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The Door is Open
This essay, by Earl Gary Stevens, was originally published in the Talk About Learning column in the July-August 1997 issue of Home Education Magazine.


As children grow into their teens, some families worry that continuing with home education might be closing the door to college. They wonder if independent learning is more suitable for little kids than for teenagers and perhaps not very practical as a prelude to college admission. While college may not be the best choice for every person, none of us wants to eliminate the option for our children.

There exists a myth that the only way for a young person to be accepted into college is through building a record for compliant behavior in a secondary educational institution. This myth was exposed for many of us when David and Micki Colfax wrote about their boys being accepted into Harvard on the strength of their own efforts and on the lives that they had put together for themselves, as described in Homeschooling for Excellence.

When David Illingworth, senior admissions officer at Harvard, spoke to Maine families attending our statewide home education conference some years ago, he assured them that even Harvard does not require a high school diploma for admission to a degree program. He suggested that Harvard was more interested in the lives of home educated kids and in how they presented themselves than in whether or not they had high school diplomas, documents which are not extremely rare.

Since then we have read many accounts of young men and women being accepted into colleges and universities on the strength of their independent learning and the interesting and productive lives they have led. We are accustomed to seeing letters in the home education media from admissions officers encouraging home educated kids to apply to their colleges. In fact, as more than one admissions officer has stated, all else being equal, many colleges tend to choose homeschooled kids for their motivation and for the diversity that they bring to the campus community.

Admission requirements vary. Some institutions require SAT scores, and some don't. Practice SAT exams are readily available in bookstores along with advice on how to prepare. Some institutions less prestigious than Harvard may require a general equivalency diploma, while others will not care. Depending on what colleges you may choose the prerequisites will be more or less extensive. But the critical thing to know is that anyone who truly desires to go to college can do so without benefit of scholastic records and without help from public or private school educators.

I did it 30 years ago as a high school "dropout," and it has gotten easier since then. I was one of those bored kids who throughout my time as a public school student was always getting into minor conflicts with teachers and administrators over my lack of effort and my indifference to schooling. I finally dropped out in the 10th grade after years spent watching the clock, falling asleep, being the class clown, staring out the window, and daydreaming. But a few years later when I tried a couple of college courses I found that it was entirely different from compulsory schooling. I could arrange my life as I pleased, take what interested me, and get treated respectfully. I enjoyed campus life, and I continued on to earn a degree. It was not a big deal, even 30 years ago.

It did make me wonder though. If I could all but ignore school for so many years, dismiss the final three grades of high school entirely, and still do well in college, what was all the commotion about? Now I know. It is about jobs and control and jealously guarded prerogatives. Anyone can bypass this with confidence, especially these days when so many others have paved the way. In order to do well in college you need to be able read and you need to want to be there. It may not be all one might require for an advanced degree in physics at MIT, but it is enough to start you on your way.

Kids who don't live far from a college can learn to relax about it and demythologize their thinking by looking into signing up for a course under open enrollment. My son, Jamie, and many others in our support group between the ages of 9 and 16 have taken college courses. They earned real credits that can be applied to a degree upon matriculation or, in many instances, transferred to other institutions similarly.

I can't stress enough that college courses do not require a high school background or any special training in academics. Over the past three years Jamie has taken history, art, Latin, psychology, and public speaking in the University of Maine System. We were "unschoolers," and Jamie had never been given an academic lesson in his life before taking his first college course. When he found he needed to know grammar for his Latin course, he learned grammar along with the matriculated students in his class who had forgotten much of it from high school. Some people have wondered if Jamie and these other kids who take college courses are so unique that they are not a practical example for others. This is only another measure of the power of the mythology that educators have promoted in our society.

There are other issues which may make decisions about these matters more complex. For instance many academic and sports scholarships are available only to bonafide high school students. There may be a variety of personal and practical reasons for a family to utilize a secondary school in preparation for college instead of doing it on their own. I hope, though, that the primary reason is not fear of shutting the door to college. If college is your dream, the door is open, and you can get there in your own way. State and local nonprofit volunteer-based support organizations may reprint this article for their members without asking for permission. As a favor, please send a copy to Earl at 25 Belmeade Road, Portland, Maine 04101

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