What happened when my son visited middle school

z airport dab

When kids are little, they believe what you tell them. They go with the flow. But the longer you homeschool your kid, the more curious that kid becomes about what’s really going on inside school. So I started looking at all news items about school as potential points of discussion with my kids.

School defines normal kid behavior as a medical problem

I was filling out a form at Boston University’s child psychology program, and there was a list of mental disorders to choose from. One of them was school refusal. That’s a disorder? I feel like it should be a disorder to want to go to school. Like, seriously, is your kid so unimaginative they can’t think of anything else they’d rather be doing?

School defines normal parent behavior as mentally challenged

The hardest thing about sending my kids to school was that I could never do enough to make the teacher happy. I missed a paper or a signature or an event. Every day at school is a test for the parents, but the requirements of parents are so pointless that they seem to be there just to drive parents crazy.

The poet Sara Holbrook found her poem in a test for 7th graders. The commentary from Holbrook is great. First, she points out that the material is totally inappropriate for kids. Then she shows how the person who wrote the test misinterpreted the line breaks and therefore one of the questions had no right answer; Holbrook cannot answer the test questions that refer to her own poem.

School defines normal human curiosity as disruptive

School requires everyone to conform to the program — whatever that school’s program might be. Children have a natural ability to find activities that interest them, but there are relatively few activities available in a classroom, so kids force themselves to just choose something that’s offered. Kids get used to the idea that if it’s not offered at school they won’t learn it.

So when my son was 10 and asked to go to regular school, I told him he would have to give up his music lessons. “You won’t have energy for four hours of cello practice and three hours of piano practice. The school days is too long.”

“Other kids do it,” he said.

“No they don’t. They don’t practice as much as you do.”

“I can do it! I can do it!”

I relented and he danced and dabbed everywhere in celebration of his upcoming school day.

I dropped him off at school at 7:45am. I picked him up at 3pm.

He said, “I did it! I told you it would be fine!”

I gave him a snack and he sat down at the piano.


I ran errands and got him another snack, just in case.

When I came back into the room this is what I saw:

after school
14 replies
  1. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    I’m sorry to hear your kid is suffering from anxiety. My son says all the smart kids are these days. BU CARD has a good reputation, and a long waiting list. I hope it’s working out for him. If it doesn’t, I have other suggestions.

    How many days did little Z last in school? Was that his only one? Obviously you can’t go to middle school and also practice seven hours a day, even if you don’t go to a middle school that assigns three to five hours of homework a night like my son did. Middle school is emotionally exhausting because middle school kids are horrible to each other.

    You’re not entirely right about school, of course. Once you get to high school, especially, some schools allow a high degree of personalization. Kids at the same school can have entirely different classes and degrees, kind of like college (which I gather you also don’t like). There really are schools that see a kid’s curiosity as the proper driving force of their education. Most people don’t believe in them, in one way or another.

    Finding the right school was really good for my kid musically. It broadened his horizons, in terms of styles as well as instruments, and he gained some very talented musical co-conspirators to do projects with. Also, some schools (not all) give kids the freedom to determine how they spend their non-class time, so my kid can spend a couple hours during the day practicing or jamming with his friends.

    My son was so happy with his new school that he became interested in being a music teacher, and now they not only have him sit in as an accompanist (violin, viola, bass, sax) for events, but next year he’ll help the music director with lower school band students.

    I know other high-school aged musicians who are homeschooling, and it seems like they do most of their socializing online, with kids in other countries, because the odds of finding kids they can collaborate with musically where they live are so low in the first place, before you throw in homeschooling. In my son’s case, it’s clearly better for his musicianship to be at school than to be at home.

  2. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    Couldn’t it also be said that a “typical” work day might be too long? I feel like the last picture when I get home from work and want to do anything else. Unless you work for yourself, most workplaces don’t have much a lot of flexibility around hours.

    • MJJ
      MJJ says:

      The typical 8+ hour work day IS too long. I’m not sure how it was set (maybe in the days when 40 hours was a reasonable, humane move down from longer hours on factory lines) but it definitely is too long for adults to have flourishing lives.

  3. Kristen
    Kristen says:

    Only you will know as his mother if he will thrive in that environment. I personally think it’s a jail sentence, but, I get it. Kids grow. They change. We listen. They try things out. Go with your instincts on this though….you’re still the mom and you know best. Their brains aren’t totally developed yet and sometimes making decisions for them isn’t so bad even though they are ready to individuate.

    But I’m a big John Holt / Peter Gray /attachment parenting person so take the above for what it’s worth.

    Good luck with this.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Oh no! I was unclear. He only went for one day. He realized he wouldn’t have time to get done what he wants each day if he spent his time at school.

      …. I wonder if everyone read this as me sending him to school for real. It was a visit. I should have been more clear. I am so far from ever really sending him to school that it didn’t occur to me that people would think that. And also, he is so incredibly devoted to music that he’d never compromise his practicing so he could spend the day at school.

      I actually thought it was funny that he fell asleep from school. It drove home to me that we need to be really clear about where we put our energy. And he is very clear. He isn’t going to school.


