Monday, June 27, 2016

How the System Failed My Son: Part Five -- The Horse He Rode In On

[Seriously, you need to go back and read the other parts of this before reading this one. There's no recap, just full speed ahead.]

This is the period full of second guessing for us. Middle school was... Well, it was problematic, to say the least. Homework was a nightmare. We quit being able to do anything as a family, because my son would spend all night, every night, doing homework. There was never time left for anything else.

Sure, some of it was his fault. He did have the ability to work faster but, from his perspective, why was he even having to do it at all? I can't even think of a good analogy for this, because, other than school, there is no part of life that requires this kind of thing. Which is not to say that there aren't some jobs which require you to take your work home with you, but those are by choice. I mean, you choose those jobs, and you can un-choose them if you want to. School isn't like that.

Look, it was kind of like this:
It was like having to drag your horse to water because it refused to walk there. Once there, you had to force its head under to make it drink but, instead of drinking the water, it would just hold its breath until it couldn't, at which point it would breathe in a bunch of the water, so you had to pump its chest and do CPR just before holding its head under again.
Oh, wait, this sounds like some torture technique...
And that's what it was, familial torture.

It was at this point we were just trying to power through middle school with the hopes that high school would be better.

Let me back up a moment:
For one thing, middle school is miserable for virtually everyone. I hated middle school. I mean, I loathed middle school. Not that my parents ever knew. My mom, despite how many times I've told her to the contrary, is still under the illusion that I loved middle school. But high school, which I had dreaded, once I acclimated to it, was pretty great. Okay, well, it was pretty okay. I mostly enjoyed high school.

We had had issues with his older brother in middle school; not the same kinds of issues, but we'd still had issues. When he got to high school, everything had turned around for him, and he loved high school

This may have been part of the issue that was created...

For years, Phillip had wanted to go to Tech High, a local area high school that specialized in math and, you guessed it, technology. Phillip really likes to build things, and they have a robotics program. It seemed like a good fit. He even applied there and was accepted. (You have to be ahead of the curve to get into that school, and Phillip was certainly that, being two years ahead in math when he got out of middle school (if you count the year he skipped, he was actually three years ahead).)

But, see, math... We had been struggling with him over his math homework constantly, and we couldn't see how it would be better if he went to a high school centered around math.

The thing that had turned everything around for his brother had been drama and choir, and, as I mentioned last post, Phillip developed a real love for acting and, specifically, musical theater during middle school, and he had decided that he wanted to follow in his brother's footsteps and go into the same program his brother had been through.

Trying to find the thing that Phillip would enjoy and give him some joy in school again, we let him make the decision. There was some ambivalence on his part because he had wanted to go to Tech High for years but, when he went to shadow there (if you don't know what that is, ask in the comments), it was a horrible experience where he was pretty much just left to sit alone for hours while the students worked on some project on their computers. He did get accepted there, but he chose the arts program and to go do drama. His shadowing experience there had been very positive considering everyone knew his brother and welcomed him right away.

He's really good, by the way. A natural actor and able to do character parts really well. He also has a great ear and voice. Basically, he's a natural.

So we made it through middle school, got him into the high school he wanted to go to, and we held our breaths. Just like that horse with its head being held under the surface of the lake.


  1. Shame you couldn't home school him when he was younger or send him to a private school. We never had kids, but my wife and I both agreed not a chance would our kid go to public school.

    1. Alex: I don't believe in homeschooling as an option. Part of school is socialization, and you can't get that from keeping your kid isolated.

  2. Okay. I'm waiting for the horse to come up to gasp for breath.


  3. I don't remember middle school being all that bad when I was going, but I guess a lot has to do with the school, the teacher, and maybe the times--this was in the mid-60's.

    My son had a rough time with middle school, but he had a tough time with a lot of stuff though I don't blame it on schools. That's another story for another time.

    On the other hand my daughters were in middle school during the 90's in the Los Angeles area. I was a single father working a lot so I couldn't help them with their homework as much as I would have liked. I remember being annoyed about all the homework they had and things I couldn't help them with, but they seemed to manage well and get through the schooling and they actually even seemed to enjoy it all.

    Maybe some of the problems have to do with girls vs boys. It seemed like all of my daughters' girlfriends all did well in school--that could have had some influence on my daughters as well. Then maybe it was partly the nature of the school and some very good teachers. I don't know--I don't take much credit other than my encouragement which I know helps--but my girls managed well and I have few complaints about their schooling.

