Backflips the intelligentsia do to support kids in school

I took the kids to their favorite arcade as soon as school was back in session, so we could avoid all the crowds. Of course all the people working there asked why the kids aren’t in school, so we did the usual conversation where they say, “Oh, so your mom teaches you?” And I say, “No. I don’t tell him what to learn.”

I could answer that question 50 different ways. But almost no one really hears the answer. People live in denial that such an approach could possibly work.

It blows my mind how much denial a parent has to be in to send their kid to school. Like this dad who is clearly educated and thoughtful undermines the school with his (funny) letter requesting that the school not penalize his kids for unexcused absences due to a family trip. It’s fine to disagree with the school, but it’s not fine to leave your kids there for eight hours a day while at the same time you criticize the administrators’ decision-making skills. If nothing else, it’s a tough situation for a kid to sort out.

Lately the New York Times has published reams of data supporting homeschooling yet somehow not drawing that conclusion from their data. This article about passion is a great example. The writer acknowledges that colleges favor kids who are passionate about something and doing it all the time, with big devotion. The writer doesn’t like that, though, because how can kids do that if they are in school all day?

The obvious answer is to take your kids out of school because school makes it harder for your kid to get into college (Of course, I have said this before.) But instead of even considering this conclusion, the writer argues that kids should not be bothered with finding their interests when they are young. The author argues that maybe if they never struggle with the passion equation, kids will just figure it out when they enter adult life.

I am past kicking and screaming about how parents put their heads in the sand so they don’t have to deal with homeschooling. Fine. It doesn’t hurt me. I need to stop screaming.

But what does hurt me is the possibility that I’m putting my head in the sand about something else. I just can’t figure out what it is. I want to. I want to avoid choosing to be thoughtless. I think that’s why I hate seeing denial in other people. It’s so ugly and depressing to be in denial. And I am pretty sure that an inherent part of denial is that we don’t know we’re there.


13 replies
  1. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    Speaking of sticking my head in the sand, and not to drive you crazy, but we are moving to Hong Kong next year. My daughter will have the opportunity to attend an international school for high school, for free! We’ve homeschooled thus far and we love it. I agree with everything you write (really, I do!). Any thoughts?

    • Lisa
      Lisa says:

      We live in Hong Kong. My husband teaches at an international school. We turned down the free education in favor of homeschooling. My four year old used to leave the house at 7 and return at 4. Madness.

    • Cáit
      Cáit says:

      I say maybe, why not? I think of public school as close to letting the DMV babysit your kids all day. Ewe. But foreign DMV? Exotic! Learning experience! (If it seems to be working for your family)

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      Why not try it? Maybe it’ll be great, and like a vacation from homeschooling for both of you. Maybe it’ll be horrible and you’ll all know better than ever why you’re homeschooling.

      Failure is an option.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Ask your daughter what she wants to do, and discuss the known and unknown pros and cons. Support her in whichever choice she makes. Have an amazing time living there!

  2. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    What I read from the passion article is that I shouldn’t be so enthusiastically eager in assigning a passion to my children just because they have expressed an intense interest in something. I understood it to mean that I need to maintain my position in the background and let my kids continue to find many passions.

    In the past I have poured a small fortune into my kids “passions” simply because I recognized that they were good at that thing or activity, and not because they had expressed any sort of passion based thinking behind it.

    I don’t want to limit or pigeon-hole my kids into an area when they still have so much more time for discovery. A lot of my fears stem from me being such a dilettante in my youth and wanting to help them specialize in a few areas.

    Meanwhile, my husband’s half sister is a JR at our local high school. She is taking a few AP classes, so she is at school for 6-7 hours a day, and then every night she has 3-4 hours of homework minimum. How can she ever find the time in the day to discover what her passions are? Where is the time for self-discovery?

    Unschooling doesn’t mean that we aren’t automatically academic. My oldest two kids have both expressed an interest in college and the hard sciences. I know the academic way to get them where they need to go, and I can do it without school telling us what to do or controlling our vacations or lives. Unschooling also gives them plenty of time for self-discovery.

