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We are homeschooling our son

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.

Sincerely,

David Wees
Vasilia Wees

About David

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.

Comments

Wow.  As a teacher in a Public School in Ontario, and as a father of two (Grade 2 and JK) I totally understand your decision.  Watching this "experiment" play out in full-force in many parts of the US, and to a much lesser extent north of the border, has me shaking my head.  What are they thinking?  Who thought this was the way to go? Where did this "data-driven" madness come from?  When will it end?  
Or is this the future?  Those that can afford it will send their kids to private schools.  Or home school.  Those that can't will be forced through this thoughtless, mindless, machine?  And for what purpose?
Hopefully, the failure of the "reform" movement to have any positive impact on their own measures of what constitutes learning (standardized test scores) will soon catch up to them and they will lose their credibility.  Or they will continue to find scapegoats until they realize that true evidence of learning can only be captured in the mind of child -- not on a piece of paper, or a test score, or a data set.
 
 

 http://ow.ly/qcAeT  and http://ow.ly/qcAfy two good books, your kid is younger, but still god to start at end.

Sorry to hear the school didn't work out. Unsurprising given your previous blogging on this topic. Good luck, David, and kudos to you for figuring out a way to serve your son's needs!

David,
I'm sorry that it came to this, but it seems like the right decision, given the circumstances. Woe to those parents who do not have the means to find alternatives to the testing madness. Maybe there will come a day when parents and teachers will take schools away from politicians and make them places for real learning.

This started to make me ill as I read it. I hate what is happening in so many schools, yet feel powerless to stop it.

I think that it is wonderful that you are able to do this for your son. I hope the superintendent takes your letter to heart. But he probably won't. I hope your letter would make a small dent in the armor of anyone able to make changes. But again, it probably won't.

But you're making change. You are changing something that you do have control over. I applaud you for that. I can't help but wonder what would happen if the majority decied to home school…

@newfirewithin

You've experienced educational culture shock! I walked in your shoes and now homeschool my daughter. I taught in private school until my position was eliminated and had 100% freedom and control over my curriculum, was encouraged to be innovative, cutting edge, teach to the whole child, and to emplore any teaching style I needed to ensure a positive, engaging, collaboritive and most of all positive environment. My daughter attended for 2 years. Then....came the only option, public school. I was a very active member and supporter of the school and of the classroom and I could not for the life of me connect the dots as to what was happening there. Where was the collaboration? Where was the positive environment? Where was the fun? What were their achievements? Was their no school pride? Where was the communication? Why did parents feel that they were guests? Where were the "best teaching methods" being used? I couldn't find any of it. Creativity isn't paint on paper or a few photos. A lunch break isn't eating in silence. And why do kids have to work for 4 hours before they get a lunch break only to not be allowed to talk? Where was the outdoor classroom? Where was nature? And why did they have to eat their snacks on the floor when they had desks? My heart broke and my eyes wept. I cried and cried and finally could not take it any longer....we started this homeschool journey. I support education 100% but not in the way it is being unfolded these days. Shame on those who are in positions to say NO. How the heck are they in these positions, didn't they study education? child psychology 101? human growth and development? I will continue to support those who attend as I do not know their reasons or story. But for me, I cannot sit back and allow others to dictate and control what savvy businessmen deem as education to my daughter. It is hard. It is a financial strain. It challenges my place as an individual a woman in our society but what I do know, this is the BEST decision for my daughter down the road. Good luck and you did make the right decision!!!

Hi David,
Very inspiring letter and blog post. My daughter just started kindergarden in September, and even though she says she like school, me and my wife are disappointed with what she does in class. There is a lot of "teaching" (letters and numbers) and not enough discovery, creativity and arts. This last item is the most frustrating for my wife, who is an artist by heart and know how beneficial it is for children. Our daughter art project so far are mostly "follow the dots" pictures and already made picture coloring. 
So my wife has decided to keep our daughter at home for at least one day a week to do all sort of thing with her and her younger brother. Unlike you, we can't afford to keep her full time at home and are reluctant to transfer her to a new school. So for now, it's the compromise we have.

Hi David!
Congratulations on your new gig!  Vancouver's loss!
Homeschooling is fantastic if you have the means to relax, create, and not worry about "meeting the curricullum".  Most of the courses we teach are so superficially "heavy" that the learning is lost through the whole process.
Play. Read. Create.  That should be the homeschooling motto!
Malcolm

Your letter was well-worded. I think it was especially important that you made sure the blame was not placed on the teacher. Most teachers love the kids and want what is best for them. I come from a family of teachers and it was difficult for me to make the decision to pull our son out of school when we first began. I didn't ever picture our family home schooling. I still believe that there are schools out there and teachers that are getting it right despite the trends in education. We need walk a fine line of supporting those schools and teachers and yet making the right choices for the kids for which we are responsible. We want to inspire a love for learning in our kids. I understand where you are coming from. I find it interesting that even though, as home schoolers, we are choosing to break away from traditional schooling, we still tend to wrestle with motivating our kids to learn. I wonder if it is because so many of us were taught in classroom settings. It can be difficult to think differently about teaching when we are sometimes not even sure where to start doing it differently or when we feel guilt if we do not fit societal norms for teaching.
I think a post I wrote on motivating our kids to learn fits with your sentiments: http://www.excuseourmess.com/the-homeschooling-hedonist-motivating-our-kids-to-learn/

David, thank you for sharing. Are you going to build coop or freeschool or serious clubs (robotics, Math Circle) opportunities?
Here are the concept maps my (unschooled) kid and I made for Peter Gray's "Free to learn": http://www.moebiusnoodles.com/2013/05/free-to-learn-peter-gray/ Peter's thoughts on play echo yours.

