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Graduation is not the goal; it's the by-product.

Graduation is not the goal; it’s the by-product.

By Heather Sanders

My oldest child, Emelie, graduates in May. I have been asked on many occasions what constitutes graduation for Emelie; more specifically, does her transcript include a progression of classes and credits that parallel that of any student enrolled in our state’s public school system–the answer, “Yes” and “No.”

“Yes,” because, despite the fact that home schools are considered private schools within our state (Texas), and therefore remain unregulated, we chose to integrate the state’s high school diploma requirements into Emelie’s graduation plan. Since it is not her current desire to pursue a college degree, Emelie recognized that if her transcript aligned with the “Recommended” plan set by the state of Texas, if/when she decided to return to college at a later date, she would not have to waste time on any leveling courses to begin.

“No,” because, from the beginning, the goal was not for our children to graduate high school; graduation is simply a by-product of learning. Our homeschool focus is process-oriented not results-oriented; this is where our family’s educative philosophy stands polar opposite to our exposure of the local public and private school systems.

Our homeschool focus is process, not results, oriented.

When Emelie began her high school level coursework, we loosely divided it into a 4-year structure, but she always understood that the structure itself was malleable. Once she mastered a concept, she moved on–regardless of the semester or “year” that the subject matter was assigned to in the overall picture. The same could be said for areas where she required more time to grasp concepts, such as Algebra.

When, or how long our kids take to learn something is irrelevant. Our individual strengths and weaknesses play a large part in the movement of information to understanding. What matters is that when the kids do “get it,” they are able to use it; otherwise, it is a waste of time and can hardly be called “learning.”

For the record, I will have to state that although I am re-learning Algebra to facilitate Emelie’s (and eventually, her siblings) understanding of the subject, I am stumped for how it (generally or specifically) applies to life. In every other subject, I can make correlations between it and the real world, but I am honestly beginning to believe Algebra was created for the sole purpose of serving as an academic “stump the chump” rite of passage; which, in my opinion, makes me wonder if it should be part of any academic plan.

Our homeschool is not without standards.

Our homeschool is not without standards; in fact, we firmly believe standards are imperative, but because we involve the kids (our students) in the decision making regarding their individual, educational path, they learn how to set reasonable, attainable goals in order to reach the future they envision.

This discipline, in and of itself, is far more valuable than following a ubiquitous construct that serves no other purpose than saying, “Ha! I made it through four years and here is a diploma to prove it.”

To say the high school goal is to graduate is much like saying one’s career goal is to be successful; both are temporal. Graduation is a movement from one arena to another, and success gets redefined soon after it’s reached. We do not teach our kids to hang their hat on either one.

The outcome (graduation/success) is fleeting, but the tangible knowledge and skills gained in the process is where the focus must stay because THAT is what will make the most difference in our kids’ lives way beyond their school years.

Published January 15, 2014. Last updated February 19, 2014.
About the Author

Heather Sanders

About the Author: Heather Sanders is a freelance writer living in Huntsville, a smallish town on the...

About the Author: Heather Sanders is a freelance writer living in Huntsville, a smallish town on the tail-end of the East Texas Pineywoods. She and her husband Jeff have three kids: Emelie, Meredith, and Kenny.

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  • emily

    January 16, 2014 at 9:07 am

    Hi, interesting article. thank you for sharing your experience. I just wanted to add that while I know algebra seems useless and silly, I do use it – all the time! In work (I’m an apparel pattern maker and technical designer) and at home, I find myself solving for x on a regular basis! Geometry too. Wish I’d paid more attention in school to be honest. Its calculus I could never get behind in my every day life. although my husband, who is an engineer uses it semi-regularly so I guess it’s worth understanding…

    • Heather Sanders

      January 16, 2014 at 9:29 am

      emily – Thanks for weighing in; I am slowly coming around to that way of thinking–very slowly. Since I am currently re-learning Algebra myself, I can only hope I’ll find more and more uses for it. Calculus, on the other hand, is something I have yet to tackle.

    • Isabel Kallman

      Isabel Kallman

      January 16, 2014 at 12:49 pm

      Thanks for weighing in on algebra. I, too, solve for x all the time. I often take real-life situations and turn them into algebra equations. Clearly, I loved algebra. Probably more than any other subject. Calculus? hated it.

  • julie w

    January 16, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    Algebra, Geometry, Calculus, and statistics all help define math literacy. They are sometimes not _easy_ skills to master. But they help you through out your life.

    Algebra is super important and a building block for most of the sciences… You’ll be able to calculate returns to investments, know if you are being fleeced in a financial deal… Any time you want to scale things up or down. You are going to need it. If you want a good job in the trades…you need it. You want to understand statistics…you need it.

