If you are poor now, you will be poor later; school does not get kids out of poverty. One reason we know this to be true is that schools systematically move poor kids from the classroom to the jail cell. But the other barrier to lifting kids out of poverty is that rich kids score high and poor kids score low, and this doesn’t change if you put a rich kid in a poor-kid school or vice versa.

We also know school doesn’t lift kids out of poverty. The few adult millennials who are financially solvent come from rich families. Everyone else in that generation struggles to get a foothold in adult life because they are weighted down by school debt.

Even rich kids who supposedly paid for their own school did so with money they got from their rich-kid lives. For example, every bar mitzvah check, every babysitting dollar, all that extra money did not have to pay for food for your family to eat. It went into a bank account that served as an on-ramp to adult life.

But this is not news. The idea that the upper class is a closed caste is old news. The idea that the US is a class system slowly becoming an oligarchy is now popping up in mainstream newspapers.

What is news to me is that as the rich continue to take their kids out of school, and give their kids individual, customized learning programs, school increasingly becomes a place to learn to think like a poor kid.

President Obama himself declared school an essential form of daycare so that lower-income people can support themselves by working outside the home.  I notice more and more advertisements for tutoring systems are targeted at minorities who still believe that school will give their kids a path out of poverty.

And today I saw an ad for Kmart that blew me away with its message: You should buy a lot of school supplies because doing so is like buying yourself a vacation from your kids. That’s what back-to-school means to Kmart shoppers. And in case you have any doubt who their target audience is, the focus of the ad is the Kmart lay-away plan: You might be short on cash, but the best way to spend what little you have is at Kmart, to get a vacation. From your kids.

When I first started writing this blog, just a few years ago, I was shocked to realize that school is actually a babysitting service. It blew my mind. Now it’s such a mainstream idea that you can find it in Kmart commercials.

The same thing will happen as there is an increasingly huge divide between the rich kids who do customized learning plans and all the other kids who go to school. Soon the divide will be so pronounced that we will make commercials on TV that assume this divergence to be true.

Kids will ask their parents, “Why did you put me in school when it was full of underprivileged kids?” and the parents will give an answer similar to what my mom told me when I asked her why she smoked through my pregnancy. “Everyone was doing it,” she said. “We didn’t believe it could be that bad when so many people were doing it.”

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78 replies
  1. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    Those Atlantic articles are depressing.

    I’m not sure why but this post made me feel really sad and anxious for the future. Quite dystopian.

    Thank you for always making me think through your writing. I’m so glad you started this blog all those years ago and I appreciate all the hard work you put into it, because it really is hard work.

  2. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    I remember reading your blog a year or two ago for the first time, where I couldn’ tbelieve someone was actually brave enough to say that traditional school was a free babysitting service. That ad blew me away as well (Kmart, not Walmart). We can all nod our heads at the irony and laugh, but we can’t actually say it with force behind it? Won’t be long, now.
    Sarah M

  3. Blackwalnut
    Blackwalnut says:

    You are correct. Even politicians are now willing to admit that public school is a giant daycare system.

    My fear is that, as people begin to leave public school in droves and HS rises in popularity, there will be more and more attempts to regulate it.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      The devide is so strong.

      The poor do not get a lot of time off. We are in this strange time where there is so much opportunity and productivity and yet we are talking about the class system and the haves and have nots. I don’t like it. Our country will end up suffering from this.

      So, what do we do? We obviously have our solutions for our kids and families, but what are the growing lower classes going to actually do? Will the upper class solve the lower classes problems?

      Most people in poverty need childcare. They need to be able to work and have time to educate themselves out of their situations. How do we solve this?

      • Amy K.
        Amy K. says:

        A recent episode of This American Life called “The Problem We All Live With” is worth a listen, whether you agree or not. It’s about segregation in schools.

  4. KT
    KT says:

    May the whole country wake up before it gets too much worse. Thanks for saying the things other people are afraid to say and reminding us to think about Everything.

  5. Ryelyn McKay
    Ryelyn McKay says:

    I enjoy your blog very much. But I do not enjoy the out down of teachers. If I was a babysitter I would not be doing what I do, which is teach children a love of mathematics. I never did enjoy babysitting as a child and I don’t now. Careful with your words. You are sounding very 1% when you make sweeping comments about people and their passions.

  6. MBL
    MBL says:

    It is probably worth the hassle to edit it from Walmart to Kmart.

    Question: Where did the little “follow replies” box go? Sometimes it is there, others…

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Got it. Thanks. It’s kind of funny — I must see those two brands as interchangeable in my mind.

      Penelope

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        I need to give major editing props to MBL, she is an amazing editor! She edited my Elon Musk piece I wrote for you, gave excellent suggestions and I can only say wonderful things about her. :)

        Do you still use Jay or is there an opening for mbl??? :)

  7. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    I feel that hyperbole, especially in your headlines, does one’s arguments a disservice. I know this is a very internetty thing, increasing clickworthiness, but does one really need to exaggerate to that extent? The headline is not in the chumbox at the bottom of a page. I wonder if tomorrow the headline here might be (regardless of the post content) “Keep your kid out of prison with this one weird trick!”

    If one were to reel back the sensationalism, one might more accurately say that school is unlikely to change one’s socio-economic status. School isn’t going to send your kids to prison. It just won’t stop them from going to prison if they were headed there anyway (as are a higher proportion of Americans than any other nationality). It isn’t going to send them to Harvard either – but if they were going to Harvard anyway, it’s not going to stop them.

