Friday, February 23, 2007

Homeschoolers - Work and Real Life

One of the strengths of homeschooling is the flexibility one has with time. Our children have the fortune of pursuing their interests in a real genuine way. Unlike in government schools or preschools, young homeschoolers don't have a pretend kitchen, or a pretend post office for them to explore. We give them the real thing. They are out in the real world experiencing real situations, baking real pies and buying real stamps. This ideology also follows them as they grow up.

A few years back, I met with directors of the "school to work" programs, which were run through the CT State Department of Education. They said that most of today's teens do not have any concept of what their parents do all day, nor do they have any knowledge of what their family's finances are like. I find this very sad, and a true commentary on how disconnected, from the real world and their families, kids can become. Because of the artificial situations, or merely theoretical discussions kids are exposed to in school, they now find it necessary to train kids and institute job shadowing and internship programs, as part of their curriculum, in order to prepare kids for the workforce. That is the thrust of many "school to work", "school to career", or "work-based learning" programs which flourished in the late 90's and were based in our high schools. This popularly was known as "Outcome Based Education initiatives". In my opinion, preparing kids for a specific job, or training kids in a specific field or industry, should not be the thrust of K-12 public education, but that is a different topic to be written about.

Job shadowing is nothing new, and homeschoolers have been doing it for a long long time. How many homeschooled kids join their parents at work and experience a real work environment even early on in their life? I suspect the answer is many.

Homeschool parents who are lawyers take their kids to the office with them, and homeschool parents who have retail establishments have their kids help out in the store. The kids learn about dealing with the public, making change, and having real responsibility. This isn't an issue of child labor, it is an issue of exposing kids to what our lives are really like away from home and how the world really operates in a financial sense. Even if your work is done from the confines of your home, it counts for the same thing. It demonstrates first hand to our kids how business is transacted, and how it should be transacted. Public education's version is "Take your child to work" day, which actually grew out of "take your daughter to work" day because people wanted girls to know they weren't "doomed" to become housewives. Yet another aspect of government schooling's "worldview" which downplays the importance of family life. Being a housewife can be a very satisfying endeavor, and also serves an important function in society, but apparently the notion is that every women must be "more" than "just a housewife". But I digress, and that is also another topic to be discussed another day.

If you, as a homeschool parent, have not had an opportunity for your child to join you in your workplace, I am sure you have at least discussed what you do with them. Other opportunities for job shadowing like this exist in and around the community.

Job shadowing is different from volunteer work in the sense that with job shadowing you are working with someone else to learn how that job is done. This may be in preparation for you to be hired for that job at a later date. Volunteer work is described as working on a job for no pay, and usually it is done for the benefit of helping others as well as gaining some sense of community contribution. Job shadowing and volunteer work can be somewhat similar in that both situations help your child learn a job. Sometimes volunteer work can turn into a part-time or full-time paid position. Internships are somewhat different than job shadowing. Internships are positions that are available to advanced students in a field of study, which can be paid positions, which give supervised and practical training. Internships may be available for a specified time period, like during summer break or for a few months.

The concept of job shadowing and internship may be an outgrowth of the old guild practices. Guilds used to be organizations set up to manage business dealings in a particular trade. Each craft had it's own organization and rules for membership. Workers typically started by serving three to twelve years as an apprentice to a master craftsman. They received no wages, but food and housing and clothing were usually included in the deal. They learned the trade this way, and when they had finished their training they were then eligible to become a journeyman and receive wages. Journeymen were then allowed membership into the guild. The purpose of this brief history lesson is to illustrate that "on the job training" is nothing new. Our rules have become less strict over the years but the purpose is the same, to expose a person to the job and teach them how it is done. Learning by doing, and learning from a professional is the overall strategy.

If your child is interested in being a veterinarian, or an architect, you may be able to find someone you know who will allow your child to spend a few hours a week observing and helping in their office. Just ask around. You will be surprised how eager people will be to share their knowledge and accept a pair of extra hands in their office. My son has done internships with a state representative and also one for a radio station. Both were unpaid positions and they were both very valuable experiences for him. It is a great opportunity for your child to "try on" the job and see if they like it. Many kids may step into the office of a field they have been dreaming of only to find that it definitely isn't their cup of tea (or maybe it is!). This can save you and your child many headaches later on when they are deciding on a career. Can you imagine going through a few years of expensive college training and later finding out that they don't like the job after all? It has happened.

The fellow at the CT Department of Education mentioned to me some statistics about how many college students have no clue as to what they want to do, and their parents are upset because they are spending lots of money without a goal in mind. This is not to say people aren't allowed to change their mind, as to a career or field of study. However, if you are laying down thousands of tuition dollars, you at least should be at a college that will offer you the courses you need later on. Pursuing a pre-med degree is not going to be accomplished at a school for architecture. It is wise to think this through because many credits and time can be wasted transferring from one school to another once you decide what you want to do.

This is where the value of job shadowing and internship comes in. It gives your child a taste, early on, of what the job is going to be like on a day to day and very realistic basis. Don't forget something very important too. When your child does some volunteer work, job shadowing or an internship, make sure that they get some kind of letter of recommendation from the place of business. It can be addressed to "Whom I May Concern" and should outline what your child's duties, responsibilities and accomplishments were. It should be signed and dated and filed in a folder for you to use at a later date.

Homeschooling clearly has some definite advantages. In this case it is a truly holistic approach to demonstrate that life and work and the skills to navigate through life are all intertwined and learning happens everywhere, not just in a brick building in 45 minute intervals accompanied by Pavlovian bells.

For my kids, the world is their classroom.