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Home Education Magazine

September-October 1998 - Articles

An Interview with Cafi Cohen

Marsha Ransom

Home Education Magazine's Older Kids' columnist, Cafi Cohen, homeschooled her two children, Jeff and Tamara. Her first book, "And What About College?" (Holt Associates, 1997), is a guidebook for families looking toward college after homeschooling. Cafi is also a contributor to Linda Dobson's newest book, The Homeschooling Book of Answers (Prima, 1998). Cafi and her husband Terry make their home in California, but Cafi makes frequent appearances at homeschooling conferences across the country. Frequent HEM contributor Marsha Ransom interviewed Cafi at a recent conference in California.

Marsha:

Cafi, I've enjoyed reading your book, "And What About College?" I liked the parallel it draws to the other big question we get asked, "And What About Socialization?"

Do you think a lot of people get stuck on the answers to those questions and thus don't begin homeschooling, even though they really think it is best for their children?

Cafi:

It seems that some people get stuck thinking about socialization. It's so obvious when the first words out of their mouths are not about academics or learning, but instead about the prom or football games or graduation.

Pretty ironic, when you think about it. After all, even if you attend high school, there's no guarantee you will attend the prom - or graduation, for that matter. And our kids, who did not attend high school, did go to high school football and basketball games and proms and homecoming dances with their friends. And both had the opportunity to participate in a graduation ceremony with all the bells and whistles.

Marsha:

I appreciated a column in the July/Aug. '97 Home Education Magazine where you had a sidebar called "Less is More: Library-Based Homeschooling for Teenagers."

Are those resources you used while homeschooling your own kids, or ideas you've drawn upon from your wide exposure to homeschoolers on your web site?

Cafi:

I used many of the library resources mentioned in the July/Aug '97 article, "Less Is More." Since you asked, I think that - while many homeschoolers visit libraries regularly - they tend to under-utilize the resources there.

We were living in Colorado when my teenage daughter got very interested in old movies. First it was Bette Davis flicks, then Katherine Hepburn, then a certain director, and so on. She started reading books on film-making. Eventually, after a couple of years, we called all this a course: The History of Film. Our daughter eventually saw hundreds of old movies for free because of the marvelous collection in the Denver Public Library.

Other overlooked library resources include foreign language materials, classical music collections, and - most of all - the research librarians. A good librarian can help you find any piece of information, put together any unit study. More recently, most libraries now offer web access. Don't tell me you cannot get on the web because you don't have a computer. You "do" have one - at the library.

Marsha:

Can you tell readers a little about your web site - Kaleidoscapes - and how you got started with that?

Cafi:

Actually, I merely serve as one of several hosts of Kaleidoscapes, a web-based homeschooling discussion board (http://www.kaleidoscapes.com/wwwboard). The brains and webmeister behind Kaleidoscapes is Ohio homeschooling mom Cindy Johns.

Basically, she has constructed a set of eight linked discussion boards for homeschoolers of all backgrounds. We get 5,000+ hits per month and have just added a book discussion group. Cindy asked me to join her site about 18 months ago. When I saw the user-friendly format and substantive discussions, I found the opportunity irresistible.

The web site I designed and still manage is titled: Homeschool-Teens-College . At that site, I'm trying to accumulate information of interest to those homeschooling older kids and college-bound teenagers.

I have what I think is the most complete listing of diploma-granting independent-study programs, complete with web links. Also included there are college application essays written by homeschooled teenagers nationwide, good-news/bad-news college admissions policies, and much more.

Marsha:

Your column, "Transitions to the World of Work," in the Nov./Dec. 1996 Home Education Magazine has lots and lots of underlining that I added as I read. At that point my oldest son was approaching graduation and wasn't considering college, so your list of ideas and resources for going directly into the working world was a positive note for me.

What do you tell people who are concerned because their child doesn't want to go to college?

Cafi:

Well, first I congratulate them on having raised an independent thinker! It is very hard to go against the conventional wisdom that says everyone should attend college. My daughter, especially is struggling with this issue.

I have been especially impressed by the young men and women (former homeschoolers) I have met who have found satisfying work in the world without college. They are more numerous and more successful than most people might guess - there's probably a book to be written there!

Marsha:

One column of yours (July/Aug 1996) was a spur to me. My husband and I had let exercise go for ourselves, citing lack of time, and our kids weren't really doing anything on a regular basis (downhill skiing, biking in season, that sort of thing).

I hadn't addressed the idea that my example was poor to my children. I made daily exercise a must for all of us and was amazed at how after a few grumbles, my kids were willing to do their exercise first thing each morning without any direction from me.

Do you feel that this is true in many areas, such as reading, writing etc.? As in "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree?"

Cafi:

It's true in a general sense.

My kids liked some things that my husband and I spent a lot of time on: cross-country skiing, amateur radio, reading, piano, computers, hiking, cooking. Other things that we loved bored them silly.

