Archive for the ‘Tips for Teen Writers’ Category

Announcing: College Admissions Essay Class

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

Caitrin 2aNow you can get help with your student’s college admissions essay using Brave Writer practices and instructor support!

Introducing the College Admissions Essay Class which will start right at the end of August, finished in September, in time for all those critical fall deadlines. Make it easier on yourself—get help! I’ve been helping students with college admissions essays for a decade and have trained Nancy Graham, one of our high school instructors, to lead your kids into a thoughtful review of their years of homeschooling as they head off to college. Make that essay “pop”! Especially important for homeschooled kids whose essays are usually of great interest to admissions staff.

Class dates: August 25 – September 19, 2014

Fall Registration Opens Monday August 4, 2014 Noon EDT

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Delay grades as long as you can

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014


Unless you are making a transcript for college applications, homeschool is no place for grades.

That’s a strong absolute statement—the sort I refrain from making on this page. If you are using a grading system for a reason that makes sense in your family, please don’t take this post as an indictment of that practice. You do you!

For the rest of us—for homeschoolers who ask me regularly about how to “grade” writing—I offer you the following thoughts.

Letter grades (scores) in years K-8 are irrelevant to your children. We parents are used to the hang-over of traditional school where our parents were able to determine if we were performing adequately by the report card at the end of the semester.

You live with your children as they learn. You know if they know how to read, how to spell, and how to calculate. You know where they get stuck on the times tables and when they surge ahead to mastery.

The goal isn’t to measure and label the achievements of your child with a value judgment (grade). Rather, your job is to identify the areas of growth and to establish a trajectory for continued skill acquisition. If you become concerned that your child is struggling specifically in an area (you see little change in the course of an entire year of consistent, kindly supported effort), you may want to ask your peers or an expert if they would “worry yet” about a learning disability or some other impediment to natural growth.

I still wouldn’t grade that child. Grades forge an “outside-in” identity—either “I’m not as good as others,” or “I’m way better than others.” Each of those identities is flawed and unhelpful to your child’s unique educational path. The child is not evaluating self based on his or her own curiosity and skill strength from within. Rather, grades drive the child to either feel discouraged (I can’t learn this) or sometimes to feel overly self-confident (I already know this; Why do I have to keep reading/growing/studying?).

Curiosity about a subject area is the best feature of a homeschool education. A child can go as far as he or she likes. There isn’t an arbitrary end when a grade has been assigned, as though the study of the subject is confined to a school term and is now complete. Rather, topics and skills blend together, weaving in and out of each other, informing one another, for the duration of the home education lifestyle.

This is why it is difficult to explain to other friends and family how homeschooling works. Your children don’t identify with “going up a grade level” or “finishing math” in the same way traditionally schooled children do. The end markers aren’t there in the same ways.

But this is all to the good! You really can let Ancient Rome take over your homeschool for 18 months because in it, you’ll discover math, science, literature, spelling, grammar, foreign language, mythology, art, religion, and (obviously) history! There’s no “discreet unit” about Ancient Rome that lasts 16 pre-planned weeks with objectives to cover and tests to prove you are finished. There is only learning and exploring as long as Ancient Rome fascinates and gets the job done (leading your children into a glorious “science of relations” between all subject areas).

As long as those connections are happening, you are in the homeschool zone where learning is experienced and validated by how engaged your children are in interesting subject matter.

High school is a time when you may assign grades. But let me throw out a word of caution here. Most colleges/universities have little regard for the grades of a homeschooling parent. They are focused much more on the standardized tests (ACT, SAT) that either validate or invalidate the homemade transcript.


You don’t have to suddenly become a scrupulous parent-teacher where you give unnecessarily harsh grades to your child to “prove” you weren’t biased.

Nor should you become the mom who overlooks a child’s performance in order to give all “As.”

What you want to do is give As for completion of work, and mastery of the material insofar as you can measure that. Don’t labor over it. Bs are fine too.

