The 16 year old coder, Part 2: Our Decision to Pull our Daughter from High School

This is part 2. If you haven’t read part 1 yet, please do so.

So I was utterly amazed by what happened when I published part 1 of this blog. Not only did tons of people read it, tweet it, and comment, but it actually hit the front page of Hacker News, which completely blew me away. What I had to say really caused quite a stir.

One of the things I was really surprised and overwhelmed by was the vast amounts of passion I saw about the subject of history, which I think is awesome. I love seeing how passionate people are about things they love, and hearing them talk about the value of such things.

First off I want to say that I myself am a huge believer in education. In fact, my job is education. I author training videos for Pluralsight.com.

As Katya began to show more and more interest in programming, I began to ponder more and more on the relative value of public high school vs. something less traditional, based on where Katya was at currently in her education.

Magic Numbers

One of the things that stuck out to me when considering what was best for her is that Katya is already a very well-rounded individual. She knows geography and history well. She loves writing, and has a good command of English. She loves to read both fiction and non-fiction, usually historical non-fiction. She adores theater, and she hates math and gym, but of course nobody loves all subjects. This really made me think that what public high school had to offer her over the next 18 months until graduation, really wasn’t as important as what she could gain elsewhere. Katya is a Junior. She’s currently halfway through her Junior year. She has taken 10.5 years of English, History, and Math. (ignoring kindergarten here)

Why is 12 years exactly the magic number? Why not 13 instead of 12? If she will be that much more “well rounded” by 12 years of school, why shouldn’t it be 13 or even 14? A degree gives you 16, but why then not 18 or 20?

And what about the thought that she’s too young to know what she wants to do, and she should be exposed to more things through the rest of high school before she decides? Well, why is 18 years old the magic age when someone can finally know what they want to do for the rest of their life? I know plenty of people in their mid 20’s who still don’t know what they want. I have friends in their mid 30’s who don’t like what they are doing, and have never known what they really want to do for a career. And I know people, like myself, who discovered something at 15 or 16 and knew it was what they wanted to do for their career and anything that held them back was only an obstacle, and not a blessing.

Her Decision

As Katya’s mother and I began to discuss the possibility of taking her out of public high school, we also talked at length with Katya about this, and the pros and cons of this decision. I emphasized that high school gives you a nice on-ramp into the intensity of college and later life. That skipping that can be detrimental to kids who are unprepared. Katya is NOT what you would call a good student. She struggles with completing homework, especially in classes she has little interest in.

I stressed to her that leaving high school had all kinds of costs associated with it. She would have lots more responsibility. The teachers would no longer be hounding her about homework and she wouldn’t have a report card to judge how she was doing in class. She would have to either sink or swim, and most of the responsibility would be on her shoulders. It was going to be much more difficult than any class she had taken previously. Being a programmer myself, I can help a lot, but I can’t make up for a lack of self-discipline.

I frequently told her that ultimately the decision had to be hers, and she needed to be sure that it was something she really wanted to do, and was the right thing for her. We also stressed that this was a decision she needed to pray about, and make sure that this was something that she felt that God wanted her to do.

After she decided that she wanted to leave high school and attend the bootcamp, she was given some pre-coursework. It represented about 40 hours of work. She was still working part time, and had 2 weeks until the class started. I told her that she needed to prove that she wanted to go to the class and that she would have to complete the pre-coursework before class started, all through her own self-discipline.

In the end, even though she didn’t scream through it in a couple days, she completed it with several days to spare.

Before making a final decision, I was really worried about what would be best for her. But after committing to action, I have felt a lot of peace in the decision.

Missed Opportunities

One of the primary drivers in our decision to put Katya in a bootcamp was all the opportunities that she was missing out on because she was in high school. Yes, high school can offer her prom and theater and book club. But it also offers her one-size-fits-all educational plans and cliques and cyber bullying and a fashion-obsessed culture.

There are so many awesome things she can do by attending a bootcamp and then doing online high school which will take less time compared to public high school. She has already been asked to speak at two conferences. I know there are many more that would love to hear a 16 year old girl talk about tech and tech education. Her and I were able to go to 5 different elementary schools and give 4th through 8th graders their first exposure to coding. That’s not something you can do much of if you have to be in school every day. I also believe that online training sites like pluralsight.com could benefit from having courses directed at kids, that are actually authored by their peers, instead of old men.

She will also get the opportunity to face an academically challenging situation with this bootcamp, but it will be in a subject she loves and is passionate about. So she’ll have the opportunity to excel at something she truly cares about, and gain the self confidence to know that she can do amazing things with the right motivation and discipline.

She will also have the opportunity to work alongside her father. I think one of the sad byproducts of us becoming a non-agrarian society is that we no longer work alongside our parents and learn our trades. I am a firm believer that the influence of a loving father is not only far more positive on a young girl than the influence of her peers, but also critical in her development. If you have any doubts of this please read Strong Fathers Strong Daughters by Dr. Meg Meeker.

As I pondered this decision, in my mind I saw Katya authoring training courses for other teenage girls to learn web development, building the mobile apps she wants to build, speaking to audiences of hundreds and thousands on all kinds of technical and educational topics, and those visions made me so excited for her future.

But ultimately it’s the opportunities that I don’t know about and can’t predict. Once she has these valuable skills, and time to leverage them, what opportunities will the world hold for her? I don’t know, and that excites me more than anything else.