    But every situation is different. I've heard parents with stories similar to the ones you're relating.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    1. Lee: Part (maybe most) of the problem with middle school is that it is completely redundant. Because we know that adolescence is actually a horrible time for learning (due to chemical changes in the brain, etc), middle school is one part (or perhaps two) review of everything you should have learned and one part prep for what you will be learning. It is the most wasteful waste of time of all of school.

    2. I think things have been far different in the past couple of decades than when I was in middle school. Now elementary school is so pressured with learning things sooner. Kindergartners now are reading and learning math functions where I was learning how to tie my shoe, coloring pictures, and playing games. When I started middle school there was a rapid learning curve at play were I was getting exposed to many new concepts in all subjects. I don't remember much repetition at all. Our educational system is expecting too much from kids too quickly and I think this becomes oppressive to students creating resentment and rebelliousness.


    3. Lee: I'm positive that it's not about expecting too much too quickly. You should expect much from a kindergartener. They should be reading and doing math and, even, learning a foreign language, in most cases Spanish. What the system needs to be able to do after kindergarten, though, is to be able to adapt to the individual child instead of sticking them in arbitrary age boxes.

  4. That analogy seems apt.

    I think really the problem is "the system." There has to be a system for anything that has to work in large numbers and apply to many different people. For most people things are within their tolerance and it'll be fine: some people are smarter than others but as long as they're not too far out of the median they'll cope.

    People that are outliers need someone to adapt to them, and they need to get help adapting. That's where the 'system' falls short: we don't build in something to deal with the new problem. When your computer gets a file type it doesn't recognize, it says "Do you want to search for a program to help for this." We program that in.

    But when 'the system' (school, health care, whatever) gets something it doesn't recognize, we keep telling them to just get along. It'd be like if you kept telling your computer "NO! USE WORD!"

    1. Briane: The system is the problem. And it's worse than telling your computer to just use word; it's like telling your computer to use word as it existed in the 80s.

  5. That's cool that he's gotten into something artsy via acting. Not that there's anything wrong with math and robotics, but yeah, I imagine that Tech High wasn't so much hands-on labs and building things so much as math galore and books and studying what goes into robotics.

    In a small way, it reminds me of getting my bachelor's degree in IT. The first year was spent almost entirely on useless math (when would I ever use calculus as an IT guy?), the second year was spent on the theories behind how computers worked, the third year was learning how networks worked, and the fourth year we learned how hackers got into networks. Maybe 5% of that was hands-on. The rest was just reading about it. Writing about it.

    And no, I didn't learn a single thing there. I just needed the piece of paper to get a job. Everything else I either learned on my own or just Googled (seriously, that's all you need to be an IT guy, and any IT guy who says he's never just Googled something to solve a problem is a liar).

    The point: I stuck through that for the diploma, but I never would have gone through that just because I had a love of computers. Every moment of it was miserable.

    1. ABftS: It seems that they might actually do quite a bit of hands-on stuff at Tech High. I say that as a complete outsider, though. What I know is that they actually do use computers A LOT, not just learn about computers as it was when I was required to take computers in high school. And I do think they do actual robotics projects. However, I have no practical experience with what goes on there.

      My kid is pretty good at Googling. Better than me at this point, I'm sure.

  6. "Middle school is miserable for virtually everyone." I've literally never felt more agreement for a sentence. And if middle school is so miserable, then honestly, it isn't working right. The homework is basically busywork for kids like your son, and for others it's something they can't figure out without help from an adult. Oh, and it's also practice for all the state tests they have to take. That too.

    I'm glad high school was better for your son. No wonder he went for theatre and drama--it actually engaged him.

    1. Jeanne: High school was only better for my older son. I haven't gotten to the part with high school with my younger son, the subject of all of this.

  7. I was so happy that my children were out of school before the California "teaching to the test really fired up. The government, politics, and the teachers union just really destroyed the learning process.
    I have seen with one of my own sons some of the same problems your son had but our luck was a small school district. But I could see it change with the grasp for power and politics.

    cheers, parsnip and thehamish

    1. parsnip: It's not just California. It's everywhere.

    2. Unfortunately true but this was many years ago before the hell that is the school system of today.