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My 11 year old has asked to go to school

Newsletter · Jan 18, 2021

Here’s to the wild ones.

The restless, loud ones. The rule bending, breaking ones. The ones we tell to sit down, slow down, quiet down, calm down, back down. The ones we often push pills down.

Here’s to letting them run, jump, shout, scream, laugh and sing. To letting them drift, imagine and daydream.
Here’s to giving them the space and grace to learn when they’re ready. To taking the weight of tests, benchmarks and grades off their shoulders.

Here’s to giving them a say in what they spend their time on and who they spend their time with.

Here’s to celebrating their questions more than their answers.

Here’s to throwing open the doors.

Here’s to setting them free.

Your Questions & Answers

Issy please help! My almost 11 year old has asked to go to school.

He attended until he was 9 and has been de-schooling and unschooling since.
He’s a terrific kid. He was ticking all the boxes in mainstream and being pushed by his teachers. But then crumbling at home under their pressure.

He’s been thriving at home. He has great friends, is terrific at soccer and is usually always busy. He loves to garden and swim.

He’s not even sure of his reasons and I know I’ll be keeping him home, but how can I help him get through this stage please?

He says he just wants to be “normal” and like the other kids ?

Hey Jess! I found your question really interesting, because as parents we worry about that ‘normal’ pressure a lot (‘ugh, pushing against the current is tough, sometimes I just wish I could let go and drift with it…’), but we probably don’t think about that aspect from our children’s perspective as much. I know I haven’t, so thank you for the prompt to reflect on this a bit more!

As for your son – I would sit down for a heart-to-heart with him sometime, and find out what – specifically – he’s finding hard about not being ‘normal’. I know he’s said he’s not sure of his reasons, but they’re definitely in there somewhere, and you might be able to gently bring them to the surface. It could be a bunch of things, and it’ll be hard to coach him through it without truly understanding why he’s feeling what he is. Dig deeper with him, go down into it with him, and talk through the feeling together. Be honest about the fact you feel that way sometimes, too. Connect on it.

If he’s thriving as much as it sounds he is (yay!) then you have a strong foundation there to talk through a few things.

What I would keep in mind through it all, though, is that the path you’re taking isn’t normal. And that’s actually the bit that we – us, and our children – need to embrace. For most of us there are good reasons for stepping off the well-trodden path, and for your son it sounds like they’ve been life-changing (because if he was crumbling under the pressure at 9, then it would have been awful by the time he was 15!). It’s important you talk through those things, too. Remind each other why you’re doing what you’re doing. Why it’s so rewarding. What you hope to get out of it. Why it’s all worth it.

Life is full of trade-offs, and when you walk away from school you lose an overwhelmingly common life experience to connect with other people on. Put that down in the cons list.

What you get instead, though, is a pros list that usually bursts at the seams.

Reinforce the amazing parts of not being ’normal’, because THEY are why you’re on this path together. And THEY are why your son will thank you for taking him on it with you one day.

All the best, you two.

Hi. Firstly, I’m so glad to have come across your page. Your writing and information sharing is fantastic – so inspiring and strength-giving!

I have been homeschooling my nearly 7 yr old for almost 2 years now. Husband is fully on board. But he strongly believes he should go to high school at age 11 (here in the UK). And with that comes the belief that his last year of primary school should be in a school and not home for him to get used to school systems, routines etc.

I’m very against this and have known home schoolers to make that transition from primary to secondary smoothly. But they are girls and so my husband sees that as the reason. I’m also not sure about him going to high school. I’m a high school teacher myself and left the system primarily because I saw the grade-driven, spirit killing with my own eyes. I saw kids get bullied and pushed away because they didnt fit. I saw very bright children being hushed and just being squeezed into a box. I had to do it myself as a main subject teacher so I cant imagine my bright, inquisitive son who is somewhat shy around people he doesnt know so well being in an environment like that. Let alone all the moral degradation that comes along with teenagers in a high school setting etc.

Any tips to get this discussion going between my husband and I?

Thank you in advance I’m sure you’re advice will be very useful.

Hello Maryam! If you, as someone who has been a high school teacher living and breathing the ups and downs of that environment, can’t convince your husband it’s not a good idea to send your son there…I’m not sure I have much of a chance!

I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, though, so let’s roll up our sleeves.

