Monday, July 25, 2016

How the System Failed My Son: Part Eight -- Breaking Out

Yeah, yeah. Just go back and read. Or don't. But don't complain about not knowing what's going on if you don't. No, I'm not providing all the links, because you're all smart people and can find the posts.

In the end, we were left with only two options: continue as we had been doing, the equivalent of throwing ourselves and our son against a large brick wall and hoping to make a doorway, or find some other way, something that was non-system. We figured we'd been bruised up enough by the wall and would look for a way around.

As an aside:
California has what is called the CHSPE, the California High School Proficiency Exam; it is exactly what it sounds like. It is a test to see if you possess the minimum requirements that they expect you to gain in high school. Passing the test is the same as a high school diploma. The only problem is that you have to be 16 to take the test. We weren't looking at that as an option.

But let me tell you a little bit about the test so that you can understand the extent of what I'm talking about when I say that the system is broken.

The CHSPE covers only two subjects: English and math. There's no history. No science. No arts or physical education. If you only need English and math to "pass" high school, why do we require all of these other subjects as part of graduating? And the math is pretty basic, algebra and a small amount of geometry. Stuff my son completed in middle school. The English, also, is pretty basic. That this is all that is required to pass this test tends to affirm my assertion that high school is mostly a waste of time.


We began looking at alternatives, because homeschooling was not an option. Homeschooling, in the general sense of it, requires that you enter into a certified program which, essentially, means you will be doing all of the normal things you would be doing at school but you'd be doing them at home instead. It is the same kind of drudge work we were trying to bypass.

This is an important thing to take note of. The reason for this, which I learned by talking to a few people at our school board, is because if you are not in a certified homeschool course then you can't actually get credit for any of it if you ever decide to return to regular school. You would have to start back where you left off.

The thing we eventually hit upon was something called "unschooling." I'm not going to explain it; you can click the link if you want to know what it is. What I will say about it is that the main guy I spoke to at the school board, the guy who deals with homeschooling and related "alternative" schooling methods, strongly counselled against anything that wasn't a certified program, and unschooling is not. It's not even a "program."

So we were all prepared for that.

Somewhere in there we discovered, though, that there was an exception to the age qualification on taking the CHSPE. The student must be 16 years of age OR must have completed 10th grade. So, well, my son has completed 10th grade. We signed him up to take the test.

I want to reiterate that he is 15 years old.

As I write this, he took the exam this past Saturday. His reaction to it was that it was easy. Granted, we don't know that he passed, but I'm going to operate under the assumption that he did (by the time this posts, we should have the results of the test). Which brings me back to the point of high school being mostly superfluous. Even within the parameters of the test for an average teenager, it is implied that a student should be able to pass the test by the time s/he has finished her/his sophomore year of high school, which is age 16 for most students.

Why, then, do we do high school at all?

Because it's tradition. And, sure, you could expound on all the conventional reasons for doing high school, but all of those come down to tradition. This is how it's done and, therefore, this is how you should do it. However, that's only true if you let it be true.

So we're proceeding, at the moment, with what is basically the unschooling path although we're also assuming that my son has passed high school. He is already hip deep in a (free online) Harvard programming course and having a lot of fun with that. At some point, probably sooner rather than later, we'll be looking into classes at the local community college for him.

All of which brings me to my point:
If my 15-year-old son can take and pass the CHSPE, then there's something very wrong with the system. That there were no avenues for him within the system shows that there is something wrong with the system. That there is this test and it is not presented as a viable option for every student shows that there is something wrong with the system. That the vast majority of what students are required to do in high school is considered nonessential by the state shows that there is something wrong with the system.

In fact, I would say that there is everything wrong with the system.

Right now, the plans for fixing the system mostly have to do with pumping money into it. And, while it's true that there are parts of the system that are in dire need of funds, that general response is about fixing the system by doing it harder. By banging yourself up against the wall over and over again hoping to break through. What we really need is a new system. We all need to be unschooled.