    WIll you use every single thing you have to learn in an Algebra class, maybe not. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

  • Brittany

    January 16, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    This is great.  I love hearing from homeschooling parents.  Even though I am not one myself, and we love love love our daughter’s school, I think it is an awesome approach to education. 

    • Isabel Kallman

      Isabel Kallman

      January 16, 2014 at 1:40 pm

      Thanks for the great feedback. This is exactly why Heather writing here about homeschooling. I think we can all learn from each other even if we’re making different choices.

    • Heather Sanders

      January 16, 2014 at 8:35 pm

      Brittany – I believe every parent is an educator. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and that you have found a good fit for your family.

  • Alli

    January 16, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    I really appreciate these thoughts from that end of the road. We recently overhauled our homeschool routine and I think it we are trying to to approach it in a similar manner- the process, not the results. My 3rd grader and I watched a certain TedX talk recently and had a discussion about school versus education. He actually had tears in his eyes as he realized everything he did from doing chores, to learning math, to working on his pinewood derby car furthered his education. 

    • Heather Sanders

      January 16, 2014 at 8:34 pm

      Alli – He grasped that so deeply it moved him; that’s beautiful, really.

  • IrishMum

    January 16, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    The longer I homeschool the more I see that our goal is teaching our kids how to learn, what they learn isn’t as important as the ability to do it.

    You got some amazing comments on The Pioneer Woman and I’ll bet you are no longer, “stumped for how it (generally or specifically) applies to life.”

    • Heather Sanders

      January 16, 2014 at 8:33 pm

      irishMum – I enjoy reading about your approach to learning. And yes, you are absolutely right–there are enough affirmations of how people use Algebra in every day life to keep me pushing on!

  • Michelle

    January 16, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    All learning of mathematics develops the logical reasoning of the learner. I am a math teacher, and I answer this question almost weekly – “When are we ever going to use this?” For many students, they won’t, and “using it” isn’t the point (unless they plan on entering a field where they’ll really need it). Going through the motions to get the right answer isn’t the point either. Growth happens in understanding not just that a certain process works, but WHY it works. It’s about learning abstraction – going from “this worked on this problem” to “does this always work? Why or why not?” Going from specific examples to general truth is a powerful skill that is useful across fields of study.
    Students of mathematics learn to reason in a way that applies much more broadly. Math majors do better on GMATs, LSATs and MCATs than anyone else (even pre-law and pre-med) because of the way mathematics teaches you to think! Not that test scores are the goal, of course, but they are at least an interestingeasuring tool.
    Would love to write more on this topic as it’s my passion, but I’m on my phone. 🙂 Hope this is an encouragement to keep at the algebra.

    • Ally

      January 16, 2014 at 8:19 pm

      I am a math teacher as well and my husband is an engineer. We are both huge math nerds. I love your thoughts on this subject. Math engages your brain in ways other subjects don’t. 

    • Heather Sanders

      January 16, 2014 at 8:31 pm

      Michelle – I loved this – “Growth happens in understanding not just that a certain process works, but WHY it works.” Yes, I agree!

    • Elle B

      January 22, 2014 at 12:44 pm

      Another math teacher, and yep!  I will willing tell my students that much of the “math” that they learn they will not “use” but that without it, they are generally rather poor at logical reasoning.  Additionally, the math that is most useful for many people is (some version of) statistics….but that requires some basic algebra skills. 

  • Susan:)

    January 23, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    Wow, Emelie is graduating already?  It seems like she was just a freshman last year!  I’ve really enjoyed watching her progress through your homeschooling posts. 

    I don’t think I’ve used algebra since leaving school, but I can still recite the quadratic formula!

    • Heather Sanders

      February 18, 2014 at 7:17 pm

      Yes, it is VERY hard for me to believe as well, but certainly exciting for all of us. We are ready to see what Emelie’s next step will be.

  • Tianna

    February 26, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    Thank so much for your posts; as public school and University graduates, my husband and I often find ourselves relying too heavily on textbooks and too little on real-world experiences in our homeschool. I’m trying to take advantage of the opportunities that we have to teach our kids lessons that extend beyond the classroom. Math (including Algebra) is not my favourite subject, but as I work through it in the homeschool classroom I’m understanding it so much better than when I was in a public school setting. With aids such as Khan Academy we are able to re-watch lessons until we all understand them instead of being left behind as often happens in a larger classroom setting. Have a wonderful day!

  • Ric Reyes

    September 15, 2014 at 9:24 am

    Great post! I’m a teacher and teacher trainer, and your insights on learning are spot on. My wife (also a teacher) and I hope to homeschool are kids with much of the same philosophy. There are many great teachers out there who understand that learning is about process, but it’s hit-or-miss whether you get one of them, and the systemic rigidly of most schools (I find) doesn’t respect individual learners (even when individual teachers try to).
    Keep it up!