Last Summer, our daughter made the decision to give public school a try this year. By December she’d decided that next year she wants to come back home. “They aren’t teaching me anything so that I can learn,” she complained. “They just stuff information into my head as fast as they can so that I can pass a test and then we move on to the next thing for me to memorize. I can tell you facts, but no one teaches me the reasons behind them.”
I’m amazed at the reactions of the people we’ve told. They all agree with her assessments of the problems with a school system that is focused on test scores instead of understanding, and yet they are surprised that she would want something more.
“What about the social benefits?” They ask us, as though there are no comparable benefits to schooling at home, or that socialization were something we’d never considered before this moment. There may not be hallway traffic jams or standardized testing at home, but I think she’s going to do alright.
“Even if you’re not going to be at high school next year,” she’s heard people say, “at least you got to spend one year in the real world.” As though the eighth grade in a middle to upper middle class Texas suburb is somehow the real world, or that Ella was only just now getting to see it.
What they meant was “you got to spend a year seeing what my life is like,” and it is an experience that we’re glad she was able to have. She’s done well academically, and done as well in the shark tank of 8th grade girl-dom as anyone could have done. She isn’t choosing something else because she’s failing at traditional school, but because she knows how much of “real life” she’s missing when she’s sitting in a classroom.
While the friends she loves are living their real world of lunch room politics, standardized testing, learning that’s limited by the number of minutes between bells, cool kids and losers, and all the social pressures that come with traditional schooling. She hungers to return to living in the wider world. Because the girl who travels the country for competitions, hangs out with homeless skaters at Venice Beach, volunteers at the rehab hospital to meet with children who are newly in a chair, is as comfortable discussing catheters and prosthetics as she is movies and tv shows, and has learned to reinvent not just herself but her whole life, lived a whole lot of “real world” before she ever rolled through a public school doorway.
This past Summer, I wasn’t unhappy at the idea that our family was transitioning away from educating our children at home. This Spring I learned that the only thing which could make me rethink that was my daughter’s search for something real – a real education, the real world, and her own real life.
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