to continue. I blogged furiously, ridiculously so in retrospect, when I was a teenager. I wrote about books, movies, music, politics, theology – it became a digital journal that other people could read. Writing became a way of processing my own thoughts in the presence of others. And so I learned to write.
With the drums, my parents gave me an incredible amount of support to pursue that earsplitting passion. I took lessons. I practiced on pillows, the floor, my knees. My mom diligently drove me to church at least twice a week: once or twice for practice, and once for the lesson. She did that for a couple of years until my parents made the ultimate sacrifice and brought the harbinger of noise – a drum set – to my room. My family loved me. And so did our neighbors. We didn’t get a single complaint.
One day several years later, my drum teacher told me I was the first student, in all his years teaching, to have made it this far, to have learned everything he could impart. He wanted to prepare me for the final drum exam. I prepared for it, but not for long, not before I thought I didn’t need an exam to tell me I was a drummer. I pulled out of the final exam, and with that, with a warm, final handshake, my drum lessons came to an end. Now, I wish I had taken that exam. The exam might not have told me I was a drummer, but it might have told me what I was made of. The teenage me didn’t want to find out.
So how did that teenager cope when he got to college? This being a liberal arts college, there were a bunch of classes I had to take whether I cared to or not, classes like Life Science, Wellness for Life, and College Algebra. In that sense, yes, I did have a hard time in college. I struggled every night to do simple algebra homework. I pulled all-nighters to get research done. I got busy with busywork (this is not to say I didn’t enjoy plenty of other classes, especially the English and Political Science ones). I was motivated by a powerful fear of failure, responsibility, knowing my parents had forked over a small fortune to get me through college. In short, college taught me to do what I didn’t love.
Now that I have graduated from college, it all feels like much ado about nothing. I graduated with a 3.9 GPA from Hardin-Simmons University, with degrees in English and Political Science. I was never late to class, and the only time I missed a class was when I was stranded in Washington, D.C., during a Model U.N. conference when Hurricane Sandy struck. I wasn’t merely a goody-two-shoes within the classroom, though. I was also an editor for the school paper, the vice president of the International Student Fellowship, had a student worker job in the university’s Media Relations office, and played percussion with the Cowboy Band.
My senior year, I dropped by a theology professor’s office to pick up my final paper, and he asked me to sit down and talk for a bit. He wanted to know more about who I was, where I came from, and what I thought it was that had prepared me to do well in college. I said, with little hesitation, without irony, that I felt it was homeschooling that had prepared me the best – it had prepared me to learn on my own, to not trust anyone else with anything as important as my education. He smiled thoughtfully and remarked: yes, it’s usually the homeschoolers. It’s just as well he didn’t press me for more specifics like “what did you do to prepare yourself?” or “but how did you learn that?” because I wouldn’t have known how to answer.
I still don’t.
25-year old Ethan’s parents are founders of HOMEFRONTIER David and Sook Ching Tan. Ethan graduated with degrees in Political Science and English at Hardin-Simmons University, Abilene, Texas, last December 14, and married Katie on the same day.
21 March 2012
Posted by DAVID BC TAN under: College/University.
Who would have thought that social media is helping to enrich the college experience? Then again with close to 800,000 users on Facebook, not realising its huge potential for learning and education would be a mistake in this day and age. Take a look at the infographics below. Tell me what do you think.
Created by: Online PhD
17 January 2011
Posted by DAVID BC TAN under: Reading.
Ex-homeschooler and sophomore student Ethan writes on the lost art of reading for pleasure (and education).
IT NEVER FAILS TO BOTHER ME when I come across someone who dismisses the deep and endless world of literature with a callous “oh, I just don’t read.” Why not? Reading and learning are inextricably intertwined. How can one claim to have an education if there is no interest in reading? I’m a year into the American college experience. I’ve had a taste of what mass education does to a healthy book nerd. It killed me to discover, at the end of my first semester, that I hadn’t read a single book outside the classroom. I know another book nerd who said that, for the three years he’s been in college, he hasn’t read anything besides his required texts. The classroom suffocated my desire to read anything else. A lifetime detached from earning any teacher’s approval had suddenly been replaced by an obsession with grades. I found myself among a host of students who’d be more likely to complain about getting a B than the fact that they didn’t understand W.H. Auden. I became what I swore I’d never be: a good student.
