I’m here to disrupt your school

Published by Lori Pickert on February 7, 2015 at 08:47 AM

Dear Principal Jones, teachers, school board members, and parents,

My name is Carrie Smith. I'm here to disrupt your school.

People have been telling me for years that I shouldn’t be homeschooling — I should be improving the lives of all kids, not just my own! This year, it finally sank in.

We’ve been homeschooling for 10 years and hoo boy, I think we’ve tried it all! Montessori, classical, unschooling — you name it, we tried it. That’s what you do when you love your kids, I guess — you just keep fiddling with the recipe till you find what works. And now you’ll all benefit!

Our oldest, Margaret, was six when we pulled her out of school, and she still struggles with needing a bit of structure. Even after all these years of homeschooling she has a hard time taking advantage of the freedom she has to do it her own way. Her self-motivation still isn’t back 100%. But that’s okay — fewer changes for you to make! Ha ha!

Unfortunately, Margaret is a real crank bear if she has to get up before 9. But it turns out there’s abundant research showing that teenagers need more sleep and would benefit from a later start time. Circadian rhythms or something. I’m not sure how you’ll work it out with working parents and your bus schedule and so forth, but I’ll leave you to figure that out.

Carl is our oldest boy; he’s 12. Now, self-motivation is not a problem there. He’s never seen the inside of a classroom and he won’t stand for anyone telling him what to do or how to do it! Self-directed learner all the way. He really thrives in maker situations. You’ve probably read about maker spaces online — they’re all the rage. So much good stuff there, you’re sure to love it. You’ll have to mark out some really big blocks of time because the only way kids can think up their own ideas and then make them happen is if you clear the decks and throw your schedule out the window. I’ll let you work out what you want to drop from your current schedule to accommodate that.

Now Carl is like a lot of 12-year-olds — I don’t think the seat of his pants sees a chair all day. But no worries — talk about abundant research! Kids need to be up and moving around, not sitting down all day. And now they will be!

My younger daughter Luna is 9. She was born in France while we were living there for a year for my husband’s job and even though she was only 3 months old when we left, she must have picked up something from the air. The girl doesn’t walk when she can dance; she doesn’t talk when she can sing. She paints all day long.

Of course an artistic soul like our Luna would be miserable in school with all of the cutbacks in art education over the last several years — but not anymore! Ha ha! We’ll be reinstituting those art and music classes tout suite.

Our youngest, Joe, is 5. He’s a special case, but all our kids are, am I right? Strangely, what’s worked best for Joe is Waldorf, which didn’t work at all with the other kids. Waldorf is a little bit picky about … well … everything! You’ll see! I’ve prepared some handouts to send home about diet, special toys, no TV, and so forth. We’ll be switching to a Waldorf curriculum in all of the Kindergarten classes immediately.

Finally, in closing, I would like to sincerely apologize for taking so long to wake up and see that I should be taking my educational improvements to the school and putting them in action there. I honestly didn’t realize I had that power.

I mean, that’s why we homeschooled in the first place — because we didn’t think school could (or should have to, honestly!) accommodate the various needs of our four kids … not to mention the fact that we were figuring it all out as we went along! It certainly was a learning process.

Who knew that I could have stayed and improved things not just for Margaret, Carl, Luna, and Joe but for ALL kids. My husband and I had quite a laugh about it, I can tell you. I mean, we haven’t been able to afford a family vacation in ten years! We would give each other a rueful look every year writing out our property tax bill, looking at all that education money we couldn’t use — and now we can!



P.S. See you on Monday!



Comment by shelli : mamaof... on February 7, 2015 at 10:42 AM

LOL Love it.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 7, 2015 at 10:58 AM

thank you, shelli! ;)

Comment by Audrey on February 7, 2015 at 12:57 PM

That was awesome!

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 7, 2015 at 01:15 PM

thanks, audrey! :)

Comment by Tameka on February 7, 2015 at 12:57 PM

Will you elaborate a little about those maker sites please?

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 7, 2015 at 01:15 PM
Comment by bethiniowa on February 7, 2015 at 01:40 PM

Admirable, subversive and very sad at the root. Your joke about improving the school system is funny just like the jokes doctors and policemen make about dead bodies: there's nothing else to do but joke about a horrible situation that can't be changed, except lose your sanity. Thanks for sharing all your ideas about how parents can give their children a chance at an individualized education.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 7, 2015 at 02:39 PM

i think you are right — i chose to write this satirical piece rather than tear my hair out by the roots. :) (if you didn’t laugh .. you’d have to cry.) my sanity definitely trembles on the knife edge some days!

just to be clear, my beef is with the ridiculous admonition “don’t homeschool! stay in school and advocate for ALL kids!”

