The scariest ways school encroaches on family

One great thing about this homeschool blog is that I get emails full of links that people think I should write about. Many of those links are examples of schools overstepping their bounds.

The links are actually amazing to me. Some schools are strip-searching students in the name of safety for all. Some schools are vaccinating without parental consent. Some schools are telling kids they can’t eat the lunches their parents sent to school.

It’s easy to tell yourself that this stuff is crazy and it wouldn’t happen in my school. But there are many things that are small and they begin to encroach in a more dangerous way, little by little until you are so acclimated to the school overreaching that it doesn’t even feel like overreaching.

A friend of my son’s came over – we picked him up at school and brought him to our house. I said, “Do you have your boots?”

He said, “My teacher told me to leave them at school.”

This was amazing to me. He had no boots to play in the snow. Luckily, I keep extra boots in the house. But I have been thinking about the situation ever since: It means the teachers don’t trust the parents to be able to send the kids’ boots back to school the next day. Or, worse, the teacher decided for the parents that this would be easier and therefore preferable.

No one will challenge or complain at all about this moment. It’s small, and for a parent to bring it up with the teacher, it’s petty. That’s why it’s more dangerous than vaccinating without permission. These are the small, silent moments that add up to a society that takes authority for raising kids away from the parents and gives it to the school.



31 replies
  1. Anna Louise
    Anna Louise says:

    The homework load is Exhibit A for how schools overreach, take over family life, and create work for parents. The school environment is unsupportive of actually learning and getting work done, so they send it all home.

    • Elissa
      Elissa says:

      It’s different here. Homework is important because it helps students to consolidate their learning. With my students, I’ve found that the schools are failing to send adequate homework home, and this negatively affects their learning. The students whose parents are focused on education and homework are generally well off throughout their school years, and others fall behind and are classed as having lower intelligence. It’s not ability, it’s time and the effort teachers put into the creation and selection of homework tasks. I wrote a blog post about my observations in my area, which is likely to be quite different, being an Australian school system, but I’d appreciate any feedback anyone would like to give.

      • Kierstin
        Kierstin says:

        I know this comment is old but still I just had to point out that you say “The students whose parents are focused on education and homework are generally well off throughout their school years, and others fall behind and are classed as having lower intelligence” clearly indicating that it is parents who essentially homeschool even when their child is already attending school are the ones who create successful children, but then continue to say “It’s not ability, it’s time and the effort teachers put into the creation and selection of homework tasks.” I would say homework is irrelevant, it is parents working with their children that matters.

        • Elissa
          Elissa says:

          Hi Kiersten, yes, you’re right. If teachers planned their lessons effectively and curriculum was tight and completely relevant then homework would be irrelevant, definitely. And I also agree with you that it is what parents do with students that really matters – particularly in the earlier years of schooling. Students who learn to read well before school are known to do better throughout their years in school, for example. But I think homework is also for the kids whose parents don’t value education or don’t have the education themselves to support their kids’ learning. I agree that homework is an encroachment on family life, and it can add unnecessary stress to family life. I don’t deny that at all. But it’s difficult to apply all that to kids who are disadvantaged by their family’s education levels or the value they ascribe to education. There are a lot of people around (at least where I’m located currently) who either just don’t care about education at all, or they don’t have the skills or understanding to give their kids the starting skills – like reading – that they need.

          Having said that, these kids are the ones who would be likely to have the most difficulty completing homework tasks, which would make their lives even more stressful, so I suppose it’s a vicious cycle…

          Okay, I’m convinced by both our arguments. All I can say is that the system needs to change drastically. You’re right, though. I honestly believe that most of the benefit I got from my schooling came from my mother’s early (and continual) teaching. If everyone had a teacher like her on demand there would be no need for homework.

  2. Mary Kathryn
    Mary Kathryn says:

    I wanted to email you, but your “Mail” program would require me to import ALL my existing emails into that program, before I could simply email you. (For some reason, this seems more controlling than the snow boots thing.) Anyway, I’m commenting instead. I wanted to show you this BBC video about immigrants. Both immigrants talk about going to the UK, to find a British education, as if it were something the state offered. This must be a European thing. Is it only in the U.S that we still think of an education as something you can go grab for yourself, or that your parents can give to you, because they got it themselves? I’d love you to contrast these attitudes toward what an education is, and where it comes from, culturally. Here’s the link/address:

    Are there 3 tiers? Nations that have no education, nations that offer a state commodity, and nations where education is still seen as an individual acquisition?

