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