Then make a transcript that has both grades (GPA) and course descriptions. The transcript should match the SAT/ACT score. In other words, don’t pretend your child did Honor’s level work and is a 4.5 GPA student if the SAT and ACT score are average (in the 50-70%). (If you need help, check out The HomeScholar, and Lee Binz’s excellent transcript services.)

Your child has had an avant-garde education. Focus on that in the application. Don’t try to make your kids look like they went to public school. Major on the unique experiences, reading, and areas of expertise they have cultivated while home educated. THAT’S their ticket to college.

And the essay: make sure it’s a winner!

Bottom line: grades are school’s domain. Homeschool is built from different bricks. Focus on the strengths of homeschool and let go of the tools of traditional school. You’ll be glad you did.

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image © Leslie Banks |

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Emerging Writers in the Rhetoric Phase

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

paper&penImage by David Merz

Brave Writer mom, Cindy, writes:

Hi Julie,

We’ve been using Brave Writer in our house for about a year now. My oldest (now entering 9th grade) took two of your courses last year, one working independently with Christine Gable, and I was floored by his maturity and growth in just a short time, and after having been so resistant to expressing himself through writing for so many years. We are attempting to switch to year round schooling this summer. Been a big shock for all of us! My son, was asked to read Around the World in 80 Days for social studies — like a geography lesson through fiction. Part of the suggested curriculum was a travel log, discussing what countries and cultures were visited and then looking up more information on those places. About halfway into the book, I received this unsolicited free write from Andrew:

Now, I know I should be doing travel logs for this book that I’m reading…

But it doesn’t give me time to think about the places I read about. It throws all this nonsense at me about how the gardens are lush with roses and papayas and whatever, and it doesn’t let me think about the place just described. The book could tell me that people living there have mushrooms growing out of their butts, but it would mash it together with some other information, so that I wouldn’t really notice, unless I dig into the book again to find that 1 fact. Let me put it this way, if your piece of gum runs out of flavor, you spit it out, right? This is a book where you shove ALL of the gum from that pack into your mouth at once, creating an enormous ball of information that you can barely analyze. Chewing this wad of gum is nearly impossible, and digging back through that ball of gum in order to find the one piece that was a different flavor is extremely time consuming, and difficult. It’s not that I don’t want to do these logs, because I would do them for most other books. But trying to do this for “Around the World in 80 Days”, is a time dump, that is unnecessarily hard.

Sorry if this sounds like another one of my famous rants to you, but it’s just my opinion on the matter. The book is confusing me with a pestilence of information, that I can’t really swat in order to put into my brain. It’s just all buzzing around my head annoying me.

For the first time, I got a glimpse of the writer he could one day be, of the one he is becoming, as his mind starts to work in abstractions. Just for that gum metaphor alone, I told him, just read the book, forget the log! I wanted to share because I think these subtle changes are coming from his experiences with free writing and your classes. I can’t wait to see what he can accomplish this year!


Cindy, what a delightful sample of the emerging rhetorical thinker your son is becoming! The early to mid-teens are when the brain takes a big leap forward in cognitive power. By 25, the prefrontal cortex will have completed its development, but in the interim, the brain is slowly developing new wiring. The complexity of that neurological growth leads to a variety of brand new thinking skills! One of those is the capacity for imagining multiple perspectives simultaneously, as well as the enhanced ability to articulate one’s own posture (while challenging someone else’s).

Remember when your child was younger and he would simply assume if assigned a lesson, the lesson must be completed. When a child read a book, the author was considered to be an authority, an expert. Children may have personal preferences that they articulate prior to the teen years, but they are not as likely to question the fundamental authority with which adults express their opinions. They may not like what the authority intends, but they don’t question its right to assert power.

By the teen years, then, emerging adults begin to question the source of authority of any given speaker or writer. They wonder on what basis that point of view is valid. They recognize that even their much loved parents are not always operating from dispassionate clarity, but from personal bias or inadequate experience.

