My wife and I decided a couple of weeks ago to withdraw our son from our local community school and homeschool him. We realized that the constraints on the school, and the choices made at the school were going to prevent him from getting the exercise, play, and intellectual stimulation he needs to remain healthy in body and mind.
We were required to send a letter to the superintendent of the school district as the first step of our legal requirements in NY state in order to homeschool our son. Here is a copy of that letter (I have edited out the portions that identified which school and which teacher he had).
Dear [Name Withheld],
We are sending this letter of intent as required of Section 100.10 of the Regulations of the New York State Commissioner of Education. We intend to homeschool our son, who is in grade two, for the remainder of the 2013-2014 school year beginning immediately. We would like explain to you why we are making this decision.
We moved here recently from Vancouver, British Columbia, where our son attended a public Montessori school. In this school, our son learned self-regulation, and as such had tremendous control over what he learned, and when he learned it. The school day started with Tai Chi, and our son had a morning recess, a lunch recess, and physical education every day. It was never difficult to get him to school, as he loved going to school.
This is not the situation this year. We are finding it much more difficult to motivate our son to wake up and get ready for school. Instead of telling us how much fun he had and how much he learned at school, we have to struggle to pull out of him what happened each day at school.
This is not because of our son’s current teacher. She is a caring, hard-working, and thoughtful person. We have no complaint with her character or her ability to teach.
We are concerned about the prescribed teaching method our teacher has been asked to use, specifically the excessive test preparation. We could easily offer this type of education ourselves after a trip to the local education supply shop. What then is the benefit of sending him to school? What the children need is to interact with each other and have at least some time to make their own discoveries which requires independent time and exploratory activities within the classroom.
Our son’s school does not offer a morning recess. At lunch time, unless they are participating in one of the supervised events occasionally run by staff, the children at my son’s school cannot run around. My son only has physical education once a week during which he has so far learned how to walk around a gym. Fortunately my son does have one dance class and one art class each week, but overall, he does not receive sufficient physical activity through school to keep him healthy and to help him focus.
We believe that children need these essential elements in order to become healthy adults; creativity, play, intellectual stimulation, exercise, and opportunities to collaborate with and learn from their peers. None of these elements is present in at my son’s current school in a sufficient degree. We can see that the school is fighting a losing battle to maintain some physical activity and art, and from the research we have done, these are often lacking in many of the public schools in New York City.
My son recently told us that his current school is the “No fun school” but that he is “learning to adjust to it”. Our fear is that in an effort to make school more academically rigorous, many of the things that make school worth attending are being removed.
The definition of rigorous, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is:
very strict and demanding
done carefully and with a lot of attention to detail
difficult to endure because of extreme conditions
With the exception of the attention to detail, we do not believe that these things should be applied to school, particularly not school for children ages 5 to 11. Our son’s current school is teaching children that learning is a chore to be done, and not something to enjoy and to love.
We understand that relatively recent legislation in New York State, where teachers and principals are judged based largely on the test scores of their students, is to blame for this situation. This legislation seems like a gigantic experiment that lacks sufficient evidence to justify such a punitive policy and we see no reason to experiment with our son’s education in this way.
Instead of allowing our son’s school to drain the love of learning from our son, we are removing him from your school’s care.
David is a Formative Assessment Specialist for Mathematics at New Visions for Public Schools in NYC. He has been teaching since 2002, and has worked in Brooklyn, London, Bangkok, and Vancouver before moving back to the United States. He has his Masters degree in Educational Technology from UBC, and is the co-author of a mathematics textbook. He has been published in ISTE's Leading and Learning, Educational Technology Solutions, The Software Developers Journal, The Bangkok Post and Edutopia. He blogs with the Cooperative Catalyst, and is the Assessment group facilitator for Edutopia. He has also helped organize the first Edcamp in Canada, and TEDxKIDS@BC.