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth says:

      That’s an interesting link, thanks for posting. We’re moving to the UK next year, and I currently teach art (at an international school in Beijing) according to the British curriculum. I think British education is excellent, but the best-educated kids always get the fundamentals from their parents.

      • Ash Regan-Denham
        Ash Regan-Denham says:

        Elizabeth I don’t want to be the one to burst your bubble but the British state education is not that great, though obviously it varies wildly from school to school. General performance is OK by international standards, however, I am completely unhappy with the (state) education my children are receiving. My kids are high IQ and the school seems completely unable or unwilling to cater to them. All the teaching effort is put into getting the bottom half of the class up to a minimum standard. It is very frustrating.

  3. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    Terrific post. I’ve heard numerous versions of this kind of story, where teachers overstep their authority and parents let them. I can share a story like this with a fellow homeschooler and know that they will instantly “get” why this bothers me. What is striking is that it is only ever the homeschoolers who can see anything wrong with this picture.

    • Julie
      Julie says:

      I agree. My friends with kids in public school would defend the boot policy. They would say something about parents forgetting and the child not being able to play in the snow during recess and that it is a good idea to have two pairs of boots, one for home and one for school… I might have too, not that many years ago. It is very hard to have perspective on something you are a part of and believe that you need. It is when you step away and observe as an outsider that you notice these things.

      • Dana
        Dana says:

        This public school parent wouldn’t defend the policy. I’m all about natural consequences – kids forget their boots? They either stay inside or play outside without their boots. Maybe next time they will remember them.

        I blame parents for much of this. They DEMAND that the school take care of (not educate) their kids all day, making mountains out of mole-hills and depriving kids of the learning opportunities they need to function independently in society.

        It’s gotten ridiculous!

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          The thing about consequences, though is that public school cannot afford to have kids learning lessons like that. What do they do with a third-grade boy who forgets his boots so he can’t go out and play? Where does he sit during recess? I think a teacher probably has to sit with him. That’s really expensive for the school, and it ends up being a great example of having to allocate too many resources to the kids who aren’t following rules.

          And then what do you do with a boy who has to sit through lessons all day with no exercise? By the end of the day he’s not a good learner, so then the teacher has another problem on her hand because she is in an inflexible environment trying to be flexible about consequences.

          It’s just messed up. I mean, I totally support teaching kids via consequences. I agree with you that it makes the most sense. But only in the context of an environment where there is enough adult supervision and flexibility to respond to a kid. School is not that place.


          • Wayne Sutton
            Wayne Sutton says:

            Natural consequence was Maria Montessori’s preferred method. In her book _Discovery of the Child_ she even discouraged child proofing of rooms. If a kid spilled the crayons or broke something they were expected to clean it up. That’s how we taught one of our kids not to color on the walls. She had to scrub and scrub to get her marks off and complained “Mommy, my arm is tired!” But the lesson stuck. Of course you can’t use natural consequence to teach lessons that are dangerous or life threatening. There are limits to every good principle. But natural consequence teaches children about both cause-and-effect and personal responsibility. Important lessons.

  4. Dana
    Dana says:

    And it gets worse the older they get …

    At my son’s high school, a testosterone fueled, territorial pissing match between two 16-year old boys (a shove in the lunch room – no injuries) resulted in battery and disorderly conduct charges filed against one of the boys, and disorderly conduct charges being filed against the other. These were two friends, and one of the boys was my son.

    Charges were brought to the State’s Attorney (who later decided they weren’t prosecutable) but I now have a son with a foot in the juvenile justice system.

    As do about 100 other students in his school of 800 each year. And this is in RURAL Illinois …

    • Mary Kathryn
      Mary Kathryn says:

      Dana, I find these kinds of things so sad. It used to be that ‘disorderly conduct” was kind of what being a lively boy was all about! Tussles on the playground, wrestling after a baseball game. Our boys don’t get the chance to do these things as they used to. I’m NOT in favor of violence or illegal activity, but when we start labeling a few shoves and punches in the arm as “battery,” and bring in the police, I think things have gone overboard. This is all part of the “zero tolerance” the schools have to maintain when it comes to anything that even sniffs of aggression. No allowances can be made. To me, this is one of the most alarming aspects of the modern school environment.

  5. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    Good point that after a time people no longer even recognize the overreach. The one I see again and again are schools dictate specific amounts of time elementary school age kids should read each night. Logs and contracts are so common they are just accepted as reasonable.

    There is no consideration that maybe sometimes kids are busy with family, sports, or community activities in the very limited time they have in the evening, particularly if they need a good night’s sleep. And, maybe some kids have been sitting still all day and making them read for 30 minutes is great way to make them hate reading.

