When the School System Feels Like the Bully
ARGHH! Nothing in parenting has caused me such frustration as working with the school system to help my kid who struggled at school. I have felt so helpless and frustrated at times that it has brought me to tears. Of course, it’s no walk in the park for the kid who is struggling either, but make no mistake, parenting a child who has difficulties at school is hard, hard work.
I was speaking at a conference once when a dad of a child adopted from Guatemala told me that his child’s difficulties at school made him question the wisdom of international adoption.
“At least if he was in Guatemala the pressure wouldn’t be so intense for him to succeed in school, and he wouldn’t have to face the end of the year tests each year. The pressure of school has made him a different child. Maybe he would have been better in a culture where he could have dropped out and had a chance to farm or do manual labor and not feel like a failure.”
His words stuck with me over the years. It does seem as if our schools have little place for kids who don’t excel, or at least hold their own, academically, but aren’t so severely disabled that they are on the non-academic special education track. Maybe our schools, however, are a reflection of our society where it is hard to survive without a high school diploma, and hard to get ahead without a college degree, even though not all kids are cut out for college. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that any child would be better off in an orphanage, but his comment has given me pause over the years as I try to navigate through the school system with my children.
Round peg kids thrive in school; oval peg kids learn to adapt, and although they may have their edges scraped down, they can ultimately fit the rigid mold; but heaven help the poor square peg kid and his/her beleaguered parent.
Creating a Family Resources for School Issues:
Have Schools Always Been So Inflexible?
Has it always been this way? I wonder if our schools used to have the flexibility to allow those kids who struggle to make it through with less trauma (read: standardized testing and strict graduation requirements). I feel torn because I appreciate the need for accountability, but it has honestly reached the point that they are forcing many kids and families out of the system. Is it any surprise that homeschooling rates are soaring?
I can’t tell you the number of parents I talk with who are considering taking at least one of their children out of “the system.” I totally understand. We homeschooled one of our kids for many years. Even though it was a huge commitment of time, it was so much less stressful than dealing with the rigidity of the school. Ultimately, we decided that it was in his best interest to go back into the school system, but we continue to homeschool him in selected courses. (I should also point out that some of my greatest heroes have been many teachers and a couple of administrators who have worked hard to make “the system” a better fit for my child.)
Help for Parents (and their kids)
A while ago I interviewed Heather Forbes about her book, Help for Billy: A Beyond Consequences Approach to Helping Challenging Children in the Classroom. She focuses on ways to help children who have a smaller tolerance for stress and act out in class, but much of her bountiful wisdom could apply to the child with run-of-the-mill (as if that phrase could ever really apply) learning differences or ADHD. She paints the possibility of a world where children who struggle can succeed in school and makes practical suggestions for how parents can help create this environment. It’s a beautiful thought.
If you’re the parent of a square peg, do yourself a favor and listen to the show and then buy the book. I thought it was interesting that she homeschooled one of her kids for a time until she was able to find a school that could better meet her daughter’s needs. She had to move to another state, however, to find the right fit – not an option for most of us.
Another book that I found surprisingly insightful was A Special Education: One Family’s Journey Through the Maze of Learning Disabilities by fashion designer Dana Buchman. Her struggle with schools was minimal since she could afford the best of specialized education that New York City had to offer, but her candor at her difficulties as a parent rang true.
What has been your experience with schools? Have you considered homeschooling?Originally published in 2013; Updated in 2019
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