Andrew is challenging two authorities in this scenario. First, he is questioning the lesson (lesson-maker). He is not just saying, “I don’t want to do this assignment” like a child might. He’s analyzing the reasonableness of the assignment. He is using his own analysis of the contents of the book to bolster his reaction to the way the lesson-maker wrote the assignment. He even goes further to say that he’d happily complete logs for any number of books (proving that it is not childish will or lethargy that drives him), but this one novel, this specific book is not conducive to that assignment as constructed.

Second, Andrew is challenging you—your authority to require him to do an assignment he finds unreasonable. He is asking you to hear the reasonableness of his argument and to overturn your good judgment by honoring his! What’s wonderful is that you see all this amazing mind-growth, and are in awe of him, rather than put off by his unwillingness to complete the logs.

Too often we get side-tracked by content and miss the amazing development happening in front of our eyes. If I could say one thing to parents of teens (and to a younger version of myself), it’s this: “Notice what the argumentativeness or inquisitiveness means about teen brain growth in your child. Ignore your reaction to the content.”

So when your teen tells you that it’s reasonable to stay up all night for the third night running playing video games, listen to the construction of the argument. Listen to the way he appeals to you. Is he providing reasons? Is he considering the possible reasons you might say ‘no’? Is he exploring the possible repercussions to his own health to reassure you? Is he finding his own sources of authority to back his argument (even if those sources at first glance seem unduly biased or insufficient from your point of view)?

If he’s doing these things, you can be thrilled for his brain development no matter how much you worry about his getting too little sleep. Start with the brain. Start with enthusiasm for this new burst of argumentative challenge—where what you say doesn’t automatically go. This is how you grow critical thinkers. Your kids’ thoughts may be revised 100 times in the next 5-10 years. But it’s the fact of that revising process that you want to celebrate and foster. And notice!

Well done Cindy! You’ve given us a great example of the teen brain in full flower!

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The “Now it All Counts” Moment

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Teen boy boredThe following note was sent to me after I posted about the ideal curriculum for a six year old:


I loved the post today. How would you answer the same question (more or less), to the homeschooling parent of a 13 and 14 year old……the 14 year old with learning challenges and the 13 year old, bright in some areas, yet rather unmotivated if anything challenges him. When I say to my kids, “if you aren’t happy pursuing learning this way, we can look at schools” neither is particularly interested. However, it seems as if they know one is not “supposed” to like “school” and that has transferred to not liking most things that challenges them or looks like learning. On top of it all, I try to fit schooling between one’s major commitment to a sports team and the other’s need for physical therapy and a few classes — so it’s not like we are hanging out at home all day, whatsoever.

Anxious about preparing my kids for HS and College, but still having fun.

I call the crisis Melinda describes: The “now it all counts” moment.

Rather than continuing the joy of learning through experience, encounter, and exploration, most of us (me included!) suddenly panic and whip out the textbooks and quizzes, thinking there’s some better preparation for college than the one we’ve been creating all along!

Let me put it this way: The academic preparation for college can be as experience drenched and exploratory as the early years. It can include encounter with new instructors and new opportunities for involvement in the local community and abroad.

There’s just one primary difference.

Whereas the early years are marked by kinesthetic learning practices, the teen years are marked by risky thinking and a headlong dive into abstraction. Your job with an older child is to ensure that that teen is getting a thorough introduction to the wide world of ideas, particularly ideas they can encounter firsthand in other people, places, and writings.

What to do? Try this list

Read a diverse authorship: men, women, young, old, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, western modern writers, western ancient writers, non-western writers – both modern and ancient, immigrants and natives, all religious points of view and non-religious, diverse political points of view, including the ones that frighten you.

Read a wide variety of writing genres: prose, poetry, political rhetoric, rants, speeches, novels, popular non-fiction, not-so-popular ancient non-fiction, newspapers, magazines, blogs, websites, cartoons, scientific treatises, credible research, propaganda, biased reporting, “objective” reporting—which doesn’t exist, but there are at least some contexts with that aim.

Watch a wide variety of films and television: Get caught up in a big series like The West Wing or Mad Men. Watch Pride and Prejudice in all its versions. Work through the Criterion list of classic films, one at a time. Write movie reviews for Rotten Tomatoes as you do.