    I’m a big fan of homeschooling. It has been very good for my family. I help provide activities for dozens of homeschoolers in my community. But the fact is, and is likely to remain, that the majority of the “rich,” the “financially solvent,” or the “upper class” (however you’d like to define such a group) go to school and will continue to go to school. Further, the majority of students accepted at Ivy League colleges go to public school.

    That ad is horrifying. I am having a wonderful summer with my kids. My daughter is old enough now to participate in scheduling her activities and seek out other kids to interact with, which makes our days more fun for both of us. Sometimes my kids are in camps, sometimes they’re with other families or other parts of our families, and sometimes they’re at home or at the playground with me (making the summer, in truth, much like the rest of the year).

    A bicycle is coming in the mail for my four year old daughter today and she’s unutterably excited about it. I can’t imagine wanting to do anything more than put that bike together and take her to the park. I’m not at Kmart buying crap on layaway and dreaming about getting rid of her. This is the best time of my life.

    This week she’s in “camp” half the day. Come mid-September, she’ll be in “school” half the day. We think that’s about the right amount for her, and I wish a half-day option could continue until about fifth grade. I would be terribly sad if she went to full-time school all of a sudden. But I wouldn’t worry it would lead to her going to jail; that’s just silly.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think we all wish this title were hyperbole, but it’s not. If you are poor, and you send your kids to school, your kids will not get out of poverty. We have reams and reams of data to show this is true.

      We do not have reams of data to show that if you are poor and homeschool your kid will be poor. So that’s why school sends poor kids to poverty.

      Penelope

      • Bostonian
        Bostonian says:

        Are you having a bad week at home? This isn’t even consistent with the things you say downthread (“Your schooling decisions affect how nice your kids’ childhood is. Not whether they are rich or poor in adult life. That’s already determined. At least in the US.”), let along logical, or true.

        It’s true there’s little upward mobility for the poorest quintile. 42% of kids born into the bottom quintile will remain there as adults. Likewise, 39% of those born into the top quintile will remain there as adults. You can google “Stanford mobility quintile” to find some simple infographics from the study demonstrating this.

        This means that, however, a majority (68%) of children born into poverty will climb out of poverty in their lifetime. Not all, but a majority. 9% of them will even make it to the top income quintile. Virtually all of those poor children attend public school, like your guest Shann W.

        Furthermore, proxies for the quality of the K-12 school system, such as local property tax rate, dropout rate, and class size, correlate with local upward mobility, which varies greatly among communities. In Boston, for example, the odds of reaching the top quintile from the bottom are 10.5%, compared to 4.5% in Milwaukee.

        Your assertion that being poor and sending your kid to public school ensures they will remain poor is demonstrably untrue. I had imagined your statement was hyperbolic, but I believe you that it was just ignorant. You might find the reality more interesting.

        • jessica
          jessica says:

          Is this going to remain true as income gap widens and the class system keeps dividing further?

          Just as to curious your thoughts on how that data relates to an increasingly archaic system. Will the odds improve or be kept the same?

          • Bostonian
            Bostonian says:

            Jessica, that’s a very important question. The figures shown in the social mobility study I’m referencing compare 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, and find surprisingly little change from decade to decade. They don’t have figures for the oughts, and I suspect that the economic reality post-2008 would show some changes.

            Certainly, the _idea_ of lack of social mobility in the US has become more widespread lately (though no data exist showing the _fact_ of it has changed since the 70s).

            As someone who spent a good chunk of his young adult life living in the third world, sometimes it seems to me that the US is coming to resemble the third world more – Copeland calls it Brazilification. It’s demonstrable in an ongoing fashion that income distribution is becoming more polarized, and it’s a reasonable expectation that mobility is decreasing with increased income polarization and isolation. The problem with demonstration of that through data for current generations is that it takes multi-decade comparisons to produce the data.

            I imagine, given how the data show less change than perceived from the 70s through the 90s, that there will be less change than perceived from the 90s through the teens.

            Another way to look at the changes going on in America now is globalization. Perot’s famous giant sucking sound is fading away. Not only the income distribution, but the income itself of America has become more level with that of the rest of the world, including the third world. Manufacturing is increasingly moving back to America as the all-in cost starts to drop below China’s. Net reshoring was positive in 2014 for the first time in 20 years. It’s worth wondering what effect this trend will have on social mobility.

            BTW, that’s 58% (of the bottom quintile who escape it). Serves me right for trying to subtract before coffee, which is probably the root cause of my own social mobility.

  8. Ellinor
    Ellinor says:

    This is information that people in Europe are much less aware of. In Sweden and Germany, if you home school your kids, you risk being reported to social services, being fined with huge fines, and ultimately, many families who are convinced that home schooling is the best option, choose to emigrate to be able to do that for their kids.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      one reason might be that the number of incarcerated persons per 100,000 inhabitants is significantly lower in these countries. For Germany it is about 1/10 of the U.S. numbers. Despite compulsory school.

  9. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    My head was spinning from reading this one. There are many classes, those who deal with the prison pipe-line are lumped together with millenials who can’t pay their school loans? Big difference between those two groups.

    These are things I think about every day. Class and culture are similar, and not always related to finances. Being poor and living in a housing project is totally different to being poor but scraping by outside of the housing project system.

    Saving your birthday money from Grandma every year, yes, can sometimes be raided for essentials, but I believe the biggest cultural difference is really the idea that the money should be saved to begin with. I used to give birthday money and stopped when I realized it all got spent at the toy or video store the next day.

