in which she bashes traditional schooling

in which she bashes traditional schooling post image

photo by Lulu

When we last met here, I was tearing my hair out at the wait for Lulu’s college application results. I knew there might be a few restless nights of sleep involved, but I never imagined how much I would worry about the essay she’d written for her Common App.

L. heard from ten of the twelve schools she applied to last week. The first few days were a grab bag: an acceptance, a rejection and a couple of wait lists. One of those wait lists was a bit of a shocker. It came from a school which L. had selected as a pretty sure bet; one with a higher acceptance rate–otherwise known as a safety school. Lulu honestly wasn’t an ideal fit for the school–it’s a fairly traditional, regimented school, although in a location she liked–but we figured that since L’s grades and test scores were well above the school’s accepted average, she’d be an easy in. Not so.

Suddenly I began to worry that the essay she’d written for her Common App–the one which went to all twelve schools–was perhaps a bit more risky than we’d considered. L. had written about her background as a homeschooler, and then compared it to her high school learning experiences. In the process, I suppose, she’d thrown her high school under the big yellow bus.

What if the essay that Lulu had brainstormed with me–the one that had seemed so insightful and passionate and very her–was the very thing that kept her from getting into the colleges she desired?

By last Wednesday night I was terrified.

There was one school that L. had held at the top of her list for months. It’s a very competitive school to get into, and we knew that she would hear from them late last week.

But there was another school. This one wasn’t on L.’s original list; she didn’t think it was in a setting that would work for her. Still, later in the application process, when I encouraged her to add a few schools, she’d applied to it, particularly after reading about their program in Individualized Studies. The program was, according to its website, created for “a special kind of student—focused, intelligent, disciplined, and creative.” The program allows students to “enjoy an unusual degree of freedom to design your own individualized programs of study, with relatively few requirements and a wide range of opportunities.” Interesting.

A few weeks before the final wait began, Lulu began researching this program and became increasingly intrigued. So much so that last week, when she didn’t get into the school that had been her original #1, she wasn’t terribly disappointed.

The day after, she got word that she’d been accepted to that other program–the quirky one that seems to suit her to a T. My girl is thrilled. And that essay that I’d worried so much about? I’m guessing it was a major part of what this school saw in her.

I’d mentioned in my last post that I hoped Lulu would let me share her essay here. I figured that the perspective of a former homeschooler might interest some of you. Of course, I changed my mind about sharing that essay anywhere once it started stealing sleep from me! In the meantime, though, an interesting opportunity has come up. The website Medium is hosting Extra Credit: A Scholarship Program Rewarding Excellent College Application Essays. L. has submitted her risky essay. Why not?

I’m posting the start of her essay below; if you’re interested, you can read the rest on Medium. The essays that get recommended most by Medium readers go to a final judging by a group of professional writers. The top three entries win $5,000 scholarships.

(You have to have a Medium account to recommend an essay there. Setting up an account is very quick if you already have a Twitter account. But even if you don’t, if you find L.’s essay to be thought-provoking, perhaps you’ll share it on your social networks. There are buttons on the bottom of the Medium essay for sharing on Facebook, Twitter and via email. We’d love it if you would!)

Me? I’m just utterly relieved that the wait is over. And that my girl seems to have found a college that accepted her for who she is.

An Education

by L. Zaballos

I think, perhaps, I’d like to start a school. An alternative high school where students are engineers of their own education. Where students learn like I did.

Until high school, I was homeschooled. I spent my days at home, diving into the subjects I found interesting, letting my schoolwork be guided by what I was excited about. I read and wrote constantly. I made art of every subject. I skipped from one field of study to another. I was learning for the sake of learning, not for anything else. At eight I became an expert on the pioneers with Laura Ingalls Wilder as my guide. At thirteen I learned about the Holocaust without opening a single textbook: I read fiction and memoirs about children who lived through it, I watched movies, I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and Dachau in Germany. While science never seemed particularly fascinating, I found ways to become engaged in it. I wrote poetry about the structure of a calcium molecule, made a Mythbusters-style video with my brother based on experiments we’d conducted. There were never curricula, never clear starts and ends to my learning about a particular subject, never grades to motivate my academics. With homeschooling learning was like breathing: it happened naturally.

