Monday, November 16, 2015

Can This Teen's School Experience Be Saved?

Is your teen experiencing any of these responses to school?

1. Your teen hates school. It’s an all-encompassing aversion. No positive social life, adults in school are not sympathetic, the work sucks, and it feels like prison.
2. Your teen hates homework and tests, but likes classroom work.  Although they enjoy their classroom experience and/or social life, teens like this value their private life and need their own activities. This affects their grades, and you’re worried it will affect his/her chances in college.
3. Your teen seems very unhappy in school, and gets average grades. Teens like this go along and get along with school’s demands, but something isn’t right. They don’t take initiative, and don’t develop a real interest in their studies.
4. Your teen wants to go to college, but doesn't have the grades and isn't a good test-taker. For this teen, school just isn’t interesting, and they don’t excel in the way school demands.
5. Your teen is very ambitious, studies hard, does well in classes and on tests, and is stressed-out, anxious and unhappy. For whatever reason, this teen needs to rise to each challenge, and isn’t happy when that doesn’t happen. In a race with herself, she feels like she can’t lose. She might seem to be every parent’s dream child, so why are you so worried?
These scenarios occur at schools everywhere.
There are options and strategies available to the families in these scenarios. What would you do? Comment below if you have ideas about how these situations can be resolved, or join us at Solving School-Related Family Conflicts, a project of Catalyst Learning Network.

(If you have a teen who sounds like the ones described above, and you’d like to discuss options, email

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Stay In School?

Heal the breach between parents and their kids who hate school. A message from Catalyst Learning Network.

From Princeton Learning Cooperative
If your teens want to leave school -- if they have dug in their heels in opposition to you, their parents -- if your relationship has deteriorated to the point where you seem to be locked in battle -- take a breath.

Your choices are, keep pushing...or release the tension from your relationship and talk about what your teen’s wishes and needs are.  The education needs of young people are not satisfied at school; their misery reflects the failure of school.

Stay in school is the perennial admonition that parents typically give to their kids about success in life.

So it is a surprise, even a shock, to many parents when they discover that their children think of their time in school as akin to a prison sentence.

Stay in school, the message says, no matter what.  Testing and standardization has made schools into test-prep centers, and our kids are stressed out, anxious, bored, and tired.

But school isn’t just a necessary milestone; a ticket to a roller-coaster: get that ticket and have the ride of your life.  Completion of high school is a guarantee of nothing. Parents are fearful that if their kids wander off the mainstream “pathway to success,” they’ll be lost forever.

But completion of high school doesn’t guarantee college success. Even kids who are able to soar in high school are not guaranteed a successful college career.

According to an article on Valerie Strauss’s blog, The Answer Sheet,

Of the 1.5 million high school graduates who took the ACT during the academic year 2008–2009, 33 percent were not ready for college-level English, 47 percent were not ready for college social science, 58 percent were not ready for college algebra, and 72 percent were not ready for college biology.

Overall, only 23 percent were ready to enter college-level courses without remediation in any of the four subject areas.

Could that be due to the parade of dry, fragmented and tasteless learning tasks that school turns into when students are not interested?

Interest is the explosion that can happen in the minds of young people. Interest is the only guarantee of engagement, motivation, energy and drive. A recent survey of teens’ feelings when at school resulted in a shocking conclusion.

New survey findings suggest that when asked how they feel during the school day, USA high school students consistently invoke three key feelings: "tired," "stressed" and "bored."

The researcher who led the study warns that such negative feelings can influence young people's attention, memory, decision making, school performance and social lives.

"It's hard to concentrate and it's hard to do well in school if your brain is constantly having to respond to stress," said Marc Brackett, a researcher in the Yale University Department of Psychology and director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

The “stay in school” myth keeps teens stuck, in defiance of a simple fact: struggling, miserable students aren't great candidates for college or work. Their interests have been squashed, their attitude toward learning is jaded, and often, they hardly know what they want out of life.

We see the rifts this creates between parents and their teens. This is not just ordinary teen rebellion stuff. This is deeper. We’ve seen this breach result in anger, self-harm, suicidal ideation, depression, and withdrawal.

Since I started serving on my local school board 12 years ago, I have observed the urgency everyone feels about preventing kids from dropping out, and yes, I know that it can result in a tailspin of personal disasters toward a dead end. But there is another narrative ...dropping in.

This narrative is shaped by the success we see by teens in self-directed learners around the country, and the world.