    And lastly, yes, education is a way out of poverty. It might not be a way up to the upper classes, but it can be a way out of a housing project, it can be a way off welfare, it can be a way out of the hustler life-style, it can be a way out of scamming the social security disability system.

    • Jennifa
      Jennifa says:

      Alright, so as a follow-up, once you get yourself off those systems, but you are still poor, but you have an honest job, where do you live? That is the next problem. Often poor people are grouped together by public housing policy and zoning laws. Ever try to build ‘work-force’ housing in a high-end neighborhood? The wealthy voters call their politicians and that is quickly squashed.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I don’t get it – when you talk about the biggest cultural difference being teaching a kid to save — that is not at all what the research says.

      And I feel like it’s so arrogant. And it’s not understanding poverty at all. There is no way a kid living in poverty is going to sit on a bank account of $100 when the family is homeless. For example.

      The research is really clear about the inherent unfair advantage. And it does not appear to be anything about good parenting that makes some kids rich and some poor. It’s a birth lottery.

      Penelope

      • Jennifa
        Jennifa says:

        The ability to save money is big, I will stand by that one as a life-changing skill.

        And kids are in a unique situation to be able to save, their needs are met mostly by their parents. Indeed, homeless families are a different situation, but that is a small number of people compared with the working poor who are scraping by.

        And I might be arrogant, I wonder that all the time. Hoping for more for people, I wonder, am I just being snobby?

        • Julia
          Julia says:

          Your example misses the mark entirely. A child, from any class, should not be expected to spend birthday gift money at the toy store? I don’t understand. And you stopped giving birthday money, what do you give instead? Bonds?

  10. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Being a financially solvent Millennial is less about how much debt you have, and more about how much your degree was worth. I graduated in 2010 with $45,000 in student loans AND an engineering degree. It took 5 months to find a job, but when I did it paid well. I paid off my loans in 2 years and now own 1/3 of a house (2/3 still owned by the bank) and have a good retirement account started.
    All of my friends with job-oriented degrees are doing just fine – whether their parents paid for college or not. But the kids that got history and film degrees are not – even if their parents paid their entire tuition + a credit card for gas, groceries etc.
    If your going to go into debt for a degree – make it a valuable one.

    • Jay Cross
      Jay Cross says:

      Rachel,

      I love your comment.

      Can I add one note of clarification, though?

      It’s not just “how much your degree was worth”, although that clearly WAS sufficient in your case.

      It can also be “how much the student MAKES their degree worth by having a focused career vision, understanding the value chain in their field and positioning/promoting the absolute living hell out of themselves in ways 99% of their peers never will.”

      In engineering, that isn’t really necessary. The skill barrier is so high that anyone with a degree is automatically valued highly by the market.

      Yet there’s no INHERENT reason a psychology major can’t hustle their way to a high income.

      Other than a lack of imagination, unwillingness to work hard or lazy reliance on their degree alone.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        So, should colleges be viewed as trade schools now since the skyrocketing costs of a liberal arts education make such an education not worthwhile and in debt for a long time with not enough income to cover their loans? If so, should colleges completely eliminate the liberal arts curriculum and focus solely on the professional fields such as science, engineering, medicine, and law?

        • Jay Cross
          Jay Cross says:

          Maybe. That might be where things are headed.

          Or…as the working world evolves, we might see alternative credentials (like Udacity’s nanodegrees, which are developed in direct consultation with leading companies to identify the exact skills they need to hire but can’t find in sufficient quantity.)

          If THAT happens…

          Then I suspect college will go back to being what it once was, which is a place for people who are pursuing knowledge for its own sake.

          That would probably be best: no more college as “catch-all credentialing agency.”

        • Bostonian
          Bostonian says:

          YMKAS, I expect great changes in our university system in the next couple decades. One of the interesting points Deresiewicz makes is that America’s system was born from a collision of the German professional university with the English classical / liberal arts college, and the professional aspect is now dominating.

          I continue to believe in the worth of a liberal arts education, but I don’t believe in the value proposition. It’s a great thing to have if you can afford it, but it’s not worth going 200K into debt for.

          I would not be surprised if the vast majority of universities and colleges continued to specialize and professionalize away from liberal arts, and liberal arts became the sole domain of a reduced number of colleges and universities, almost exclusively attended by full tuition students, and leavened by a handful of full scholarship students.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            “I continue to believe in the worth of a liberal arts education, but I don’t believe in the value proposition. It’s a great thing to have if you can afford it, but it’s not worth going 200K into debt for. ”

            I tend to agree, although sadly. Automation, technology, advancements in the digital age are all wonderful things, but they have made other things irrelevant or not worth the cost of debt, such as a liberal arts education. It is so difficult to think of a future with professionals being the only college educated individuals, and then there will be everyone else… without some sort of living wage or something. I don’t really know how to describe what I am envisioning. I know this convo is a minor tangent from the main points of the blog post… but still relevant I think.

      • Julia
        Julia says:

        Agree, sort of. 1.9 million people work in community and social services. 1.8 million work in arts related careers. 250,000 are archivists, curators or librarians. 200,000 are public relations specialists. These careers are all available to liberal arts, history, arts, and psychology majors. It’s tragic how many young people think they need a degree in finance, business, or engineering to get a job. A liberal arts degree is great training for many career paths, but millennials have to get over this idea that they’re the first generation that has student loans and have to volunteer or take low paying meaningless jobs out of college to build the network and necessary experience and maturity for a career.