Be a patron of the arts: Go to musicals, art shows (local and national), specialize in one artist and learn all you can about him or her, expand your horizons with opera, the symphony, folk dance, ballet, serious drama, a rock concert. Listen to their CDs, ask them to tell you about the lyrics and music and why they love it. Be curious, not judgmental. Share back what you love, same way.

Get into nature: Hikes, trips to see the National Parks, camping, backpacking, outdoor rock climbing, bird watching in a new place with real birders, identifying all the flora and fauna of your part of the world, photographing it and cataloguing it. Go to the beach, go to the plains, go to the mountains.

Encounter real human beings: at your place of worship, at someone else’s place of worship, actors and actresses, engineers and musicians, lawyers and doctors, mechanics and plumbers, artists and athletes, coaches and tutors, the elderly, the physically challenged, the mentally disadvantaged, politicians, activists, your next door neighbors, people in foreign countries (go there).

Converse about all of these: over dinner, in the car, through email, in online discussion, in a youth group, at a discussion group hosted at your house, through an online class, in an in-person class at a local high school or JC.

Write about it: autobiographical narrative essay, expository essay, exploratory essay, journals, Facebook status updates, Twitter tweets, texts, letters to supporters or family when you travel abroad, essays for college admissions, timed essays for the college admissions tests, blogs, Tumblr, fan fiction sites, online gaming discussion groups, Reddit…

Advance in math and science: Yes, you must! Find someone who knows these subjects that can give them the life they deserve—co-ops where dissections are done in groups, junior college, high school, your house if you’re the science person! Tutors for math—go as far in math as you possibly can. Totally matters—take it seriously, pay for it if you have to.

Take Advanced Placement course and exams: These are tests for subject matter that will allow your kids to be in college with credits already stacked up. The AP courses can be done in small groups, or in schools, or independently with materials. Optional, but excellent for any kid wanting to be an honor’s student in college.

Have Big Juicy Experiences: That’s right! Send your kids abroad, send them to Habitat for Humanity so they can build houses for the disadvantaged, take them to Italy, visit the elderly (make a friend), put them on an elite sports team (ultimate frisbee, lacrosse, golf – not just soccer and baseball), enroll them in a theater or dance company, put them in a marching band, send them to culinary school, apply to a foreign exchange program like AFS, let them apprentice in graphic design or car mechanics, help them build sustainable domiciles in your backyard or cross-breed fish in your pond. Teach your teens everything you know about gardening or hanging drywall or painting sunsets or photography or your heart language of Latvian. This is the time for your kids to be all that they can be!

SPEND TIME with your teens! Most of all—talk to them, ask questions, get them talking. Don’t tell them what to think or believe, ask them what they think of believe. Ask them more, ask them why, ask them to show you how they got to that viewpoint (sources, conversations, readings). Be their mirror, not a sledge-hammer of fact.

Do all of this while you drink tea, read poetry, give bear hugs, check up on each other online, send silly texts, and hand them $20 bills as they head out the door…because you love them and you want them to have what they need to explore the big, wonderful world they are about to take over and shape.

If you need help with special needs—get it! That’s the key! Get them the help they need, ask for their feedback about what is and isn’t working.

Remember: they decide if they are going to have an education or not as teens. You can’t make it happen. All you can do is offer—”Have you read this?” “Did you think about this?” “What do you think about this?” “Want to go here, with me?” “I’d love to go there with you.”

Like that. Dialog, friendly, open, energetic!

Our teens: the future of our planet.

Be good to them. Enjoy them! They are so amazing. Truly. It’s going to be okay.

Teen boy happyImages © Willeecole |

Cross-posted on facebook.

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What is enough for high school?

Monday, October 7th, 2013

On a pink, green, and white cloud, two young women reading a book at Greenlake, with a daisy chain in a field of flowers, Seattle, Washington, USAImage by Wonderlane

Can you keep having tea parties and going to art museums when your kids hit the age where “it all counts”? Will your college-bound teen be prepared enough if you continue to use the Brave Writer Lifestyle as your guide for language arts and writing instruction?

