I remember getting my very first word processor—yes, I said word processor, not computer—in grad school. It was such a step up from the electric typewriter: I could actually see multiple lines of text at the same time in the little grey screen above the keypad. But one of the coolest features of this machine was the “justify” feature. You could align text to the right, to the left or simply along both margins, and get a crisp professional look. Like you might see in a newspaper. (What is a newspaper, you say?)
When you justify type, it just “looks right.”
Justifying the way in which you homeschool a child with special needs can be more challenging. You can’t just press a button, or punch a time card, or set the video to “play.” Homeschooling at the best of times requires flexibility and the willingness to adapt to the circumstances. Homeschooling a child with special needs requires patience, creativity and lots of outside-the-box thinking.
And then you hit high school.
High school is transcript time.
And transcripts are an exercise in justification. You are aligning the margins of your homeschool, so that your work fits the preordained format. You are making it “look right.”
Roam the web, and you will find a number of websites offering homeschoolers assistance in transcript preparation, for a fee. It is no easy feat, to log all the miles you have traveled in a year, so to speak, no matter what kind of scholar lives under your roof.
Every homeschool year includes hills and valleys, storms and raging seas, deserts and harvests, and the occasional tropical island of rest and relaxation.
Even though many of us may have resigned ourselves to the idea that life can go on without a high school diploma, we still quixotically want all of our kids to go to college. Our society demands that we try to send them. College is the new high school, after all. This is the Information Economy. How can they possibly build the robots of the future without (at least) a bachelor’s degree?
Even parents who are quite certain that their children are not “college material” believe they must try. The idea of college is no less alluring to these parents, than to the teens, themselves. They are, by now, chomping at the bit to begin their own lives, their own way. The parents meanwhile may be craving some distance, some lessening and shifting of responsibility, as the potential impact of their children’s actions grows ever greater.
Much like parents of typical children, they wish and hope and long for a place where their children can spend their late teens and early twenties away from home. With a maximum of independence. And a minimum of risk. As self-contradictory as that may sound. And programs are beginning to pop up to fulfill that longing.
What is a Credit?
So, we special needs homeschool parents set about the onerous task of preparing a high school transcript.
And, immediately, things take a turn for the absurd.
Take the notion of a credit. Our experience as public school students, which most of us probably once were, calls to mind a very precise unit of learning. One year of public high school in a given subject, yields one credit, assuming the student’s work is satisfactory, or “passing.” Get enough credits in each subject and a few electives and you qualify for a diploma.
In Florida, 180 days make up a public school year. So, something close to 180 hours spent on an individual subject would translate to a single year’s credit in high school.
You can imagine a six-hour day, divided into six periods of one hour each. In reality, the hour-long periods are probably closer to 50 minutes. That’s 150 hours total per subject.
Similarly, some schools do an A/B schedule, where any given class meets every other day for 90 minutes, for a total of 135 hours per year.
Forgive the math exercises. I’m just trying to make a point. Public school credit is awarded based on the premise that going to school yields 135- 150 solid hours of in-class academic exposure per year.
Of course, this is not true. As anyone who has been to a public school knows. Public school is rife with interruptions and timewasters. To name a few:
- pep rallies.
- hours of transport during field trips
- standing in line or waiting one’s turn
- the boredom of re-hashing a concept you already know
- the swift or incomplete presentation of a concept totally unfamiliar to you, which results in confusion
- absences for sick days
- days when substitutes come and the class is allowed to do whatever.
To say that a public schooler learns a solid 135-180 hours’ worth of material in a year is demonstrably false. What, then, is the correct figure?
I have heard 120 will suffice. The math is too hard for me.
Assuming we come to a correct figure for homeschoolers, does that same figure apply to special needs homeschoolers?
As we try to “justify” a homeschool year, that is, line up the margins so everything looks pretty, we are inevitably confronted by the question of “What counts?”
- Does time spent finding his shoes count?
- Does time spent having a temper tantrum count?
- Does time spent calming down because he can feel the negative energy and anxiety in the house resulting from an oncoming hurricane count?
- Does time spent doing a math problem with a calculator, because doing it with mental math would take five times as long, count?
- Does time spent not using technology, and agonizing over what to do with himself, as a consequence of bad behavior, count?
- Does learning how to go to the grocery in a way that does not attract undue attention count?
Where do all of these go on a college transcript?
I’m sure you can think of a million (rhetorical) questions similar to this.
Since these mostly go unanswered, we end up at the end of the year, short on hours. Because we only feel “justified” in counting the academic ones. Not the many, many hours of preparation or patchwork that are required to make those academic hours possible.
So perhaps we could fulfill the requirement of a credit by completing a high school textbook.
If he could do high school work, I wouldn’t be having these problems. How can he possibly get to the end of the textbook in the space of a year? And does the teacher ever get to the end of the textbook, anyway? What are we measuring his progress against?
And what if the textbook is instead a series of books? How do we judge completion then?
If completion means something less than the whole book, what proportion is enough?
I come to the inevitable conclusion that we are trying to apply that which does not apply.
Special needs homeschooling is by its nature freeform, refusing to submit to the rigid parameters of the page. You cannot justify the sentence that trails off the paper. You cannot put margins on music.
I can only transcribe what has been done, and console myself in the fact that it is no doubt more than would have been done, had my son remained in public school. More will have to be enough. Perhaps not enough for college, but enough for the purposes of “justification.”
Justification is the province of fools. I do not want to live there. I want to live instead in the daring race from place to place, the impressive unfolding of talents and abilities that no one suspects. It is a strange journey and an arduous one, at times, but every bit as worthy as any other.
No one can tell me I haven’t been around the world in the past 180 days. If that isn’t justification enough, I don’t know what is.