  11. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    1. I think the case the Atlantic makes is very compelling. I hate to dismiss the idea that behavioral change can impact your finances, but at the end of the day, almost nothing I learned in school has helped me become rich, and almost everything I learned from my parents has.

    2. Educators are some of the best marketers. We spend a lot of money on school because people continue to believe the “what got you here, will get you there myth.” Of course, education is helpful when the alternative is the sex trade or child labor. However, in the states, our aspirations can (normally and thankfully) be set higher. We can be thankful for the blessing that public schools have been while recognizing that most kids (and poor kids in particular) need more ownership over their lives to succeed.

  12. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    It appears part of the point of this post is for parents to not send their kids to school so they do not end up in poverty?

    As the post describes, kids success is mostly tied to their parents success and incomes, not school, so does it matter if kids are in one school or another, or homeschooled or not? Maybe the parents should just concentrate on making more money and then the kids will be fine.

    What kids in poverty need is another option besides their parents. School is often the only other one. Schools should do more to allow for children to be autonomous and responsible for their own lives. (By providing healthcare, transportation, meals, etc. without requiring permission from a parent.) Many kids would step up to the task, if only given the chance.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      Parents can have a lot of money and raise crappy kids. The reverse is true as well. My husbands mother grew up in poverty, with tons of hardships and she never earned more than 10k per year. Everyone in that family is really successful now. They all have conviction and strong character. She made a wise home purchase decades ago that has paid out enormously. Being poor doesn’t mean your are stupid, it means you have to learn to work smarter.

      Our public schooling is crazy, but where else will kids go to get support?

      I agree that they look like little prisons. Someone needs to glass the walls and let the kids roam in and out into nature.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I say this all the time. Yes. It does not matter whether kids are in school or not in school. Rich kids grow up rich. Poor kids grow up poor.

      So the decision of whether or not to put your kids is school is solely about how much your value your kids’ time. They will have a more fun childhood choosing what they do with their time rather than being told what to do with their time.

      Your schooling decisions affect how nice your kids’ childhood is. Not whether they are rich or poor in adult life. That’s already determined. At least in the US.

      Penelope

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        So, you’re saying people’s childhood circumstances dictate where they land in adult life irrelevant of school.

        I mean, I think that’s a bit black and white.

        People can overcome odds. It takes a lot of work and determination, but it happens all the time.

        • Betsy
          Betsy says:

          I taught extremely low-income students in the public schools for many years and it does not happen “all the time” for those kids. The kids that make it out are small, impressive minority – outliers. We tell ourselves it happens all the time to justify the fact that we aren’t really serving these kids needs in a meaningful way. Sure, they need an education but shoving a mandatory college-prep, test-based curriculum isn’t ever going to change anything.

          How important is the Revolutionary War when you’re hungry and your mom had choose whether to pay the electric bill OR the water bill? There’s no money for both, of course.

          • jessica
            jessica says:

            The points in this forum are a bit all over the place and I should start being more specifc.

            I’m referring to the general population and how people overcome challenges all the time, thats one of the points of life in my humble opinion.

            Now, oppression and segregation of a lower class does nothing for for our society.
            if you read my other responses you can see that I agree that our school system fails that specific demographic

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      Are you suggesting that as a monetarily poor person you have to relinquish your parental decision making to the school – no parental consent required but the school can decide? And once your income is above a certain level you get the right to make those decisions back? Aren’t you making a very sweeping assumption about “the poor”? I find this mindset of the poor here and the wealthy there much more detrimental then any school setting. Kids who have crappy parents (poor or rich) will do well if they are able to find a good role model. An aunt, a teacher, pastor, homeless vietnam vet, whatever. For my father this role model was a russian prisoner of war. Sometime school can be the place to find those role models.

      • Jennifa
        Jennifa says:

        redrock,
        No, not relinquish, but just give more autonomy to students to make their own decisions. Regardless of parental income level, just for all public school kids.

  13. Amy K.
    Amy K. says:

    “Why did you put me in school with all the underprivileged kids?”

    Middle and upper-middle class parents already do not do this. Our schools have returned to Brown vs. BOE-level segregation.

    But that doesn’t mean, of course, that they’ve switched to homeschooling or anything resembling customized education plans. The low-poverty, highly regimented, high helicopter parent public schools of suburbia are thriving.

    In my area, new charters are popping up like crazy. They are of the paternalistic “college for everyone” variety. There really is a mass exodus of motivated low-income, mostly Latino families to those charters.

  14. Shann W
    Shann W says:

    I’m an example of a poor black kid who went to Harvard and went to a public school in a poor inner city. I’m a financially solvent Millenial who has zero student debt because I was able to get scholarships for underprivileged students. All schools are not just babysitting services and home schooling is just not the answer for everyone. Especially parents who are poor and are trying to survive and simply don’t have the tools to properly homeschool their children. Is public education the answer to poverty? No. Do schools in poor school districts fail students often? Yes. But your generalizations completely ignore the fact that districts with upper class to wealthy ppl fund public schools that are beyond sufficient for the students that live in them. It also ignores the fact that school does offer hope for some poor students in large part because they are able to see and experience a lifestyle and mindset outside of the one they’ve experienced in their household. Ppl buying into your ideas that their kids will suffer from being with the “underprivileged kids” just perpetuates the divide.

    Black kids don’t have the luxury to not obtain official accolades tied to traditional schooling. Nor do they have the luxury to learn math or read when they feel like it as opposed to what society deems appropriate. You’ve admitted this yourself. So…I’m trying to see how this blog post isn’t just a sophisticated example of white flight and white privilege.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      Fascinating commentary.