  3. bc
    bc says:

    You’re overthinking everything. Trying to optimize everything. And I understand why, I do it all the time. This overthinking and endless quest for ideas is how you have this blog too. But the best things about/in life tend to be simple. I don’t think I ever knew how the sun moves across the sky (really knew!) and how that changes with the seasons, and what it means for early spring and late fall gardens or the greenhouse before I moved to the country. And you can’t really teach this. People have to find out for themselves. But to do that you have to be on the land, have space to observe. Have time to experience the “wow”. Could I ever doubt that I shouldn’t be here and experience this? Never. Because I feel it in my bones. This is what is truly real. If we made choices/decisions this way, we would not worry about keeping our head in the sand. Hope I am making sense to somebody… For example, can anyone be delusional about needing air? About needing nature? About how when we listen to music it transforms us? Delusions then are things someone sold us on that we later find out are not true. Like school is where kids belong, cities are romantic and where we should all live, and that kids need video games (not survival games in nature) to develop their brains.

  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    It’s unfortunate the school in Philadelphia wasn’t more accommodating and flexible to the family who found it necessary to take that trip to Boston. The Principal of the elementary school set the tone of the exchange when the only authority mentioned and option cited was school district policy – “I want you to be aware that the Abington School District does not recognize family trips as an excused absence, regardless of the activities involved in the trip. The school district is not in the position of overseeing family vacations or evaluating the educational nature of a family trip.” She wasn’t just not excusing the children’s absence. She was calling into question the parent’s decision to not have the children go to school for three days. Rather than dismiss the educational value of the family trip offhand, why not have the children share their experience of the trip with their classmates. They could have shared photos and told their story. Instead, it’s a standoff between the parents and the school with the children in the middle. A blended classroom/educational experience involves all parties.

  5. Cay
    Cay says:

    “But what does hurt me is the possibility that I’m putting my head in the sand about something else. I just can’t figure out what it is. I want to.”

    I think that you can trust your instincts. Maybe it’s time for a change that will make you feel deeply confident again.

    The best things I’ve ever done in my life were motivated by confidence.

  6. Cáit
    Cáit says:

    I do something similar. I think about all the times I have been wrong and wonder what am I wrong about now? I also remember people who were right when I was wrong and think “how could they have better convinced me then?” to get a better sense of effective persuasion.

  7. DMom
    DMom says:

    Wow another terrific post. Thank you! Here are a few thoughts that you inspired:

    – Do you fear that, because so few people choose to homeschool, or so few “scholars” encourage parents outright to homeschool, that you are somehow harming your kids or otherwise Missing Something that they are not? That they Know Better? That you are Blowing It Bigtime? Your openness to the fact that you might be Missing Something demonstrates that you know that you don’t have All the Answers, and that you will make necessary adjustments, based on new information or circumstances. Them? Not so sure…

    – Most people put their infants in daycare to go back to work. The “experts” say that this is Normal and Acceptable, and will Do No Harm to the kids. And that kids Need preschool in order to learn to read and acquire social skills. I absolutely couldn’t bring myself to leave my babies all day in daycare for any job, or amount of money, and my kids learned to read and talk to people without going to preschool. What does that make me, in Their opinion? (For the record, I couldn’t care less.)

    – In my life I’ve seen people discover and nurture their passions in the traditional school setting, and it happened in large part because of Good Parenting. For example, one family we know encouraged their less-than-straight-A-daughter, who absolutely loved – and was quite good at – drawing, to stick with that. She is now enjoying a very successful career as a fashion designer. For me, however, school – or, perhaps my parents within the context of school – served to quash or discourage me from mine (sports and the arts) and instead pushed me toward more Legitimate Pursuits, such as law and medicine, that are more worthy of a Smart Person.

    – You can send your kids to school tomorrow. Would that make you feel better? The Experts would approve! ;) Homeschooling is more than just an issue of schooling. It is a Lifestyle Choice which, for my family at least, allows us to cultivate an incredible closeness with each other, and the freedom to learn, explore, discover, and attempt to Make Sense of Things together, in a way that we couldn’t do if the kids were in school all day – at least that is the conclusion we’ve come to. It’s Working for Us – at least for right now. :)

  8. Meg
    Meg says:

    By the time I finished grad school I’d lost passion for anything to the point that I stopped listening to music in the car. So many of us grow ups still don’t know what we want to be when we grow up. Mix a 7 hour school day, commuting, hours of homework, and activities with the parental imperative that “only quitters quit” and we miss the chance to discover what we like and don’t like. Suddenly one can reach 40 and realize they pleased no one other than the holders of their student loans. FYI* Tennis pros charge $70.00+ an hour and are in great shape perhaps even doing what they love.

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