Glad to hear this Dave. I know it is a big decision, but seeing your previous blog on this topic, I knew you were never going to be happy with what was available at school for Thanasi. Time for a chat methinks, will call soon.
Thinking of you all, 
David

I am so sad to hear this situation has not improved. I read an earlier post from you and was really hoping the year would get better somehow.  Thank you for not blaming the teacher but it saddens me that as teachers we are not the ones driving the educational ship.  I am fortunate to teach where we are expected to teach the educational standards but have the freedom in how we do this.  Your child's previous teacher does not have this freedom. :(
One part of your post really struck me. Seeing the definition of rigirous in the light of how learning should look is  a little frightening.  Praying your child excells in his new learning environment.  Also praying that one day he can return to a different school with a different view point.  
Praying most of of all that the superintendent truly absorbs and applies your well written reasons to change things.
 

We home schooled our kids until they were well into their teens, and I think it worked out pretty well. At the time we started, over ten years ago, the issue was more that our oldest didn't seem temperamentally a good match for public school (as I wasn't). We were also concerned that our urban school district wasn't a healthy or entirely safe environment, but we didn't want to move to the suburbs. It seemed like kind of a crazy choice at first, since home schooling was then fairly new a option that had been pushed mostly by the religious right. I was pretty open to the idea because of my generally bad experiences in school, and my one year of experience with a “free school” in the 1970's, while my wife felt more backed into the decision. It grew on us over the years.
For the first few years we used the K12 online curriculum through a virtual charter school and felt bad about not getting through a lot of the material and about fabricating lots of “attendance records” required by the charter school. As we gained in confidence and got to know other “alternative” home schoolers, we switched to doing our own thing except for specific bits of curriculum we bought out of pocket. We really did not spend more than three hours a day in “lessons”. The rest of the kids time was free for play, reading or listening to audio books. We tried to find interesting books, field trips, and so on.
I think that our experience of home schooling radicalized (conservitized?) us in some ways, in that we became increasingly sympathetic to the idea that contemporary American culture is in many ways toxic to a healthy childhood. Whether you home-school or not, you do have to decide how much you're going to control what your children spend their time doing, and especially how much “screen time” you're going to allow. I think home schooling does make this somewhat easier, and our decision to strictly control screen time clearly did result in our kids spending a great deal of time engaging with literature, especially audio books. I also read out loud for hundreds of hours. This has definitely resulted in our kids having great verbal skills and imaginations, and a capability to patiently engage in literature that is often missing in kids who are used to nonstop video entertainment.
We had a social group of “alternative” home schoolers that gave our kids socialization opportunities. Home schoolers certainly end up socialized in different ways. Interestingly, it was more this perception that cemented our identity as home schoolers, than any perception that the experience was being educationally superior.
One of the first things we noticed is that strangers would frequently complement us on how well-behaved our children were. This surprised us because we had really not had much emphasis on enforcing proper behavior with our children, manners, thank you and so on, and we always had to work through a lot of attitude and opposition at home. But it's true that our kids weren't throwing tantrums, getting in fights, shouting, throwing food, whatever. Of course our kids temperament contributed, but other home schooling parents comment on this too. My guess is that:

  • You have a better working relationship with your kids because you work with them a lot,

  • Your kids may have better reserves of self-control because they haven't been wearing them out,

  • You kids are at home in the adult world because that's where they spend a lot of time, when you take them out on walks or field trips.

  • Your kids are just happier and better adjusted, so they aren't spraying their distress all over the place.

Home schoolers also interact much more positively with other children and other adults (which is 100% of the people in the world.) Home schoolers are used to engaging in conversations with adults and used to playing with other children of mixed ages. Same-age grouping may be somewhat convenient for teaching aimed at the average student, but it's pretty much a disaster socially. Same-age grouping pumps up competition and aggression, and deprives kids of the experiences of learning from older kids and engaging with younger kids at the level they're at. Same-age grouping also pumps whatever the characteristic developmental obsessions and fads there are in that particular age group, depriving them of any moderating larger social context.
Returning to the point of toxic influences, this school peer culture is somewhat toxic, just from its inherent social structure, even without considering any stresses imposed by the overt educational process.
I just asked my 17 year old son what he thought about home schooling. He said that:

  • “The biggest pro and con is that your child will not be a normal thinker. If you want your child to be an out of the box thinker, it's a pro.”

  • “If your child is shy, it can make it harder to make friends.”

  • “I'll probably home school my kids.”

  • “I don't think I would have read as much. Most of my friends don't read books except the ones they have to read for school. And mostly they only read the cliff notes.”

 

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