Monday, July 11, 2016

How the System Failed My Son: Part Seven -- The System Is Broken

[If you're not caught up, go back and read. Just do it.]

We thought we had everything taken care of. Or, at least, we hoped we had. We had good systems in place and they had worked well during Phillip's freshman year. Or, at least, we thought they had. But, basically, his sophomore year began much as his freshman year had, an email from his English teacher (honors English) telling me that Phillip lacked the requisite intelligence and skills to be in her class and that I should move him to the academic class where nothing would be required of him. [You also have to admire the disdain that the teachers of the honors classes have for the academic classes. (Yes, that's sarcasm, because how is it okay ever for a teacher to have that kind of attitude?)]

Look, I get that there is some burden on my son in all of this. I'm not ignoring that. But the burden on my son was this: "Get with the system and do what you're supposed to do. Quit being difficult." And, well, that's the problem. Get with the system, the only system. The system that was not designed for you and, actually, cares nothing for you other than that you comply.

It's bullshit.

I say that as someone who flowed fairly easily through the system until I got to the part when I was in college working on an Education degree and realized that I couldn't stomach it. That I would never be able to work within that system because the system is shit and cares nothing about the students individually but only about them as a collective that is able to score well on standardized tests.

The system was built for people like my daughter, people who are very achievement oriented and competitive. And, for her specifically, someone who wants to accomplish her tasks quickly so that she can go on to other things. [That's a mindset that makes sense to me, because that's how I was. My goal was always to have as little homework as possible to do at home, so I worked hard during the school day (and on the bus) to get all of my homework finished before I got home; that way, I could do whatever I wanted once I was home. (Of course, my homework load was nothing like what any of my kids have had.) That's exactly how my daughter works. It's also how I wanted my son to be, and I spent years trying to convert him to that approach, pressuring him to work in a system that didn't work for him. It's just not the way he works. It's about like putting a fish on land and trying to talk it into breathing air instead of water.] For instance, her 2nd grade teacher, the same teacher my son had in 2nd grade, loved her. Because she was fast. Even though my daughter made mistakes from working too fast, the teacher thought she was brilliant. The teacher thought she was the "smart one."

[Now, I don't want to make it sound like I have boxed my kids into labels, because that's not the case. My daughter is exceedingly smart, quite above average, but she is not as academically talented asher older brother. If you want to call it that, he is the "smart one;" she is the "sporty one." Those things are just objectively true. Labeling is really for ease of reference, but we don't consider our daughter not smart just because she's into sports. My son, however, is completely un-sporty.]


Our initial reaction to the email was to set up another conference with his counselor and this teacher... only to find out that he had a new counselor, too, and she was also questioning whether he ought to be where he was, not just in that class but math and even the school. I just wanted to scream. I mean, don't these people look at anything other than what's right in front of them? Could they not see that he'd made honor roll the previous year and see his standardized test scores and see everything or anything that came before that one moment? To accomplish anything, we were going to have to start completely over again with everything we'd done the year before.

Was it even worth it?

School, regular school, was clearly hell for my kid. It wasn't getting better. There was no routine that was working for him that involved him getting up and sitting through classes all day, classes he couldn't see any point to (or me, for that matter (but that's a different topic)), and doing hours of homework every night. And, honestly, it had worn us out.

It was time for other alternatives. If the system doesn't work or, more specifically, work for you, you should get out of it. It's like that what I've said about tradition in the past: If it's not working for you, change it. And, face it, school is mostly about tradition at this point. That's why we keep increasing the homework load on kids despite the fact that study after study shows that homework (other than reading) is counterproductive.

But change is hard and stepping outside of the system is, um, more hard. More harder. Look, it's difficult to look at this thing that is the way everyone does it (not counting homeschool (which we were NOT going to do), because homeschool is still within the system even though it might not look like it) and to decide to go some other way. But that's what it's come down to, finding another path because, honestly, there's not anything else he's going to learn at school, anyway, and he's already farther along, by far, in pretty much every subject than most high school graduates.

See, this is the part where you quit trying to do the same thing over and over and failing every time but doing it again anyway in the vain hope of a different result.


  1. Crazy is doing the same thing over and over.
    It really is all about those tests, isn't it?

  2. What is that saying, "if a student is not learning the way you teach, try teaching the way he learns."

    1. JKIR,F!: One thing I have always been very good at is finding different ways to present the same information so that I can reach the greatest number of people.

      Another way to put it: The adults should be the adults.

  3. So sorry to hear about your frustrations with the education system. I don't have children, so I'm a little out of touch with what it's like these days. However, my friend is an educator and works in the system and she says that it needs a lot of fixing. I do believe in my friends Meg and Beth (who are both teachers here in Utah), and I think it is through their efforts that education will right itself. I think that good feedback like what you've given here needs to be put in front of people who can make decisions. Don't give into despair. People can make a change if there are voices that demand it.

  4. I was a lot like your daughter. Not because I care about achievements, but because I learned early on that I hated school, that they really didn't care about my learning style, that all they cared about were test scores for things that I knew, even as a kid, I'd almost never need in the real world. So I sped through work and then spent the rest of the class reading. I did homework the minute it was handed out so my nights were free, and my teachers thought I bright because of it. I guess I was. I just learned how to speed through everything quickly so that I could get a passing score and give them what they wanted to see. It had nothing to do with actual learning.

    I did my learning at home. I studied things that fascinated ME. My mom still jokes that I was the only kid she'd ever heard of who had to be told to put away the encyclopedia because it was bed time.

    It's just really sad to hear that the system hasn't changed at all in the 20-something years since I was a kid.

  5. The system seems to be designed to get people to fit a very specific archetype, and if you don't, well, you're screwed. I'd really like to hope that since he has a couple of years left that maybe there will be some miracle and the system won't fail your son, but...I won't be holding my breath.

  6. This whole story is making me anxious. I thought things were starting to work out. Man, what a mess to have to go through this.