This is a guest post from Anna Keller. She just took her son out of school.
We've just pulled our son out of a private, academically rigorous preparatory school. He'll finish 8th grade in a minimally supervised online program and spend most of his day in a baseball training program for high school-aged athletes.
Our family is breathing a collective sigh of relief.
Unless you have lived through academic struggles with a child who is a misfit for school, it is hard to describe the impact on the family. Tears, sobbing, pleading, punishment, crumpled & torn paper strewn across the floor, pencils cracked in frustration & anger, books thrown across the room, yelling, doors slamming, sullen eyes, silent treatment….entire afternoons and evenings derailed by academic drama.
And that's just after school. There's also the mornings of pulling them out of bed over and over again, threatening to leave them home, skipping breakfast, begging, pleading, water thrown on their head to get them to wake up. Something that is so simple (get up, go to school, do homework) becomes so complicated, so dramatic, clouding everything in your world. It's a full time, exhausting, no-reward effort, debilitating for everyone.
And now, for our family, it's over.
Like most parents, I think my son is exceptional. He is a dedicated & focused athlete. A talented visual artist. A natural musician. A loving grandson. A non-confrontational brother. A witty, bright and mature 14-year old. An avid reader. And a horrible student.
Since 1st grade his teachers have consistently said:
He's articulate and bright and contributes to class in a constructive and positive manner.
He's such a good artist, if only he would pay attention in class instead of drawing.
He has so much potential, I don't understand why he isn't trying.
He's a boy…one day, the light will go on for him and he'll start excelling in school.
He's so lazy.
They look at me like I am a bad parent when they say these things—as if I could just try a little harder, discipline him a little more, keep more structure in my house, then magically he would transform into a great student. If only they knew my parental transgression is not the blasé academic neglect they envision, but rather it is that I kept him in school for too long.
My son excels at standardized tests and has a high IQ. But he could not excel at school with any sustained effort. It was like school was water, and he was oil. Every part of it designed to rub against his personality—the rules, the assignments, the imposed schedule, the daily inefficiency. It took us a long time to come to terms with that.
There were many family battles over his "lack of effort". We've tried giving positive reinforcement but nothing he could earn by doing his school work was of value enough to him to get him to try. We've tried negative reinforcement but no punishment we enacted mattered. We're been through tutors, coaches and educational psychologists.
My son has good intentions—always a willing participant in trying a new approach. He wanted the positive glow of a great grade. But he could not sustain the effort needed to achieve it. So every new attempt would last a day or a week or a month until he lost interest and boarded himself up in his room, withdrawing from us and avoiding school work at all costs.
Despite having great friends and admiring the teachers & staff at his school, he was flat-out miserable. And dragging down the entire family with him.
It's not that we haven't been tried to change before this. Last year, in the depths of 7th grade, we begged my son to let us pull him out and homeschool him. Surprisingly, his reaction to our homeschooling suggestion wasn't positive. "I am not a quitter" and "I am not a loser" he said to us over and over.
And he's not the kind of kid we could just impose our will on. The characteristics that made him hate school are the same that would compel him to rebel against homeschool if we had forced the issue. His plan was to get through 8th grade, and enroll in a baseball-development program for student athletes in high school, attending a small local private school in the mornings and leaving in the afternoons for the program.
But we couldn't make it. Just 10 weeks before the end of 8th grade, my husband and I decided we were done.
Here's what’s changed now that he’s out of traditional school:
1. He smiles and laughs. All the time.
2. He spends much more time with us—voluntarily. He seeks us out, even just sitting with us quietly with no activity or agenda needed.
3. He is less guarded and more forthcoming with information.
4. He's talked to us more in the past six weeks than in the past two years combined–that is not an exaggeration. Sharing his feelings. Sharing his opinions. Seeking ours.
5. He goes on errands with the family and trips to his sister's cheerleading competition without a grumble or complaint.
6. He wakes easily in the morning.
7. He puts himself to bed at night, eschewing his natural night owl ways to “get plenty of rest”.
Looking back, I have known for years that he was in the wrong place academically. And I feel deep shame that I didn't take action sooner. In 4th grade one of his teachers told us, "At this school we need kids who march to the beat of our drum, and he marches to the beat of his own drum". And yet, I kept him where he was. My husband and I typically embrace people and concepts outside of the mainstream…but not our own son.
After so many years of struggles, everything feels like it fits right now. I watched him running across the baseball field last week, arms in the air, laughing deeply from the gut, and I thought, "He's creating himself…he's creating a life." And isn't that what childhood is about?
This is a guest post from Anna Keller.