by Cassi Clausen, Open School staff
March 15, 2021
Like millions of parents in this last year, you may have suddenly been plunged into the role of a homeschooling administrator, without any other choice. You didn’t ask for it, and you didn’t want it. But suddenly you were setting your day around your child’s Zoom calls or becoming an expert on Google classroom. And in the middle of this, you got a rare glimpse into something that may have been obscured from you before: what your child is subject to at school all day.
If you are questioning the validity of the curriculum in your child’s class, or the efficacy of rewards and punishments as a way to coerce learning, you are not alone. This year has been a wake up call for families across the country and even the world. Many of them are talking to our school and other learner-centered communities about their concerns for the first time.
A few days ago I had the privilege of speaking with some of these parents. Mom and dad both have backgrounds in the conventional school system and their oldest child has been attending the public school for three years. What they witnessed this year was striking, and completely spun their view of schooling around in a way that would not have been likely to happen without the pandemic.
I’ll let their words speak for themselves. Below, with their permission, is a summary of what they told me:
“Our son is creative and determined. He has a few things he loves to do, and really isn’t interested in following the expectations of others. We knew this about him, and it’s something that teachers have identified as problematic since starting kindergarten. This year, as a 2nd grader navigating homeschooling, he has blown us away. During his non-school time, he would build things and ask deep questions and read books and watch videos about incredibly complicated concepts. He’s not yet eight years old and has initiated conversations about politics, engineering, science, civil rights, and lots of other things. He is often the one to teach us about things he has learned.
“But what happens is that he will be in the middle of an incredible Lego project and it’s school time. We then have to pull him away from this cool thing he is working on where he is learning engineering concepts, determination, planning ahead, and is doing something he is proud of, to put him on a computer where he sits staring at a Zoom screen for hours, completing worksheet after worksheet. The information they are trying to teach him has no meaning for him. He’s not engaged. The class interrupts his learning.
“We could assume that it’s the fault of the distance learning, but we see it differently. We see how much our son pursues knowledge on his own, and when the school tries to impart what they find important, it just washes over him and essentially steals the time he would be using for something he actually wants to learn. And now the school has been pushing for him to get an IEP because he’s not fitting into their mold or meeting arbitrary expectations of where he “should” be.
“We realized that the only way our child would survive intact in the public school system was if we advocated for him every step of the way to make sure he had a teacher who ‘got’ him and appreciates his strengths. We would have to be incredibly lucky for him to have a supportive teacher every year of school. It feels like playing the lottery with our child’s happiness.
“This year was our ‘aha’ moment. We saw up close what coercive learning was doing to our son, and so we aren’t sending him back there. We want him to be in a place where who he is valued and what he finds important is supported. We want him to be able to learn at his own pace and for his curious and creative spirit to be nurtured, rather than extinguished.”
Does this sound familiar to you? Has your child’s interests flourished this year? And were those interests valued and supported by their school?
If the place where your child will spend a majority of their waking hours doesn’t value them and their interests, why would you send them back there?
You have options. First, look into self-directed democratic programs that might be near you. These are schools that value your child for who they are, respect their basic human rights, and give them true agency over their school. Here’s a list of schools like The Open School and where they are in the world.
If you don’t happen to be lucky enough to live near one of these schools, The Open School offers a unique virtual program. Instead of lectures over Zoom or curriculum that kids have to work through on their own, our Virtual Program is an engaged community of kids and staff who collaborate to plan and host activities that span the spectrum of content. There are no limits to what these activities can be, from cooking together, to virtual museum tours, to topical workshops, to gaming, to art collaboratives, to watch parties, and on and on. All of the activities come from the interests of the students. Additionally, the school is run democratically and all of the students are part of making the rules, planning the schedule, budgeting, and even hiring staff.
Before you follow the instructions from your current conventional school to put your child back into an environment that tells them who to be, consider your options. They are out there.