      Do you think your experience was the exception or the rule? It suited your needs fine,, but I dont see how that justifies keeping a failing system in place. The majority of poor kids in schools end up.in jail. We are failing at something large.

      When a large majority of a population has to start looking outside their home and immediate families for life skills and spend the time searching for a new life, it’s incredibly sad. The point is that our schools, while necessary for some, are implemented wrong anyway. We are doing a lot of harm within them, when they could be used more towards helping these specific demographic and socioeconomic groups.

      I would love it if more people could unschool, homeschool etc. for the true benefit of the kids.

      Kids do not need traditional schooling to learn.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        Despite the fact that the US prison population is significant (about 2,000,000 men and women are currently in prison) it is incorrect that the majority of students from public schools go to jail.

        • jessica
          jessica says:

          *public school kids in poverty of that specific specific demographic

          Sorry I wasn’t more specific……..

    • Katarina
      Katarina says:

      Your example is powerful. I grew up a poor white kid who found education as a means to stability. It worked for me. I am convinced that education can free people from poverty. Education is the operative word, not schooling. I say this as a homeschool parent. Public school served us well. I hope it does the same for others. For our family, homeschooling is the best route. My son is adamant about it now because he thrives on the opportunities he has.

    • Jennifa
      Jennifa says:

      “…able to see and experience a lifestyle and mindset outside of the one they’ve experienced in their household.”

      Shann I really like your comment. It helps me articulate what I have been thinking. I wonder how much experience and exposure a kids needs before new ideas start to sink in.

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        What shes talking about to the true extent of it is extremely hard to achieve.

        Exposure, deep learning, rejection of immeadiete resourced ideas from family, etc. and life experience.

        It’s about a lot more than the ideas presented in a school setting.

        • Katarina
          Katarina says:

          I agree wholeheartedly and sadly, I don’t see the education “reform experts” understanding that at all. Talk about missing the point. I wish someone could get this message out there. So few people (I read education policy and reform blogs) understand this, including teachers.

        • Jennifa
          Jennifa says:

          Yeah, I don’t know all the research on exposing new ideas in school settings. I do know my nieces seem to have found school to be a good source of new ideas, particularly ROTC for one, and field trips to the local nature center for the other.

          The boys all seem to have found school devastating.

          But, we are all here now, in the present. And the kids I have contact with go to school. When I am with them I try to do my best and set good examples, ask them questions, take them with me to places they haven’t been before. I try to steer the conversation to how they can get what they want from school, and not be a passive hater of the system biding their time until they can get out, because by then, it may be too late.

          • jessica
            jessica says:

            What needs does school meet, might be the question then.

            I don’t even view it as that great of a babysitter due to the lack of freedom and one size fits all discipline without due process.

          • Shann W.
            Shann W. says:

            Thanks for your replies. I didn’t check back because the post and discussion had me pretty heated, to be honest. There is a TON of work being done to experiment with ways to improve schools to address the issues that Penelope and lots of others in the homeschool community highlight. Again, we know poor public schools have major problems but the school to prison pipeline is grossly exaggerated in this context– it is happening in neighborhoods with people who are completely on the margin of our society–these are not schools that well educated, middle class folk are attending nor are they in any way forced to attend. When I think about the movement to throw away the entire system, it makes me angry because homeschooling is such a privilege that is out of reach for most people and impossible for really poor, really struggling people. We know parental involvement is really what makes the difference here. You can “unschool” your child while having them in school. You can teach your child not to be restricted by what is taught and to constantly ask questions. You can teach your child to not value a letter grade more than a personal sense of achievement. Let’s just promote those things instead a massive flight from schools based on irrational fears. Both privileged and underprivileged kids can benefit from exposure to each other. I come to this blog and it’s just constant generalizations and the piling of weak premise upon weak premise…it’s just really turning me off.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          School is not a place where learning is organic. It is top down, rote memorization, didactic style of teaching that isn’t conducive to most people’s style of learning and the information is soon forgotten once the tests have been taken.

          School is like prison. In poor schools they have metal detectors, gated/locked down campuses, and resource officers. In many schools there is still corporal punishment, resource officers handcuffing kids with disabilities, padded cells to lock kids in. In poor school districts in Texas judges, real judges, issue tickets for misbehavior that can count as an actual criminal record before kids even graduate high school.

          If schools would actually try to understand childhood behavior, make accommodations for those with disabilities instead of arresting them, have less in classroom instruction and more play, no homework, no standardized testing, freedom to learn what they wish when and how they want on the child’s own terms then I would agree that schools would become less prison-like.

          • Betsy
            Betsy says:

            Not just poor districts in Texas – lots of districts (if not all.) My student who accumulated the most tickets (by far) was wealthy, white and the son of a PhD.

          • Julia
            Julia says:

            Oh come on. You talk about “school” as if it’s one singular giant place. There is a lot of different stuff going on in different schools all over the country. I’ve been inside many in all different settings. Few are like prisons. Most have teachers who understand very well childhood behavior. All of them could do better, many could do a lot better, but painting school with such a ridiculously broad and tainted brush isn’t helping anybody.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            Julia,

            The teaching methods in a traditional school paradigm are exactly as I described, I had my daughter enrolled in a very traditional private school, the teaching style is top-down didactic style. The goals are memorization for testing, not real learning for learning’s sake. This style of teaching exists in all schools and all school districts. Once I removed my daughter from that paradigm she regained that spark she once had, her joy came back, and real learning ensued on her own terms.