I decided to go to high school because I wanted to expand my world. I thought I wanted to learn in a more structured way. When I got to high school I decided to let success become important to me. Honestly, I stopped learning and started getting As.

You can read the rest here.

21 comments… add one
  • Liz Mar 31, 2014 @ 11:45

    Thanks for sharing this. It make me think that it’s really important to represent yourself as accurately as possible. It gives you the best chance of being accepted to the school that is really the best fit rather than the school you think you want to got to.

    I recommended the essay on Medium, but for some reason when I signed up, it put in Owen Smith instead of my name and I can’t figure out how to fix it! Good luck on on the contest.


    • patricia Mar 31, 2014 @ 17:58

      I think you’re right, Liz. L. was disappointed that she didn’t get into more of the schools she applied to–but she got into the ones that were the best fit for her. And she might not have gotten into the one she ultimately chose if she had held back in her essay.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to recommend L’s essay. The Medium registrations go through your Twitter account–so maybe somehow your computer was logged into to Owen’s Twitter? I hope it’s not a problem for you. We appreciate the recommendation regardless of where it came from. 🙂

  • Emmie Mar 31, 2014 @ 13:55

    I loved this essay, it was perfect. I signed up for a twitter account just so I could vote for it(I don’t see myself ever being a tweeter:) and shared on my FB page. Thanks to you and to Lulu for sharing your journey with us.

    • patricia Mar 31, 2014 @ 17:59

      Thank you so much, Emmie! I’m honored that you made a Twitter account just to share L’s essay–and I will certainly share that with her!

  • debbie Mar 31, 2014 @ 14:35

    I loved this. What an articulate young woman! I am going to share this with my 11-yr-old who toys with the idea of high school…she might still feel the need to try it for herself, but these are some really well-thought out insights into why it isn’t awesome…

    We watched a friend of ours transition from homeschool to a local college, and she was astounded by all of the classmates who did not seem to know how to take charge of their learning – no initiative, where she was making her own field guide to birds while taking ornithology, just because art is the way she learns, and making huge mind-maps instead of pages of notes in order to remember things…

    • patricia Mar 31, 2014 @ 18:20

      I love hearing about your friend’s initiative, Debbie, and how she’s developed her own quirky, cool ways of learning. The good thing about homeschooling is that you never lose that, even if you wind up in a stifling learning environment.

  • Sarah Mar 31, 2014 @ 14:39

    Such a stressful time. My Waldorf girl is really struggling. She wants a Waldorfy college so badly. She got in to every school she applied to, but none of the ones we can afford feel like a fit to her.

    • patricia Mar 31, 2014 @ 18:23

      It’s an awful time, isn’t it? Our kids have to put themselves out there, while other people decide whether they’re good enough. My heart goes out to your daughter (and you!) I hope that even if none of the schools feel like the right fit, she might find her own niches in those schools that feel right.

  • Oh, this is so encouraging. I don’t have kids no where near college yet. My oldest is only 11 y.o. but I worry constantly. After half a year of actually following a curriculum, a lose one, but still a curriculum, I gave up beginning of March and we went back to unschooling. Guess what my kids have done the past month? De-schooled. They have played minecraft, read and watched videos. Ugh. I am almost going back to curriculum because it feels like they are doing nothing. The interesting thing is they have learned more in these past 4 weeks than never. They have created their own stop motion videos. DD6 is reading. DS8 is reading to his sisters and having fun. He spends hours figuring out how minecraft, server and mod and other stuff in minecraft world works. DD11 is also learning lots and picking up accents from around the world because she watches so many videos on YouTube. She is drawing, painting and sewing and of course, majoring in dragons. Oh, the crazy life of kids that don’t like to do school but would rather learn whatever it is that they want to learn. The little ones are learning how to cook. They beg to participate in breakfast preparation and cut up the veggies. Oh, the let it go and let it be life!
    Thank you for sharing your girl’s essay. It encouraged me that maybe just maybe I am doing the right thing with my kids. 🙂 I am going to share her essay with my DD11.
    L. also reminded me of myself when I was in school. I knew how to play the game well but hated all the wasted time; always looking forward to those classes that real learning would take place and life would be exciting again. 🙂

    • patricia Mar 31, 2014 @ 18:33

      I always love hearing what your kids are doing, Tereza! Sounds like lots of great learning is happening there! It’s hard to let go, though, isn’t it? Paying attention to what they’re doing–rather than what they’re not doing–is always a help to me.