Never mind that my Political Science professor would gush a little too much about the kid who was at the top of his class. The other students began to notice the Asian kid who was behaving exactly as an Asian should. One day a guy in my class asked me, how did I do it? What was my secret? I told him I read the textbook. He was amazed. He took my word for it and at the next test managed to bump his C to an A. When we got our results back he stood up and gave credit to Ethan, the guy who actually reads his textbook.
I suspect almost nobody reads their textbooks either. A senior I was talking to admitted that in his college career he’s not read any of his textbooks. “Just skimmed,” he shrugged. When I probed him about what, then, he reads instead of skimming, he uttered those words of death: “I just don’t read.” He’s going to graduate next semester with a degree in history. The implications are unsettling. One is that it’s possible to get through college with a modicum of reading and comprehension. The other is that the people who aren’t reading are also exhibiting zero interest in doing as much, and these people are going to receive pieces of paper that declare them “educated.” How can you pretend to have an education when you don’t read? It’s true that reading alone doesn’t necessarily make you educated, but college should have taught you that the two are inseparable.
If you don’t believe how far literacy has fallen, consider the numbers. A recent study by the Jenkins Group revealed that 1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives, and 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college (these are American statistics, but still). There’s the argument that literacy is not withering, it’s simply changed its medium. We’re reading like never before on our phones and e-readers and laptops. We’re drinking long and hard from a stream of texts, tweets, status updates, and blog posts. But this compulsion to always stay “in touch” is eroding our attention spans so rapidly that the patience necessary to attend to a book’s circuitous train of thought is becoming heroic. Periods of solitude and silence are unthinkable. Is it any surprise that more and more college students are struggling with laying out a similar circuitous train of thought on paper?
The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a fascinating article, titled “The Shadow Scholar,” that highlighted illiteracy and cheating in college. The author of the article made a living writing papers for students with too much cash and too little brains. The internet has not only made us as smart as the next guy, it’s also made fudging that much easier. This writer wrote everything and anything, from history to cinema, philosophy to literature, and even completed 12 graduate theses. None of his clients was caught. After finishing one monster 160-page graduate thesis, the client was so happy that she sent a message that read: “thanx so much for uhelp ican going to graduate to now.” The Shadow Scholar’s claim that this is widespread is strangely plausible:
“In the midst of this great recession, business is booming. At busy times, during midterms and finals, my company’s staff of roughly 50 writers is not large enough to satisfy the demands of students who will pay for our work and claim it as their own.”
There will always be the genuine students eager to learn, and they will. But the system itself doesn’t do the masses any favors. Students are fueled by grade grubbing and the threat of failure more than anything else. I know. I know because I’ve become one of them.
That’s why last semester I gave myself a good kick in the rear. I was sick of doing little else besides mugging what I was supposed to mug. Last semester, I made the rash decision to read more and plunged into Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” I tore through Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals.” I chuckled violently at Reinhold Niebuhr’s “The Irony of American History.” I’ve never felt more accomplished. It’s not much, but it’s something, darn it. I’ve realized my professors are as good as a bunch of doorknobs. I need them to open some doors, sure, but the rest is up to me. My education is in my hands, and I want more than a degree. “The man who does not read good books,” as Mark Twain once said, “does not have an advantage over the man who can’t read them.” That’s why I’m going to force myself to get back to reading. And for the first time since I started college, it’s like I actually learned something.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Former homeschooler Ethan Tan is a sophomore student at Hardin-Simmons University, Texas. Not having spent a single day in a school classroom (other than a 1-month stint in a kindy when he was 5) he also wrote about leaving home for college in a post entitled, The first days of spring.He occasionally blogs here.
2 June 2010
Posted by DAVID BC TAN under: Announcement.