  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I’m glad you allowed your son to try out school even though you knew it wouldn’t work out for him. You allowed him to discover for himself that school wouldn’t allow enough time for him to practice cello and piano.
    Homeschooling laws are very different from state to state and school district to school district as it’s often the school district who reviews, approves, and monitors homeschoolers according to state law. There’s a good recent article about homeschooling in MA at https://www.patriotledger.com/news/20190628/as-stigma-of-home-schooling-eases-more-parents-keeping-children-out-of-school . Two excerpts from the article regarding MA homeschooling law – “Massachusetts was the first state to pass a compulsory education law in 1852. Today, that law requires kids between the ages of 6 and 16 to go to school, and gives local districts the right to waive that requirement on a case-by-case basis for families that want to home school. From there, parents are usually required to provide work portfolios or progress reports to their districts, but some parents say their school boards never follow up.” and “Parents who want to home-school their children don’t need state approval, but they are accountable to their local school department. Except for an annual check-in with the school committee or superintendent, parents are free to educate their children however they want, and how they choose to do so varies greatly from family to family, or even child to child.” Also, I found the article to be a good read and informative in other respects.

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      BTW, there’s no statue in Massachusetts controlling homeschooling. It’s not precisely that districts are allowed to give waivers, so much as that they aren’t allowed to refuse them without overwhelming reason. It’s all based on case law, mostly _Charles_ and _Brunelle_. In some cases, the courts found in favor of the parents’ privacy or the kid’s rights, and in some cases in favor of the state’s interest in every child being educated. That’s why different districts apply their understanding of the law so differently. The key standard, from _Charles_, is “equal in thoroughness and efficiency.” Which is not a terribly hard standard to meet, all things considered. Read AHEM’s article on “unsnarling Charles” for more information.

      Also, thanks for the link. I haven’t seen some of these kids for ages. Nice folks. Rock on, Trixie!

        • Bostonian
          Bostonian says:

          Mark, perhaps this is a definitional issue. Massachusetts has no statutory law regarding homeschooling. All we have is case law from previous court trials. In this respect, your assertion “MA does have state laws for homeschooling” is untrue.

          MA has state law regarding compulsory schooling, Chapter 76, and this part of our law includes sections about a lot of things – absences, deaf kids, tuition, vaccinations, the recognition of private schools, etc. Case law (Brunelle, charles, Ivan, Searles, etc. ) addresses homeschooling with reference to Chapter 76, and homeschooling fits into the law as a sort of special category of private school. But Chapter 76 itself in no place directly addresses homeschooling. Some other states have written and passed laws regarding homeschooling, but all we have is precedents set in trials, with reference to law that doesn’t address homeschooling.

          This lack of statewide legal clarity is one of the reason that Massachusetts has towns regarded as easy places to homeschool (e.g. Boston is thrilled not to have to educate more kids) and towns regarded as difficult places to homeschool.

          If you are interested in reading a reliable local source that best knows and explains MA law, I recommend AHEM (Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts). You can find them at ahem.info.

          • Mark W.
            Mark W. says:

            Thanks Bostonian. It is a definitional issue. Many web sites including HSLDA and AHEM simply state MA homeschooling law without mentioning that homeschooling isn’t explicitly called out in the statute.
            I did find the following at Massachusetts Home Learning Association (MHLA) at this link – http://www.mhla.org/information/massdocuments/mgl.htm – which clearly spells it out –
            “Compulsory Attendance Statute: Chapter 76 Section 1
            Note that the words “home education” do not appear in the statute. Homeschoolers are included in the “otherwise educated” category. In its simplest form, the law states:
            Every child between the minimum and maximum ages established for school attendance by the board of education shall attend a public day school in said town, or some other day school approved by the school committee, but such attendance shall not be required of a child who is being otherwise instructed in a manner approved in advance by the superintendent or the school committee.
            What standards do school officials use for approving the “otherwise educated”? The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 1987 in the Charles decision determined that school officials could use the same standard used to evaluate private schools:
            For the purposes of this section, school committees shall approve a private school when satisfied that the instruction in all the studies required by law equals in thoroughness and efficiency, and in the progress made therein, that in the public schools in the same town; but shall not withhold such approval on account of religious teaching.”
            There’s also this page titled – “Massachusetts Compulsory Attendance Statutes from 1852-1913” – on the same site at http://www.mhla.org/information/massdocuments/mglhistory.htm – which includes the following –


            (first appearance of “otherwise instructed” wording)
            The relevant section was changed to read as follows: “..but if such a child has attended for a like period of time a private day school approved by the school committee or if such child has been otherwise instructed for a like period of time in the branches of learning…”


            Chapter 383 –The relevant section was changed to read as follows: “.of if he has been otherwise instructed for a like period of time in the branches of learning required by law to be taught in the public schools, or if he has already acquired such branches of learning, of if his physical or mental condition is such as to render such attendance inexpedient or impracticable.”

  5. Kristen
    Kristen says:

    Oh good. It was just one day. Thanks for letting us know. My heart broke a little seeing him asleep on the floor.

    That would be my son too. And he wouldn’t be in national chess tournaments if that was his daily.

    Thanks again for all your homeschool links. They are very encouraging!

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