Or as one parent asked me, “I’ve loved Brave Writer for my child’s younger years, but what writing program would you recommend now that my student needs to get ‘serious’ about writing?” Ouch!

The foundation you lay in your child’s younger years is critical to who your child writers will be in their teens and beyond. There’s no “un-bridgeable chasm” between limericks, lists, and letters, and the academic formats like the expository essay and research paper. Literally, the writing your kids do now (or when young) IS the training for the writing they do as teens and beyond.

Let’s look at speech again. You don’t expect a fluent five year old to lead a business sales meeting, to give a speech or to make a Power Point presentation. On the other hand, all that talking and expressing, the poems recited, the manners learned for introductions and the telephone, the oral reports done in a co-op class—these do all lead the child to eventually have the capacity to learn how to teach or present or speech-ify.

As you head into the white water rapids of high school, remind yourself that the strategies you’ve used up until then will be your best aids for growth in the college-prep years. What are those strategies? Let me remind you, so you can affirm them to yourself.

Reading quality writing. In high school, reading should include non-fiction titles, essays, editorials, reviews, poetry, short stories, both American and British lit, classic and popular novels, and the whole world of online options (discussion forums, chat rooms, blogs, news sites, etc.).

Freewriting. Use freewriting techniques to explore the developing rhetorical imagination of your student. Rather than writing about any old thing, introduce your kids to freewriting about ideas—how they form their ideas, what those ideas mean to them, what the “other side” thinks about those ideas, and how your students react to the opposing point of view.

Brave Writer Lifestyle Items. Keep art, music, novels, movies, nature, and poetry going. In their teens, though, students will find specialities (their favorites), and will be able to delve deeply into the ones they love. Your teens ought to become “obsessive fans” of LOTR or Korean pop music or Chihuly blown glass or spoken word poetry or Scott Orson novels or birding expert Pete Dunne or Shakespeare plays. Let them! This is how teenagers discover the other layer of the subject area – the critics, the fans, the influences from other artists/scientists in the field. This is how they discover the academic task: bringing their perspective to bear on the established field as they develop intimacy with the topic and its field of experts. This is what they will do in college, in fact! But they will apply this skill set to sociology, anthropology, mathematics, and political science.

What will you add to this mix in high school?

Some intentionality is necessary. Good news. Your kids are ready for it! They need two things from you in high school: Freedom to risk, opportunities for adventure.

Risk and adventure can be experienced in both activity (taking a trip to Mexico to work in an orphanage) and thought (examining theories of gaming). Both are necessary. Teens want to prove to themselves that they will be adults one day. They can’t *know it* on the inside until they have evidence on the outside. They don’t know it by staying in the same living room they’ve been in since birth, with the same people, reading parent-selected material, following a routine of workbooks and text books.

They discover that they are capable of leaving home and family when they have some experiences that test them—that require them to act independently, and that encourage them to think “new-to-them” thoughts.

In writing, that means that they will need preparation for academic writing. They will want to understand how the writing they’ve done in the previous years relates to this new standard in writing. (Some programs treat writing from the younger years as though it has no relevance to the next level of writing, which is tragic.)

In Brave Writer, we’ve designed Help for High School and all of our online writing classes for teens with this goal in mind—showing teens how what they’ve been doing relates to what they are being called on to do now. These classes help them to learn how to think rhetorically, how to examine argument, and how to select credible support for their thesis statements. They also learn the vocabulary of expository writing—terminology for analysis, how to form substantive opinions, and how to manage their biases and blind spots. They learn the formats so they have practice using them.

Teens can take classes in local high schools or community colleges, too. They should be encouraged to sign up for the local Shakespeare Company as actors (something my kids did), or to join a marching band, or to travel with a show choir, or to play high level sports. They need to get out into the community in their areas of interest so that they can find out that they have what it takes to stand on their own two feet, to prove to themselves that they are growing up.