 

8 responses

  1. Wow, this really is uncharted territory. It sounds like all concerned parties have given this a lot of thought. She couldn’t possibly have better access to high quality instruction. It seems she is well-rounded and you’ve every right to believe that will continue to be the case. You’ve given the impression that she really likes it, and the decision was driven by her. I have a 7 year old daughter myself and I’m already frustrated by the one-size-fits-all public education system. I really want her learn to code, and to be aware of the opportunities it affords. I also really want her to like it, so I’m trying to just let her be 7 for now. I commend you; both on having the stones to propose this, but mostly on the ability to pull-the-trigger on a decision with this much at stake.
    There is one thing that troubles me despite all the positive attributes aforementioned. Maybe one’s compass is unfailing at 16, but most are not. I might make the argument here that you are blinded by your proximity. You’ve arrogated the role of her compass, or at least attenuated its natural inclinations. If we’re to use the projections of the stereotypical 16-25 year old; this next decade of her life will be spent finding herself. I wonder if you’ve undervalued time spent surrounded by other like-minded individuals in a shared experience.
    There is an intangible asset gained in this experience of surrounding yourself with a diversity of truth-seekers at the highest level. If you’ll forgive me the use of one more sloppy metaphor, and admittedly an exaggeration. I worry that she is now placed on an insulated track through the known; where she might otherwise have been given wings.
    It’s easy for me to conjure images of a Dad cleaning his shotgun when his daughter’s date arrives, except now it’s a keyboard and what is taking the place of the classmate if not the whole ceremony of public education?
    I wish you and your daughter the best.

  2. Please check out http://www.uncollege.org/ . There are scores more kids out there just like Katya. There are platforms mushrooming where these youngsters can find each other, spend time in a community of self-designed learning peers (and not assembly line products), learn from each other, etc.

  3. Excellent points. It seems our society is open-minded about everything but education. In spite of the fact that most people change careers more than once in their lifetime, we expect kids to walk a very narrow path to a chosen vocation, and yet still call it “well-rounded”? Our education system has looked the same for decades, which is shortsighted and far too limited in our technology-information age.

    The real world is not populated by 30 people of the same age and socio-economic background surrounded by four walls for 8-10 hours a day. I think it’s strange that people will express concern that your daughter needs to experience high school, and yet movies like “The Breakfast Club” are hailed as a realistic portrayal of high school. It certainly looked a lot like my high school experience. I’ve been in the real world now for over 30 years, and after graduation, my life has never again resembled a high school classroom.

    As a homeschooling family, we long ago decided to give our kids ownership of their education; after all, it’s their future. We think of ourselves as learning ‘coaches’, and we’ve encouraged them to pursue their interests while also keeping them well-rounded in other subject areas. They have a list of credits they need to earn before we will graduate them, and they are free to find ways to fulfill those credit requirements, with co-ops, online courses, workshops, tutors, job shadowing – there is no end to the ways someone can learn.

    BTW, my kids have all been part of activities like prom, drama clubs, and local volunteer organizations. Schools do NOT have a monopoly on offering educational opportunities. We have been a foster puppy family for an agency that trains service dogs for disabled children and veterans, which requires hours of training and obedience school classes. There’s no end to what they’ve been able to do outside of a traditional school.

    When traditional education is all people know, any alternative is scary, and most of the objections you hear are from a place of fear, ignorance, or prejudice – very seldom are concerns based in research or experience.

    You’ve given your daughter wings instead of clipping them and chaining her to a desk. Kudos.

  4. love your courses, Sir how much of javascript should a person know in order to learn Angular.js and be good in it. Is the section on javascript in your course Front End Course enough to start dancing with Angular.js. PLz let us know.

    Thanks and once again thanks for all your enigmatic courses.

    Bhai

  5. It’s a ballsy decision, but the right one. We’ve been home-schooling our daughter (now 11) since day 1. I get my share of shit from the “traditionals” so be prepared for that. And of course, my mother, a former teacher, is completely unimpressed and even offended. One of the replies up there mentioned about our society being open-minded about everything but education. That’s very true. So much so, that it’s even being legislated. Some states are making it difficult and even impossible to do what you did, and what I do. At the end of the day, I don’t believe for a second that the school systems and the law makers have the best interest of the kids in mind. They’re there to offer a one-size-fits-all learning path and 6-7 hours of child care at the same time. My daughter didn’t learn to read until she was 7, but when she did, she did it very fast and now cannot put books down. Her brain told her when it was time for and ready for something, much like Katya’s is telling her now regarding programming. By school’s standards, my kid would have been “behind” and yours would be “missing important material”. What do I say to that? Screw them. Einstein didn’t read until he was 12. Good luck with everything. I’ve no doubt she’ll find and follow a path that suits her and does her well.

  6. Homeschooling parent, here. People are gradually becoming wise to traditional education. But, there’s even a lot of home schoolers that try to mimic traditional education in their homes! My 10 year-old son is currently half-way through Algebra 1 and studies high school/college level vocabulary, though he still prefers Judy Moody and Goosebumps. Kids are all different, so they need the freedom to explore things that they have an interest in and their education needs to be customized to them as individuals, not designed for the masses. You *will* meet people that think what you’re doing is really out there, but it’s really just practical based on your own unique child and the opportunities available to her.

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