Dropping in can be a relief, a joy, a release, and a new beginning of a great future. As unthinkable as that sounds, leaving school can be a potent ticket to that roller-coaster ride. Outside school, teens face a full range of choices about their learning. They can encounter vertigo when looking at the learning possibilities that exist in the world outside school; but with support, assistance and coaching, they focus on their deepest interests. But many parents still see uncertainty and disbelief when they look at the possibilities outside the mainstream.

Discover the possibilities of dropping in. Plan together your teen’s learning opportunities. Discuss their ideas for the learning projects they want to initiate. Start an ongoing dialogue about their long-term goals.

Three objections...

“But people can’t always have it their own way. Our kids have to be prepared for a world where they do what needs to be done even if they hate it. Nobody gets to do what they love all the time.”

The fears of parents are sometimes based on the dark side of the “stay in school” idea: that school as a necessary training in misery. And it is excellent training indeed -- for a miserable life.

The life of independence and fulfillment doesn’t have its roots in that miserable school experience. Leave school, get out and grab the experiences you want! Work hard because it’s your own life and your own goals. Teens who determine and direct their own learning do their work with energy and enthusiasm, and that includes the hard parts.

Do they need adults? Of course! They need your support, your advice and your help. It gets hard, at times, to fulfill your dreams. There are moments of uncertainty, lack of confidence, and fear of failure. But with adults and a network of supportive friends, teens accomplish great things!

But the idea of going to college without high school seems absurd; you can’t climb to the second story of a building without passing through the first, can you?

Sure you can. Young people are doing it all the time. High school guidance offices don’t mention this, of course, but a generation of young people has enjoyed a college education...without having gone to high school. We’re no longer waiting for higher education to acknowledge the potential of self-directed learning. With planning and guidance, self-directed learners can prepare to be even more outstanding college candidates than schooled teens.

With that support, anything can happen; anything teens can dream of.

But as true as that is, it might not matter to some families.

“OK, so withdrawing my teen from school can be a responsible decision, but what then? Home schooling isn’t possible in my family. We can’t afford private school, and there are no self-directed learning centers or democratic schools in my area! My family can’t do this. My teen has to stay in school.”

Learning no longer has to take place in a building dedicated to that purpose, at a dedicated time. The Internet gives everyone access to a world of information, and the people teens need to engage with as they pursue the learning experiences of their choice.

...and an answer
Catalyst Learning Network is a solution for families who aren’t able to homeschool their teens, and have no adequate alternative close enough to home.

Catalyst is an online network of teens pursuing self-directed learning. Catalyst teens and staff together determine short- and long-term goals: college, internships, art projects, research, political or social activism, musical training, online courses...the list is nearly limitless.

Catalyst teens pursue their independent learning at home, in libraries, in diners, (or anywhere!) and meet online with other Catalyst students. They attend online themed discussion groups, book groups; they hear speakers on their chosen subjects, and present their work to one another.

This schedule of online meetings provides a structure to their day and their week, consisting of independent learning, online networking and discussion, volunteering, community college classes, SAT prep, internships or local activism.

Planning for the future is a priority for Catalyst staff. While not every Catalyst student holds college ambitions, those who do are encouraged to start preparation for that future early. The difference between this work and the work of public school is that there is choice and self-direction in their lives.

One factor and one only can ensure success for your teen outside school: the full-throated support of you, their parents. With your support, their future is bright. Without it, the breach between you will grow wider. They need you to listen. They need you to understand them. They need your help.

For more information about Catalyst, email

Monday, June 15, 2015

My Refusal

by MurkScribe

I find specialized high schools and the elite education systems to be dysfunctional and soul crushing. Reading William Deresiewicz critique on the Ivy  League education system resonated and spoke out to me about my past depression and feeling of self-worthlessness. I have been basing my self-worth and my self esteem on my grades, my achievements in class, and what people expected of me, including my parents.

I guess jumping through hoops all the time in my life gave me a feeling of drifting and loss of motivation in some ways, and a sense of me losing my independent thought and the inner human. Even though I do not come from an affluent background, my parents raised me with Korean values that rather put me in a situation where I earn their love and trust through jumping through hoops. If I didn't jump, I was beaten; put my hands up against the wall and stand there for hours until my arms couldn't move, told by my parents and aunt that I was filthy and lazy.

Now today deep inside I feel a hollowness in my heart, and yet I feel pushed by my parents and by school staff and kids to be pushed unto the college to work conveyor belt. I reject this; I spit it out. My older sister's recent mental breakdown was triggered by her going to college, something that she worked and sacrificed her sanity over during high school. She built a resume for herself and put in community service for the sake and purpose of job security and social prestige. But she was missing something in her life and she broke down, because of her feeling of self worthlessness and feeling lost.

