What happened when my son went to middle school

When kids are little, they believe what you tell them. They go with the flow. But the longer you homeschool your kid, the more curious that kid becomes about what’s really going on inside school. So I started looking at all news items about school as potential points of discussion with my kids.

School defines normal kid behavior as a medical problem

I was filling out a form at Boston University’s child psychology program, and there was a list of mental disorders to choose from. One of them was school refusal. That’s a disorder? I feel like it should be a disorder to want to go to school. Like, seriously, is your kid so unimaginative they can’t think of anything else they’d rather be doing?

School defines normal parent behavior as mentally challenged

The hardest thing about sending my kids to school was that I could never do enough to make the teacher happy. I missed a paper or a signature or an event. Every day at school is a test for the parents, but the requirements of parents are so pointless that they seem to be there just to drive parents crazy.

The poet Sara Holbrook found her poem in a test for 7th graders. The commentary from Holbrook is great. First, she points out that the material is totally inappropriate for kids. Then she shows how the person who wrote the test misinterpreted the line breaks and therefore one of the questions had no right answer; Holbrook cannot answer the test questions that refer to her own poem.

School defines normal human curiosity as disruptive

School requires everyone to conform to the program — whatever that school’s program might be. Children have a natural ability to find activities that interest them, but there are relatively few activities available in a classroom, so kids force themselves to just choose something that’s offered. Kids get used to the idea that if it’s not offered at school they won’t learn it.

So when my son was 10 and asked to go to regular school, I told him he would have to give up his music lessons. “You won’t have energy for four hours of cello practice and three hours of piano practice. The school days is too long.”

“Other kids do it,” he said.

“No they don’t. They don’t practice as much as you do.”

“I can do it! I can do it!”

I relented and he danced and dabbed everywhere in celebration of his upcoming school day.

I dropped him off at school at 7:45am. I picked him up at 3pm.

He said, “I did it! I told you it would be fine!”

I gave him a snack and he sat down at the piano.

I ran errands and got him another snack, just in case.

When I came back into the room this is what I saw:

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We’ve officially entered the era of Generation Z

The Washington Post published a list of books for women from Gen Y who are entering the workforce. It’s a little late for that, because this year is the first college graduation for Generation Z.

It’s time to make a mental shift. Every time you imagine what your kid will be doing when they grow up, play this game: If Generation Y would like it then Generation Z won’t.

Your kid won’t build their own brand. Generation Z thinks social media is ridiculous and they don’t even use their real names in email. Though really, how could they? All the real names in gmail were taken by the time Gen Z got there. Generation Y built their social capital by looking perfect on Instagram. But Generation Z has no interest in looking pristine.

Your kid won’t climb ladders. Generation Z is unimpressed with the idea of disruption. The Internet has been disrupting everything since the 90s. Generation Z wants to put things back together in a way that creates justice for all. MBA applications will continue to decrease because Gen Z wants to elevate institutions rather than elevate themselves. And you don’t need an MBA if you want to stick with everyone else.

Your kid won’t drive. Expensive cars will give way to cheap green cars and cars that are shared. Public transportation will get less expensive because Generation Z is very, very price sensitive. And while getting a driver’s license used to be a trope of teenage years, 30 percent of Generation Z says they don’t plan on getting a driver’s license. Ever.

Your kid won’t go to law school. Most practicing lawyers struggle to pay back their school loans, which means the law schools are overpriced. The unemployment rate among law school grads is so high that some people think it’s fraudulent. And law schools (more than other graduate schools) are set up so that kids with wealthy parents get higher grades. Generation Z is repelled by this sort of structural unfairness, and being part of the problem will be unacceptable. This is much different from how Gen Y leveraged inequality to solidify their status.

Your kid will push for diversity. Everywhere. But it won’t be what you’re expecting. We won’t talk about minorities because most members of this generation will be non-white. Instead we’ll talk about people who are economically disadvantaged or mentally different. Generational heroes will be people like Cody McLain who grew up in foster care with Aspergers and built a successful business as an adult.

Your kid will work locally. When Generation Z is too conscious of their global footprint to jet across the globe. Generation Z is practical and concerned with building physical communities before they disintegrate under the weight of the Internet. So a millenniel might work at Qualcomm in San Diego racking up frequent flier miles, and extend business travel into an exotic adventure long enough to post on Facebook. But the corollary person in Generation Z will work locally at a San Diego lawn care service offering new, earth friendly services, and rather than taking pictures of themselves, this person will take pictures of community improvements.

Did you see the speech Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gave to Congress about her Green New Deal? She said previous generations have refused to spend serious money on saving the climate. So the coming generation will have to take responsibility for climate. This is how Generation Z will feel about everything. They will tell us older generations that we were irresponsible. They will not be a generation known for selfies. Generation Z has too much to fix.

You’ll never guess the skills your kids will need for work

I went hiking with my kids, and I couldn’t remember where the trail started. But my younger son remembered. And my older son remembered to put the tick collar on the dog. And I found myself going along for the hike, as a sort of passenger on the journey the kids set up for us.

It is so hard to imagine this happening, but kids become teenagers and then there it is — you are following them. Which makes me wonder when did I get in my head that I would have any idea what skills they’d need in their life?

