If the school won’t customize, take your kid out

This is a guest post by Lisa Nielsen. She’s in charge of technology and teacher training for the New York City public schools, and she is the author of  the book Teaching Generation Text. None of the opinions in this post reflect the views, opinions, or endorsement of her employer. 

I’ve been a public school educator for more than a decade, but when parents ask for my advice, I sometimes suggest they leave school. (In fact I published a guide to help teens opt out of school.)

Education reform is happening today, but it’s slow. Parents need to do what is in the best interest of their children, right now.  For some this means working hard with a school to adapt to meet a child’s needs. (I outline a plan for this in Fix the School, Not the Child.)  But many schools are rigid and don’t believe students are entitled to a customized learning experience. It is at this point I suggest parents consider leaving school behind and empowering their children with the freedom to learn what they want in the way that is best for them.

Here are ten reasons why leaving school behind may be the best way for children to find success and happiness.

1. Learning is customized not standardized

  • In school learning is standardized to what someone else says is best.
  • At home learning is customized to what the child and parent feel is best.

2. Associate with those you enjoy rather than those who share your birth year

3. Freedom to learn with their tools

  • In school students are often banned from using they tools they love to learn with — such as a cell phone.
  • At home children can learn with the tools they choose.  For many children technology open doors that schools slam shut.

4. Socialize with those who share your passions not just your zip code

  • In school students have little opportunity to socialize and even when they do it is generally confined to those with whom they’ve been grouped with by year and geography.
  • At home children have the opportunity to socialize and make global connections with others of any age who share their talents, passions, and interests.

5. Do work you value

6. Don’t just read about doing stuff.  Do it!

  • In school students are forced to sit at desks all day reading and answering questions about stuff other people do.
  • At home children don’t need to spend their time reading and writing about what other people do.  They can go do stuff.

7. Travel when you want

  • In school they tell you when to go on vacation and families hop off to crowded destinations together.
  • At home families can decide when travelling works best for them and also get better rates.

8. You are more than a number

9. Real life measures are better than bubble tests

  • In school we measure students success with bubble tests and response to prompts.
  • At home we measure success by what children accomplish that matters to them.  Some teens like Leah Miller have developed their own personal success plan (see hers here).  She sets her goals and then assesses her success in meeting them.

10. Independence is valued over dependence

  • In school students are dependent on others to tell them what to do and when.  They spend their time as compliant workers and are discouraged from questioning authority.
  • At home children are encouraged to explore, discover, and develop their own passions and talents and given the freedom to work deeply in these areas. They know how to learn independently because they are interested, not because they are told to do something.

I am passionate about helping children learn innovatively.  Home education is a great option to consider for many parents.  For more ideas about learning innovatively you can visit The Innovative Educator blog.

5 replies
  1. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I received my education at a public school. I enjoyed it and thought it was relatively good. I know very little about homeschooling so therefore this section of the blog is interesting to me. I like Lisa’s open mindedness regarding a child’s education. Some children and parents are ‘satisfied’ with their public school system and the rate at which education reform is taking place at them while others are not. So I really do agree with the following – “It is at this point I suggest parents consider leaving school behind and empowering their children with the freedom to learn what they want in the way that is best for them” – when the school is not able to meet the children’s needs or they’re being inflexible. It is all about meeting the educational needs of the children whether they are sent to a public school or home schooled. There’s a lot of debate here and elsewhere about whether or not homeschooling is better or not. It seems to me to be a very individual decision for the child and the parents. So my conclusion is a child’s education can suck in either a public school or while being home schooled. It’s all in the details, as usual.

  2. Holly
    Holly says:

    I generally agree with this post, but you are not acknowledging private school. Private schools do not have to comply with government testing. I am a teacher and principal of an Adventist private school. Our schools customize learning around our students’ interests, giving students many choices about what and how they learn. Our teachers are not restricted to certain teaching methods, so many use cell phones, iPads, iPods, Twitter, and Facebook in their classrooms. Students from all over the world attend our schools and classrooms have two or more grade levels within. We also support parents who wish to vacation outside the typical winter/spring breaks.

    Public schools might be slow to reform but many private schools are cutting edge. Homeschooling is a great option in some cases. However, some parents are not fit to do this – just as some teachers should not be in the classroom. I know many parents who look at homeschooling as a way to save money and/or shelter their children. I only know a handful of parents who homeschool to provide their child with innovative education and unique adventures.

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