- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2007

The issue of graduation from home-schooling is one that scares a lot of people. People are concerned that no “real diploma” is given with home-schooling. They think institutions of higher education, career programs or potential employers may look at one’s resume and say, “You were home-schooled? What kind of diploma did you get?”

Home-schooling families address graduation in various ways. In some, the parents create a diploma for their graduate. In others, the student takes a GED or other nationally recognized test for documentation. Some correspondence programs give a diploma when the student has successfully passed all applicable courses.

It is surprising, however, to learn how many people keep their children in schools that they and the child hate in order to get that diploma. A diploma represents completion of a certain body of work to an acceptable level. It is thought to represent having reached a standard of basic educational competency to prepare one for adult life and responsibilities.

I think it behooves home-schooling families to sit down with our learners of high school age and come up with standards of accomplishment that the family feels are needed to be fully functional in the world.

In my experience, a well-educated person should be able to read, write and respond appropriately to a fairly sophisticated level of communication. Being able to read and understand a legal document such as a mortgage agreement is important. Writing a letter stating pertinent facts of a situation, or an essay to express one’s experience or opinion, is crucial to one’s effectiveness as an adult. The ability to read and understand any book written in nontechnical language is vital. Simply put, one should be fluent in one’s native language whether on paper or in speech.

Good math skills are essential: calculating interest or sales tax, managing bank accounts, figuring areas, evaluating costs and other frequently needed tasks. For those with engineering or scientific goals, trigonometry and calculus also may be important.

In terms of science, adults need to know about the human body, the natural world and basic principles of physics and chemistry. I would add basic first aid, CPR, fitness principles and nutrition. In the kitchen, it saves time to know that cold water softens protein and starch when soaking dishes, and hot water helps remove grease. Or that meat cooks to different consistencies at different temperatures.

Instead of exams, parents may want to set up graduation requirements. For instance, “When you can consistently finish work at the appropriate time without being asked” or “When you can come up with a reasonable proposal, pitch it to a community group, get group agreement, implement it and have a positive result with it.”

Internships, jobs or service requirements also may be included. Being punctual at a job, fulfilling one’s commitments and learning in the actual situation are very important life skills and sometimes can be learned better in the real environment than from books or lectures.

Being able to transport oneself, read a map, deal with sudden emergencies, compensate for weather, care for mechanical items, speak effectively by phone, work on a computer and research any topic desired — these are all basic to adulthood. Civic responsibility — including voting, knowing which issues are important and volunteering to help one’s community — also is a basic building block.

Whether your home-schooler “graduates” with a ceremony, a cap and gown, a diploma or a series of gradual steps in accordance with an internal family plan, it should reflect what you, as parents, believe best prepares this unique individual to be a contributing citizen of the world.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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