BTW, do check out their new professional short courses -I’m sure there’s something for everybody. Homeschoolers might want to find out if there’s one that matches their interest or inclination.
I previously wrote about entry requirements for homeschoolers at LIFE and the post may be read here.
4 June 2009
Posted by DAVID BC TAN under: College/University.
The education terrain in the country is constantly shifting, so an educator reminded me at a recent meeting. Expect admissions policies to change as well. Especially when the Ministry of Education gets a new Minister every few years. College-bound homeschoolers who are thinking of admission into colleges in Malaysia are understandably jittery.
Do private colleges accept homeschoolers anyway? Should I sit for SAT or IGCSE O Level? Will a college take me in if I have neither? What if I am an unschooler? Do I have to show competence in Bahasa Malaysia? Why isn’t my SAT 1 score sufficient for admission? Questions, questions. To help unravel this Gordion Knot, I met up with the CEO of Life College and her helpful staff. Here’s a summary:
All colleges registered under the Ministry of Higher Education offering approved/accredited Diploma programmes require that a Malaysian student has completed and passed SPM (pass BM and credits in 3 other subjects) or its equivalent, such as IGCSE O Level, UEC (Chinese Unified Exam), etc.
In Malaysia, MQA (Malaysian Qualifications Agency) has the sole authority to decide what qualifying exams are acceptable. All colleges are subject to a list of officially approved entry exams given by MQA. Since the MQA is not familiar with homeschooling curricula and systems (and neither are homeschooling curricula on the approved list), this poses some difficulty for colleges that may want to admit a homeschooler.
YEAR 11 & SAT 1
This explains why SAT 1 is not sufficient to get a homeschooler into a local private college. In keeping with MQA requirements, a student must have successfully completed SPM “or its equivalent.” In homeschoolspeak, this means a Year 11 certificate or transcript (Year 11 matches the required “SPM or its equivalent” milestone).
On top of that, many colleges have admission staff who may not have heard of homeschool or SAT. Therefore it is necessary to explain what is homeschool, and how a homeschooler’s course of study and achievements are measured vis-a-vis the conventional SPM route. Parents will have to help admission staff unfamiliar with homeschool understand how a homeschooler has attained the necessary preparation for tertiary studies.
THE IGCSE O LEVEL OPTION
Granted this hurdle, it is now clear that IGCSE O Level is possibly the least problematic and the best means forward in a homeschooler’s education pathway into a private college in Malaysia, whatever curriculum he or she may be using (Sonlight, AOP, ACE, Abeka, etc).
Homeschoolers can easily set aside a year to prepare for the O Level as a private candidate. They can sign up and study the necessary textbooks (minimum 3 subjects) at home,or sign up at tuition centres offering O Level. Several such centres have been set up in KL/PJ in recent years (such as this). The O Level is offered by Cambridge and London boards and here’s a short description by a student.
However, Life College throws homeschoolers a lifeline: show proof of Year 11, and send in your SAT 1. If a student is enrolled with a learning centre using AOP (Alpha Omega Publications) or ACE School of Tomorrow curriculum, a transcript confirming he/she has successfully completed Year 11 attached with SAT1 paves the way. (I have been given to understand that a fee is payable for the release of an official student transcript from some centres). In any case, according to Life College, a personally prepared transcript is just as acceptable.
What’s a transcript, you ask? Unlike a resume which records activities and extra-curricular achievements, a transcript is simply a record of a student’s course of study for the years the child has been homeschooled. What is of particular interest to a college registrar would be a student’s study particularly from Grade 6 and above.
Because many homeschoolers do not have grade assessments (unlike those using textbook curricula such as ACE and AOP), these transcripts help College registrars unfamiliar with homeschooling understand what have been studied. Parents could bring along their child’s textbooks, but this is entirely up to you. I would think a properly written transcript with clearly defined courses completed is sufficient.
