Thursday, April 14, 2011

What If They Choose School?

By Vickie Bergman, who blogs about education and parenting at Demand Euphoria.



Two recent posts on The Innovative Educator blog, Some Good Reasons Not to Go to School and Some good reasons to go to school, gave reasons why a parent might choose or not choose to send their children to school and also attempted to dispel some myths about school and home education. One question inspired by some of the comments was, “Should we let our children decide whether or not to attend school?”  

For me and my family, the short answer is:  
Yes.   

The long answer: 
I have a lot of problems with the way schools are right now, but that is not why my husband and I are choosing not to send our kids. We just don't think school is necessary for us right now, and that is the only reason we need. We have been happy and learning together without school for more than four years, and it has been wonderful. I don't see any reason to stop living that way. And the kids don't either for now.

However, if one of them wanted to try school tomorrow, I would let them. I do not want them to grow up thinking school is some great thing they missed out on because I wouldn't let them go. I want them to be able to form their own opinions about school. And if it requires them to attend for a while to figure it out, then so be it. If they did choose to try school, they would not be forced to commit to it or reach a certain point. They could opt out again anytime .

There are plenty of people who actually liked school, including my husband for one. One of our children might be someone who enjoys school for some amount of time. And that would be all right. It would not mean that we failed as parents. There are more reasons why an unschooling child might want to go to school than just "home isn't fun enough." He might just be curious about it. He might want to see for himself, so he can make his own decision about it.

It also would not mean that we didn't do a good enough job issuing warnings about the dangers of school. In fact, I don't plan on badmouthing school to my kids. Because especially if a child has heard from his parents how horrible and dangerous school is, and then knows lots of kids who are in school who don't seem like they are all that miserable or damaged, that child will know his parents are exaggerating the dangers of school. And he might feel like his parents don't think he can handle school, even though 98% of the population apparently can. Or he might think his parents are trying to hide something really great from him.

An example of this idea is the way we talk about drugs to kids. I grew up hearing about how terrible marijuana was. Education about drugs lumped marijuana in with all the other illegal drugs, so I thought it was just as bad as cocaine or heroin. Then as I got older I found out that lots of people I knew were smoking pot, and they seemed fine. They were not junkies or addicts or criminals. That made me wonder why everyone had made such a big deal about it.

Inflating the risks of something to scare a child out of doing it only works until he can see for himself that it is not as bad as you say. This might only make your child trust you less, and wonder what else you have been exaggerating about.

For now, we are happily unschooling as a family. But unschooling is not a family policy or a doctrine, something I live by or preach. It just describes something we are not doing right now: sending our kids to school. This does not mean school is forbidden. I recently realized I don't need to be anti-school because I plan to continue living without it. What I am is anti-force. I am against forcing my will on my kids. I wouldn't want to force my kids to stay out of school as much as I wouldn't want to force them to attend.

Now, I am aware that homeschooling and unschooling are not for everyone. I know schools are here to stay for a while. But imagine if all children had choices on how to spend their days... even if it were only the choices of which school to attend and which classes to take.

Schools would have to change a lot of things to keep the kids coming in. They would have to compete with each other to offer the most interesting classes and activities with the best teachers and the friendliest policies, in order to stand out.

A school would have to try to appeal to kids, to attract kids, or it would be empty. And why shouldn't that be the case?

17 comments:

  1. I completely agree! Unschooling doesn't have to be anti-school. Plenty of people are able to get solid educational and social experience from public school, which is just fine. For those that don't, however, some form of homeschooling is a great alternative! And I think you're doing the right thing--forcing either on your child will probably do more damage than good. Allowing children to take part in their educational choices makes them active participants in their development, instead of going through school with the mindset that education is there to be given, not earned.

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  2. I thank you so much for your post. I have always been a homeschooling/unschooling advocate, but the recent posts on this blog were making me crazy about something I think is wonderful, because of how people were speaking out about it (home/unschooling).

    There are families where students are learning in all different ways, a child in public, one in private and others at home, etc. so that each person feels their needs are being met. Whatever works for each family and person.

    I will always advocate strongly for home education rights AND for public schools.

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  4. Jessica, I completely agree that whatever works for each family is best. Absolutely! And I look forward to the day we live in freedom and choice to make those decisions. However let's be clear, Government Compulsory Education is not a choice. Nothing compulsory is.

    I personally can't in good conscious say I could defend a system where a child risks being medicated because they can't sit still. Or a child is judged and signed off based on his scores and lack of school involvement. I just can't in good conscience advocate for that. I am not interested in being agreeable and assure people that the institutions we have are okay because exposing the disease risks offending people. I am sorry, but the car is driving itself off a cliff and there is no time for political correctness.

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  5. Vicki,
    You wrote, "Inflating the risks of something to scare a child out of doing it only works until he can see for himself that it is not as bad as you say. This might only make your child trust you less, and wonder what else you have been exaggerating about."

    This is an incredibly hypothetical and very general statement that assumes quite a lot. Can you please back up this assertion with some facts?. Thank you.

