A while back, a friend of mine messaged me on facebook.
My one friend says she thinks 7th and 8th is just a rehash of elementary and that it would be fine to just jump to 9th. Would you have the same opinion?
– N.S. via facebook
I was really taken aback by the question. As in, yelling, “WHHAAAAAAAAA?” at the phone and blinking repeatedly at the glowing screen. I thought maybe it was a joke, but then I did some internet research and found this idea being spread abroad in homeschool blogs. There really are people that think junior high is a waste of time and that homeschool students should just go directly from fifth or sixth year of elementary right to their first year of high school.
So as to try really hard not to miss a valid point, I searched for the logic in this position. And from what I could find, there were only two real arguments for skipping middle school instruction (if I’m missing something, please let me know, I don’t want to misunderstand). The reasons for skipping middle school go something like this:
1. Elementary school is foundational and high school is college preparatory. Middle school, however, is just a waste of time.
2. Anything a student learns in middle school will be repeated again in high school. Middle school, again, is just a waste of time.
Those seem like valid statements at face value. Don’t we want to make the most of our children’s formative years? And aren’t our children above average and better looking than their public school counterparts? Why should the institutional models of education apply to us?
I am completely with you on that, but I think the case against middle school misses several very important facts about our students.
Why Middle School
1. Preteen students are still developing mentally.
Mentally, an eleven-year-old is a far cry from a fourteen-year-old. That may not seem intuitively obvious when your own genius is first approaching the tween years, but after you’ve watched your firstborn achieve late teens, all preteens seem like babies. Seriously.
I wish I could belabor this point for emphasis, because we type-A mothers forget so, so easily. Alright, I forget so, so easily. My child is still growing, and he is not yet what he will soon be. There is no reason for me to treat him like he’s three years older than he is.
2. Preteen students are still developing academically.
There is an academic purpose to the middle school years. They aren’t just there to take up space from ages eleven through thirteen. Preteen students need time to make valuable connections between the facts they learned in elementary studies and to relate the information across disciplines.
You see, elementary studies are designed for a specific purpose — teach a young child to learn and to enjoy doing so. This is why we emphasize reading, writing, and basic math for six years. These are the building blocks for an entire lifetime of learning.
However, one cannot go from basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to complex, multi-step algebraic proofs. That is lunacy to even try. Go ahead, I dare you. I bet my laptop you will either kill your child, yourself, or me before lunch time. It just won’t work. You can’t cram centuries of mathematical exploration and development into a couple of hours of a child’s life. They need time to comprehend, to experiment, to make and correct mistakes, to handle the material physically and mentally before they can begin to understand how all those steps work together beautifully and even longer before the thought process will become habitual.
Likewise in grammar, one cannot go from simple sentences to a researched thesis paper in one week. I know some who try to do so, but their student’s writing is much worse than they want to admit. And it’s not the student’s fault, either. It takes time to become comfortable discussing, identifying, and manipulating parts of speech. It takes a lot of practice to become familiar with commas. And it takes so many well-written sentences to make a good paragraph that stringing all those paragraphs together properly is quite a feat.
Middle school students need time to grow into this level of academic study and to begin developing worldview application across all their studies.
Our children did not learn how to walk one day and sign up for a 5K that same weekend. Why do we expect them to learn basic elementary disciplines and then excel the next year at rigorous high school study? Middle school is important academic training for the in-depth study of high school.
3. High school should be hard.
The academics in high school, particularly for the college-bound student, should be demanding. We do our students a grave disservice if their high school courses are only marginally more difficult than sixth-grade worksheets. Let’s not be lazy here.
High school students need to learn how to read hard books, to dig deep within the material and within themselves for tough answers, and to convince others of their opinion while respecting those of others.
High school students need to learn how to discipline themselves to achieve academic progress in areas they loath, to overcome obstacles to learning, and to conform to class standards when they don’t make sense.
High school students need to learn how to apply philosophy to math, history to art, and grammar to science.
High school students need to learn how to fail miserably and come back optimistic, to learn from their failures as much or more than from their success, and to fail honestly when cheating would be so much easier.
They need to fail at hard things to dream of greater things.
High school is supposed to be hard because college is so much harder and because life will be even more so.
4. High school courses should include mature subject matter.
I’m talking about material unsuitable for preteens here. Before you blush and turn a deaf ear or call me a pagan and ignore everything I say, let me ask you one question: From whom would you rather your student learn about mature subject matter? And then when?
When my son goes off to college, he’s going to hear from a lot of professors and study a lot of textbooks. Some of those I would undoubtedly love, and some I probably wouldn’t. With none of them would I agree with on every single thing.
Because no one is as awesome as me, right?
Regardless, before he embarks on higher education, my son needs experience wrestling with the big things:
- secular and religious humanism,
- the value of human life,
- tyranny and freedom,
- genocides past and present,
- occult practices past and present,
- paganism past and present,
- ethics in government, business, and ministry,
- changing definitions of immorality, and
- absolute truth.
I can’t even think about the application of any of those without coming up with the really hard, disgusting, gut-wrenching questions teens bring up as they explore issues. I’m going to be quite honest — I don’t want to have those conversations with an eleven year old. I don’t even want to try to talk about most of them with my fourteen-year-old daughter! It’s hard enough to delve into them with a high school junior or senior.
If we rush our preteens into high school, we are pushing them into mature material that must be covered responsibly yet that our young tweens do not yet have the emotional, spiritual, or mental maturity to handle. They probably don’t even have the physical maturity to comprehend why these issues even exist!
Our children need middle school.
I didn’t say all this to my friend. I think I just said, “No, I don’t think middle school is unnecessary.” But if I had been sitting with her at Starbucks when she asked me (instead of rushing out the door to soccer practice), I’m sure these points would have all come up in the conversation.
I’m pretty sure she would bring up more reasons, too.