Monday, April 22, 2013

The Misrepresenting Media

The unanswered questions in my brain just wouldn't leave me alone regarding the College by 12 family so I purchased a copy of their e-book and read it. I'd like to share what I learned here with you.

The first thing I learned is that the Today News article really did a terrible job of representing this family's approach to education. Surprised? I know. I should have guessed that first. The entire video segment is all about how these parents made learning fun for their kids and that inspired them to push themselves to go to college by the age of twelve. In the video segment, Mr. Dotson says something like, "Mom Mona Lisa teaches them the basics but found that her children learn deeper when allowed to study what they truly love." The tagline on the video clip says "Home-schooling parents turn education into play". It sounds like a dream. Let your children play and they will learn so deeply that they will be ready for college at age 12! Well... a dream if that's your goal for their education. I will say it again for the sake of those people who might be tempted to think I see this as some sort of competition. I would not be comfortable with my children going to college at that age nor do I think my children would be comfortable with it. My curiosity with this family stems mostly from the rights and wrongs I see with the entire educational model that our country has embraced and what light their experience can shed on that for better or worse.

Let me also say that reading this book was very difficult. It jumped around a lot, included things like birth stories, lots of repetition and really was more a collection of essays and thoughts by everyone in the family. It was also difficult to read the father's very anti-Catholic opinions. Mrs. Harding was Catholic when they married and he "joined the Catholic Church" to marry her. It was through a Protestant Bible study group that she began to realize "that a lot of things that I was taught were not in the Bible" and that's when she "was saved". The husband goes on to offer his warning to husbands to "watch out for the things your wife brings into your marriage" and to stand strong against religious "rituals" (which he claims he'd always questioned) and "false religious practices". But I managed to get through those sections and the incoherency and mostly figure out what this family's real approach to education is.

So, one of my main questions was "how did their kids get started on this track" because I just don't see it as something that happens completely naturally. When the family first started homeschooling, their daughters became very efficient at finishing their school work so that they could go play with the other homeschooled kids on the military base. Their father decided to have them double up on math lessons in order to prepare them for the eventual SAT test which judges both verbal and mathematical skill. They also schooled year round which allowed them to get ahead on subjects. Even later, two of her children ages 5 and 8, in fact the boys featured at the beginning of the segment only now 12 and 15, both indicated that finishing their work quickly meant then they could go play. When asked what they liked about homeschooling one boy responded "I can finish early if I'm fast. Then I get to play!" while the older boy said, "I can finish early if I'm quick." I can kind of understand this aspect of their education (the finishing quickly, not the doubling up of lessons). We used it with our children too. There was a certain amount of school work we expected them to accomplish each day but if they finished that work in an hour or two, I wasn't going to make them return to the school table after lunch for busy work. No, they were free to go off and explore and play.

The family lived in California where the California High School Proficiency Exam is the equivalent of a high school diploma at the time their oldest daughter was enrolled in an online intermediate algebra course at a local community college. While they don't state how or why she was taking an online CC class, they indicated that it was not a dual credit program, just a regular online college credit class. In fact, the mother guesses that in registering for the online class and later registering for the CHSPE her daughter's age went unnoticed amidst the piles of other applications. It was during this time that they learned about a loophole in the rules of the CHSPE which said that the test could be taken by any child of at least 15 years old OR a second semester sophomore. Believing that she was doing sophomore level work, her mom registered her and she took the test when she was only 12.

After passing this test they signed her up for two community college classes. Her younger sister did not pass the CHSPE when she first took it but came close to passing. They made studying the review for the test part of her curriculum. Even though she didn't pass, they enrolled her in a community college High School Special program for one english class. The second time she took the CHSPE she passed and moved up to two classes over the summer.

By the time the family moved to Alabama, the older girls had enough transfer credits to be accepted at a university without a transcript or SAT score. This is how they "gamed the system". That's not a judgement, just a statement of fact. Their mom even says, "In essence, transfer credits have become our 'back door' to college."

After moving to Alabama, which doesn't offer anything like the CHSPE, with their third daughter they discovered that a transcript plus an SAT or ACT score was the way in. Specifically, to have a completed high school transcript and be classified as a high school graduate! Why is that important? Because she points out that the SAT scores required of actual graduates is lower than the SAT scores required of students still in high school. So, they start "filling in the transcript" as soon as the child starts doing what they consider high school level work. They don't feel as though this is dishonest in anyway (and I'm not saying it is, just that they made of point of saying that).
"She was eleven and doing a lot of high school level work. We went back and documented all high school level work that she had done up to that point. Then, we started to make sure that everything she did from this point on was at a high school level so that it could be put on her transcript. This is the key to getting to college by twelve-work on that high school transcript as soon and as quickly as possible."

Once the transcript is completed, their children can apply to college with an SAT or ACT score as a high school graduate under the lower score requirements. They are quick to point out that "once someone gains acceptance into college, it is almost as if their high school transcript is erased because most college freshman have to take all the same general education classes anyways." This coupled with the philosophy that they can get their kids through the high school work more efficiently in less time is how their children have been able to go to college at such a young age. Which is fine if that's the kind of education that suits your children and your family, but I still contend that's not what the Today article represented.

