One Thinging High School: Noah

I have so much to share about high school that I thought I’d take it a child at a time first. I have two who have “finished” (a relative term as you will see) high school and they couldn’t have tackled it more differently. The principle of “one thing” in the teen years is expressed in the following idea: Momentum is gained when a child is allowed to build on his or her interests and skills one thing at a time. It doesn’t mean that multiple things aren’t going on at once. It means that the center of life (the things that animate and motivate your teens) will get a lion’s share of attention… one at a time. It means that some things (some subjects, requirements etc.) will not be addressed with the same level of commitment as others. This will look different for each child, by the way, just to make it more complicated.

Without further ado, let’s look at Noah, my now 20 year old son who lives in an apartment and goes to University of Cincinnati.

Full disclosure: Jon and I are hopelessly committed to college education. We think it’s the elixir of life. I wander through university quads with my palms up expecting “collegiate smarts” to rain from the skies and bless me, Ultima. So while we always prided ourselves on letting our kids be who they were, are and would be, rock star or plumber, the one silent coercive expectation in our home is that kids go to college. Period. Just like some parents expect their kids to take over the family business, go into the ministry or join the military…. Only see, we didn’t know we were like that. I mean, we thought we were being normal and friendly-like. We never saw that our passionate cheering for UCLA football and slobbering gushes over university professors invisibly cajoled our kids, telling them, “We like people who go to college more than people who don’t…”

Translation: The not-so-hidden-from-our-kids agenda (though well-concealed from ourselves) meant that my educational decisions were directed by the inward push to see our kids get to college. And I would still say that is a reasonable approach to high school education assuming you have kids who show academic aptitude and an interest in traditional modes of education. Assuming… which is just what we did.

Train on wrong track: So while the ideals were noble (college for all our beloveds, and even paid for by us!), the reality that we faced as our oldest made his way through high school and college prep revealed just how stubborn our hidden agenda really was! Noah has never been one to follow the straightest path to our expectations for him (probably because he has enough internal spirit to have his own ideas of how to spend his life). So freshman year of high school looked like a check list of courses that would sweeten his high school transcript not the portrait of a highly creative, curious linguist in the budding. Resistance to school work? Understatement. The high volume tug of war had begun between my anxiety over his future and Noah’s commitment to his valuable present. By midway through sophomore year, Noah pulled the plug. He told us he couldn’t do it any more.

Rerouting the train: Noah knew that he didn’t like traditional education (evidenced by the fact that he wrote poems during his math tests at the local high school where he was enrolled part-time) nor did he feel motivated by the dire predictions that without college, he’d have no future. Instead, he poured himself into the study of Klingon, he read widely, he learned some computer code, taught himself guitar, played the piano, acted in a Shakespeare company, worked for a pizza place and then Barnes and Noble, watched movies, played RPG’s and skipped: chemistry, US history, English in its traditional structure, a second year of foreign language and math beyond Algebra 2. He also hung out with friends and slept a lot. By what should have been his senior year, he stopped anything resembling traditional education.

Getting on board with who he was: It took me three full years to adjust to this new reality: Noah was not college bound, not worried about it, not interested in a graduation or homeschool diploma or party to celebrate the end of homeschool. What interested him? Living one day at a time, one interest at a time. I had to let go (so hard for me to do!) and trust that if college were in his future, he’d discover that without my constant prodding and pushing. I also had to accept (and still do) that college may not be for him. Once Jon and I got past our need to direct him, we enjoyed him! We found his interests truly stimulating. He knew more than we did about grammatical structures, the IPA, Shakespeare and math (he developed an interest in math as a language) than we ever would.

The surprise! At 18 Noah decided to move out to live with friends. We were thrilled for him to feel ready to take on paying rent and living on his own. Then as an after thought about a month later, he said, “If I’m going to live down the street from college, maybe I should go.” Come again? It did not seem possible to me that he would be able to meet the admissions requirements for college. But what do I know? We put together his transcript which included a list of linguistics books he’d read as well as all that stuff he did on his own. UC not only took him, but they waived the courses he didn’t take saying that his linguistics profile combined with what he did study was enough. (He did have one college level Greek class on his transcript, something he took “for fun” during his year off.) And I had been worried…

Today: College is a challenge to Noah. He loves it (just like we hoped he would). But the structure is not conducive to his learning style. He’s not a natural academic. He’s a natural learner. I don’t know if he’ll finish. It no longer matters. What is more important now is to stay tuned into him as he figures out what makes him tick one thing at a time. Backing off in high school made it possible for him to reconsider college because by the time he went, he had not burned out in high school. Additionally, he sought help at the learning center and is able to take advantage of accommodations designed for him (he discovered that he has some auditory processing issues).

I share this story in part to set up conclusions I will post after I share my daughter’s on Wednesday. So stay tuned if this feels like you are still trying to figure out where I’m going. I also have observations to make based on working with hundreds of teens over the last eight years through Brave Writer.

8 Responses to “One Thinging High School: Noah”

  1. Kay says:

    Hi Julie,

    Yes, I got it! No labels, no worries! Your last to post are perfect timing for me!

    This week was a roller coaster or more like a fantastic water swirl!

    We started Sept with too many scheduled classes, too many–how could I have scheduled a hair appointment during class times…one time, okay, I can live with that but more than once?!!
    We have gone from living and learning to classes and schedules. My kids are now 13 and 9.

    Topic: Latin. Last week my son’s instructor said he is failing and is not up to the class standards they set for their Classical Languages Center. Okay. Now what? (this is his second year of latin) A new teacher this year, a two hour class once a week instead of two one hour classes twice a week, does he really want out? But failing…in who’s eyes, at who’s standard.

