My 12th-Grade Odyssey
Co-blogger Bryan Caplan’s tale of his children’s experience with home school is quite impressive. One slight danger is that readers might think you need to be anywhere near as prepared as Bryan and his two older sons to make it a success.
But my experience, although way less impressive, also makes the case for some version of home schooling.
My birthday is in late November and so I got into first grade just under the December 1 cutoff: I was the youngest kid in my class. We didn’t have kindergarten in my small town in Manitoba.
Then, when my parents noticed how easy school came to me and how bored I was, they thought I should skip a grade. Believe it or not, my father, even though he was the principal and presumably ought to know such things, thought I couldn’t skip a grade. But after the first day of 3rd grade, I came home and told my parents that Bruce McPhail was in my class and had skipped 2nd grade. His mom, Dr. Ethel McPhail, was on the local school board.
So my parents asked me if I wanted to skip 4th grade. Why 4th grade instead of 3rd? Because we agreed that I needed to bone up on 4th grade math while in 3rd grade in order to be ready.
I could get into discussing what a child psychologist I visited told my parents about whether I should skip. (Answer: no.) But that would take me too far afield. Bottom line: I did skip.
By halfway through 5th grade, I had caught up to the best of the 5th graders. But then we moved to another town after a fairly ugly incident involving my mother’s commitment to UNICEF. But that’s another story.
Sixth grade in my new town, Carman, was tough. But by 7th grade, I had adjusted.
By the time I hit high school, I was 12 years old.
School was fine. I did well in classes and got along reasonably well with students and teachers. I was too shy, partly based on my age, to ask girls out. That was a downside of skipping. But that was the only sense in which I was shy. I was quite outspoken in class discussions.
12 Grade (or, for Canadians, Grade 12)
I started 12th grade at age 15. Again, everything was going well. During the Christmas break, I attended something called Tuxis and Older Boys Parliament in Winnipeg. (If you check the link, you’ll see that they dropped the Tuxis in 1960, 6 years before I went. But I distinctly remember Tuxis. I had never heard the word and wouldn’t have thought to make it up.) My church, the United Church of Canada, had chosen me as the representative from Carman. I had a blast. We sat in the actual chairs in the Manitoba Legislative Assembly and debated issues. At one point, I got up to speak on one side of an issue and in mid-stream my reasoning process told me that the other side made sense, so I switched right in the middle of the speech. Two major players, by the way, were Tom Axworthy and Lloyd Axworthy, both of whom became big in Canadian federal politics. (Each newbie had to make a speech about his town. As I spoke for the first time, my fear dissipated as self-deprecating lines about Carman occurred to me and I used them: they got a lot of laughs. Tom Axworthy, of Welsh origin, wrote me a note congratulating me on my fine speech and saying that I must be Welsh.)
When I got home, I was sick. I must have picked up the flu or something. But when school started back up in early January, I was still sick. Two weeks later, I was still sick. I was falling behind and afraid that I would never catch up. By about the third week of school, I was sick, but well enough to read and do homework. So a friend started bringing me his notes and homework assignments and told me what parts of the various textbooks to read.
I got on a roll. After breakfast, I would work for about 3 hours on the readings and assignments. Then I would be a little exhausted. I would have lunch and occasionally a short nap, and would watch TV. Not all junk either. I distinctly remember a class on TV where the teacher shows segments from Huck Finn and discusses the lessons. It was really well done.
After 2 weeks of working 3 hours a day, I had caught up; I had done 4 weeks worth of work in about half the time per day that people were spending at school.
After about another week, I felt well enough to return to school so I did. I had really missed my friends.
But within about 3 days of being back at school, I was exhausted by the little petty tyrannies of a normal school day. I wanted to work at home again.
But I wasn’t sick.
How to get sick? I was a pretty decent badminton player in those days and so after the school day ended, a friend, Jack McKay, and I set up a badminton net in the gym and played our asses off. I came home sick. Yay!
So I spent a few days at home working on school, watching TV, and, something new, occasionally reading history books from the school library.
Then I would miss my friends and go back to school for a few days, get exhausted, play badminton, and stay at home for a few days.
Rinse and repeat.
My mother and father weren’t paying a lot of attention. That’s a whole other story about what was going on in their marriage. But by sometime in March, my father, who also taught at the high school, noticed what was going on. His normal way of approaching me was quite stern. But this time was different. He asked me if I was bored at school. I said I was.
Then came the great surprise. “You know that you don’t legally have to go to school, right? The age at which compulsion ends is 16.”
I hadn’t known that.
It got better. He said, “I’ll talk to Frank McKinnon (the principal) and see if you can arrange to come to school when you want to. Your record in the Christmas exams might be enough to persuade him.”
It was. So I would go to school when I felt like it, which was about half the time, and I didn’t have to make myself get sick when I wanted to stay home.
The Exam Results
In Manitoba at the time (1967) we had a tradition in 12th grade (and, I think, 11th grade) of “departmental exams.” So when I sat down to write the 3-hour math exam at 9 a.m. so did about 15,000 to 20,000 other 12 graders. The exams would be graded anonymously in Winnipeg in the first 3 weeks of July by teachers who did it for extra pay. The teachers were obviously not likely be mine.
I got 90s in Math (actually 99), Physics, French, and Chemistry. English? Not so well. I got 59. I paid $5 to appeal and got the grade up to 63. With that average, I qualified for a few hundred dollars in scholarships, which went a long way in 1967-68.