Between specific instruction in academic writing and exploration of a variety of subjects (fashion, linguistics, music, role playing games, gun control, feminism, theology, nutrition, sexuality, animation, computer programming, sports, foreign language, organic gardening…whatever your kids find interesting), your teens will become prepared for college. College is a depth experience in specific liberal arts and sciences fields. Deep diving IS the right preparation for that world. That’s why homeschoolers do well in college! They already understand how to teach themselves, how to read critically, how to develop and form a legitimate opinion (as long as they have the chance to do those things as teens).

So keep doing what you’re doing, and add a little intentionality in high school, and your kids will be fine!

Questions? Feel free to post them here.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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I wish you could grade college papers

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

like I do…

Essay-writing, not Lecture-giving

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

Today’s writing tip:

As I comment on essay topics in the Brave Writer Classroom, I’m struck by context. It’s easy to get sidetracked into “advice-giving” rather than “essay-writing.” There’s a difference between explaining why you, the reader, should exercise, versus explaining the role of exercise in improved health. Many of our kids are used to lectures, sermons, and mini-lessons designed to urge them to be better people. They internalize this voice and then they mimic it in their essays. But that kind of writing is *not* appropriate for essay writing. Essays are the dispassionate explication of information and how various strands of detail correlate to prove a thesis—a risky proposition, an assertion.

If your student writes about what the reader should do, or directs any comments at the second person, “you,” know that that student has shifted from essay writing to sermon giving. Even without the “you,” if implicit in the writing is a list of “smart practices” or “good ideas,” know that your student is not writing an essay.

We had a question on Facebook:

Any specific tips for redirecting them to essay writing?

My answer:

Yes. Ask them to change the voice of the essay: Move from “you” to third person. Focus on content, not on practice. For instance, in the example of exercise:

Don’t write—

People should work out three to five times per week to get their hearts to beat faster. You won’t be as vulnerable to heart disease if you do cardiovascular exercise on a regular basis.


Regular cardiovascular exercise has been shown to prevent heart disease. People who work out three to five times per week reduce their chances of heart disease by X%.

See the difference in tone? Feel it? That’s what you’re going for.

Tips for the College Application Essay

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

College Essay Notes

From How to Write a Winning College Essay Application
By, Michael James Mason

(Highly recommend buying a copy of this book)

Five elements of a good college essay:

1. Something to grab the reader’s attention
2. Simplicity
3. Realism
4. Sincerity
5. Surprise

As you craft your personal essay, think about the questions and statements below to prompt you. Fit the content to the question your chosen university asks you.

1. Who are the five people who have most influenced you?

2. What do you read?

3. List three virtues that you admire and respect.

4. Discuss three significant lessons you have learned.

5. Tell us about three memorable experiences you have had.

6. Discuss a failure that taught you something.

7. Respond to three quotes that mean something to you.

8. Remember your greatest success.

9. Name five things that you know.

10. Discuss your definition of happiness.

11. What do your parents remember about you?

12. What are your earliest memories?

13. What is an education supposed to provide?

14. List and describe five special things about you.

15. What is your “one sentence philosophy of life”?

16. What is the funniest thing that ever happened to you?

17. What makes the world go round?

18. Picture five places you’ve been that impressed you the most.

19. What is your favorite social activity?

20. What is your favorite intellectual or artistic activity?

21. Describe yourself to a stranger.

22. Tell the story of a fear you conquered.

23. Discuss three goals that you have in life.

24. List ten things you like and ten things you don’t like at all.

25. What do your friends say that they like most about you?

26. What question have you always wanted answered and why?

Congratulations Class of 2010

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

mediumcaitrins graduation
I had the privilege of speaking to the homeschool graduation at our homeschool co-op over the weekend. These were the kids I’ve taught for ten years, some of them my son’s best friends. They voted me into this position and it felt like a great honor to be the one to deliver the keynote. So here it is, for those who’ve asked me about it.