      Both of my older kids put up with playing the game in high school, but then knew they wanted more from college. Homeschoolers never lose that love of learning!

  • May I correct my grammar?? 🙂 “I have kids no where near college yet.”

  • Sonya terBorg Mar 31, 2014 @ 16:31

    Better than I had imagined (and I have an awesome imagination). So articulate. So insightful. Tweeted, Recommended, Facebooked. As someone who works in a school with a particular philosophy (international, inquiry based) it can be terribly frustrating for all concerned when someone signs up for our school but expects something different to what we are offering. Perhaps in not offering her a spot, some schools are simply acknowledging that “You are awesome and have great things going for you, but this is just not the right fit”. It can seem harsh at the time, but in the end everyone gets what they need. And isn’t it better to know upfront that independent thought, questioning the status quo, and looking beyond social norms are NOT what some schools want? My daughter is only 10 months old but I plan on reading this to her, nightly:) Beautiful work x

    • patricia Mar 31, 2014 @ 18:40

      You are so kind (as usual!), Sonya! Thank you for all the sharing! I think you are so right about the school application process: rejections can feels so personal, but those committes generally have a good sense of who would make a good match. “And isn’t it better to know upfront that independent thought, questioning the status quo, and looking beyond social norms are NOT what some schools want?” Absolutely! I respected the schools that accepted both of my older kids all the more, because I felt that they *got* them.

      • Sonya terBorg Apr 2, 2014 @ 8:49

        BTW…despite what I said above, I still say that it is the school’s loss to have turned away such an independent, thoughtful, thinker. She would be a positive addition to any classroom, anywhere. Best of luck – to you both! – as you start this new journey! xx

  • Nancy Carol Apr 2, 2014 @ 13:39

    GREAT ESSAY. Insightful. Risky. Thoughtful. I give it an A+. Hee-hee! 😉

    • patricia Apr 3, 2014 @ 9:02

      Nancy Carol, I think one of Lulu’s favorite parts about writing college application essays was that she wasn’t getting graded on them. Amazing how much grade-free writing encourages a writer’s voice, huh?

  • Eliza Twist Apr 6, 2014 @ 8:46

    I empathize with your agony in waiting for this excellent piece of news! What a gift that your girl already knows how to honor herself. She’ll be able to spend her early decades of adulthood doing something other than repairing that loss of conviction. I’m wondering if you considered the Residential College at University of Michigan. I am a graduate, though I didn’t begin there and beginning there is a big part of it since the entire college is contained in once building for the first two years. It’s like homeschooling for university and really wonderful in too many ways to list here. Anyway…I’ll catch up with you at the park and get the full story. In the meanwhile…congratulations to you both!

    • patricia Apr 10, 2014 @ 9:27

      We didn’t come across that particular program when L. was researching, but I’m glad you shared it here because others have asked about schools that seem more philosophically aligned with homeschoolers. Yes, hope to catch up with you at the park soon!

  • Rhonda Apr 10, 2014 @ 13:36

    As a former public high school teacher in a Title 1 school, I’m encouraged to have read your daughter’s essay on starting an alternative school. The youngest generation is creating our future world. I’m sure in college she’ll learn about the hard economic facts of most families, and how best to meet the needs of those students whose parents can’t afford to homeschool their children. Best wishes in the creation of your dream school!! It’s really not all about college entry, is it?

    • patricia Apr 15, 2014 @ 9:30

      I’m a former public school teacher too, Rhonda. It’s hard to say what will happen with schools in the future–alternative and otherwise–but I do get a sense that the homeschooling model of flexibility and encouraging individuals’ interests is starting to have an influence. It’s hard to say, too, what my daughter will do with her own education, but I know it will be interesting! No, it isn’t all about college entry. Education really needs to be about helping young people understand themselves and their interests. Everything falls into place if you start there. Thank you for your comment!

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