Saturday, July 02, 2011

A funny homeschool phenomenon

Summer is homeschool planning season.  Even year-round homeschoolers seem to take some time in summer to plan ahead for the next academic year.  And along with the curriculum talk comes the talk about grade levels.

One of the benefits of homeschooling is the ability to work at different grade levels in the various subjects.  A child could be great at math and able to work at a higher grade level than, say, at language arts.  Some kids chew up the language arts books and write well, while their math is a little weaker.  It doesn't much matter for a child not in school.   Most kids I know, homeschooled or not, do not perform equally well in all subjects.  Grade levels are necessary for mass education, but not for individuals. 

For a long time my kids were typical homeschoolers, clueless when asked what grade they were in.  That's just not something that comes up at home.  We don't worry about what grade our math books are written for; we do a book, then do the next book.  We don't think about what grade level novels are written for; if the child can read and respond to a book (and the content is appropriate, of course), it's the right level.

But, people do ask. We're getting that question a lot lately, because we recently changed churches and are meeting a lot of new people.  In our family, the answer is the grade the child would be in if he or she had gone to school like a normal person.  So this summer I have a rising 7th grader and a rising 9th grader.  Easy.

The phenomenon?  Some people like to answer that question with a little more detail, but, apparently, only if it reflects well on the child.  When the grade level conversation comes up among homeschoolers, I might hear or read things like this:

"My daughter tells people she's in 4th grade but that she reads at a 7th grade level."

"I tell people my son would be in 5th grade but is reading at 9th grade level and doing 7th grade math."

"My son answers with 'I'm in 3rd grade but can read 7th grade books and do 5th grade math!'"

Do you see a pattern here?

Do you notice that no one says "I'm in 7th grade but doing 5th grade math, 6th grade language arts and 9th grade science"?

No, and you're not going to.  Despite all the talk about freedom to work at the child's own pace, and lack of concern about grade levels on the parents' parts, you are unlikely to hear anyone mention that they are below grade level in any subject area.  Oh, a small group of moms, friends, will talk about it together.  But publicly, every homeschool child is well above grade level, even when grade level doesn't matter.

My kids have only a vague idea what grade levels they are working in.  I guess my son knows he's slightly below his age peers in math because the boys engage in math talk sometimes.  But we don't talk about it much.  I don't show my kids their standardized test scores; I just tell them they did fine. 

It's not good for the children to hear their parents telling people (or tell people themselves) all the ways in which they are superior.  It sounds like bragging.  It sounds like insecurity.

"What grade are you in?" is a simple question, generally requiring a simple answer. There is no need to get into detail in most conversations. Most people are just asking in order to place the child in their world. They're really asking "will your child be in youth group with mine?" or "What Sunday School class will he go to?"  Or it's just a way to make brief conversation.  The grocery store clerk is just being friendly; she doesn't really care, and saying anything more than a simple "6th grade" isn't going to make them think more highly of you, your kids, or homeschooling in general.

And, think how it sounds to other kids.  You meet up with someone and people exchange grade levels.  Your kid has to tell the subjects he's above grade level in. You think the other kids are impressed?  You think the other kids are going to like him better because he's in 5th grade but doing 9th grade math?   Think again!


wayside wanderer said...

You know what else that homeschoolers do that I don't understand? When we meet new homeschoolers often they tell you all the special needs their kid has been diagnosed with right off the bat. Unless it is immediately pertinent (and sometimes it is) why do I need to know the labels applied to your child?

Kids are people, too, and they deserve being talked about with dignity.

Anonymous said...

This made me chuckle, Margaret, because Elaina always, always asks to be reminded what grade she's in!

...and for the record, I usually answer something like 4thish or 5thish. I have never once heard someone declare their child is in 5th but reading at a 3rd grade level, etc., only as you stated, math or reading at a higher level...I think it's a strange little bit of information to share.

Great post!