Now that they are grown and on their own, I see that the specific content our kids learned was not nearly as important as the attitude: "I can do anything I put my mind to."

Marsha:

Your column in the May/June 1997 Home Education Magazine listed some "no choice" items that you required for your kids: daily reading and writing, math, household chores, basic computer skills, volunteer work and exercise. I think that's a pretty common-sense list, and it closely follows our own approach with our kids.

I noticed a letter from a reader in a subsequent issue saying that she didn't feel volunteer work should be on a must list for our kids, or it wasn't really volunteer work. How do you feel about that?

Do you think parents can encourage volunteer work, without making it a "must-do requirement"? And do you have any suggestions?

Cafi:

I agree with the reader. She rightly corrected me. Coerced volunteering is an oxymoron. I probably should not have put it so strongly in my original article.

On my mental list, volunteer work was a no-choice item for my kids. However, my presentation of this idea to my kids was, in fact, more devious. We just kept looking at volunteer opportunities until my kids said "I want to do that."

Also, often my first suggestion, when our kids said they wanted to do something (fly an airplane, travel, work with animals) was to research and then direct them to a volunteer opportunity.

Marsha:

Now that your kids are in college, what kind of feedback are you getting from them about their prior education? Do they feel they were adequately prepared?

Cafi:

Well, let's see.

Jeff, our oldest, graduated from the U. S. Air Force Academy in May, 1997. The most negative thing I've ever heard him say about his homeschooling was that his background in chemistry was terrible (pretty embarrassing since both his father and I have chemistry degrees). It didn't hold him back too much, though, since he graduated in the top 15% of his class and has a degree in aeronautical engineering.

Jeff adds that he would never trade his homeschooling years for high school. He has commented more than once that he never would have been admitted to the Air Force Academy if he had not homeschooled. He feels homeschooling allowed him time to get a private pilot's license, to act as commander of his Civil Air Patrol squadron and edit their newsletter, to practice piano, to teach piano, to participate on a world-class diving team, and much more. Eventually, it was all those activities (and close to 30 units of college classes taken concurrently with high school homeschooling) that he feels got him admitted.

My daughter Tamara now says, "I wouldn't change anything about my homeschooling. Despite our easy-going approach, I have attended four different colleges in three different states and encountered nothing academic that I could not handle." She adds that she loved the flexibility of homeschooling, graduating "early" and earning money to travel on a student-exchange program to Australia when she was 16.

Marsha:

Are they doing well, as college measures success, grade-wise?

Cafi:

Let's see. Jeff made the academic honor roll every semester at the academy. So, yes, he did well grade-wise.

Tamara - without a definite academic goal (like a degree) - gets "A's" when she likes a class, "B's" and "C's" when she does not. I think her overall college GPA right now hovers around 3.2.

Marsha:

What do you envision your kids doing in 5 years?

Cafi:

Hard to tell. Jeff owes the Air Force nine more years of service, so I guess he'll be flying jets for a while. He just learned last week that he qualified in the top 1/3 of his pilot training class. That put him in line for the fastest jets - F-15's and F-16's. He says, "I cannot believe they are paying me to do this!"

Tamara is wired for creativity, so it's especially difficult to know where that will take her. She writes short stories and works with a professional writing mentor. She throws pots. She creates greeting cards. She sings and dances and acts in community productions. And she attends college, almost as a sideline. In my book I said that I expected her to write the Great American Novel. I still think that might happen.

Marsha:

What motivates you to continue to volunteer to help homeschoolers, and to write and be involved with homeschooling seminars, now that your kids are not homeschooling?

Cafi:

The same thing that motivated when I began speaking to homeschooling groups in 1991. I remember so clearly (in the late 1980's) being in the dark about resources, other homeschoolers, the legal situation, and so on. When I did meet other homeschoolers, they seemed to only be aware of one curriculum or one support group or one national magazine.

I began researching on my own and could not believe the wealth of materials, support, and so on. Initially, I shared my research unreservedly with other homeschooling families. But at some point (maybe when the phone had rung more than 50 times in a single day) my husband hollered uncle. I wanted to continue to help new homeschoolers, but I had to make my methods more efficient.

So, I started writing (a difficult process for me) and speaking (much more fun).

I also realized how important it was for me help other homeschoolers find their own resources and approaches, as opposed to my telling them where all the wonderful materials were. It's the old "don't hand them a fish; teach them to fish." I can help more if I teach you to fish.

I have also developed the philosophy that it is not up to me to tell you The Best Way To Homeschool. I have seen families succeed with widely divergent approaches. Consequently, in my workshops, I outline all kinds of resources and approaches - those I like and those I do not. Families make the best decisions about their kids' education's when they see a full range of options.

Homeschooling did more for me than for my kids because "I" learned to be aggressive about bending the world to our needs and following dreams.

Marsha:

Are there more books in your future?

Cafi:

Hmmmm. I have several book ideas floating around in my head - one even has to do with home education!

1998, Marsha Ransom

....(articles list) | columns list)....

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