Does School Harm Families?

Does School Harm Families?

As the final days of my kids time in formal school come to a close, I’m struck with just how much I think my son’s time in school has damaged our relationship and I wonder to what effect the school system plays a role in our increasing societal woes.

“M” is currently in the second grade but it was clear within weeks of him starting kindergarten there was a problem. I remember vividly what his kindergarten teacher said to me, “There are kids who fit in the box; They love the box and do well there. Then there are kids who think outside the box. Then there are kids who say, ‘why do I even need a box?!’ and your son is in that third category!” I took that as a compliment but sadly, the result of his divergent thinking was that he believed himself to be so different that he must be “bad” and because his brain was always going, he could never attend to his work the way other children did. He just plain didn’t care because logically, he had much better things to do but that led to him always being in trouble.

Gosh, it hurts to write those words! My 5 year old son was always in trouble.

How is it that the school system (private and public) has given root to the idea that a 5 year old child should be in trouble for not sitting still, working quietly, and finishing his work?! When I was a child, kindergarten was a half-day and during that small chunk of time, we had a lengthy snack AND a nap. That school would be laughable today. Kids don’t nap anymore and school is a full day. In many places they are expected to read before entering first grade. It feels wrong yet we as parents have accepted it.

Oh how I wish I had removed him from school and listened to my gut instinct but instead, I felt societal pressure coupled with sheer selfishness on my part and forced my son to endure two more years. Allow me to share some of my shame-inducing internal dialogue during that time:

Me: You really should pull the kids from school. You always said you would homeschool.
Selfish Me: I know, but I can’t.

Me: You don’t even believe in organized schooling!
Selfish Me: I know I don’t but I just can’t handle them all. I’ll kill myself and possibly them within two weeks.

Me: I can’t believe you’re that selfish.
Selfish Me: I’m a horrible mother, I know. But they fight constantly, and will want to play games and do boring kid things with me. They’ll drive me crazy! If only there were a “democratic school” around here like Sudbury that would be like homeschooling but I could still send them to “school”! There isn’t though and I like drinking my tea and getting my work done in peace and quiet.

Me: You suck.
Selfish Me: Yes, I admit it… I suck. But he kids will be fine. Kids everywhere go to school and are fine. I do suck but at least I’ll keep my sanity.

Sadly, selfish me won the battle and my kids stayed in school. My son was miserable and I became increasingly frustrated that he would not just do the homework or stay out of trouble.

– Yes, I did say homework. When the heck did homework in kindergarten become acceptable? –

Life at home was a daily battle that has continued until today and I am positive I’m not the only parent suffering. We have become harpies who must sit over the shoulder of our children to get them to finish endless pages of mind-numbing work as they protest that it’s “boring” and “stupid”. They beg to be released to play but it’s our job as parents to make sure the work is done. “JUST DO YOUR WORK!!” I’d end up screaming. Or worse, we end up using coercion and bribery just to keep the peace.

Today’s children are manipulated constantly and we use prize and punishment to forcibly push them into a box where no kid is meant to live. In many ways we have stolen their childhood to keep up with some imaginary schedule that must be met to make us feel good (superior) about them and ourselves. We subscribe to the idea that there is a specific catalogue of information that must be learned to have a successful life and we use force to ensure it is acquired yet most of the information is patently unnecessary… Quick – what is the capital of Rhode Island?! Faster – what is the chemical symbol for Gadolinium? Finally – solve this because surely you’ll run into fractions like this every day and remember, NO CALCULATORS!:

46 • 35 • 54
43 • 65 • 23

Has society’s over-emphasis on accelerated schooling and endless testing allowed us to sacrifice the relationships we have with our kids at the alter of good grades and early reading? Has family-time, play-time, and exploration gone by the wayside as we focus on schedules, studying, and test scores? Have we created an army of robots that will “do as they’re told” throughout their whole life and was that always the goal of industrialized schooling? And, if we are constantly evaluated by how well we did/do in school, where does that leave those “why do we need a box?” minds who rather than embracing their creativity are left imagining that they are “less than” because they don’t fit the mold of the compliant and the grade seekers?

Let me know your thoughts. Do you think the current school system damages families? Is society better for or worse off because of industrialized schooling?


  1. My oldest son took a class at the local college last semester. The instructor also teaches at the high school in town. Anyways, he told my son how creative he is and that homeschooling has helped him keep his creativity. I thnk my son is someone who either thinks outside the box or doesn’t see a need for a box like your son :)

    • It’s nice that the teacher recognized the benefits of homeschooling and expressed it to you!

      Thanks for sharing and you get the award for the first ever post on my blog. :)

  2. Popping over from the UC group. I like drinking my tea and getting my work done in peace and quiet, too. I think the kids are finally realizing that and letting me have at least a semi-quiet breakfast to myself to drink me tea and catch up on emails and such. The rest of the day, not so much. I totally can see that my selfishness is the problem most days, because I require (much) more alone, quiet time than they do. Thanks for sharing your heart! I’ll keep reading!

    • Thanks, Jeni! I appreciate the support… this is all so new to me that it should be spectacular mess!

