It is the system, not the child, that is broken

This afternoon I got angry.

Pissed off, actually.

I got angry because I spent an over an hour on the phone with a woman who had been told by her son’s school that she was not doing enough to make sure he was reading.   He is in kindergarten.   The school admonished her, told her that she needed to do more or her son would not advance to first grade.

They told her to consider bringing in a reading specialist or a $140/hour tutor.

Her instincts – correctly – tell her nothing is wrong with her son just because he isn’t reading yet.  She told me that the stress and the pressure of the situation are causing him to resist anything reading related.  He doesn’t even want her to read to him at night anymore.

She is justifiably upset.

He is six years old.

Sometimes I get discouraged and feel that no one is listening to what we say about how kids learn; that unschoolers are talking to an enormous brick wall and that my time would be much better spent on any number of other things rather than on this blog.

And then I have a conversation with a distressed parent and realize that this is important because even though the majority of people might not listen, there are those out there who will and who need to hear what unschoolers have to say.

How dare any school threaten a child or a parent the way this child’s school has done.  How dare they imply that the parent is failing her child and as a result her child will be a failure.

A six year old who isn’t reading is perfectly fine.  A parent who knows this should not be made to question themselves by a system that is on performance steroids.

Schools are sadistic institutions; not just high schools, as New York Magazine so recently stated, but all schools.   Sadistic and cruel.    Maybe there are a few children whose learning styles fit right in with the way schools are run, but they are VERY few.

Every parent who is in distress needs to know that their child is not “slow” to learn.   It is the system that is broken, not the child.

The system is broken.   The children are not.



14 comments on “It is the system, not the child, that is broken

  1. Cindy Gaddis says:

    It’s stories like this that keeps me doing what I do, speaking what I speak, and writing what I write.

    School is a “no fault zone.” There is one scope and sequence that all children must follow, or they will be labeled with something…because it’s a no fault zone. Even when you get an IEP, it’s compared to and goals are made toward the traditional scope and sequence. If the child isn’t broken, the parents are next to be blamed. The school…never to be blamed.

    I meet grown and successful adults who still carry shame around with them from their elementary years of not performing to that one-size-fits-all scope and sequence.

    It’s not Truth.

    Every child is unique, and so is how, what, and when they learn.

    I feel only when enough parents get mad, realize there are better ways for children to learn, and that their children deserve better will the strength of empowered parents create change in schools for all children.

    Stepping off my soapbox, because I get impassioned as well. Whew!

  2. Dave Greene says:

    What if all of us really angry people got off these computers and showed up face to face in front of the idiots who have perpetuated this horror on our kids, our families, and our teachers. The schools are just the buildings. The people have been hurt.

    • kathey edwards says:

      I agreed with my grandsons teacher to complete the work he wasn’t doing in class. Week after week -page after page of teaching to the test -boring, repetitive, non knowledge. I finally quit work and unschooled him. This= one happy kid. Engaged, learning, and succeeding.

  3. Cheryl Lussier says:

    Thank you for this post. It came at just the right time for me. My 3rd grader is having such a rough year. Sadistic and cruel is exactly the way I would describe his learning environment. My son is a smart, creative, sensitive kid who has been made to feel like he is stupid because he learns in a way that is not conducive to the worksheet education that he is receiving. It’s so heartbreaking to watch school beat away at his self esteem.

  4. Judi Pack says:

    I had a similar experience last week.I, too, was furious and frustrated. A mother told me that the teacher said she was at fault for her daughter’s inability to read above grade level–that she (the mother) did not read enough to her. This woman was close to tears as she told me this. She is a single mother, works all day, and has had a lot of burdens in her life. Then she went on to describe the amount of homework her 7 year old has each night and what a struggle it is. It is sad and absurd.

  5. Michele says:

    Please don’t get discouraged and give up. I know some people are listening. Thank you for helping spread the word.

    • Amy says:

      Thanks to everyone for your comments! Your thoughts always motivate and inspire me.

      To Cheryl I want to say that I am so sorry that your son is going through this, and ask if there is any option for him to leave school? There are others here who would be more than willing to offer support and suggestions (including me of course!)

