What if your child simply despises high school? Is it truly a reason to consider pulling them out and considering home schooling? Or is that alternative just a cop out, enabling your high schooler to skate instead of buckle down? Let's face it, a lot of kids hate high school, yet we send them back every day and many return home morose and non-communicative, counting the days until graduation or even dropping out. Public high school settings contain land mines for kids -- everything from bullying to social pressure to abject boredom.
In her Psychology Today article, What Do You Do When Your Child Hates School?, Dr. Judy Willis deals with how parents might view their off-road child. “…it can be evidence that his brain is functioning appropriately,” she says, surprisingly enough. “Healthy brains protect their owners from perceived threat. School today is stressful -- often threatening -- as a result of the high-stakes standardized testing that challenges students, teachers, and school administrators. There is so much information mandated as required ‘knowledge’ for these tests (that determine federal funding), that for many children school seems more like a feedlot force-feeding them facts without adequate time or resources to make them interesting or relevant.”
In my opinion, school hate is one of the best reasons to pull a kid out and look for alternatives. As a matter of fact, it’s precisely what I did with my now-grown daughter. As middle school turned into high school, I saw a disconnect happening over time that troubled me, even though she had had attention issues throughout her childhood. While her father and I required her to participate in a sport – any sport -- her interest in them sank to new lows by her sophomore year. Grades were never an issue (she was labeled academically gifted from an early age), but despite her ability to pull rabbits out of hats at the last minute, she saw little point to the time, effort and subject matter offered at her high school. Never an on-time kind of gal, she then stopped even attempting to get up for school. She cared little about rewards-based outcomes and responded to grounding-type discipline as no great sacrifice on her part. I was at an impasse, but knew I’d have to figure something out just for her not to join the ranks of future GED graduates or even drop-out statistics.
So I purchased some books on independent study/home schooling and devoured them, reading about the advantages and freedoms it offered both child and parent. Being a full time writer working from home gave me the time to plan all this, and I knew I would hire tutors for subjects I was bad at. As a result of a deal her dad and I cut with her before her junior year (“reach a certain GPA and we will let you decide what you want to do your senior year”), we did end up permitting her to home school. I still believe it was worth it, even though we would have loved seeing her graduate in cap and gown in the traditional sense. My daughter and I bonded in new ways, both personally and academically, and I could see her maturing in ways I don’t think could have been possible had she stayed at the local public high school.
"If children are stressed by boring lessons that have little personal relevance or by the frustration of not keeping up with the overloaded curriculum, their brains do what they are programmed to do,” says Willis. But it was more than that. The social strictures of high school seemed patently lame to our daughter. Having a boyfriend meant having to ignore her friends at lunchtime and between classes. Proms felt lame and contrived. And clothing labels and a perfect appearance seemed petty to her, despite the fact that she went on to making a living in fashion years later.
“Your challenge as a parent is to reconnect your children with the joy of learning. You can make a difference in how they relate to school and even reverse their brains' reflexive reactions. The key is to build bridges,” says Willis, who left her neurology practice to teach because she saw a marked increase in children referred to her with attention disorders that made them either act out or zone out in class.
That precious last high school year my daughter and I had together is one I will never forget, despite the life changes taking place for all of us. We attended plays together, discussed books we had both read, and I watched her blossom as a writer. She may not have learned as much academically and skated through subjects she still sees as irrelevant in her life, but she did get her high school diploma before leaving home for the freedom she so desperately wanted.
Home schooling is not for every student and certainly not for every parent, but I think many parents don’t take it as a serious alternative. I encourage you to simply Google your questions regarding home schooling if you feel your child might be better served by being pulled out of the classroom. Speak to your school district’s independent study personnel (most districts do have a program set up for you that includes facilitators visiting your home) regarding some of the most common misconceptions about home schooling, such as fears your child will not get into good colleges, get a good job, or enjoy a fun social life. When the rewards outweigh the status quo of leaving your kid to languish in an environment he or she hates, independent study might just be your salvation.