But here’s a caveat. While most private colleges are happy to receive a homeschooler many are concerned that they meet MQA’s stringent regulations. As such, some colleges may not accept a personally prepared transcript. Only when they can map an education pathway equivalent to SPM, can the college justify this homeschooler’s admission to MQA. However, there have been cases where a personal interview with parents and the prospective student will open doors (sometimes with conditions).If you have doubts, please see the relevant college registrars.
BAHASA MALAYSIA & YOU
All Malaysian students in private colleges have to take the Bahasa Malaysia paper if they do not have a credit for that subject in their SPM. In addition they have two other compulsory LAN papers Pengajian Malaysia (Malaysian Studies) and Pengajian Islam (Islamic Civilisation) or Pendidikan Moral (Moral Studies), which are taught in Bahasa. As such, it would be advantageous for all homeschoolers intending to study in local private colleges to obtain and maintain a good grasp of the Bahasa.
Read also my previous entry:Next stop-university
The thing about homeschool is the array of methodologies and convictions. Some folks disavow structures, preferring the unschooling option. Then there are those who subscribe to a Bible-based curriculum. Others stick to a regimented course and do not stray from the recommended curriculum. Still others have a more flexible approach determined only by the end of a child’s education. Whatever the method or curriculum, if your homeschooler intends to be in a local college (in this case, a local private college) all your effort will haave to dovetail into an acceptable document that satisfies college authorities. Of course college isn’t the be-all and end-all. If that’s not your child’s preferred route, that’s fine too.
5 November 2008
Posted by DAVID BC TAN under: College/University.
Not a day passes without someone asking, “So, what about college?” Homeschoolers like everyone else wonder if at the end of their journey they each have what it takes to enter college. Now here’s an article by Charles Murray of the Wall Street Journal who wonders whether we’re making too much of college certification and degrees:
Imagine that America had no system of post-secondary education, and you were a member of a task force assigned to create one from scratch. One of your colleagues submits this proposal:
First, we will set up a single goal to represent educational success, which will take four years to achieve no matter what is being taught. We will attach an economic reward to it that seldom has anything to do with what has been learned. We will urge large numbers of people who do not possess adequate ability to try to achieve the goal, wait until they have spent a lot of time and money, and then deny it to them. We will stigmatize everyone who doesn’t meet the goal. We will call the goal a “BA.”
You would conclude that your colleague was cruel, not to say insane. But that’s the system we have in place.
Finding a better way should be easy. The BA acquired its current inflated status by accident. Advanced skills for people with brains really did get more valuable over the course of the 20th century, but the acquisition of those skills got conflated with the existing system of colleges, which had evolved the BA for completely different purposes.
Outside a handful of majors — engineering and some of the sciences — a bachelor’s degree tells an employer nothing except that the applicant has a certain amount of intellectual ability and perseverance. Even a degree in a vocational major like business administration can mean anything from a solid base of knowledge to four years of barely remembered gut courses.
The solution is not better degrees, but no degrees. Young people entering the job market should have a known, trusted measure of their qualifications they can carry into job interviews. That measure should express what they know, not where they learned it or how long it took them. They need a certification, not a degree. [Read more]
It was also interesting to read another opinion piece by Marty Nemko that pretty much says that a Bachelor’s degree is way overrated. His argument is not so much the value of the degree, but whether it means anything when studies repeatedly show how little undergraduates actually learn in college:
College students may be dissatisfied with instruction, but, despite that, do they learn? A 2006 study supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 50 percent of college seniors scored below “proficient” levels on a test that required them to do such basic tasks as understand the arguments of newspaper editorials or compare credit-card offers. Almost 20 percent of seniors had only basic quantitative skills. The students could not estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the gas station.
Unbelievably, according to the Spellings Report, which was released in 2006 by a federal commission that examined the future of American higher education, things are getting even worse: “Over the past decade, literacy among college graduates has actually declined. … According to the most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy, for instance, the percentage of college graduates deemed proficient in prose literacy has actually declined from 40 to 31 percent in the past decade. … Employers report repeatedly that many new graduates they hire are not prepared to work, lacking the critical thinking, writing and problem-solving skills needed in today’s workplaces.” [Read more]