    Can you also please elaborate more on the statement, "inflating risks to scare child"? I
    I personally insist my children wear their seatbelt when in cars, I don't consider it inflating risks, I consider being a responsible parent. I don't scare them to do it, it is simply a matter of logic and facts.

    Looking forward to your feedback.

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  6. To me, there are choices - yes education is compulsory, unless you opt out and home school or send your child to a private school. I am not against the government saying that individuals under a certain age need to be in the care of someone else who is responsible for their education.

    I can defend public education because I don't see where there are other people stepping in for those who are most vunerable. Middle class and upper class children will for the most part be okay because of home life, for the 20% of American children living in poverty the school is where they learn things that people at home may not be able to teach them. I don't agree with all the standardized testing and medicating of students just because I think that a free public education should be avaliable for citizens. I think changes need to be made to stop the testing craze and let teachers encourage students to follow their interests and I don't think it has to be separate for public education. There is a system already in place that can work and for the most part despite all the results of tests from around the world does work for a large portion of the population. I don't think dismanteling public schools is going to cause everyone to suddenly live in a utopic world where they are free to be themselves and pursue whatever they are interested in all day long. In some cases this means that people who desperately need someone who can teach them to read and write and to understand the basics of science and math won't learn anything and will end up worse off than when they were stuck in a dull as dirt classroom that only had them reading out of a textbook.

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  8. " I am not against the government saying that individuals under a certain age need to be in the care of someone else who is responsible for their education. "

    At precisely what age does Government become responsible for making decisions for individuals? The womb? 3 years old? 18? Can you please be more specific?

    "I can defend public education because I don't see where there are other people stepping in for those who are most vulnerable."

    Government and their Schools are not interested in allowing other systems which interfere with their monopoly to rise up and challenge them.

    How do Government Schools react to any type of change whatsoever? Aside from more money, is the Department of Education embracing a transformation from within or from outside of their system that promotes the very things they claim to want?

    " Middle class and upper class children will for the most part be okay because of home life"
    -What is "okay"? Please define.

    "for the 20% of American children living in poverty the school is where they learn things that people at home may not be able to teach them."
    -Can you please site where you found these facts? Also be sure to define poverty. Also, were these people contacted and asked whether or not they would like a choice in their children's education? Or am I to assume that these people are and will remain ignorant and incapable of independent thinking and so the Government has the authority to make decisions that should belong to the parent. Like the Government school in Chicago that is banning parents from sending their children with their own lunch, because Government School has decided that only Government and government alone decides what is best for your children to eat.

    At what point exactly does the relationship between parent and child and government and child begin? Seems to me that what you are saying is that children belong to the state first, and to the parent second. And it is up to the parent to "opt-out" of this relationship.

    Can you please elaborate?

    I too wholeheartedly believe that there should always be a "free" system in place. Though it is never free since we all pay for it. However I do believe that there should be an enriching, supportive, efficient, learning community in place for children to attend. I also believe it should community based and not federalized.

    I also think a lot of people out there, authors, teachers, parents and activists want this to happen very much. I know the Department of Education fights and will fight to the end to prevent something like that from happening because it puts them out of business. Thus they get the credit that hey, "at least is something" and so the cycle continues.

    Looking forward to your feedback. Thank you! :)

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  9. @Desiree,

    "This is an incredibly hypothetical and very general statement that assumes quite a lot. Can you please back up this assertion with some facts?. Thank you. "

    The first sentence of the statement says that kids will eventually start assessing risks of things for themselves, and will realize if you have been exaggerating. Do you disagree?

    The second sentence says "might," so yes, it was intended to be a hypothesis. I do not need to back up this statement with facts because I already gave an example of when something like this happened in my own life. Therefore "it might happen" is a reasonable thing to say.

    “Can you also please elaborate more on the statement, "inflating risks to scare child"? I
    I personally insist my children wear their seatbelt when in cars, I don't consider it inflating risks, I consider being a responsible parent. I don't scare them to do it, it is simply a matter of logic and facts.”

    I also warn my children about the risks of not wearing seatbelts. That is a real danger. And wearing a seatbelt is a way to reduce the risk.

    The best way to keep a child safe from the risks of driving a car would be to never allow your child to ride in one, or go near one. Would you agree? However, it is not only not realistic, it would also be very limiting to do that to a child. Similarly, yes, the best way to keep a child safe from hazards of school would be to keep him out forever. That is great if he agrees that he wants to stay out. But if he asks to go, then you have an entirely different situation.

    School is only compulsory, by definition, for those kids who are forced to go. As I said above, I am not forcing my child to go. Therefore, if she chooses school, it will not be compulsory. Any risks that she will face in school, she will be able to avoid by simply deciding not to go back.

    I pointed out that lots of adults “inflated” the risks of pot smoking to me when I was a child. I figured out for myself that it really wasn’t as bad as they claimed. I plan to be honest with my children about pot and everything else, knowing that they might (will) do things that are dangerous (as most everything in life is), and the best I can do is give them access to the tools (like seatbelts, or the ability to leave school) that will help to reduce the risks.

