Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Inevitable, Irrelevant Question

When we were a family with young children, part of our travel time to Big Events included a review of good manners at our destination. Now that my youngest children are 13 and 16, we are way past the need to discuss proper etiquette unless there will be a dozen forks in the place setting. But, there is one inevitable question we still review. It is the fallback conversation starter that most adults use to start a conversation with any child of school age:

Perhaps you have asked this question of a home schooled child, and then watched in surprise as he turned a questioning eye towards his mother. Public school students are accustomed to being categorized by grade level, but for a home school student, that's often a question with multiple answers! "Do you want the grade level I'm working in for math? Or the higher level literature I'm finishing. Perhaps you mean my college level composition skill?" Since that sort of reply would be disrespectful, we remind our children that people may ask, and that "you are in 8th grade, and you are in 10th."

Recently my daughter wondered aloud "why do people want to know? Does it matter?!" She had noticed that in home school circles, she is generally asked how old she is, instead of her grade. Grade level is only a function of age, and generally has little to do with skill and intelligence, unless learning challenges interfere with someone's ability to progress through the work. For us mastery-minded educators, grade level can be so irrelevant that we forget about it...until Great-Aunt Gertrude asks. And what if you school year-round? What checkpoints do you use to advance to the next grade? If your child's skill levels span several grades, how do you decide on a grade level?

It's easy, really. People are just being friendly, especially at family gatherings. The Inevitable, Irrelevant Question is more about social skills than education. So clue your kids in to their grade level, and practice conversation skills. Then they can lay to rest the other burning question: "What About Socialization?"