As I'm reading all of this though, I'm wondering...where is the play? Where are the kids who are passionate about studying a particular subject and delving deeply into it on their own? I just didn't see any evidence of that until maybe... after the kids were already in college and studying in a particular field. In the video, there is the child who loved medieval studies and started making his own medieval weaponry and costumes at an early age (which is awesome!) who is now 12 and taking college courses in medieval studies, but he had to get to college first and that didn't happen by accident. In fact at the age of 11 he only scored a 17 on his ACT and his admissions advisor had to request special permission for him to enter since their requirement is usually a score of 18 out of 36. I was left wondering what was wrong with letting him continue studying the way he was going?

Their young children start out learning how to read proficiently. I wholeheartedly agree with this. Teaching my children to read, to read well and to enjoy reading is my primary goal in the early elementary years. Once a child learns to read on their own, they are well on their way to being self taught, which is another goal I have for my older children. But their oldest son also started Saxon Algebra I at the age of 7. The younger son started Algebra also at 7 after he lost his math book (she states it was the book that came before Algebra, so I'm assuming that was Algebra 1/2) and she told him to forget it and just start on the Algebra I book. They checked Algebra I off his high school transcript checklist when he finished it. What kind of math he had before that, she doesn't say specifically but that they started using Christian Light Publications before switching to Alpha Omega Publications which have workbooks up through high school. She says that after completing the third grade workbook, they switch to Saxon Math which I'm assuming is Algebra I. I'm assuming because she doesn't say conclusively just that most of her children start Algebra by the age of 8. From one of her younger daughters:
"My favorite subject is math and science. I only like math when I understand it. I like science because science experiments are very fun. I am 8 years old and I am learning algebra. I am interested in dancing at this point in time. My brother took the ACT this summer he is ten and I am going to take the test next."
A friend on FB commented that the article gives a much more Charlotte Mason/Montessori feel to their approach to education but that when you look at the other video clip on the family's website, it appears to be more textbook driven. After reading the e-book, I would add, not just textbook driven, but it is a method of education with the specific intention of getting their kids to college early and bypassing the teenage/high school years. Their first goal of education is checking off the boxes of the transcript with either a pass or fail philosophy of grading. Failing means repeating the subject or material. Passing means an A.

"If I’m going to give a grade for something, my child is going to learn the material until s/he earns an 'A'.

Along with filling in the very important transcript (her words for it, not mine), they start prepping for the SAT at a young age and make that part of the child's curriculum.

I want to point out here again, I'm not judging their approach to education, I'm just saying that their approach was incredibly misrepresented by the article I read. Their children's early college admissions are not things that just naturally sprung from an early childhood filled with play and exploration. It's a path that this family happened upon and have since specifically chosen and planned for their younger children.

Do I doubt that their kids are intelligent? No. Do I doubt that their kids enjoy leaning at this accelerated pace? No, I think we'd see more evidence of that if they didn't enjoy it. It apparently has become their "normal". The parents tease one of the younger girls that they will buy her a pink laptop if she goes to law school. This is their family's educational M.O. Are their some areas where other homeschoolers could learn from their experience? Absolutely and I'd like to talk more about that later. Prior to this article and reading the comments from Betsy in the post below, I didn't know accelerated learning was a thing and dual credit wasn't something I'd looked into. It's definitely something deserving of more thought and discussion,


  1. Thanks for the look behind the scenes, Charlotte. Much food for thought there...I keep coming back to the children starting algebra at 7 or 8 and "I like math when I understand it." Ouch.

  2. I'm so glad you posted this, Charlotte - it is so different than the clip from the media. Like you said, I should have thought of that! Since when does the media NOT spin something, lol. I feel much happier knowing we are doing what is right for *our* family after reading what they are really doing, than before when it looked like they had found the Holy Grail of college by delight directed learning.
    (BTW, the facebook friend request from an Amy is me. I couldn't message you to tell you so since we are not friends yet)

    1. Thank you for letting me know! I need to change my FB setting so that I can get messages I guess. I don't usually approve friendships unless I recognize who the person is.

  3. We are about to begin homeschooling again with our youngest children. My husband was very impressed by this family so I'm happy to understand more about their approach, thank you for sharing this. My biggest concern with this news piece was that it placed an unrealistic expectation on other homeschooled children.

  4. Oh...Community College Courses? Good grief. Many of the entry-level ones are easier than high school AP classes. And certainly lower level than Kolbe HS....

    You know, we also do year round schooling (because if I get off schedule I'm lost!) and the whole 'when you're done, you can play' thing. But I'm pretty committed to the Kolbe curriculum because it seems to me that a lot of thinking/reasoning is a developmental thing, and a 4th grader just CAN'T examine a text at the same level a college kid can, even if they can read the words.