Noah, my oldest, said to me once when I tried to shoehorn him into my fear-based vision of what his future ought to be: “Mom, you raised me in an unconventional way; now you want me to be a conventional person?”

Ouch! Zinged by my own values! By my own kid!

Homeschooling, whether you realize it yet or not, is the radical unconventional status-quo defying choice your parents made on your behalf when you were too young to know better. Instead of yellow school buses, apples for the teacher and lunch boxes, you stayed home. Let’s face it. Your parents were the hippies of the 1990′s!

Your mom read Charlotte’s Web from a rocking chair while you assembled Legos. A big brown UPS box delivered brand new workbooks, still shiny and blank. You didn’t have due dates or grades until your mother panicked (around age 13) and suddenly got crazy grading and assigning and making you sit in a straight backed chair to write papers… until you slowly both got comfortable again and moved back to the couch. Homeschool for this bunch of graduates meant Learning Tree co-op and camp, prom in a church and for some, church in a school!

You did math with our favorite math tutor, Mrs. Steiner, or videos or apple pies. You learned to write with me, or through tears, or on computers with Facebook status updates. Foreign languages were dead or silent even though so many of you are going on mission trips to Mexico or Europe for YWAM now. Shout out to DTS students from Hawaii to Germany to Ireland!

In other words, ‘homeschooled’ is the unconventional distinct identity you will always have – the “two truths and a lie” trump card, the one thing that makes you different from others. And that’s a big deal.

In fact, even more than the homeschooling itself, the choice to homeschool by your parents… that choice ought to have formed a part of your character that will accompany and guide you for the rest of your lives.

Your moms and dads made a brave choice back in 1996 when they decided to turn their backs to the culture to keep you home. It probably didn’t always look brave to you when you when they monitored your computer activity and supervised your reading and music choices! Still, they were pioneers in their own right.

They weren’t homeschooled. They blundered forward armed with a few books and a couple of models of what it might look like. Your moms literally gave up career opportunities to spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with you. You know what happened at soccer games you played? Other moms would find out that you were homeschooled and they’d say to your mom: “Oh I could NEVER do that. My kids would drive me crazy.” But your moms thought, “That’s so sad. I love being with my kids.” And they meant it. Even when you did drive them crazy!

As you go off to college or the military or a career, forging a path for yourself, I want you to remember that the legacy of homeschooling has less to do with text books and literature. Nope, it’s a model for how you might courageously live your own life. Ask yourself these kinds of questions that your parents asked themselves:

  • Will you be content to perpetuate the status quo as you understand it?
  • Or will you, like your parents, challenge the system and be willing to adopt a standard, a philosophy, a set of beliefs or practices that make the world a better place? That ensure that the children you raise will be as nurtured, valued and adventurous as your parents….

There are two words that characterize the life you’ve led so far: Risk and Adventure.

Your parents, the ones who said no to R movies and who monitored your MySpace, who required you to finish math classes even when you thought they were pointless… those parents are the original risk-takers and adventurers in your family. They’ve modeled for you how to stand up to the culture and say, “I’m willing to risk my reputation on my kids, for the sake of the future.”

You were our grand experiment. We asked, “Can we educate our kids, at home, without the support and props of school and culture?” The ghosts of public school past haunted us – we had to fight to keep them at bay sometimes. But you may be different. You get to decide whether or not to homeschool your kids and if you do, you’ll finally be able to answer the decades old question: Just how much grammar really is necessary in home education? We still don’t know.

The truth is, because you’ve already lived as a counter-cultural person, I hope that spirit, that energy, that chutzpah will govern your future choices. Be as daring as your parents have been to challenge “what’s normal,” to be the risk-takers who put their ideals into action. Be deliberate about your choices (researching, discussing, conscientiously thinking through the consequences of your choices not just on your own life, but on the lives of those entrusted to you). Discover other ways of living, other worldviews (so many of you are already on your way to doing just that!). Let yourselves become the people your parents dreamed you would be, even if that means choosing differently than your parents. Because, after all, your parents chose differently than theirs did.

