Homeschooled High Schoolers
I teach writing at our homeschool co-op to juniors and seniors in high school. When I started, a few of the moms asked me to “really work” their teens. To “make them put in effort.” I smiled. Don’t you know me by now?
I like the kind of effort that comes from internal motivation. I like hard work that is the result of care, as in, I care about finding the right word or the best way to express this idea.
The question of the year, then, is how to inspire quality writing from teens that causes them to work hard but that isn’t drudgery.
We’re using my Help for High School writing manual as a guide because that’s why I wrote it. The goal of that manual is to help teens figure out what they care about, why they care about it and then how to get that passionate concern across to a reader.
As we’ve worked through the Keen Observation of an Idea exercise, an interesting discovery was made in our little group of students. Each student, except for one, felt it was easier to write from the opposing perspective – that is the perspective she or he didn’t hold. That means a student who is pro-life felt it was easier to write about the pro-choice position.
We wondered why that would be.
Some interesting insights followed that I thought worth sharing here.
- To understand the opposing view, these kids had to read and do research that helped them know how the other side expressed itself – what language, terms, analogies, and arguments. They found themselves brand new to the other perspective so they were open and learning. They didn’t necessarily agree with what they were reading, but they were eager to understand so that they could write. This made them more conscious of absorbing the information and vocabulary of that idea.
- Conversely, they already knew what they thought about their positions, but having never had to defend or explain it to outsiders, they held what we called a “naive” commitment. They live in a world of people who agree with them so they haven’t had to develop a vocabulary that helps them express the belief. In fact, many of them couldn’t even come up with concrete reasons for their beliefs or opinions because they had never had to think beyond the category of “yes” or “no” to the idea.
- The question arose: How do I acquire a more rounded view of the world and how do I become the proprietor of my beliefs? In other words, these kids suddenly wanted to know how to make their opinions and beliefs their own. We discussed the need to read, the risk of reading outside your comfort zone and how that will necessarily impact how you hold your own views. We talked about how complicated it gets to allow your views to be modified or layered with complexity after having grown up with a singular and clear perspective that was endorsed by all the people you love and know.
- My favorite moment came when one of the students said to me, “How do I know when I finally have my own view that isn’t from my parents or religion or a teacher? Like, when will I be done researching and know that I’m speaking for myself?” I smiled. “That process never ends,” I told him. “But what happens is that you become more skilled at navigating between views, you become more competent at articulating the positions you currently hold and you become a person who is better able to judge arguments and make decisions about them.” In short, this transition time to adulthood is the time you begin to make your values your own.
I love teens. It’s important that we remember that not one of us holds the identical views of our parents. In many cases, we chose to go directly against our up-bringings, even by becoming committed to religious faith! Our kids will develop their own points of view even if they stay committed to the essential values with which they were raised. If we can help them to explore and discover how to articulate those views (speak and write about them) and if we can be excited when we see them nuance their values with their own insights (even when they differ from ours), we will give them the gift of growth in writing and thought and personhood.