Education, like many things in our society, has a one size fits all approach. Until middle school, children take the exact same curriculum and teachers expect similar results. The days start early, stay on schedule and kids are expected to be able to follow directions to the letter. Even when kids are allowed to direct their path as teens, the requirements to graduate are exactly the same for every child. But here’s the thing. All kids are not the same. What do we do when the square peg won’t fit in the round hole?
My daughter hasn’t attended traditional school full-time since 8th grade. Why? Because it didn’t work. She suddenly became seriously ill and wasn’t able to keep up with the rigid schedule. While our high school attempted to accommodate her because school was important to her, it became clear this year that she would not be able to graduate with her class after missing a semester due to a lengthy hospitalization and only being able to attend part-time. So, she made the decision in October to withdraw and start studying for her GED so she could move on to college.
Her story is not uncommon. I speak with parents of chronically ill kids every day and it’s a struggle to figure out how to navigate the school system. It’s challenging to get their kids to school, keep up with the work and get good grades. The biggest challenge? Getting administrators and teachers to understand how to work with a child on a 504 so it’s manageable for everyone. Honestly, high school with a chronically ill teen is a constant battle and my daughter was blessed that I could work from home so we could attempt to keep her there as long as possible. Not everyone has that luxury.
When the square peg won’t fit in the round hole
The American school system is broken and it’s not only failing the sick kids, it’s doing a disservice to lots of children. Unless you qualify for gifted classes or an IEP, there is absolutely no difference in the education experience. This means that if you don’t think linearly or can’t learn well in a structured environment, you don’t succeed. It also means if you are brighter than normal, you wind up wasting countless hours of time on menial tasks. I started to see problems with our education system in grade school. We made the decision to not put our daughter in the Quest (gifted) program based on a recommendation by a teacher that socially, she needed to be mainstreamed. Sadly, we had to give her extra work all the way through grade school to keep her engaged. Luckily, her smarts worked in our favor when we took her out of school.
Traditional education is all about rote memorization and testing. It’s not really about learning. So, if you have a child that really wants to learn and not just study a bunch of facts to spit them back out on a test, the classroom may not be the best place. And, for some of these kids, taking notes off power points and watching movies isn’t the best way for them to digest information. It’s actually hurting their learning experience.
We figured out quickly in 8th grade that my daughter could learn more from the couch than she ever could in the classroom. After a failed attempt at online school, we had to self-direct a curriculum for her that would keep her engaged. There are lots of online resources, Khan Academy being one of our favorite. There’s a plethora of educational videos out there too. And, if you’re creative, all of this can be tied in to real world experiences to continue the learning process. Baking a cake is cooking class. Working with pastels is art.
Many kids actually learn better with flexibility and if they can do it at their own pace, it’s a bonus. This goes against everything we’re told is the “right way” to learn at school where everyone learns the same things at the same pace and then fills in little bubbles on a sheet with a #2 pencil. The “right way” to learn is to follow directions, do the assignments on time and in order and to not challenge the system. For some kids, it just doesn’t work.
Most people will think that high school didn’t work out for us because my teen was sick and it was hard to get there and keep up and yes, that was part of it. In reality, she was pretty far ahead of where she needed to be in core classes because of the way she learned. If she wanted to understand a surgery on TV, she’d research it and teach herself the science. So, learning the Biology curriculum taught online was boring for her. Same thing with math. When she made the decision to withdraw, I didn’t challenge the decision at all. It was best for her health and her education.
The month after Rosie dropped out of high school (because that’s what people will say, right?), she learned more than she ever would have in the classroom. She started a charity. Learned how to open a bank account, read the statement and budget; real life skills that you need. She taught herself how to create a Google form and researched groups to promote her Joy Boxes. She secured her own donations. Essentially, my teenager learned how to run a small business. Would she have learned this in school? The answer is no.