Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Playing the education system...

Note: this is a personal anecdote/reflection

My sons are both in their teens and attend the local high school. It's a huge, non-selective school, which means that there are no entry criteria, other than proximity to the school. In theory I support so many of their forward thinking approaches, but...

My elder son is now in his third year, and is doing pretty well. My younger son, in his first year there, is drowning.

My elder son is one of those internally motivated kids who goes after what he wants and sits very firmly in the driver's seat of his own life and takes nonsense from nobody. He is also one of those infuriatingly blessed people who is good at almost everything he turns his hand to (except singing - only don't tell him I said so) and knows it! He is brilliant at sport - competing for the district in many disciplines, played chess for the county team, plays the electric guitar, has a physique to die for and is set to score As pretty much across the board in his GCSEs.

My younger son suffers from anxiety and stress, lacks confidence and tends to be a reactor rather than an initiator. He gets bullied at school because of his funky clothes and long hair (well past his shoulders). He isn't keen on sport, has to work hard to get good results, and buckles under when things go awry. Since he started at this school we have had to bring in both the school authorities and the police due to bullying, and his academic performance is slipping. We find ourselves taking issue with teachers on a regular basis and the whole thing is becoming very hard work - like wading through treacle!

So we decided to look at some alternatives. Today we went on a tour of a "grammar school". There aren't any of these in our town, so this option would mean traveling out of town to a different authority. It would mean a different exam board. But kids from grammar schools tend to get into better universities - or so we have been led to believe. We were surprised to be very impressed by the school, because it is steeped in tradition (about 400 years old), but they seem to be very adaptable. However, because they have entrance requirements, the boys would have to take tests and be interviewed. Moreover, the school can choose who to test. Based on his CAT predictor scores it seems unlikely that our younger son will even be allowed to take the test. Ironically, every alternative approach we have looked at looks like a good fit for the kid who takes a proactive approach to life, and this was no exception. I say "ironically" because it is for the other kid's sake that we keep looking.

So now we have a quandary. Do we stick to our principles or do we play the system to our kids' advantage? Bearing in mind that he is likely to do well wherever he goes, do we move our older son to a school that is seen to be elitist because he can get in there, and he will attract the attention of better universities, even though it seems our younger son won't make the cut? Do we keep our older son in the current system just because his brother can't go anywhere else?

Why does it all have to be so fraught?


Harold Jarche said...

As you know, I feel your pain, on an almost daily basis. In our case, we don't have many options. It's either "the" school or homeschool. We have tried to do what we think is best for each of our boys and I think that's all you can do. What is best for each one, and what is feasible, given the conditions.

Your hair comment is interesting. Our eldest son has very long hair, but it makes him more popular. Some of girls have even made a Facebook group dedicated to his hair ;-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the empathetic message of support, Harold.

Our son, too, is popular with girls because of his hair, but even more so with women in their 40s, who go gaga for it. Sadly, a large contingent of kids from some of the erm... rougher estates (where the current requirement is for cropped, gelled hair) do not agree, and are not shy to make their objections known.

Karen Janowski said...

Is it possible for you to homeschool your son? I homeschooled two of my kids when they were in middle school (6th through 8th grades here in the US which worked well for us. As Harold said, you have to do what is best for each one individually.
Not an easy choice and no simple solutions. I always tell my kids that we all just have to survive high school and that they will do great in life!

Anonymous said...

Hi Karen - thanks for the comment. Theoretically it is possible for me to homeschool, and it is an option I have considered from time to time. The reasons I have not done so are:
(1) I lack the skill and patience. I am a gifted teacher of adults (if I do say so myself) and fair to overcast with kids... except when it comes to my own. I am so desperate for them to succeed that I neglect to afford them the space to fail or to misunderstand. When they don't grasp a concept first time around I panic and become short with them. There is also the issue of my restricted range of skills - there is a range of subjects I could manage, but a vast number that I could not, and I wouldn't one to restrict their education to subjects I can cover.
(2) Money. When we moved to the UK 8 years ago, we took a severe financial knock and had to start again from scratch. My income accounts for a third of the household earnings and without it, we could not afford to own a home.
(3) Sport. This reason is moot in respect of our younger son, since he cares little for organised sport, and the exercise aspect of his education would be adequately handled by trips to the local pool, ice rink, etc. However, our older son participates in every single sport on offer at the school and plays for the team for most of them. He also represents the district in a few. He has enormous potential and looks set to become a decathlete of note. With the best will in the world, I could not afford him that range or level of challenge and competition in a homeschool environment.

When things get really rough at school I reconsider the possibility of homeschooling, but it always comes back to these three things.