"Unlearn what you have learned."

[I also want to point out that everything with my son is better now. Since we decided back in January to explore other avenues for him, he has come back to himself. Rather than the constant battling over homework and the forcing him to buckle under and do what he "needs to do," we have our old, pleasant child back who is affectionate and jokey and fun to be with. We can do things as a family again. It is all well worth it.]

Update: We received the results of his test last week, and he passed. Not just passed; he totally aced the test. I want to point out, specifically, that he got a 5 on the essay part of the exam (the highest you can get on their 0 to 5 scale). I also want to reiterate that my son is 15. And, now, a high school graduate. So tell me again: What is the point of traditional high school?


  1. Those "proficiency" exams really are a joke huh? I remember in middle school the teachers would make such a huge deal out of the students having to pass the proficiency exams in each subject basically for the school's rating to be high. All of the kids I know would say the exams were so easy. I really have not noticed a difference in high school except with the AP classes.

    1. JKIR,F!: This isn't that kind of test, not exactly. And the real issue is not that the test is "so easy," it's that a significant proportion of students can't pass it, even at 17 or 18 after a full high school career.

  2. Most of what you learn in high school can't even be applied to the real world.
    Glad he passed and you don't have to deal with that mess.

    1. Alex: That is a definite problem in the school system at this point. I would go all the way to "almost none" of the required classes are applicable to life after high school.

  3. I had to take my son out of the public school system when he was in 8th grade because he was undiagnosed autistic and the refused to test him until the end of the year. This was at the beginning of the year. That was not good enough for me. We placed him in a homeschool program because he needed to learn those basics, got caught up and started 9 grade classes and finished them the same year. He was finally diagnosed last year. He just finished 10th but due to his learning problems in math we are going to work on getting his GED too. I just want to keep that love of learning that was almost killed by a school system that did not care going. The one thing I have learned is that once is pull your child out from the system, you don't want to put them back into it. Also they are required to test your child to see what grade they should be in, it doesn't have to be a certified course, but check state laws.

    1. Rebecca: Oh, he doesn't have to go back. He has now graduated. That's what this test was for. He got what is the equivalent of his diploma in the mail today.

      Part of the problem in a state like Louisiana, which is still in the bottom five of education, is that they don't have adequate systems in place to deal with special needs children.
      Not that I think that that would neccesarialy help, but it would be a start.

  4. It's good that your son is out. It sounds like he'll do a lot better out of school. So much of it just isn't relevant except to learn how to sit and do what you're told.

    1. Jeanne: Public school is mostly about learning compliance and how to live in your box.
      My family isn't very good at boxes.

  5. So much of this is true of what has happened right after all my children left the school system. Thank god !
    Right now today the Tucson School District the biggest one in Tucson has half of the 3rd grades not knowing the basic English to pass on to 4th grade. HALF OF THE 3rd GRADE ! They are now scrambling to get these kids ready for a test so they can go on . They are too busy being PC so the poor kids are the losers.
    I went to school Tucson received a great education, was accepted to several universities. We learned, english, reading, writing, history of the U.S. not just Mexico, government, language, art and music. Now kids go to school just for the free breakfasts, lunches, and in the above school district dropout at 15 like their hispanic parents from Mexico and start having babies. Getting free food stamps, health care, section 8 housing and aid to dependent children. This should not be a life choice.
    I do not care what Hillary said parents should be responsible for the child not just the village. Children here in Arizona are money for the mothers and votes for the DNC. Very few really care about what is being taught and or learned.
    We are teaching to the lowest denominator just try to get the very lowest basics. It is so sad, stupid and no matter what the PC say we need to have order, mamers and education.
    That is one reason why your son and some others said the tests were so easy they study, learn and have parents who care.

    Happy to hear your son is out of" package schooling" and on to something much better.

    cheers, parsnip and thehamish

    1. parsnip: I think you have a whole different post there.
      But, yes, it's good that he's out.