i’m not against trying to change the school system — i do think it’s ridiculous to imply it’s easy, straightforward, or that homeschooling parents (who are all over the map about what they think is best for their own kids) could effect the change they want by staying.

well, and i guess i do have one more beef — when people presume that homeschooling parents have completely washed their hands of the public school system. that is false. some of them? maybe. but certainly no more than the number of parents whose kids attend school. most homeschoolers care deeply about education and plenty of us have logged our time volunteering, donating time and materials, and advocating for change.

can change happen? i admit that more than 25 years after i first volunteered in a classroom, i am getting a bit jaded. we’ve known for a VERY long time how kids learn best; we have not made much headway moving in that direction.

still, there are wonderful schools .. and wonderful classrooms .. and wonderful teachers. and there are people who care deeply about making things better. so there is hope!

Comment by Debbie on February 7, 2015 at 06:13 PM

I love this post!

Mostly because homeschoolers care much more about what the children have to endure than the ps parents care about our kids! Let's just get real!

No one has ever come to me with genuine care for my children and asked how they were doing and how they could help. On the flip side, I've had plenty offer arrogant "wisdom and advice" on how I was ruining my kid's lives and how behind my kids surely would be, should they ever actually enter the "real world".

So, I love your humor and sarcasm here and I say....keep doing it!

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 7, 2015 at 06:51 PM

aw, i’m sorry you’ve had those experiences, debbie. i’ve had them, too, unfortunately.

almost all of my best friends are teachers and they recognize what a great education my sons are getting, they love project-based and self-directed learning, and they are true allies!

at the same time, i had good friends who were teachers who never spoke to me again after i said we were homeschooling. to them, it’s a complete betrayal of the public school system.

so, there’s all kinds. i’m glad the people who hang out around here, whether they homeschool or send their kids to school or both, are mutually supportive and encouraging. :)

thank you so much for your kind words! <3

Comment by Susan Raber on February 7, 2015 at 07:14 PM

A couple of years ago I was commenting on a blog post along those lines (homeschool families should keep their kids in the system to effect change and increase funding) and I said the logical conclusion of his thinking was that childless couples were also abandoning their duty to local schools by not having children and enrolling them - and the guy agreed! He went on about how it was everyone's responsibility to procreate and put their kids in schools!

There's more than enough insanity to go around, apparently.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 7, 2015 at 08:31 PM

lolol susan, unbelievable!

Comment by Tracie on February 8, 2015 at 07:11 AM

Lori, in a comment above you mentioned that "we've known for a VERY long time how kids learn best." I'd love to read some of the research and ideas on the "how" you speak of. Can you recommend some books that would spell it out for me? Thank you!

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 8, 2015 at 11:47 AM

hi tracie :)

i would read john dewey, paulo freire, ivan illich’s “deschooling society.” if you get interested, you could dig deeper and read the theories of vygotsky, piaget, montessori, bruner, et al. (a whole list of constructivists can be found here — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructivism_(philosophy_of_education) — and a free online workshop here — http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/constructivism/index.html)

lucy sprague mitchell’s work at bank street — http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/pioneers-our-field-lucy-sprag...

the famous preschools of reggio emilia (an approach very trendy in the u.s. the last 15 years) were started at the end of world war II. you can find a list of the reggio books i recommend most here:


gatto wrote his famous teacher-of-the-year speech in 1991 — almost 25 years ago! -_- has anything changed since then?

It is the great triumph of schooling that among even the best of my fellow teachers, and among even the best parents, there is only a small number who can imagine a different way to do things. Yet only a very few lifetimes ago things were different in the United States: originality and variety were common currency; our freedom from regimentation made us the miracle of the world; social class boundaries were relatively easy to cross; our citizenry was marvelously confident, inventive, and able to do many things independently, to think for themselves. We were something, all by ourselves, as individuals.

It only takes about 50 contact hours to transmit basic literacy and math skills well enough that kids can be self-teachers from then on. — The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher

read the rest here: http://www.cantrip.org/gatto.html

(gatto also wrote the underground history of american education — http://amzn.to/1uskTpU)

well, that’ll get you started! :)

when i was researching back in 1998/1999 before opening my school, i read reams and reams of then-current educational literature about best practices. i read vivian paley. i read lilian katz. i read all of the educators mentioned above. there is a huge body of work stretching back over a hundred years describing the kind of learning that is best for children. it’s just rarely put into practice.

if you do some reading, email and let me know how it’s going!

Comment by tracie on February 8, 2015 at 05:04 PM

Thanks, Lori. I just picked up a Kindle edition of Experience and Education, and I'm looking forward to tackling that. Where does John Holt land in all of this? I read through the Wiki page on constructivists, and I didn't see him there. I suppose that means he is labeled something else? I'm not well-versed on the theories, I'm more interested in the applications!

Thanks, again!