            As far as how I described schools, I wasn’t generalizing. According to the NCES 11% of schools have metal detectors, 52% perform locker checks, and nearly 77% have security cameras.

            In LA Unified School district, they have their own independent police department with more than 350 sworn officers, 126 non-sworn officers. It is the fifth largest police department in LA County and the 14th largest in the state of CA.

            Several schools in LAUSD have metal detectors and have had them for at least a decade.

            These are facts that one can verify easily. I understand that for those who place their faith in schools it can be unsettling to hear reasonable arguments for why schools are failing and cause one to ignore evidence that is placed in front of them. Until one is ready to have an open mind about the issues it is difficult to have a reasonable discussion about it.

            The schools in rich districts, like the one I live in, are doing just fine. Those kids will be just fine regardless of which school they receive their education, simply because they won the birth lottery. This is why at least with unschooling, they can receive a customized education instead of the one-size-fits-the-middle, one-way thinking schooling that they are currently receiving. It won’t affect their outcome.

          • Julia
            Julia says:

            You’ve been inside one traditional private school and therefore you know that the style of teaching in “all schools and all school districts” is rote memorization, top down, and didactic?

            I’m not going to defend the state of public schools today. Things are in a terrible state and a lot of it relates to the problems you describe. But unlike you, I’ve been inside dozens if not hundreds of schools across the US and there is a lot going on that doesn’t match your description. I do education research for a living, so no, I haven’t been “ignoring the evidence.”

            Schools are communities. They all have their own culture and practices. Some are exactly as you describe, some are variations on what you describe, and some are not like what you describe at all. And that goes for rich and poor schools alike. Within any school you’ll find teachers who depend entirely on rote memorization and teachers experimenting with innovative methods. You’ll find teachers who’s greatest strength is building relationships with kids and who live to get their kids through and on to something better. You’ll find them in the schools with the police and the metal detectors.

            There are so many people in the social media discussion-sphere saying things like “If schools would actually try to understand childhood behavior…” Just make schools match xyz description of what I think is a perfect school and everything will be better, problem solved.

            Try actually doing it and get back to me.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            Hmm, no my information isn’t gathered solely from my daughter’s crappy school experience. I have toured many traditional public schools in Northern and Southern CA and not one of them employed constructivism and all of them were didactic. The only true constructivist learning models occurred in progressive schools, which I have yet to find ONE progressive public school, they are almost exclusively private schools hovering around $40k/year tuition. There may be a charter school that tries their best to be constructivist, but they are still held to the same rules of testing as public schools and therefore cannot be considered true progressive models of education.

            I’m sorry if you took my response as something I was writing against you personally. I tried to keep it as general as possible by using the word “one” instead of “you”.

          • Bostonian
            Bostonian says:

            YMKAS, I don’t know if you’re aware, but constructivism is the current dominant fad in math education and is in place at most public schools today. Look up “math wars” to find out more about it. In the brief time my son was in public school, this is the type of curriculum they used, and it was terrible.

            The basis is a bunch of lofty ideas about how kids construct their own meaning. That’s all well and good, but it’s still a curriculum to be delivered through teachers and worksheets in 25 kid classrooms. The practice is that teachers who don’t understand math get a curriculum that doesn’t require them to, and kids don’t start progressing in math until years later.

            Instead of learning to borrow and carry, kids draw pictures of tomatoes. Instead of figuring out right answers to concrete questions, they play “guess how to please the teacher.” Math problems in the textbooks become reading problems, with paragraphs of text that boils down to three numbers. Class periods become lively discussions about those paragraphs, while the difficulty of the problem itself barely increases from year to year.

            I’m not speaking from a mere theoretical familiarity here, but from our experience of a six year old son who begged me to tell him about multiplication, division, exponents, etc. when such things were basically forbidden at school.

            The product of constructivist math has been seventh graders who haven’t mastered arithmetic and are unable to learn algebra. The losers are poor kids. The winners are private math education companies like Kumon.

            It’s just something you might want to be aware of when you use words like “constructivist.” After bullying, constructivist math was the second biggest reason for us to homeschool.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            Bostonian,

            Constructivism is a philosophy and not a pedagogy, at least according to Piaget. There shouldn’t be any teacher pleasing involved. In your sons experience, it sounds like someone was trying a constructionism experiential learning approach that doesn’t sound very mathy. 256+392=tomato!

          • Bostonian
            Bostonian says:

            YMKAS, I understand that’s what “constructivism” means to you, and did to Piaget. And in certain contexts or circles, that’s all it means. But it might be interesting to you to find out about other things it means to other people in other contexts. What “constructivism” means to a lot of other parents is “the reason the school won’t teach my kids how to divide.” Piaget has been dead for thirty-five years, but other people are still creating new meanings, including the ed school types who determine national educational standards.

            There’s a nice little video on youtube showing something of the way constructivist math plays out in the classroom. It’s video Tr1qee-bTZI.

            This isn’t a matter of a little local experiment. This is what passes for math education at most public schools in the country now. Other terms for constructivist math include “reform math,” “fuzzy math,” and “new-new math.”

            In terms of the larger meaning of “constructivism” you point out, the debacle of constructivist math raises an important question: is there really any effective way to implement constructivism in a mass education classroom system?

            We can say that constructivist aka reform math “isn’t really constructivism,” but that makes me wonder if any attempt to implement “real constructivism” won’t inevitably fall into that same trap of becoming “fake” through implementation. That would suggest that speaking of constructivism in the context of schools is pointless.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            B,

            I guess my best example of good constructivist learning models, including math, would be Waldorf. I really wasn’t expected a math debate. How do unschoolers teach math? How do homeschoolers teach math? How do you teach math? It depends on our kids, right?