  6. The CHSPE sounds a bit like the SATs, or what the SATs were like before they added an essay in, I think, 2004. I don't know if they still have the essay. I'm glad you're working out an educational program for your son--something the school district should supply but won't because they're too busy with the kids who are illiterate, and besides, we hear all the time that our kids are not as intelligent as we think they are. We supposedly did all of our daughter's schoolwork for her. Heck, I even went to Berkeley and got her Ph.D. in math. What a commute! In your son's case, yes, high school is a waste of time. It wasn't for my daughter, but only because she went to a prep school that could meet her needs. She had a scholarship because we couldn't afford the 30k+ tuition. She skipped the sophomore level honors math class and went on to the junior level. Her senior year, she was in a math class with three boys. Only four kids in the class, which is not something you're likely to find in a public school. Many teachers can't even teach at that level, but her school did not have a single teacher who majored in education. The teachers had Ph.Ds, or at least master's degrees. So high school was worthwhile for her. The school was more than willing to do what was necessary to give her the best possible education. She also lettered in two sports, which was good for her because she wasn't sporty. It helped her realize that she could do things she didn't think she could handle. In public school, she probably wouldn't have played any sports because she wasn't considered a team player. Her school also offered a lot of cool learning experiences, such as interesting people who came to the school to speak and to visit some of the classes. She was heavily involved in extra-curricular activities that she enjoyed, and they added to her background as she built on them in college. I'm sorry you've all been through such a mess. You might as well slam your head against a brick wall until you pass out instead of try to deal with the system. If my daughter hadn't gone to fancy schmancy high school, then those years would have been a waste of time for her, too. Instead, she met students from all over the world, and her intelligence was appreciated instead of reviled. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: For all of the complaining about children in the U.S. not receiving a good education, the majority of U.S. citizens hate people who are considered intellectuals. If your son is interested in continuing to learn computer programming, my boyfriend is a programmer. He said that MIT (I think it was MIT, but I can check to be sure if you're interested) offers a number of free programming classes that can lead to some certifications.


    1. Janie: Yeah, we have a very anti-intellectual/anti-science culture, right now, that's been largely fueled by the Republicans and big business and their whole "my opinion is as strong as your fact" attitude.

  7. This has to have been the county you're a part of, because when we lived in Marin County they allowed us independent homeschooling (everything home, no oversight [for better or worse], and then we took the GED/CHSPE and all was fine).

    And yeah, I graduated at 16 and had the same question: why go to high school for four if I can finish all I "need to know" in two?

    1. Alex H: Well, no, he -could- have done completely independent homeschooling; they just really don't like that and, if for some reason a student needs to re-enter public school after being homeschooled in that way, they put them back to the place where they left public school. It's kind of messed up.

  8. That's great for your son. I figured as I read the post that he'd pass.

    Any system can only be fixed by taking it apart and starting over from scratch. You look at each step and think "why do we do this," and ask what the goal of the system is.

    I don't think anyone ever asked what the goal of schooling is. Middle is going back to school, because she wants to go to law school. She asked what she should study and I said she had two goals. First, she needed a major that would get her into law school. That's goal 1. Second, she should look for something that either helps her pass (an easy subject she likes) or which would be beneficial in the future (like business or marketing, which lawyers don't get taught.)

    She decided on business marketing, I believe.

    The 'goal' of school so far as I can tell is to warehouse kids until they are 18. I think they do it a bit differently in Europe but in America schools aren't really good for very much.

    1. Briane: Originally, public schooling was about acquiring a more educated work force, which was needed as industrialization increased. That was the direct cause of the public school system, the need for factory workers who could read and do basic math.

      Of course, that need has faded dramatically and the need, now, is for college educated workers. Rather than making that free, though, we've bought into the idea that everything needs to itself be a money producing system, thereby making it more difficult to get the needed workers and sending more and more labor markets into areas where those people are more readily available.