This is a disturbing to me. I wish to no longer become a part of this. In fact I want the system to burn in a flame in one flash. Soon I will leave school, and try to escape from the system. I don't want to become a part of a system that churns out broken people.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

There's life outside school...FIND IT.

By Jorge Correa
Hansgrohe on School Survival
[Editor's note: School Survival is a support site for young people who hate being forced to go to school

You know, I actually was planning on publishing this way back in October 2013. But I decided to hold back, because I was just 16 years old back then. Really, one thing I knew back then was that I really didn't know anything at all. I was suffering a pretty bad depression and in a stagnant state. A lot of shit has happened ever since that fateful August afternoon I joined School Survival. A lot.

There are 2-3 things that I see when people come on here for the first time, the hood itself:

  • They're depressed as all hell, because they know they have to put up with a broken, shitty, out-of-date "education" system every day of their lives, and it's even worse in the summer, because they know that their release program is about to come to an end, and the crap resumes, with no end in sight.
  • They're so angry that they have to be in this system. They want to rebel. They want to destroy it. This can range from drawing dick jokes in the textbooks to actually seriously considering bringing a weapon to school, because when your rights are never awarded until you reach that magical age of 18, it wears on your goddamn mind.
  • Both.

I'm not sure whether this'll be some weird motivational post that doesn't have a long term effect. I can't really say your life will get better immediately, because I have no idea of your circumstances, and I can't judge. What I do know though, for sure, is that you're going through the struggle. We all are here, whether we're forced into a shitty-ass low-funded school (like I was), or one of those rich-as-shit fancy school districts with separate testing facilities. We've all faced terror and trauma from the schooling system. That's what I know, because why else are you here on School Survival?

What I can do, while you still walk the valley of boredom on a daily basis, is tell you the facts. It's been over 2 years since I first joined School Survival. A lot has fucking changed. A lot. What I've learned is...

-You're going to change. This is a fact of life. Your opinions on life, politics, the world, etc are all going to change within a 2 year period. You're going to see events that make you see the world in an entire new light. This is guaranteed.

-You can't expect change to come to you. You have to make change happen. For example, back in January 2014, I was lost, depressed, and I was coming into a realization I liked some popular girl. What did I do? I tried, damn it, and to my credit, I actually succeeded to an extent. I mean, the whole experience was one hell of a ride, but I learned a LOT of things from January-June 2014. Was it worth it? Hell yes. I know that never could've happened if I didn't try. You're going to hear it all the time, and it's true. I remember I felt so fucking empty from the summer of 2012 all the way until very late 2013, because I just let everything pass me by. Actually, I even embraced it, before it all crumbled.

-Fear is often the biggest obstacle we have to get through. I've learned that this sort of relates to my above point. We're scared to try new things, we're scared to take on new risks. You know what School Survival is about? Taking risks. You're taking a risk right now reading a post on a blog that is all against factory model education. However, the risks I'm talking about are the real ones - no, not the stupid ones like getting drunk and high - I'm talking about genuine risks that can turn into real life fucking experiences. Again, I could've just caved in, and accepted that I could never get a girl to like me. But no. I had balls. One thing that I remember is that sometimes, you have to strike out, badly. It's a necessary evil. We learn from our mistakes and our misfires, and what do we do? We improve on them. How the hell are you going to get to the next level if you don't even go to uncharted waters? You can't.

-New ideas and experiences are so, so liberating. Trust me. Once you get yourself immersed into a new phase of life, it's just going to feel so goddamn amazing. It's like going into a shower and just washing yourself clean, and then getting out, and just saying "aaahhhh". That's how beautiful change can be.

-It's all gonna come to an end one day. You're not gonna be stuck in school forever. You're going to be a free person one day. One day, think about it - you'll have your own car, place, food, job, interests, perhaps partner, friends, plans, etc. You're going to have ALL OF THAT. I know it's hard to wait until graduation (unless you convince your parents school is evil), but trust me, your day will come. Just hold on, please. Play some cheesy inspirational music or something. I'll link Eminem's "Lose Yourself" at the end of the post.

I think I'm done speaking. I hope this post has helped somebody. I've been through 2 years of school knowing that it was all bullshit - and I've been through many more years shedding tears. I'm a soldier, and trust me when I say I've seen everything life can throw at you. Carry on, soldier. Once you realize it, you are the one that controls your destiny (well, individually, at least).

I've spoken my piece.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

This Is Not Okay

Adults find it easy to dismiss the kids who say they hate school, because taking them seriously would mean seriously rethinking what we put them through.

Catalyst Learning Network is listening.