            If you have a mathy kid, like I do, there isn’t much instruction that is needed. For those who truly love math, it really isn’t about memorizing math facts and computation skills, calculators are great for computation. I can tell you that for my oldest daughter, computation is her least favorite thing about math.

            For math lovers it is about how numbers relate to each other including higher order thinking. Topics like Pascal’s Triangle, abstract and discrete math concepts (as examples) are what draw them in and make them happy.

            I agree that reform math is/was a joke. I think the new way that schools are teaching math is a joke as well. We will have to wait and see what happens with the current math experiment going on in public schools.

            As a side note, I don’t think it is fair to expect everyone to be super great at algebra or beyond. Every person has something to offer and be great at, for those people whose specialty and passion is math I don’t think there is an all-encompassing curriculum, philosophy or pedagogy one can find to meet their needs. Those kids prefer one on one with tutors and mentors where they can talk math at their level and it takes a lot of creativity on the part of the parents to meet their needs.

          • Julia
            Julia says:

            YMKAS, if you want to make such claims about “school”, I encourage you to get out there and visit schools, because I don’t believe you have. Talk to principals and teachers, find out about the different types of schools that are out there. Look for the progressive public schools–not just the “traditional” ones that prove your opinion–visit them and talk to the people there. Look into progressive private schools and spend a little more time researching what those private schools actually cost. I can name 10 progressive, project-based, inquiry-based, Montessori, independent study, or other alternative model PUBLIC schools within a 2o mile radius of where I’m sitting, and I’m not even trying. And I’m in California. The charter, magnet, and alternative schools have some of the same testing requirements as non-charter publics, but that doesn’t mean they “teach to the test” which is the biggest problem. Also, I live in a very HCOL area and there are few private schools that charge $40k+. Most of the ones that would appeal to a parent looking for a progressive model are under $22k. Not cheap, to be sure, but nowhere near $40k.

            It doesn’t mean you have to prefer school over unschooling, or even like school. But if you want to make such strong black and white claims against “school” you should know what you’re talking about. Sorry if I’m being a jerk, but I generally agree with the arguments discussed here and I hate to see them damaged by misinformation.

            Constructivism is a learning theory and an approach to teaching. It can be done well or poorly.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            Julia, wow. I don’t really feel that it is appropriate to have to defend myself against accusations of lying to an internet stranger. If you aren’t able to accept my comments as a reality then I’m not sure why you are taking the time to respond to me directly, isn’t it a waste of your time? You seem incapable of believing any of my statements, so regardless of whatever evidence I provide, it won’t matter to you. At least, that is what you have made clear to me. I hope that I am wrong.

            With other commenters like Bostonian, we have had back and forth banter for more than a year now and the conversations are usually well intentioned. You have apologized for being a jerk, which means that you are intentionally being antagonistic. If you hadn’t mentioned that, I wouldn’t have known you were trying to be rude in the first place. But I accept your apology, if it was sincere.

            But, yes, I have visited many schools, in person. The progressive private schools in my high cost region of the Los Angeles area, the really really good ones, run close to 40k/year. There are some decent ones that run in the mid 20k’s. Either way, those aren’t something that can be accessed by just anyone. Private school competition is a real thing here, with interviews and kids getting turned down.

            The charter school in my area that offers a Waldorf Inspired program can’t provide a true Waldorf experience, that is why they say “inspired”. But I agree that it is better than the way a traditional environment is set up and I’m sure I would fit in with the crunchie parents that send their kids there. It is an entirely different matter for my kids, they have expressed zero desire to attend any school and are getting their needs met through unschooling. CSULA has an early entry program I have my eye on for later.

            I have only ever lived in “rich” public school districts and have toured the schools to which I would have access to, why would I go all over the place to find a school that my kids wouldn’t be able to go to? With free access to information online, it is easy to research schools across the country and to examine their pedagogy without ever having to visit them.

            Cheers. :)

    • Betsy
      Betsy says:

      Shann, you make the excellent point that public education provides a valuable service to a lot of the population but we could be doing it a whole lot better in terms of what services it provides and how it does so.

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        Yeah that’s the root of Penelope’s point across education I believe. Bostonian had a great response a few articles back about the over arcing nature of public school providing any and all social services, leaving actual education at the bottom of thr list of to-dos within the organization.

  15. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    Jessica (wanted to reply but no more replies)
    That is a good question, what needs does school meet? Maybe the kids should ponder that on the bus-ride each morning!! What need am I going to make school meet for me today?

  16. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    Just wanted to throw in a few observations and questions, so forgive me if I ramble. To me the elephant in the room that all these school reformers and educators aren’t talking about isn’t so much school reform as parent reform. They can talk all they want and jump on every educational trend-single sex classes, open floor classroom plans, extended school year, Waldorf, Montessori, etc., but if a child is living in chaos they are not going to do well in any kind of school. As for homeschooling, if a child’s parent(s) don’t have their shit even remotely together and/or are barely educated themselves, how will they homeschool? Penelope, Sadly, there are a lot more kids in this situation than reformers either know about or want to admit. It’s not just kids in poverty who live in chaotic home environments either. Often it’s hard for schools to provide education fundamentals because they also have to serve as de facto parents. When a kid doesn’t know what they may be walking into when they go home each day, they aren’t focused on school and they likely don’t have an advocate to speak up for them. or make sure they are on the right track. What’s the answer for these kids? What resources or system is to be used to give them a chance to better their situation? Also, there are a lot of children of awesome single parents who have to work and can’t homeschool. The other parent may not be in the picture and there may not be grandparents or other family around to help out. Are these kids doomed to be in a place that’s just a babysitter without getting an actual education? I keep thinking of this quote I read from the Annoyed Librarian blog:
    “If politicians were honest, they would just come out and say that the education system in parts of the country serves only as a place to house children during the day until they grow up. Once they grow up, then it’s not the school’s problem anymore. There are other social agencies to deal with poor and uneducated adults.”

