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High School and College Alternatives--let's do what's best for our kids, not just what's expected.

I’m not a big fan of “should”. I’ve always been one of those people who asked “why” rather than one of those people who gladly followed authority. If someone told me I had to do something, and I thought it was silly, I told them so.

And so I’m one of those people who tends to reject the traditional way of doing things.

Nineteen MinutesAnd it was in that mental framework that I read Jodi Picoult’s book Nineteen Minutes on the plane home from Washington state last week.

This was a great book. It is not a Christian book; I picked it up in the airport. But it was well-written, it had amazing characters, and it’s still haunting me, several days later. I have to admit that the Christian novels I’ve read lately have not had that effect on me (the closest I come is some of the Thoene series or Francine Rivers’ novels).

For those of you who haven’t read it, it’s about a Columbine-type event with one major difference: the shooter lives, and there’s a trial. It isn’t as heart-wrenching as it could be, because the main characters aren’t killed. The main protagonist is a girl who survives, along with her judge mother. The shooter isn’t even the antagonist exactly, because the book focuses on why he did it. And his mother is a very sympathetic, if pathetic, character.

But what the book portrays all too well is the dangers of bullying and feeling like an outcast in school. I’m walking through this with some friends of mine and their children, and some of my extended family right now, and I think we as adults forget how devastating it can be to be bullied.

And what I would say to parents if your children are not fitting in at school, and if you find their confidence slipping away, is that YOU DO HAVE A CHOICE.

I know not everyone can homeschool in the traditional sense, but there are so many options now for online education that you do not have to send your child to a toxic environment everyday. We often hear the argument that “we have to toughen them up for real life”, but in no other point in your life would you tolerate being bullied. You would leave a job like that. You would move. You would change churches. You wouldn’t put up with it. And yet we expect kids to. It’s ridiculous.

So again: you do have a choice. If both parents work full-time, I know it’s tricky, but I have a young relative currently taking online high school courses who hangs out at grandparents’ houses, and at our house, and occasionally at his own during the day, and he’s doing his work. He’s also doing chores and getting a lot more done. So please, don’t let your child be demoralized and discouraged by school. There are other options.

Which brings me to my next point:

While we have choices for high school today, we have even more choices for university and college.

And I don’t think anybody should choose a path just because they “should”, or because “that’s what everybody does”. It’s too expensive. Look at it carefully, consider what would fit best for your child, and investigate all the other alternatives.

For instance, when I started university twenty-odd years ago, one of my assumptions was that there is only one way to achieve credentials, and we just have to follow that typical path. We can’t veer, or people will think we’re odd, or we’ll miss out on something important.

I have since realized that most of the things that we think we “should” do or that we think are necessary when it comes to preparing our kids for credentialed life aren’t true at all.

First, not all kids need to go to university. It’s better to have a community college degree in a skill they can actually use than to have a degree in philosophy or political science that cost $100,000 and is going to train them to flip burgers.

Second, much of schooling is an entire waste of time.

So here’s what my daughter is doing. She is enrolled in an “open university” at 16, living at home, studying on her own. When she actually leaves for university, she’ll enter as a transfer student almost in third year, and she’ll be able to finish much quicker, and with far less expense. Online open universities, like Athabasca University where she is enrolled, don’t require a high school diploma. Their only entrance requirements are being 16 and paying the money for the course. But here’s the neat thing: the courses are just as hard as a “normal” university, and all the top tier universities in Canada at least accept the credits as transfer credits. So at 16, you could theoretically drop out of your junior year at high school, come home, take university credits through Athabasca, and then enter university at 18 with a few years of university already under your belt. This means you can skip first year university altogether (along with the latter years of high school), which is when a lot of the partying and drinking take place, skip out on residence, and go straight into a house or apartment with other young women (or young men) in upper years. It’s a win-win.

If online university sounds too far-fetched, many high schools are now allowing students to take community college courses in your final year. Take them. Many universities accept these as transfer credits, and then again, you’re not entering as a first year student.

And many online schools allow you to take tests to see if you already know the material. Sometimes cramming with a “Philosophy for Dummies” book is all it takes to get a passing grade on the exam, and then they will give you credit for that course, even if you haven’t taken it.

Does that mean that you won’t be educated as well by the end of your schooling? No. I think it just means you’ll be educated differently, with a lot less wasted time and money. You’ll be able to zero in on what you really want to do, instead of spending years in classrooms that are horrendously boring.

So many choices are available to people today when it comes to education. Investigate them for your kids. A lot of my readers have very young children, and you’re not thinking about high school yet. Keep your eyes open for items in the news about online education or other alternatives. Remember that you do not have to do what people think you “should” do. You can chart your own course. And often that course is so much better than putting up with an unhealthy or wasteful environment.

What do you think? Are you looking at alternatives? What have you found?

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