      And yes, I hate that I’m a selfish creature and I wonder how these selfless women do it. My mom was selfless yet I got none of her genes! I’m all my dad’s child. LOL

  3. We have been homeschooling and hating the school part for thirteen years. Every year I say NEXT year I am not going to copy the public school’s schedule or their idea of what kids need to learn. And every year we go back to the same horrid type of schooling. Little by little I have been reading unschooling blogs. They are warping me. (Yay!) We have eight years of “school” left, and maybe by then I’ll have let all of us out of the box. (I’m a slow learner, too!)

    • Thank you for sharing, Sally.

      It’s so hard, isn’t it? I think all of us are just so programed with the idea that we need to follow a strict set of rules and learn a specific catalog of information. It’s scary to step out of the box and so we end up forcing our kids, who aren’t afraid, to sit in the box with us! LOL.

      Well, I’m really new to this whole unschooling thing (as you can tell from the age of this blog) so stick around and you can watch the whole process from the beginning and I promise to share all the carnage, too, so you’ll get a good honest look! And maybe you’ll join me… come on, the water’s warm. ;)

      • Oh, it’s not that bad… it’s just not what I envisioned our homeschooling would look like. And I can totally see unschooling for the early to middle grades. Fun! For high school, however, I am bound by my own expectations and the challenge of unschooling while still meeting state legal requirements. I am jealous of Abe Lincoln, who had only a Bible and dictionary, and later, some law books. :)

        • I have been hearing a lot about un-schooling. I am wondering if you just allow your children to not learn some things because they have no interest, or do you expect that they will have an interest at some point? I was also wondering if they are so unstructured, how then do they adjust to the structure of a workplace? I am curious about the philosophy behind un-schooling.

  4. Great Post! Loved it! I really do applaud you for being brave enough to speak the truth. I know how hard one can be on oneself, when they think they are not doing what they think they should. Even though I do homeschool, I sometimes think, “Am I doing enough?”, “Look at what all the other homeschool moms do with their children!”.
    Truth is I have come to relies, as long as you are doing your best, than that is what matters. So, if you know you need quiet time to keep your sanity, then you need to carve that out through out the day and homeschool around it. That is what I have learned to do. In fact, at this very moment, my son who is 5 yrs. is with dad grocery shopping and my daughter who is 11 yrs is in her bedroom, watching a tv show for an hour. This allows mom, “me”, to have a bit of Blog time :)
    I do think that Public schools can and often do harm children. I still remember going to a public school and to this day I have not been able to heal completely from the scars I have. There is of course the forced “Box” expectations, bullying, and bad teachers. I am not saying I was a ideal student, but I was still just a child. I would probably considered myself the 3rd one. I have always demanded respect to give respect. I did not see any reason for why things were the way they were and refused to live by any other’s rules than my own. I need to feel there is a point, if I am going to do something. Needless, to say I ended up dropping out of school in the 8th grade because I finally had enough of the school system. The funny part is, once I was left to be Free and be the Captain, so to speak, of my own ship, I was able to finally blossom into who I am today; A person who studied for 3 months at 16 yrs old and got her GED the first time; A person who homeschools both of her children while in college herself, furthering her education.
    Do I believe in public education? No! No, I do not! Children are all different and require different approaches to learning. Public schools are too rigid and come in a one size fits all package. Now could I unschool? Well, to a point I I fell I do. However, I live in a state that requires me to meet certain standards. So for Reading/English and Math, I make sure my kids have a proper curriculum (Time4Learning), but Thankfully what I used allows my children to learn at their own pace in a Fun and entreating way. As far as the rest of how and what we do? Well, we wing it! We do loads of fun Unit Studies, learning activity’s, co-ops, and of course learning through living life. As you may be wondering, My children have never been in a Public or private school and I am so thankful for that :)
    Again, this is a wonderful post that I am glad I could be a part of. I am sure there are so many other people that have gone though what we all have or maybe are struggling at the moment with this issue. I am sure they will be glad to posted such a blog post :)

    • Keri,

      What a lovely and heartfelt post. Thank you.

      You are so correct when you say schools have a one-size-fits-all package. Everyone is so different and as we learn about all the different ways in which people learn and process information, it becomes more apparent that the current system just can’t work for everyone. It does an adequate job for the average students while leaving the kids who struggle and the bright kids behind. Customizable education is what we can provide at home and maybe one day, that type of thing will be available in a school setting but that would take an overhaul and it seems no one has the stomach for that.

      Also, I keep reading and hearing that when kids are “ready” to learn something, they will learn it more easily and without stress and your comment about getting your GED falls right into that. Once you were free to be the Captain of your education, you got the information you needed on your own time-table and have done well since. Congratulations! And what a blessing you have provided your children in allowing them to learn with you at home!!

      Blessings to you.

  5. As a third grade public education teacher for many years, I always felt badly for the children who just did not fit. AND I have always hated the idea of homework. Often the kids had no one to help them at home. I always thought that when you get home from work- do you want to do more of the same?Why would you do that to kids. There were days when I assigned “play outside for at least 30 minutes” for homework. Also, the amount of homework should be no more than 5 minutes per grade level.


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