How to / Learning

Alt-school life, or how I got here

botanical gardenMy epiphany came in the principal’s office, as I struggled to articulate what I wanted for my oldest daughter’s education.

Her spelling tests had me worried.  After three years of seeing perfect scores, I started asking myself whether all these  pre and post tests on simple words were in any way educational.

Because my daughter really, really, really likes spelling and asked me constantly “Could I be in a spelling bee someday?” I made the mistake of asking  her teacher to throw in a few extra words on the weekly list – words my daughter didn’t already know.

Thus began a series of conversations that concluded, inevitably, with a parent-teacher-principal conference.    One of the teachers present, after flipping through my daughters’ standardized test scores, gave me the kind of patient smile you’d give a  very young child, then told me I should just be thankful that, unlike other parents, I wouldn’t ever have to worry about my daughter’s grades.

I think I saw the principal wince when that happened, maybe because my eyebrows shot up.  I also got a little emphatic when explaining that I’m sending my kids to school to LEARN NEW STUFF.

So the principal, a woman whom I admire, called my bluff.  “We teach to the class here,”  she said, “and you want something tailored to your daughter’s needs.  Have you thought about home schooling?

My reaction was immediate panic.

I can’t possibly do that, I thought.  I knew a little about home-schooling, because my sister Jess had done it for years, and I’d seen how much of herself she put into it.   I have a one-year old, I have a job, I want to run another marathon this year – my life is crazy enough as is.

But the principal’s logic was inescapable.  The goal of this small, affordable, private school (in fact, the goal of most schools) is to move an entire group of students through a set curriculum. If my daughter had already moved from point A to point B on this trajectory, there she would stay until the rest of the class caught up.

Schools teach groups, not individuals.  Measures of progress are averages and cut-offs – has the class, as a group, mastered the material, and has every child met a minimum achievement standard?  As a general approach, this works for kids in the bulge of the academic bell curve, but if your child lives in the tails of the normal distribution of academic readiness, she can be left behind or chronically bored.

So, after the panic subsided, I thought, Of course, I have to find a way to do this.  

One thought on “Alt-school life, or how I got here

  1. Pingback: Labor: the nobility of struggle | Home, School

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