You were given:

  • A quality, personalized education
  • A home environment that nurtured spiritual values, individuality and close family ties
  • A context that developed critical thinking and a commitment to making a difference

These are the core values of the home educators in this room. They are your core values too. How you take them into your future and nurture them now, on your own, is up to you!

Will you dig wells in central Africa to provide clean water to impoverished communities? Will you become a lawyer who defends the rights of the under privileged? Will you cultivate the arts and make your home a place where music and paintings are a natural part of the atmosphere? Will you make your faith relevant to your community? Will you earn more degrees and contribute your knowledge to the Great Conversation that spans the centuries?

Will you inspect railroads or start technology companies? Will you bear children and raise them to be the best individuals they can be?

No matter what you do… No matter where you go… Challenge yourself to explore alternate ways of thinking and living. Who knows what new form of education or family bonding will present itself in your generation?! Don’t assume that what everyone does is what everyone ought to do. Take the risks that lead you to an adventurous future, that contribute to a new way of seeing and being.

You are homeschool graduates… members of an exclusive club—the prototypes of what it means to put personal values ahead of cultural expectations. What will you do with that legacy!? Add me on Facebook and let me know what you did with the precious gift your parents gave you.

Congratulations to the class of 2010!

Thoughts on the morning of my flight to Paris

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

My daughter, Johannah, lives in Paris right now. She’s an exchange student. She’s 20. When I was 20, I spent a year at a university in southern France. My mother came to visit me. Full circle.

I give a graduation speech in a couple of weeks to the local homeschool kids from our co-op. I’ve known these kids for ten years and have taught many of them in numerous classes now. What would I speak about? All the years I’ve known them? The various challenges they’ve overcome? Their collective adorableness?

It didn’t take long, though, for me to realize that what I wanted to tell them had to do with the future, not the past. I want them to risk. Home education is often as much shelter as anything else. Parents want their children to make fewer mistakes than they made. We want them to be free of the oppression of bad choices, and danger, and the regrets many of us harbor. So we keep them home, we guide their education, we supervise their friendships, we are selective about their extra-curricular activities.

And then we send them out into the world of college and adult life… and hope for the best. What is that ‘best’? It seems to me that the young 20′s are a rare moment in a lifetime. Big enough to drive, fly, drink in Europe, vote in America, volunteer in orphanages; unfettered by spouses or babies or home mortgages or careers or health problems. These “big kids, now grown-ups” can do stuff that they will never forget, that will shape their values for the rest of their lives.

Spending a year in France as an exchange student changed the course of my life. Not only did I learn to speak a foreign language fluently, but I was drawn to French speaking Africa for my early career. I’ve had an interest in and heart for the developing world ever since. I feel a kinship with issues and revolutions worlds away from Ohio just because I spent time living first in France and then in Central Africa, followed by time in Morocco.

I discovered the difference between first world “take it for granted” infrastructure and developing world hardships. I learned how to rely on myself in sticky situations without a mommy or daddy to bail me out. I found out that there are many ways to eat breakfast, or drink coffee, or flush toilets, or shower, or shop for vegetables, or dress modestly. I realized that my way (my familiar, seems-right-to-me way) wasn’t the only way, wasn’t the “morally clear, ethically superior, most efficient” way just because I am American.

Spending time in the Peace Corps or living in a foreign country as a volunteer, or student gives your young adults a view of the world that can’t be gotten from TV, newspaper articles, big budget movies or National Geographic, no matter how open minded. The best teacher isn’t information, it’s encounter. Once your kids are old enough to drive, they are old enough to begin that journey toward risk and adventure that will shape them for the rest of their lives.

Encourage them to dream of bigger vistas, send them to places they have never been, trust them to discover riches and ideas and empathies that you can’t yet imagine. This is the objective of home education: give them a firm foundation to stand on, and wings for flight.

I’ll be out of town traipsing up the steps of the Notre Dame, eating almond croissants and hanging around the Universite Catholique (where Johannah attends) over the weekend. See you on the flip!