CNN takes a breather from world events this week to cover the upper middle class education topic of school sabbaticals. The article contains interviews with multiple parents who took their kids out of school for a short time. To Tahiti. To Iceland. To downtown Chicago. It can be wherever. But whatever it is, this is not homeschooling. This is something else.
And I think it’s crazy. You can look at the language the parents use to understand the underlying problem with sabbaticals. One mom says, “With work, school and the usual activities of suburban family life, all five of us were giving our best everywhere else. By the end of the day, we didn’t have much left for each other. I wanted to slow it all down.”
So she took her kids out of school for six months. I get it. I see why she would want to slow down and make more time for each other. I see that no one has time or energy for the family. But I don’t understand how you can admit that school does this to a family and then say that you are taking the kids out only for six months.
When a mom told her kids she was taking them out for seven months, her twelve-year-old son’s first reaction was trepidation that the sabbatical would prevent him from getting into the National Honor Society. The mom was appalled that he was worried. She says she has never even mentioned the National Honor Society. But the thing is that when you send kids to school, you don’t need to mention anything. School tells your kids what is important, and you, by handing your kids over for eight hours a day, implicitly endorse the idea that the school gets to decide what’s important.
Her son is right: he will be at a disadvantage to leave school for seven months and then go back. How will he make up the work? Most of school is linear. And college admissions views high school like a contest. It’s not fair that the parents tell the kids to pay attention to school measurements but also take kids out of the race when it matters so much to the kids.
Kathy Donchak—who blogs about downsizing and sends me so many interesting education tidbits—tells me that Acton Academy in Austin runs for eleven months so that private-school kids can take sabbatical all the time and still get in a full school year. To me this is just more evidence that parental disdain for school is running high, and parents are willing to pay extra to have freedom from the shackles of a school calendar.
So clearly the idea of sabbatical doesn’t work with school. Either you tell the kids school is good and you support them playing by the rules, or you decide school is destroying your family and you take them out. You can’t do both. It’s like having no religion yourself and telling your kids to choose one.
Did you read Are You There God It’s Me, Margaret? Do you remember that a central story line (besides two minutes in the closet with Phillip Leroy) is that Margaret’s parents cannot decide on a religion for Margaret so they tell her to choose. And that choice is too much for her and makes her feel lost with no community.
The same thing happens to kids who go to school but do not go with the full support of their parents. As soon as kids see that parents don’t support the school then the kids are stuck in the middle: miss a family outing to write a paper, or go to school looking like a negligent student? Both are bad choices, and the kid suffers because the parents won’t face the choices themselves.