  9. Cheers to your son passing with flying colors! I figured he would, even before I got to the bottom. And as you and everyone else said here, yes, high school really has no point. Even when I was in high school, I don't feel that I learned anything that was useful to me as an adult. In fact, in our high school, this reminds me; they had a 'credit' system, and you just had to get a certain amount of credits to pass. They were accounting for the stupid children or those who just didn't give a crap, so the amount of credits you needed to pass was not nearly as high as the amount of total credits offered if you took every single class up till graduation.

    So if you got the required amount of credits to graduate, you could either take honors classes or have a rest period and just not take a class at all. My senior year I took about 1-2 classes per day, all year. I woke up at 10, went to a class or 2, and then left around lunch time. There really was no reason why I couldn't have just graduated at 17 instead of getting those last few credits, and I learned absolutely nothing, but I had to follow the system so I lazily attended those classes for the full school year.

    And even though you probably already know this, I never opted to take any of those honors classes because they were simply harder versions of the classes that were already teaching me nothing of value, so... what's the point in just upping the challenge or something I don't care about or won't ever use in real life? I spent my extra free time at home practicing writing or learning about things on my own terms, and that has definitely served me WAY better in life.

    1. ABftS: Yeah, I knew that he had passed, but, you know, it's still a relief to get the official word of that. He scored better than a 96% on the test.

  10. So...that was the conclusion. I don't want to say it was one long series of complaints about your son's schooling and your personal bias against said schooling, but...

    Look, I get it. But as I was saying when I was still making comments (honestly I really had stopped reading after a certain point), nearly everyone hates school. "Nearly everyone" is a horribly imprecise and debatable statement...but I will stand by it. There are certainly students who love learning, but they will always be in the minority. Unless you perform at an astounding level, teachers just won't be looking to advance you at the speed you might otherwise be able to handle. I said that early on, too.

    I don't know your son. I don't even know you, really. It's great that you're actively involved in his life but it just're overly active. It's not really your place to side with him in his academic struggles at school. School is where you learn how to handle the expectations of others, because for the rest of your life...that's going to define it, not whether or not your dad thinks your teacher stinks or the system is "out to get you." Or leave you behind. It leaves everyone behind, dude.

    But that's where you come in. You mention all the things your son got into along the way, and that's really where you come in, encouraging his interests. Nothing is more valuable to a person than knowing someone else acknowledges their interests, positively. That's why you blog, by the way, why you value the comments that don't challenge your conclusions. You're doing it for affirmation. But if someone disagrees with what you think, that's a risk you agreed to take.

    No one ever asks to be born, but when they are, the best possible result has nothing to do with how they do in school, but the respect they gain from their peers, and what they make of themselves.

    I hope your son turns out okay. I really hope he has no idea that you blogged so much about this, or at least that it doesn't affect his outlook.

  11. Tony: You are a piece of work who has no idea what he is talking about, what life is like, or how to raise children. That is abundantly clear by your blatantly false and inaccurate statements.
    So I'm just going to respond to two things only:
    1. It is entirely MY PLACE to be my son's advocate. That's what being a parent is. When you see that your child (any child, really, is being damaged by something, you stand up for your child. To NOT do that is, at best, neglect, and, at worse, abuse. Clearly, you know nothing about the obligations of being a parent, including the legal ones, so you should perhaps keep your mouth shut about things about which you know NOTHING.

    2. YOU have no idea why I blog, but it has nothing to do with affirmation. I have nothing against comments which challenge my conclusions when they actually CHALLENGE my conclusions. Your comments, none of them, CHALLENGE my conclusions, because your comments, all of them, have no basis in fact or reality. Again, you come in with assumptions and don't even bother to finish reading the things you comment on. Frankly, Tony, you speak out of your ass and never bother to go beyond your own preconceptions about how things are.