From No School to High School

Last Thursday, Riley decided to go to high school after eight years of no school. Friday morning he was enrolled as a Junior.  Today he is five days in and already full of stories.

Yesterday, he had his first test, an English Lit III vocabulary test.  Only two people aced it, Riley and another guy.  The other half of the class failed.  In fact, one very hot girl (according to Riley), got two out of 25 correct.  Ouch!  Riley had the pleasure to grade her test.  The thing is this was not a pop quiz.  The kids were given the vocabulary words last week and the teacher explained the exact format of the test. It was matching and fill in the blank, 2nd grade format, 11th grade vocabulary. 

Riley was truly shocked.  He had learned while taking classes at the local college, that if you show up for class, listen, take notes, do your homework, and review for the test, you can get an “A” (unless you have a learning disability of some sort).  He said, “It seems a lot of the kids just don’t care”.  The hot girl simply laughed when he gave her her test back. 

What is going on?  What happened to half the class? 

There is a documentary called “Race to Nowhere” that tries to explain just this.  The filmmaker, Vicki Abeles, shows the pressures faced by our school children in America today.  “Race to Nowhere” depicts how many students are burned out, stressed-out, disengaged, depressed, and not prepared or inspired for college or the workplace.

I saw this coming when Riley was very young.  After being in school for a few years I noticed that Riley’s natural curiosity, imagination, and love for learning slowly began to deteriorate.  Learning became a task, something he had to do instead of wanting to do.  It is ironic however, that he was earning straight A’s, was well behaved and was considered a very good student.  It did not feel right to me.  Were straight A’s and good behavior worth losing his imagination, natural curiosity and spunk? I don’t think so.  So I took him out of school and began our journey into unschooling.  Honestly, it was the best decision of my life. 

Riley got his spunk back and then some.  He is a creative, bright, intelligent, able, thinking 17 year old.  I know it is such an incongruity in many people’s minds, but no school has prepared him for high school. He is not burned out, he is excited to learn, very engaged and looking forward to his future.  It seems you can take the kid out of unschooling, but you can never take unschooling out of the kid. 

Thank goodness some kids get through school unscathed, but for the rest of them I am truly concerned.  These kids are our future.  I was able to save Riley, but what about the other half of the class?

Link to “Race to Nowhere” trailer:

8 Responses to “From No School to High School”

  1. clare Says:

    When Matthew took his AP literature exam in May he had to go all the way up to Seattle because no school (private or public) in Orange county would make room for him. We found a christian academy that was very welcoming. What shocked Matthew was what the kids did when they were allowed to start the exam. Half of them put their heads on the desk and went to sleep! This was a private school where parents were paying money and an exam for which parents had to pay a fee, and no doubt, prep courses, too. In a christian acadmy one would also think there was some kind of work ethic. When we see campaigns to have homeschoolers barred from national competitions like the Geography and Spelling Bees because they have an advantage, I think the advantage is that they haven’t had the enthusiasm and drive drained out of them and they still have the sense that results take effort that is worth making.

  2. Raundi Says:

    Seriously Clare? There are campaigns to have homeschoolers barred from Spelling and Geography competitions? Wow, that is almost comical.

    I had a very similar experience with my children. I pulled Savanah out for the exact reason you pulled Riley out. Deanne, thank you for sharing this. Great job!!!

    Could this be more than just burnout though? I think in some cases kids think “apathy” is cool. Caring about grades when none of your friends do can be pretty gutsy. It can make you an outcast depending on who your friends are. There seems to is no glory in being a “B” or a “B+” student. Probably feels like lot of hard work for nothing. Caring about grades is giving into the system. Failing can be another way to rebel. Some kids play the game so well that they know how to be a “screw-up” all year and still pull out a C+. Many will say, “Who cares, I’m going to Junior College anyway. Grades don’t matter”. I know these kids are not dumb, but many may not see any advantage to doing well. “Almost failing” is one great way to stick it to parents, teachers, the school, the district…everyone who makes life feel like hell.

    Earlier his week I had the interesting opportunity to talk to a 16 year old girl about her school and family. She was doing everything she could to rebel against the authorities in her life. And it seemed that the parents and the school were doing everything they could to exacerbate the situation. The climate of animosity was so thick I could barely breath as she shared her story with me. It was pretty sad to hear.

    On another note, I think teachers are even more burned-out than kids.