My parents had no idea what skills I would need. And their parents had no idea what skills they would need. So what makes me think I can help my kids? What do I know?

So far what I know for sure is that skills I never dreamed of calling superfluous are, indeed, superfluous.

Taking notes. Kids have flipped classrooms now. The teachers hand out notes and the in-class time is for discussion. Moreover, taking notes doesn’t help with retention or comprehension. Kids are much better off saying the information out loud, or taking practice tests covering the information. I like taking practice tests on Quizlet so much that I do it just for fun when I’m bored.

Writing a paper. I actually only found this out when I started recording conversations with journalists. I give them so much good material, and I think, why don’t I use what I just said? I can use MightyCall to record my conversations, and then turn those conversations into posts. (Especially easy since I’m a terrible listener — there’s so little to edit when I’m the only one talking!) Podcasts are growing faster than text or video. And the only way to find what works is to try stuff.

Starting a company. Startups are passe. Which makes sense because 55% of them were started by Gen X. The lure of Silicon Valley is over, and homeowners and companies are gunning to get out. The only people are staying are those who could not function anywhere else. And for those who want to start a profitable, non-Silicon Valley company, places like CalChamber make it so easy to stay legal that your kids won’t have to give up tons of stock just to get a labor lawyer to take their call.

I am trying hard to remind myself that I have no idea what my kids will need to learn and I should leave them alone. But I always want to give my opinion.

Then I watched a teacher talking to my son when he stumbled on a word.

She said, “What should you do if you see a word you don’t know?

He said, “Look on the Internet.”

She said, “Or a dictionary.”

He laughed. Out loud. And so did many kids in the class. Because what is she even talking about? The dictionary is on the Internet now, but more than that, the Internet is actually a huge dictionary.

The adult who presumes to tell a kid how to learn will be an adult makes kids laugh.

Stop asking me questions about homeschooling that you’d never ask about school.

Schools decide the priorities of non-school time as well. In Newton, MA there is an extra period in the day so the school can require kids to try extracurricular activities that will make the kids more appealing to colleges. In Darlington, WI, there are half-days of school when the football team has a home game so all students can spend the afternoon preparing for the event. In Winnetka, IL kids in jazz band frequently travel during school breaks.

If you send your kid to school, the school board chooses the parenting philosophy for your household. If you homeschool, you decide what the point of childhood is. You decide what the goal of family time is. You decide what your role as a parent is.

These are questions we are not accustomed to answering. For most of history children were small workers – in fields and then in factories. Then children went to school where they learned to be good adult factory workers. We have not given much thought to what is the point of childhood because we have not had so much freedom to decide for ourselves.

No one asks the school board to defend it’s parenting philosophy, but homeschoolers end up doing this all the time. Because if you talk about how you make decisions about education you cannot avoid talking about what you think is important about childhood. I have been swayed by different philosophies at different times:

Childhood Institute: making sure children fulfill their potential
Mihaly Csikczentmihalyi: becoming an expert at something
Martin Seligman: learning the principles of locus of control
Bryan Caplan: twin studies show nothing parents do matters

Each of these theories took decades to develop. And the theories contradict each other. So it’s clear that knowing the goal of childhood is like knowing the meaning of life: impossible.

Often while my kids were playing basketball, I was stressing about not knowing my parenting philosophy. Now that I see there’s no right answer to what is the goal of childhood, I wish I had watched more basketball and been less distracted by people telling me I shouldn’t let my kids stay home from school and play basketball.

How to do 1st grade – 7th grade in one month

I didn’t teach my kids any curriculum until 7th grade. Here’s how I did it:

Reading
Education insider Lisa Nielsen showed me all sorts of data that says kids of college graduates teach themselves to read. That turned out to be true for our family.
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What professions are we preparing our kids to enter?

I was really surprised to read that since the 1960s, the professions that are deemed most prestigious remain unchanged. Medicine, military, public service, science/technology, journalism, clergy, law. Most lists, no matter how you define prestige, have these professions on the list. And if you change the modifier to admired professions, the list doesn’t change.
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Letting kids fail means also letting them be irrelevant

I was the top seller of Girl Scout cookies in Illinois for two years in a row. But it was my mom who was the sales star: the first woman in senior management to force her underlings to buy Girl Scout cookies. She sold hundreds of boxes in a day.
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Pick the best teachers instead of the best curricula

My son’s first cello teacher, Gilda Barston, died when he was 10. He warms up every day with a short song she taught him for getting his fingers in tune. He’s been playing the exercise for so long that it’s no longer an intonation exercise as much as a prayer. A prayer to teaching, I think.
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Search is a skill kids develop on their own

Today’s students memorize fewer facts because they are well aware that everything they’d need to know is online. To get the best of this sea change, your kids actually know how to find things. It’s not as simple as you might think, and kids need a lot of time to explore the Internet unfettered by parental advice.


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When homeschooling is like playing pinball. And you are the ball.

Being a homeschooler and breadwinner feels like I’m the ball in a pinball machine. I hit something, hopefully make it light up, and go to the next thing. I never stay too long at one thing or I fall down the black abyss.
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