Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What's the point of high school?

Last week I took Mad Scientist down to Piedmont Community College and enrolled him full time. This will take the place of homeschooling. He is taking calculus--a five credit class--English, Western Civilization, and Latin. If he maintains good grades and achieves an associates degree he will be able to enter UVA as a third year at age 18. He has decided that his focus of study will be economics or political science or history, but there's no need to declare a major now. We will take advantage of the guaranteed admission agreement with UVA, which the counselor at Piedmont assured me applies to anyone who achieves an associates degree with, I think a 3.5 gpa. In other words, UVA can't say, "Oh, he doesn't have a high school diploma, so we won't admit him." At any rate, I can always declare him a "graduate" of our home school.

Mad Scientist is enthusiastic and I feel hopeful. Last year I pulled him out of Charlottesville High School because he was spending his days wandering in the woods, or, if he showed up for class, he was deliberately failing tests and refusing to do his homework. He was desperately unhappy and I had to take desperate measures.

At CHS, he had some really good teachers who were genuinely concerned about him and wanted to help, but overall I can't help feeling let down by the school system. Their focus was on how he was a bad kid who needed to be brought into line and nobody in the administration was keen to accept the fact that he was just too smart for their school and they were definitely unwilling to make any effort to accommodate his particular needs. Gifted children really get the shaft in the public school system.

Now, he is excited about being in college. He's particularly happy with his schedule, which is set up so that he has no classes on Fridays, and doesn't have to be at any class before 2:00pm. He doesn't have a driver's license yet but since my nursing classes are all in the morning, I will be able to drive him most days. If I can't drive him, the bus that goes to Piedmont passes just a few blocks from our house.

He'll still take the PSAT and the SAT, and if he doesn't want to go to UVA, he can still apply to other colleges, and I can still declare him "homeschooled." All I ask of him for the school year is that he always be reading one work of fiction, preferably something that I have chosen and that we can discuss.

The whole process was surprisingly painless. Almost from the moment the doctor said, "It's a boy" I have been dreading the time that I would actually send a kid to college, and now it's been done with very little fuss. Of course, a lot depends on Mad Scientist maintaining the required gpa, something he is capable of, certainly, but I feel like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders. It's also funny, going to the same school as my son.

I know, there are probably people who would look down on Piedmont, and the classes there will certainly be less challenging than the classes he was taking in high school (except for calculus, possibly). He had been doing college level English since sixth grade, so a community college composition course will be ridiculously easy for him, but he's earning college credit and escaping the bullshit of high school, so it's a worthwhile trade-off, and he's always teaching himself at home, anyway. One thing Mad Scientist will never be is ignorant.

After we finished registration, and I indulged in a happy gloat about how when his peers will be just leaving high school, Mad Scientist will already be a third year at UVA, he said, "So what's the point of high school?"


  1. I love this program and am glad that UVA joined in with other universities to support it.

    The plan you came up with for Mad Scientist is so great. I admire the way you really paid attention to his needs and helped him come up with an educational plan that works for him.

  2. When I was 16, I dropped out of a boarding school that made me miserable and entered a college degree program instead. It was an excellent choice for me, and I am grateful that my parents made it happen. Even at the time, I felt that the only things I was really missing by not having those two years of high school were unimportant social activities. And a lot of bullying and drunken stupidity.

  3. Very cool plan for your son. I was one of those kids who didn't fit the mold and left HS a semester early. That was the only option for me back in the day, but I'm glad to see other options opening up for fellow square pegs.

  4. Don't you think one of the advantages of this is also that he'll finish two years of college for the tuition price of a community college.

    I think it's cool that you've prepared him well enough and that he's excited about it.

  5. Oh, absolutely Miss Sunshine. We're saving thousands of dollars by doing this. And since Mad Scientist and his younger sister are exactly 12 months apart, I had worried about sending two kids to college in two consecutive years. Now, with MS skipping two years ahead we avoid that.

  6. Brilliant. Stunning in its simplicity. I'll have to check into our community college's requirements, but this could be the answer to the prospect of future beating of my head against the wall of the public "adequate" educational system!!! (I am doing a little dance, but thankfully you cannot see it. Just thought you should know the level of inspiration involved here.)