  3. Raundi Says:

    Oh and…Way to go Riley! I am so happy for you: )

  4. clare Says:

    Raundi I think you have such a valid point. I think there IS a feeling that failing on purpose is cooler than not quite being good enough. “You mean you studied and all you could pull off was a B?” The hot girl in Riley’s class who laughed at her result probably hoped it looked more appealing than mediocrity. I think it is also the drive behind the mutilating piercings and uglification among teens. There is a sense that if they fall short of the portrayed ideals of beauty they are going to make it look as though they MEANT to be unlovely on purpose.

    Getting back to the original post, it certainly makes you wonder how different it might be if all kids were schooled at home until their mid teens. It used to be that children went to University when they were about 15 years old. No educational shakeups have ever considered such revolutionary changes. I also think everyone should start out at community college before venturing out to 4 year colleges all burned out straight from school.

    Isn’t it sad that parents and schools are seen as authorities to be rebelled against rather than as co-learners and guides. Why is learning something to be endured rather than to be enjoyed? Why are children not feeling excited about their future plans for their lives? Why are they not seeing the two as related? If the the only reward their schools can offer for achievement is a dorky bumper sticker maybe it’s not worth getting more than 2 out of 25. But maybe if the class activity was more than just second grade vocabulary activities they might all come alive and hot girl might find she’s a fabulous actress. If you haven’t seen “The Hobart Shakespeareans” you will be totally inspired. You can get it on Netflix.

  5. Mom Says:

    Gosh it is so difficult for me to explain what my experience in school was. It wasn’t good! I was always made to feel that I was deficient. The teacher, Nun, always made me feel STUPID! I had such a fear to raise my hand in fear that I would be wrong that I was afraid to raise my hand even when I knew I was correct.!! When “The yes Mom” said she was going to home school I didn’t know what to think, my daughter knew! I guess what I am trying to say is that I am sooooooo proud of “the yes mom” my daughter, that I wanted to share that with everyone. Go baby, you are the most amazing person I have ever known.

  6. Mom Says:

    I forgot to add so are my grandchildren.

  7. Heather Says:

    Congrats Riley! I enjoyed your post about his “high school experience.” I am not surprised in the least that he is ready and enthused for learning. As a teacher, and we’ve talked about this, I fully respect your decision to pull the kids out of the “system.” I started as a montessori teacher (but couldn’t make a living), so I went the public route (BIG difference – more paperwork than you can IMAGINE). Not only does it suck the imagination out of the kids, it strangles any creativity from the teachers. We are treated like bottom dwellers that carry out the tasks of whatever whim the district/state puts upon us. Sadly the system is very broken and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. I have been in public for 14 years and see each year the amount of pressure put on first graders, and now I’ve switched to middle school, and they could care LESS about any sort of vocab. words. I work in a low socioeconomic area where going to jail is not the worst option – try to compete with that apathy. I am also strapped to a pacing guide where I have administrators walking through rooms to check if you are on a certain page, have the objectives and standards on the board with a proving behavior that all kids should master by the end of that period. Certain things need to be posted on the walls on specific days and there are endless meetings with endless amounts of paper trails of “how you are meeting each students’ need” with everything BUT spontaneity, zest etc…yet, I try and try again because I know I can reach some – even if it is one or two, I can make a difference in their life. I try to make it interesting, but it is the most challenging task I’ve ever done, to make something interesting that has been seemingly blatantly blanded down to almost be inaccessible. Information is power, but failure and pressure linger completely amidst public campuses and the life of zestful educators is squelched by performance scores, papertrails, data analysis, and patrols. No wonder you pulled your kids out. I don’t know what the answer is. I still try. My students love blood and gore in middle school, so instead of the Walt Whitman poem I was required to read, I introduced them to Seamus Heaney and we read about Bog people to peak their interest. I am two days behind on my pacing guide and haven’t started my writing assignment that needs to be posted in 2 weeks, but I want them to grasp a concept and feel successful…the sad part is so many don’t care, but for every few that don’t care, there are those that do and have no access to this at home, so I pull for them, in hopes that they will make it to college and not to jail. Riley and your other children were very lucky to have a mom like you to recognize the strangulation of imagination. I wish many other parents cared like you do. All the best to Riley. Maybe he can be the ripple of hope in his class and ignite some fire!

  8. clare Says:

    And I want to add that we can already see the impact of our own incredible Moms on OUR ability to step out bravely into unconventional territory. My Mom telling me that she thought I would be very good at homeschooling was an incredible boost. Our children seeing the confirmation given us by our own moms, and our own strength resulting from that belief , enable us to do what we have done to give our children guts, creativity and boundary bending confidence. I hope they all see, too, that in our total dedication to their lives, we have not subverted our own growth, but enhanced it. This is a “No Moms Left Behind” concept of education.

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