    BUT I wonder if the anti-Catholic thing comes into play here? I've noticed that a lot of these little sects really put reason in opposition to faith--- so perhaps they discount the importance of gradually deepening studies so kids can learn to reason well?

  5. Know what they call the person who graduates last/barely passes the medical exam? Dr.

    Know what they call the person who graduates last/barely passes the bar? Counselor.

    I would be pretty nervous handing over my life/livelihood to someone who memorized facts before they had the emotional maturity to grasp the deeper issues, the potential reaction to every action.

    I know this sounds critical and what I should rather say is "it isn't a fit for my family."

    Maybe instead of looking at dual credit courses at iffy locations or online, an alternative is seeing what subjects can be tested out of at the college of choice? That would eliminate the risk of classes not transferring but still give an efficiency alternative for those who worked really hard in high school. I'd love to see this discussion continue as our families grow.

    1. You know, when I saw that the one son had only gotten a 17 on his ACT and they had to request special permission for him to enter college, I thought the same exact thing!

  6. I'm still curious: How do they pay for these college courses? With low SAT/ACT scores, the kids can enter college, sure but I don't imagine they're getting scholarships with such low scores.

    1. There is one small section titled "Loans for college" written by the father who states, "They are getting huge scholarships and grants but they and we are still incurring some debt for their future. So, parents, don’t feel guilty in this! It is better for them to have an education behind them and a more expensive education to go if they waited until they were older to go to college. Tuition prices go up every year! (especially when accounting for the time value of money or Net Present Value). Although college can be very, very expensive, it all depends on your children’s aspirations and where they choose to attend. Once again, parents, don’t feel guilty if you can’t pay cash for everything. It’s a reality just like a mortgage is on a house. The degree will pay for itself in time. The statistics are well in your favor. I consider any money spent on your child’s education as an investment."

      I don't know what his definition of "huge scholarships and grants" is obviously. That's pretty much the only thing they have to say about the financial aspect of early college other than to list teenagers "bringing home a paycheck" as one of the things they love about homeschooling. Perhaps the children are expected to repay the parents or the loans after they have finished their degree and are working. The universities that their children have attended in AL are Auburn University of Montgomery, Troy State University and Faulkner University. I have no idea what the tuition costs are at those schools.

    2. Interesting article. Nothing like what our children did, but I guess it works for them!

  7. Wow...this is very different from the impression I got in the original article. Thanks for sharing, Charlotte!

  8. There is always so much more to the story, isn't there! Thanks for the follow-up report, it made for interesting reading! It all rather confirms my suspicion that there is something deeply wrong in the whole college game as currently played in this country. I have no idea how my family will navigate these waters, but it is something we are watching and considering already. Suffice to say, we aren't raising our kids to think they have to go to college at 18, or that it is the only way to succeed in life - canards my husband and I were raised with and fully bought into.

  9. From what I'm told, the California High School Exit Exam is not that difficult a thing to pass. Apparently, if you can pass it, you've met the standards the federal gov't has established for an eighth grade student. Two of my children took it in 10th grade and said it was incredibly easy.

  10. My husband did his Master's via Troy, mostly online. Govt paid for a chunk, but we still had to pay about $200 per class. I don't agree with having to take out loans to finance your kids' education at any age, but I don't see any difference between doing it for college at 12 or doing it for a private middle/high school at 12...except, obviously, they don't have to also pay for college after paying for private high school.

    This is definitely not the path for us. While I can see taking some online classes or a few CC classes as an older high school student (who can drive himself), I can not imagine a younger child who couldn't fill his/her day with advanced studies in any subject at home. The money spent on college credit could be applied instead to lab equipment or college textbooks or online access to university libraries or lending privileges at the big city library. There are so many books and so little time...

    And I am also thinking about reading Anna Karenina at age 12, and how I didn't "get" it. Duh. Life experience matters too.

  11. Thank you for following up on this topic, Charlotte. It sounds like education was somewhat of a competition in their home, and if they "enjoy" that, it's because they have been trained that way.

    After earning a degree, working both full-time at a career, part-time from home, raising children to adulthood, and homeschooling, I don't see the point. Why race through childhood? Why the emphasis on "graduating" so early in life? It seems they have been trained to reach the finish line, but what then? What will they do when the have earned the degree? Will they spend their lives searching for the next finish line? To what end?

    Obviously all rhetorical questions. I think children should be allowed to be children. Thinking like a child, playing like a child helps forms our adult self. And where is God in all this achieving the goal? Service to others? The act of learning requires no GED, no SAT, no BA or BS, no college textbooks or professors. The act of learning requires only the desire to learn. I do not believe God created us for the purpose of formal higher education, but our society values it, and the empty promises it holds. But are we truly happy using that model for life? All you have to do is look around and see how few make it through school and into careers and are truly happy.

  12. very well said. I have lots to say but no time to say it. you pretty much said it for me. that being said I wish I could have back the 1.5 years of my life in college I spent taking courses that I had already covered in upper level courses in high school before there were as many AP tests available to test out. but that seems to be less of an issue now.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts and yourself!