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  10. Oh Vicki, I have another question. You wrote, "And he might feel like his parents don't think he can handle school, even though 98% of the population apparently can."

    Why would any child thriving and living and learning at home feel like the reason their parents chose a Home Educating environment for them, is because they thought their children couldn't "handle" school?

    From my experience, a lot of parents make this decision because they know their child deserves better than what the government school system provides. So I am curious as to how you came to this opinion.

    Also, what do you mean by "98% of the population can handle school"

    What does this mean? Do you mean survive schooling? get grades, pass the test, pick a career and get a job? If that is the standard, I agree that the population handles schooling just fine. And I am glad you used the word "handle" too, it emphasizes exactly what government schooling is, something that needs to be handled.

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  11. Vicki, this is what I quoted and asked you to back up, "Inflating the risks of something to scare a child out of doing it only works until he can see for himself that it is not as bad as you say. This might only make your child trust you less, and wonder what else you have been exaggerating about."

    Once again, can you please expand on this? what is, "Inflating the risks of something to scare a child out of doing it only works until he can see for himself that it is not as bad as you say."
    -I was under the impression that a lot of parents who home educate are not doing it to make their kids scare of Government Schooling, but because they have thought about it, they measured the pros and cons and made the wisest decision for their family. Statistics back me up on this. So why would a child in that home think that schooling is something to fear? Seems to me a child in that home is learning through their parent's example about convictions and bold decisions.

    you wrote, "that only works until he can see for himself that is not as bad as you say."
    - What are you assuming the parent is saying that is not as "bad" as they say? Are you advocating for parents to not say anything negative, no matter how accurate about government schooling? Is that what you consider, 'bad'? The distinction a parent draws by simply living life and making decisions for his or her family?

    "The first sentence of the statement says that kids will eventually start assessing risks of things for themselves, and will realize if you have been exaggerating. Do you disagree?"

    -what risks? what exaggerations? There is a universe of nuance here, depending on a myriad of factors, so please explain before you ask me to agree or disagree with you.

    "The best way to keep a child safe from the risks of driving a car would be to never allow your child to ride in one, or go near one. Would you agree?"

    -No, I would not agree. That's some conclusion you drew which I do not really understand how you arrived at. I believe in being responsible and wearing a seat belt, not in being fearful. Especially to the point of psychological paralysis, so no, I don't agree.

    "However, it is not only not realistic, it would also be very limiting to do that to a child. Similarly, yes, the best way to keep a child safe from hazards of school would be to keep him out forever. That is great if he agrees that he wants to stay out. But if he asks to go, then you have an entirely different situation."

    Driving is something that you do to get around. It's a sign of becoming an adult, more independent, more responsible and enjoying your and freedom. I don't see the correlation with Government Schooling.

    You keep talking about "risks" she might face in school. Can you please clarify what you mean by "risks"? what are they? what do they look like? Also, what qualifies as an "exaggeration" vs a fact?
    Thanks

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  12. @Desiree,

    The most important words in the statement you just quoted are "...he might feel like..."

    This was not my opinion of anyone. I wasn't talking about anyone purposefully keeping a child out of school for those reasons. I was saying a child might *think* that if his parents won't let him go to school if he wants to.

    "Also, what do you mean by '98% of the population can handle school'"

    I meant this as coming from a homeschooled child's point of view. He might look around and see that most people make it through school. And he might be curious about something that 98% of people are doing and he isn't. Again, "might"...

    As homeschooling parents, some of us may never have to deal with this issue. Some kids will be perfectly happy never trying school. But I am saying that if my kids do want to try, I will let them.

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  13. @Christa and Jessica, Thanks so much for your comments and support. I am very passionate about the topic of education. I want to acknowledge that public schools are in desperate need of major changes, and I love to talk about constructive ways to fix it for the kids who don't have a choice. Meanwhile, I am happy to be able and willing to give my children the choice, and support them in whatever they do decide.

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  14. @Desiree,

    Maybe this is true for many homeschooling families: "because they have thought about it, they measured the pros and cons and made the wisest decision for their family."

    But maybe that is why we are not seeing eye-to-eye. I did not weigh the pros and cons of school. I have one reason not to force my kids to go school: it is not necessary right now. I would only need one reason to let them attend school: if they wanted to.

    It's all about their wishes and desires. For now, *my kids* are happy at home. They may not always be. They may want to try school. Then they will get to try school.

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  15. Ahhh... I understand Vickie :) so you have not chosen to Home Educate. The posts makes complete sense now. Thanks for explaining.

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  17. @Desiree, That is correct. I have not chosen Compulsory Home Education. I respect my child's choices. If they choose school, it might be for a day or a week or three years. Nothing will be compulsory. It's the compulsory part I am against.

    I listened to the radio show this morning, and I was disappointed to hear you and Laurette twisting my words. I don't think people choose against school out of fear, I do think that children of home educators MIGHT get this impression if school is a forbidden thing. That is what I said in the above post.

    What are the risks of school? You tell me. You and Laurette are the ones who compare a child wanting to try school with "wanting to survive a plane crash."

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