This is an excerpt from the book Humans of New York, by Brandon Stanton. The book is a compendium of street photography and stories from the people in the pictures.

“His grandmother and I are raising him. I worry about putting him into the public school system. I was a teacher for many years. I’ve seen so much confidence destroyed by the standardized system.

“Every human is born with natural curiosity. I’ve never seen a child who wasn’t inspired. But once you force someone to do anything, the inspired person is killed. I dropped out of school myself in 7th grade. So I know.

“I taught a GED course for years, so I’ve seen the end results over and over. I’ve seen so many kids who have complexes and insecurities because they were forced to do something they weren’t ready to do, and then they were blamed when they weren’t able to do it. What we call ‘education’ today is not organic. You can’t take something as complex as the human mind, compartmentalize it, and regiment its development so strictly.”

18 replies
  1. Betty Peterson
    Betty Peterson says:

    I am a teacher. My mother was a teacher and my grandmother was a teacher. When I took my children out of school in order to homeschool them, I was afraid to tell my mom. When I finally got up the nerve to tell her she responded with two words: “Thank you.”

  2. Helen
    Helen says:

    This reminds me of all the labor and delivery nurses I have met who gave birth to their own kids at home.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Good analogy. I thought of the potato farmers who grow a separate crop of potatoes for their families that don’t have pesticides.

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      Yes! I had the good fortune to be super healthy when pregnant and to have access to a midwife with qualifications to teach everyone around the world how to do it right.

      But it was very eye opening when I noticed that doctors and nurses were doing it.

      It was much easier to digest, it was an “of course!” Moment, when I realized teachers were homeschooling their kids.

  3. Betsy
    Betsy says:

    People frequently say to me: but you’re a teacher – how could you take your kids out of school? My response: once you’ve worked in the sausage factory and you see how it’s made…you don’t really want to eat the sausage yourself. And sure don’t want to feed it to your kids.

  4. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    I saw this a while back. I love how we was so articulate about explaining what so many of us had had years to understand and discover.
    But most of all, it’s easy to see how love for the child drips out of him. Even when he never ever said it.

    Personally, I like to read what he said in a Morgan Freeman voice.

  5. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    Certified teacher here, well, I was… never even sent my kids to mass education. I’ve had so many people say that I was qualified to homeschool because I have a degree. I laugh. Classroom management and classroom psychology does not qualify or help me homeschool!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      It’s so important to hear this from a teacher. Thanks, Jenn. I thought, when I looked at my son in school, that the teacher was totally overwhelmed with stuff that had nothing to do with learning. I thought that but I sometimes thought I was crazy for thinking that’s what I was seeing. It would have helped me a lot to have a teacher telling me she sees it as well. So I know you are helping people now, with your comment.

      Penelope

  6. Caroline
    Caroline says:

    I have met more than a few teachers (and professors) who choose to homeschool. I have also had multiple teacher friends confide in me that keeping my kids out of public school is a better choice.

  7. Thi
    Thi says:

    HONY got famous on Facebook. I know twitter is more your thing but starting a dialogue with your audience on Facebook could only be good! I know I’d follow your page.

  8. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    Penelope, this post makes me think–what are ways that parents can help their kids cope if they can’t afford to take them out of school yet for financial reasons?

    I know you’ve written before that parents should try to find work that they can do from home. But what if you are a single parent and it takes years of growing your own small business/freelancing before you can quit your day job and stay home? Or even just find the right “work from home for someone else’s business” type job?

    I would be greatly interested in a post about ways to work the system if you have to keep your kid in school. Or just tips for how to help kids manage their feelings so they don’t end up getting their spirits crushed.

    • Jenn
      Jenn says:

      Teach history at home. Let them have some say in things at home, at school they are told everything. Let them try something they are not good at, but love doing and don’t correct them. Make eye contact and listen when they have an idea and let them follow up with it.
      Make sure you can not work from home, part time even, for your current employer. Can your kids go to work with you? I know mothers who have a room at work where the kids can be. I would cut way way back on anything that took away from family time if mine were sent to school. Have them read better literature than what is on most school reading lists. Show them ways to learn other than waiting for a teacher to tell them what to learn. Maybe you can find someone who does something the kids are interested in. Apprenticeship is an awesome way to learn, especially for doers. It sounds so cliché, but tell them you all need to start a garden. Together, you can use the internet or go to the library to research all the amazing and different ways to do a garden in your area. Year after year we work in our garden and it is amazing how the kids love it and take initiative. I have an 8 year old who has tried eggplants for 3 summers now. She finally has a good crop and she could not be more excited.
      If I could only do one thing with my kids, it would be a year round garden. A garden covers everything including time together. Let them help decide what to plant and where. Let them have a leading roll with you. Our garden is not perfect, our companion plants are not always good for each other, and our rows are never ever straight, but our garden is a process of love and learning. I am so thankful for it.

      • Julia
        Julia says:

        Great ideas, Jenn. From a different angle, I would also suggest becoming an extreme advocate for your kids at school. First by scouring your area to know what all the possible schooling options are, especially looking for charter schools, magnet schools, alternative programs within public schools, parent co-op schools, and so on. These are the schools that are most likely to be aiming to work outside of the system as much as possible to meet children’s needs. What are the options for intradistrict transfer in your area? Regardless of what school you’re in, find or create a parent network so you can take action in numbers as needed — a large group of parents opting out of testing is more effective than one parent opting out. Use parent networks to make changes at the school that chip away at the problems — to make a gardening program at the school or advocate for an art program. Get to know the teacher and volunteer in the classroom if possible. Know what’s going on in the classroom and in the school and be a gadfly when you see something you don’t like. The loudest parents are the ones most likely to have an impact on how things are done. Be respectful of the teacher as a professional and human, but keep your hand in deciding what is best for your child — for example, if the amount of homework is too much for your child, meet with the teacher to make different homework arrangements. Just a handful of thoughts that basically amount to being an advocate for your child at school.

  9. JS
    JS says:

    My kids have all gone to a phenomenal preschool, 6-12 hours a week max, depending on age. My first child went through second grade (public) before I pulled him, my second was pulled after 1st. My third qualifies for public school “transitional kindergarten” next year, but we’ve opted for the private preK, then homeschool the following year. When I met with the head of preschool, for the end-of-year wrap-up, she assumed he would be going to TK, since that’s what most do. I stopped her and said we were staying, and that I would homeschool him after, like I had with his brother and sister. She stopped for a minute, took off her glasses, looked at me and said: “Oh thank God. Because I’ve been there, I’ve seen what they do to in school and it is awful. Good for you!”

  10. Letitia
    Letitia says:

    I can not “afford” to homeschool my daughter, but I took her out of school anyway last year. I am dead broke and inventing ways to make money from home. I have been a teacher myself for over 10 years in the public and private sector. It breaks my heart that a child can be RUINED from going to school. If they don’t fit the mold.. their spirits crushed and damaged. I have the pleasure of being the mother of a very “quirky” preteen. I CAN NOT “afford” to homeschool, but when I look at her, her curiosity about the world, her innocence and joy… I can’t afford NOT to.

  11. Letitia
    Letitia says:

    OH, and BTW Penelope, THANK YOU so much! for your blog and your honest transparency. I come here and read..and then feel all right with my world. It reminds me that I’m not crazy…

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