    Sure, free reading is great and important and to be encouraged, but it is reasonable for parents to wonder… If it was such a priority, why could it not happen in the seven hours a day you’ve already got my child?

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth says:

      My best memories are of being read to by my mom and dad every night, until I preferred to read on my own. There were no expectations from them. Corrections not criticisms. We just spent time together, learning.

      If you treat reading as a chore, the child will see it as work. If reading is a fun, bonding activity with the mom or dad, it’s irreplaceable.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        I thought of this comment when I read to my son today. I read a few extra pages even though the book is totally stupid. So, thanks for reminding me how much it means to kids.


  6. Daniel Baskin
    Daniel Baskin says:

    Coming at this from a teacher’s perspective, I get some aspects of why there is so much overstepping.

    There are only so many faculty at a school compared to the number of kids. It’s easiest if all kids are occupied in something known to be untroublesome. Say, for instance, if a kid doesn’t have his boots, then the admin or teacher has to find something for the kid to do.

    It sounds stupid. And it is. School sucks because there aren’t enough teachers to really manage that many kids unless myriads of non-educational rules are in place that help with this reality. Teacher’s need all the babysitting help they can get.

    I hope no one read this misunderstanding my perspective. It shouldn’t be this way–but this is the logical reason why it is.

  7. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    You know how “little things” can push you into an overhaul or break-up in a long term relationship?

    It was the No Sugar Policy at school — don’t send treats to school except on special days. Don’t pack cookies or snack cakes or brownies. However, a breakfast was offered to kids every day. It was state funded and EVERY child could have it, regardless of whether the parents approved.

    The school fed them packaged cereal bars (high sugar cereal + syrup to bind it) and squeezable yogurt tubes and O.J. Add up the sugar content (I looked it up online) and they may as well have fed them candy bars.

    There are kids who don’t get enough to eat. I don’t see how solving one problem (hunger) with another problem (junk food) does more than trade complications. This kid will act up because he/she is hungry; this kid will act up because she/he is on a sugar crash.

    My kids were always fed at home, and I stressed eating high protein, low sugar to keep them from feeling “whacked out” since it was so long between breakfast and lunch. However, what kid can go to school and watch his classmates loading up on the “delicious” technicolor crap his mom won’t buy without partaking?

    Schools don’t trust kids to learn on their own, but they expect them to overcome biology and turn down sugary snacks? Come on.

    This No Sugar Policy/Free Sugar-Drenched Breakfast contradiction was a small thing that leveraged a lot of weight in bringing the kids home.

    • Gareth
      Gareth says:

      There’s a simple explanation:

      It’s okay when they do it.
      It’s not okay when you do it.

      This is all you need to accept to be happy with your school.

  8. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    The school overreach is obvious to me. It’s much worse than when I went to school and it’s getting worse everyday. I think your mileage will vary on the type and degree of overreach depending on the school. I just saw this story which made me feel bad for this 7 year-old boy and resulted in his suspension from school because he broke some asinine rule – .

  9. Colleen
    Colleen says:

    Just to clarify, after being horrified by the link about kids not being able to eat the lunches their parents send with them to school, I looked a bit more and the HuffPost story isn’t accurate. It wasn’t a federal inspector who came through checking the food and they didn’t replace the home meal with nuggets. The guidelines required supplementation of home meals with cafeteria food if the home meals didn’t have the required portions of meat/dairy/veg/grain. A teacher thought she was following the guidelines so she gave the child a cafeteria tray in addition to the child’s home meal, and of course what 4-year-old wouldn’t choose chicken nuggets over a turkey sandwich? So that’s all she ate. The teacher was suspended over her action:

  10. Bernie
    Bernie says:

    The comments about reading reminded me of when my daughter was in year 5 and a voracious reader. She begged me to have the school agree to let her avoid the nightly reading record which not only bored her to tears but took up her reading time.
    It was a no. It’s good that they care about reading and I get that some kids will never pick up a book but policing it the same way for 30 kids, killing book passion in the readers and probably not igniting it in the others is stupid.
    It’s all about testing

  11. Elissa
    Elissa says:

    I was horrified to think that schools would vaccinate a child without their parents’ permission! Although, I do know the general attitude towards vaccinations, and more importantly towards people who don’t want their kids vaccinated. I remember I was (very illegally, I now realise) left unchaperoned for about half an hour in an empty classroom in an empty part of the school while all of middle school went to get vaccinated. It felt like I was being punished because my family didn’t want me to be vaccinated. As a 12 or 13 year old child, it felt pretty awful.

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