    • Julia
      Julia says:

      Good points here but one clarification: “school reformers and educators” are 100% aware of and are always talking about the biggest issue, which is how much of the challenge for schools is outside of schools. Sadly, no one has found a cure for poverty. The cure for poverty will not be found entirely in education. But schooling and education should be improved regardless, through the efforts of “school reformers and educators”.

  17. jessica
    jessica says:

    This is in response to Shann…

    Unscooling IS possible for the poor, now more so than ever with the free flow of information. It’s the childcare that is the obstacle.

    My parents have an illegal immigrant housekeeper. She sends her money to another country so her child there can attend an upperclass private school in a safe community.
    She had a child here. That child, who lives in a hiddenish trailer community amongst an affluent neighborhood, attended the local elementary school and was bullied severely for being an economically and racially outsider.
    Her mother was intrigued by how we educate our kids (we unschool).
    Her intentions were for her child to have a better life than she, and saw the damage happening even with her own personal sacrafice to make it work.
    Her network of friends pulled together and now all the kids are supervised by the adults in their group that are not working when others are (as they all work to make ends meet). The children are free to learn, but most importantly free to play.

    So, it can work.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Wow. I learned so much from this short story. About hardships of immigrant life I didn’t know, but also possibilities for unschooling that I didn’t know.

      Penelope

  18. Katarina
    Katarina says:

    For any schooling. homeschooling or unschooling to yield some positive results in a child/youth’s life, families must value learning. Real learning. Even if families value learning, it doesn’t mean all children in a family will value it. But it is easier to value learning when it is communicated to you from your earliest days that learning is a wonderful thing. Instead, we communicate to children, even infants, that consuming is a wonderful thing. We have millions of people who pacify themselves with food, gadgets, toys, TV, music and what-not while not finding a need to engage in intentional learning. When children don’t have their basic needs met, it is very hard to learn. But even without those needs being met, if there is message in the home that learning is important, for human dignity’s sake, then learning can still take place. I know this from experience. I can also list many people close to me who have lived this. Basic needs were barely met (and often not met) but learning — for the purpose of honoring one’s own dignity — could overcome obstacles.
    Are children taught about dignity? Do families talk about virtues? I am going to get the eye rolling for this, I know. You can laugh at and scorn what I am saying, but if you ask anyone who came from a disadvantaged background who became successful, you will usually find that the parent(s) communicated a message of the importance of dignity, whether directly or indirectly.
    Pop culture mocks these words. It takes them and twists them into something else and then shouts about injustice.
    I know there is great injustice in the world. The people who did the most to stop it lived lives of extraordinary dignity. They didn’t overcome it by throwing up their hands or whining.
    If we want schools to be effective for disadvantaged children, the first thing we must do is help the parents as much as the children, understand their worth and dignity, and that learning is not simply to get access to a pipeline of money. It elevates the individual to a place of self-respect and strength that allows people to problem solve.
    Otherwise, we unintentionally keep communicating that people are poor and helpless. I would never communicate that to a person. I was officially in that category as a kid, but I never saw myself as poor. Never.
    Yesterday a young man came to my door to sell subscriptions to magazines which were to be donated to schools. He loved his job as it gave him, an ex-convict from Detroit, a chance to work, provide for his family, have hope for the future and help other people make better choices. Of course, the guy he works for could be a scammer, but I looked at this young man (who could be my son) and I told him that he is already a rich person. He is rich inside, rich in so many ways. His face glowed. He showed me pictures of his fiancé and beautiful daughters. We talked for a full half hour about many things. I warned him that chasing money wouldn’t help him. If he would keep his dignity, keep striving, keep trying, he would continue to succeed. After we finished business, he asked me to stay in touch with him because he needed my encouragement. He asked me if I am a woman of my word, and I promised to stay in touch. I texted him the next morning, and he was so grateful. I could feel him glowing from over the phone.
    People are precious. Every single human being is precious. Until a person is looked at that way, face to face, spoken to that way, face to face, cared for that way, face to face, for a significant period of time, that person will not learn or grow, no matter how rich or poor he/she starts out. The further schools and their reform efforts get away from this truth, the less successful they will be. I wish, wish, wish that someone with the resources could spend time on this in struggling communities. For some reason, it isn’t being done, and it could be done. But it is easier to pity someone than to see his/her potential. Pity helps no one. When schools pay thousands of dollars to bring in some quirky musician to strum his guitar and sing songs about anti-bullying, and give out fake money to students behaving well, you know you are not in an environment where meaningful learning is the goal. It is about getting people to behave so that the overall objectives can be achieved. Kids see through that, and if they don’t, they certainly aren’t transformed by bribery. Those methods were one of the main reasons my son told me that I couldn’t force him to go to school. He can show he wants to be good without earning fake money for it. Sorry for the length of this.

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      I think the length can be okay as long as you put breaks in the text.

      Like this. Your comment was pretty much impossible for me to read as it is currently formatted.

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