I don’t have context on why he believes his son should attend high school (dads worry about lots of things – trust me – but it usually comes from a good place!), but I’m going to take a stab and say that it’s about preparing him for the real world (and a stable career, and income, and so on). In which case, your husband needs to understand what version of real world he’d be sending his son off to prepare for.

Because, you see, we measure it. Gallup – the planet’s leading workplace analytics company – regularly measures workplace engagement across the globe (the very workplaces our schools are helping us prepare for). And, unfortunately for you in the UK, you rate as one of the lowest-engaged working populations going around. Just 11% of UK employees in Gallup’s 2017 survey responded as being actively engaged – that is, are genuinely motivated by what they do and can bring positive energy to it each day.

Eleven. Percent.

68% of respondents said they weren’t very engaged in their job, but showed up to do it anyway, and 21% said they were actively disengaged. Mentally checked out.

The scary thing is that these statistics have looked similar for some time now. The fact is that in most countries you’re lucky to find more than one-in-three people who wake up to do something that gives them meaning.

(and in the UK, it’s closer to one-in-ten)

So the question, then, becomes…why on earth do we keep preparing our children for this kind of world? One with an alarm clock you hate, a job that doesn’t fulfil you, a boss you don’t respect, colleagues you can’t help but complain about, a rigid daily structure that’s defined for you, a weekly routine that becomes mind-numbing, a Friday afternoon peak, the Sunday night blues, and eventually – eventually! – retirement from it all.

A world where we accept all that as ok. Normal. Just how it is.

None of this will change unless we, as parents, are bold enough to say that enough is enough. No, not everyone on the planet can wake up to do a job they absolutely love. But if we can’t do better than one-in-ten in a place like the UK then we’re doing it wrong.

Back to your husband, now, because he has an opportunity. A chance to give his son something different. To build a new ‘real world’ on a foundation of autonomy, respect, creative freedom, individual expression, open-minded problem-solving, entrepreneurial spirit, collaboration and connection, the awareness and confidence to change paths when things or people aren’t resonating with him, and a relentless pursuit of meaning.

By the time he’s 18, your son will be well prepared for one of those worlds.

As to which one it will be…well, that ball is in your husband’s court.

Some background 🙂 We are from England. We have only being doing home ed since Sept and we follow a child lead route. 3 sons. 7,9,11. They didn’t hate school but we felt the UK curriculum is so far off what my boys want to be doing it was turning them into test driven, unhappy, anxious robots.

My son recently started asking if he is ‘learning enough’. Part of me was happy that he didn’t see his everyday learning as ‘learning’. But I am worried he is comparing himself.

So my question is…
Did your schooled boys find it hard/weird/awkward – relaxing into a unschooled environment, after going to school for a number of years?

My boys are loving the freedom and the togetherness but as its early days they are yet to find their stride. They still see that being allowed to do the things they are passionate about and enjoy everyday as ‘messing around’ and not serious learning. When I list the things they have learned they do have a light bulb moment but I just want them to let go of any worries.

Many thanks

Hey Stacey! This is super cool, because you’ve successfully disengaged from a you-learn-from-being-taught model. Nice. The challenge you have, now, is to take the next step – tying the idea of ‘serious learning’ to the progress your boys make on the things they’re passionate about and are good at. Because to me, that’s where learning gets real.

Example: the traditional schooling model would have us believe that learning to solve a quadratic equation is very important, but that learning to bake an exceptionally good ginger loaf is not.

With all due respect to quadratic equations (which are genuinely useful!), I disagree. If I have a teenager who wants to become a professional baker, because he lives and breathes the bringing-to-life of amazing food and can’t ever imagine himself doing anything else, then the ability to bake a ginger loaf that’s good enough for people to tell their friends about is very serious learning. It is very serious work.

An important part of the de-schooling process is understanding that what is important, serious learning for one child may not be at all relevant to another. It’s one of the most compelling reasons for home education – that we can tailor a journey of development that’s specific to our children. It’s an incredibly empowering space to grow up in, and it sounds like your boys are well on their way to seeing that.

Now, go free them even more.

Thanks for reading!

P.S. if you’d like to submit a question for next Monday’s newsletter, you can do that over here: http://starkravingdadblog.com/newsletter/

Issy Butson, aka Stark Raving Dad. Author of The Grandparent's Guide to Home Schooling

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