      Dave – I love the idea of taking to the streets, but I think that the best thing we can do – at least right now – is to educate families about their options. Even in lower income areas or in families with one parent or two working parents, there are ways to make it work.

      Thanks again,

  6. rek says:

    great article … my daughter could not read at 6 nor a 7, told her she will when she was ready. at 7 1/2 she picked up a book and suddenly realized she could read. age 8 she is a complete book worm, reading is fun and a pleasure for her now as i removed all pressure and did not force her to read when she was not ready! The systems in schools is awful. I was a perfect fit for the school systems, i liked making the teachers happy, i could complete all tasks with out teacher assistance, i was known as the teachers pet, but most of my days were filled with meaningless tasks as they had no further work for me to complete, so often was sent to lower classes to help teach the little kids … so much for my schooling. Highschool i excelled, topping subjects across the country, won lots of awards…. but the day i left home and stepped into university it all fell apart… my education had nothing to to with the real world, i was completely lost in this new system. there was no one to pat my back and say well done at every step. i no longer had to just recite what i had learnt, i was now required to think! This is why i unschool my kids, they are thinking, discussing, trying, failing, giving up, starting a new, debating, arguing, feeling, and growing daily and none of it is just to pass a test.

  7. Reese says:

    Thank you for your posts. Our son is far too young for school but we’ve been trying to look into what our options will be when he is a few years older. Finding information on any educational type that isn’t main stream school is incredibly difficult.

  8. Hi Amy;

    Liked your post! For many years now, I think, too, that no one is listening. Lucky we are not unschooling our kids for anyone else but for their sake and our sake, so it is not really important if anyone is listing. That said, people do find us when they are ready to listen, and some are also jumping in and learn something new!

    (On a personal note: glad to see NYCHEA is still around! We briefly belonged to the group when we lived in Park Slope, before moving to Israel and starting homeschooling there!)

  9. NicoleK says:

    The problem is we are in a place where a kid not moving to the next level is considered a “threat”. Kids learn at different paces. Honestly, it makes a lot of sense to me that a kid in a classroom where the goal is learning to read not move on to the classroom where they have another goal. But in our age-based system, it’s a total stigma. It shouldn’t be. The problem is that we are too focused on age and not actual ability and skills.

  10. Amanda says:

    I was a K/1 teacher in public school in CA for 9 years. I tried so hard to buck the trend at every step. The district mandated 30 minutes of homework (for Kindergarten) that I would send home was a list of learning activities to do at home, and a reading log.
    Parents would be distraught that their 5 year old kid wasn’t reading yet. They would think something was wrong with their child. Ready to jump to conclusions like dyslexia, or add, at the age of 5! I would always explain that children start reading when they are developmentally ready. (BTW, I used to call developmental the “d-word” because it is taboo in todays educational system.) Just because one child is ready at 4 or 5, doesn’t mean everyone will be. My brother didn’t learn to read until 4th grade. They were ready to put him in special ed. Now he’s in medical school.
    These early years should be a time of exploration. When you pigeonhole a child so young as being delayed or behind, that’s going to stick with them their whole life. My stepson is a prime example. He is in 7th grade now and hates school, he is always struggling, all stemming from a horrible Kindergarten experience. He was a young Kindergartener (fall b-day) and was recognizing all letters and sounds, but just couldn’t blend CVC words by the end of Kinder. Oh how I wish I could have taken him out and homeschooled him way back when, but mom is a strong supporter of public ed.
    Anyway, my point is, don’t let ANYONE, and I don’t care what their credentials are, tell you your child is behind because they can’t read at 5. Pushing kids too hard and setting them up for failure is going to turn out a lot worse in the long run.

  11. In Belgium, government is planning to make testing and accreditation obligatory. My heart bleeds as this is unconstitutional and will have dire effect on unschoolers. (Kids who fail will have to be sent to school)

  12. […] reading, for example. If your child is in a public school in Manhattan and isn’t reading fluently by the middle of kindergarten, he runs the risk of being held back. We experienced the […]

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