    Let one thing go?? Let Latin go?? He wants to let go. Now the key is, can I let go? Why is it that important to me, my goal has always been for him to enjoy learning and learn what he wants. When he was 9 I let go of his violin after 4 years of learning and having fun. He was finished — that was hard for me too. We were still okay.

    Help: We had planned a three day getaway to an indoor waterpark two months ago for this week… no phone, no internet, just play time. Wait! Right Now in the middle of the latin crisis! I needed this more than my 13 and 9 year old. We played and played. I was in the wave pool with them and realized they are always having fun in everything they do……they enjoy life. I needed again to see my vision of loving life.

    Today, I’m still holding on to the latin but I will let it go.
    My son says, “Thank you.”
    It’s okay. Letting “One Thing” GO works too!!

    Remembering the “Wave Pool” and “Cayote Cannon” creating the many smiles and countless climbs. Each slide had a mountain of steps to climb to reach the top. It was slow going to the top for me, but the ride down was a blast.

    Thanks Julie for the light and Bravewriter classes. My kids enjoy them and enjoy my openness you constantly remind me to maintain.

    Now to start the conditioning, so next time the climb to the top isn’t such a chore:)

    Kay Byrnes

  2. Dona says:

    Oh, Julie, this is so encouraging! My husband and I are the same about college education for our kids. We are both committed to homeschooling and want to discover the best in each of our kids and let them develop their God-given talents without pushing them into the courses that we think will get them into college. I can’t wait to hear the rest of the story!

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Michelle O says:

    It is so unlike me to get involved in something like BraveWriter forums, blogs, comments and discussions. I comfort myself in the fact that what you have created is unlike anything else I have ever encountered.

    Your posts really seem to affect me. Today I was literally moved to tears. (Just small, almost invisible ones.) I am so awed by the way Life really moves in all of us; challenging our beliefs, stretching us and waking us up to what is there! You really have tremendous insight and I applaud your ability to see and to let go and keep going all at once. What an inspiration to all of us coming along this path!

    Having spent part of the morning trying to put off my three year olds requests to come visit the zoo he created in the living room; I finally abandoned my “important” tasks and acquiesed. As I sat where he instructed me to sit and responded as he told me to respond to each invisible animal, I was aware of the similariites of how a little child naturally learns through his play to the “one thing” approach that you are sharing with all of us.

    They tend to immerse themselves in modes of play; trying out different variations on the theme until they have finally exhausted the game. When they move on to some other course of imaginary play it is naturally something they initiate. Anyway…I just thought it was an interesting observation.

    Thanks for your insights,

  4. Laura says:

    I am new to your blog. I have enjoyed what I have read so far. Today’s post was very interesting. I look forward to the other parts.

    I have a question… Do you think when we are a bit laid back in our homeschooling, that our children get used to that and then have a hard time getting into the more intense schedule that comes later? I mean in a school, they would be used to the all day routine/schedule of school and it would gradually be getting harder. I have wondered about this before. My eldest child is 10. I know he is learning; but, sometimes I wonder if I should be stricter/more scheduled so that he will be more disciplined, especially for later in life. Does this make sense at all? I don’t know if I am explaining myself correctly. It’s probably like many things in that each way has it’s pros and cons. I just wondered if you had any thoughts on this. Thanks!

  5. Julie Bogart says:

    Terrific question, Laura. There is a level of discipline in college that is best learned before getting there. I’ll talk more about how that can be achieved in a future blog entry. I will say, though, that in my experience, kids who struggle with the structures of institutional learning would struggle whether or not they had ever been “subjected” to school. I’m convinced that kids who find the transition to college difficult often were the kids who would have had a difficult time with high school, junior high and elementary school as well.

    There is a type of person who is more suited to the academic format than others. We’ll discuss how to look at your kids and address/respond to these various types of learners as we move through this series.

    So hang in there. The best thing you can do for your kids is to pay attention to who they are and respond to them as they are. It’s not “giving in” or “being lax.” It’s being attentive. There really is a difference.

  6. Aneta says:

    I am so enjoying this topic, Julie! You always make me feel encouraged. I have an ‘out of the box’ homeschooled teen in his final year of homeschooling — definitely not a typical academic classroom learner. And college isn’t in his plans at this point. But who really knows! I just wish I REALLY knew what are the ‘one things’ we should focus on so I would know he has the skills he needs to carry on after he ‘graduates’. He doesn’t like to write (not even freewriting), so I tread very gently in that area, so as not to frustrate him too much. I’m constantly waffling on what things to focus on. I know a big part of it is trusting that God is in control, and he knows and loves my son better than I do! Anyway, thanks for this great blog!

  7. Amy Madtson says:

    I agree with everyone, you have a terrific blog and this post was very inspiring to me with a son who is almost 16 and not one to be able to sit still very long for any kind of structured learning. Although he does do what is asked of him without grumbling, well most of the time, he certainly wouldn’t choose to study some of the things he is. He would probably spend most of his time fine tuning his guitar skills, trying to beat the new Halo Xbox game, hanging out with friends, and reading, but certainly Algebra I would not be on his list to do!
    Can’t wait to read more tomorrow!

  8. Anna says:

    Julie, I just LOVED your comment that Noah was is not a natural academic, he is a natural learner. Whether he likes it or not, he is an inspiration and a comfort to us mums who also have natural learners. Please thank him for us – he’s a trail-blazer!

    This year I have begun (after a decade of home education) to fret less about the formal structure and pay more attention to the nuances of my uniquely gifted student. Thanks to your prodding quite early in 2007, I am learning to “tick different boxes” and it’s proving to be a great success.

    My thanks joins with that of so many others.