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 9, 2015 at 08:36 AM

John Holt was a teacher who wrote about his experiences working with children in the fantastic books How Children Learn and How Children Fail (those are my favorites of his books; the first was published in 1964); he became a proponent of homeschooling/unschooling and wrote books like Teach Your Own.

Holt believed children fail because they are afraid and because they are forced to study things that don’t really interest them.

From Teach Your Own:

“What makes people smart, curious, alert, observant, competent, confident, resourceful, persistent — in the broadest and best sense, intelligent — is not having access to more and more learning places, resources, and specialists, but being able in their lives to do a wide variety of interesting things that matter, things that challenge their ingenuity, skill, and judgement, and that make an obvious difference in their lives and the lives of people around them.”

So much has been written about progressive methods in education, but so rarely are the ideals of progressive education actually realized. — Howard Gardner
Comment by Rita on February 8, 2015 at 10:26 AM

I love this.

I am always frustrated when I am told by parents and other well-meaning adults that I should check my kids in "free Kid Prison" (public school) and try to reform within. I personally think tax-funded schools are performing exactly as intended in creating little drones. Honestly, the government would prefer our children to be quiet little citizens who depend on them (the government) to take care of them from cradle to grave.

I already pay thousands a year in school taxes for other children in my school zone while funding my boys' education 100% on my own. Why should I sacrifice their education in order to try to change a system that is not broken but working as intended?

Nope. Let other parents make that sacrifice. We can't change the public schools as long as the local, state, and federal government are running things. They don't want to create free-thinkers who take care of themselves AND others by working hard. I am just blessed to live in a state (TX) where we can teach our own children any way we want.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 8, 2015 at 11:24 AM

try to reform within” — that is the exact type of phrase i’ve been hearing for years! perfect. the very first time i spoke positively about homeschooling, long before i had kids of my own, a very good family friend gave me that spiel!

interesting that you mention sacrifice — it WOULD be a sacrifice for us to put our kids in school, but i don’t think it’s a sacrifice for the vast majority of schooling parents to keep them there. even those who recognize and would like to change some negative things feel it’s an overall positive choice for their families. (i have met a LOT of people who basically expressed that homeschooling would be their LAST choice!) so odd, then, to be told that we should give up our plans and go there to “try to reform from within” — we’d obviously be starting that revolution from scratch!


Comment by Rita on February 8, 2015 at 01:01 PM

You are so right . I have had so many of my friends complain endlessly about their public school to me (and on Facebook), yet when I mention that they could consider homeschooling they act as if I am crazy. "Oh no", they tell me, "My children won't listen to me (???) and if I were at home all day with them I would go crazy". So they continue to complain about the system without trying to change anything. I think they feel that public school is just something children have to endure before heading off to college.

I believe strongly in educational choice and I think each parent should do what is best for them and their children. I personally think learning should be a joyful lifetime endeavor, and I feel that traditional schools teach kids to hate to learn.

And homeschooling does have a huge perk. If something isn't working I can't blame a teacher, other students, or the school; it is all on me. If I don't like how it is going, I have full power to instantly make changes.

And strangely enough, I like being around my kids all day. Weird, huh? ;-)

Comment by Silvana on February 8, 2015 at 01:04 PM

Oh this touched me deeply!
I am one of those teachers who can be proud of my teaching years. I worked at schools that allowed me to truly guide students and not just stuff them with useless facts. I worked in dual language schools without a set curriculum to guide me (Thankfully, there isn't any available to accommodate learning in two languages!) I was free to follow their interest, and excited to offer as much as I could. I had beautiful boxes of test prepping books that held the door open but never got to be open.
But then I had my kids (two in fact), and I knew there are not many teachers like us. Common core (government intrusion) has actually hinder my old program and the flexibility I once enjoyed is gone.
I am keeping my kids at home... yes, I could have continue to do my job and help those poor souls in classrooms, but like someone said it, I would be sacrificing my kids and my relationships with them... sorry ... It is time to put my family first! I still also pay the school taxes in a very good school district my kids do not attend.
I keep a blog where I share that if your kid is into dolphins is great to let her make a paper one in the actual size, write her own lapbook about them, and then take her to swim with a real one.
In our homeschool my kids practice skills, they don't follow curriculum nor fill out worksheets. They have never attended a school and I love to hear how learning feels fun, exciting, and important to them.
I know that I won't be back to teaching in public schools for many years (if ever). I absolutely love learning with my kids. I still get asked every year (it has been 6) to go back to the workforce! My answer is always no thank you!... Then the next part comes. I am told that I am sacrificing myself for JUST my kids by staying home, I turn around and tell them: THIS IS MY DREAM JOB! And I would do anything for JUST my two kids!

Comment by BARBARA WEST on November 25, 2016 at 09:32 AM

Loved your letter to the school board!

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