This is a guest post from Anna Keller. She wrote an earlier guest post here when she took her son out of school.
Last spring, my husband and I pulled our eighth-grade son out of a private, academically-focused school that he had attended since pre-K. While it was a major decision, it was also an effortless one. We had reached the end of our rope.
Immediately after the change, all the friction, drama and tension of the past 8 years melted away. And it kept getting better. Over the remainder of spring and into the summer my son & husband forged a deep bond, spending most of their time together hanging out, talking, doing guy stuff. Without school in the way, our family grew closer and our son regained his passion for music and art and athletics. As we neared the start of the traditional school year in late August, we had no plans to change anything.
And then our son asked us when we would be enrolling him in high school.
With just weeks left before the start of school in our area, he wanted to go to school. Not online school, not the partial day school for athletes. Regular, plain old high school. He was adamant. As a very social kid, he yearned to have ‘the normal high school experience” with other kids his own age. He missed the camaraderie. And he definitely missed the girls.
Once my son has his mind set on something, he will almost always get his way. He’s just that strong-willed. So, my husband and I scrambled to enroll him in a private school known for its art and athletics (but not so much academics). I can’t say we stopped to think much about what we were doing or the potential outcomes. He wanted to go to school, so it just seemed like the thing to do.
School started and we held our breath. Waiting for the tension, the fights, the misery. But also we held out hope that maybe this time would be different.
And it was. He came home every day invigorated, not depleted. He threw himself into his school work, studying nightly and not missing an assignment. He woke pretty easily in the morning and got himself ready and out the door on time. He quickly made friends and attended school events.
And then the first quarter grades arrived home. Straight A’s. A first for my son.
After receiving his first quarter report card, every grade took a nosedive. He stopped getting up on time, avoided all homework and academic obligations, and spent all his time drumming, working on his art and Facetiming with friends.
It wasn’t good. There was screaming, pleading, incentivizing, punishing—every crappy family dynamic we thought we had shed. We were pissed and we were stressed.
For two months, every morning started with a fight to get him up and to school on time, and every evening finished with tense conversation about homework, tests, and what privileges he had lost.
And then we realized that all the cajoling, fighting, begging, incentivizing, and punishing were literally not going to change a thing. We’d been having the same conversation since he was 7 years old. He didn’t want to put any effort in any academic area, and my husband and I could not influence that or change it. We could not change him.
We asked my son if he wanted to leave school (since he wasn’t putting in a drop of effort, we thought he would jump at the chance). He didn’t—he was the one who wanted to go back. But just because he wanted to go back, didn’t mean we had to go back with him.
We stopped begging him to get up, we stopped asking about homework, and we stopped checking in on his grades and assignments. We stopped having any conversation about school whatsoever. My son goes to school, but my husband and I are unschooling ourselves.
We have one rule about school: if he wants to go out on the weekends with friends, he needs to leave every weekday morning on time. This is so we have some sense of order in the mornings and don’t make the rest of the family late while he asks us to wait for him to get ready. So, he gets up and goes to school every morning.
I haven’t seen him open a book, or study at all. But he wasn’t doing that before either. He comes home from school every day and works on his art, his drums, eats dinner with us, chats with his friends, and watches a little TV. He’s a good son, a respectful grandson, and a trustworthy brother. I have no idea what kind of adult he will turn out to be, but he is a good family member and we enjoy his company.
For now, this is the way we unschool our son.