Alternative schooling.

If you have a child with chronic illness who is of public school age, this blog entry is for you. This blog is also for you if you’ve ever considered home school or independent study for a child who learns differently, and is beyond their grade level.

This is partially a rant based on personal experiences, and obviously biased because I was in alternative education programs. But hopefully it is insightful and helpful in your decision.

My health problems started to be apparent around 6-7th grade. I had issues of catching a lot of colds before then, but it really didn’t take hold until middle school. And with that came a lot of concentration issues. I remember the exact day I realized it was going on. I was an avid reader and often would stay up too late by accident because I was hooked on a book. But one day I just couldn’t read anymore. I would read the words but none of it made sense. None of it would stay in my brain or paint a picture anymore. I’ve had a problem with reading ever since.

The concentration issues effected more than just reading. I’ve been unable to do any sort of math that takes memorization of formulas or steps. If I could just remember them, I might be pretty good. But I can’t. They don’t stick. Sometimes it’s bad enough that I don’t even remember the numbers I’m working with and I have to keep referring back to the problem in the math book.

I overlooked all of this when I was in middle school, and for a part of high school. I didn’t think I had a problem. I thought I just wasn’t good at school. I was pretty hard on myself. And teachers were too. As I’ve said in my other blogs, they treated me like a bad kid that didn’t want to do the work, and my self-esteem is still recovering from it even today.

Along with the concentration issues came a great deal of fatigue, which hurt my concentration issues even more. Looking back, I don’t know how I got out of bed at 6 every day to spend all day sitting in a hard chair memorizing stuff, only to come home and have to put in more hours on homework. No wonder I didn’t do my homework. It got to the point where I couldn’t manage to go to school the whole 5 days every week.

Then there were other things, like the joint pain and muscle cramps. This made P.E. difficult. I don’t think anyone that puts that much time into school should also have to rely on their body to get a grade. Not that exercise isn’t important, but let’s be realistic. How much exercise do you actually get in P.E.? I think they should just call it S.I.T.S. An acronym for “standing in the sun.” Because that’s all you do, when you’re not digging the little rocks out of your palms from doing push-ups on asphalt. Kids are pretty active on their own when they have time, which homework seems to interrupt. Any kid would love to go on a bike ride instead of doing homework.

The majority of what kids actually spend their time doing at school is busy work. Who needs to do 900 math problems when you understand how to do it by the 5th problem? Who needs to get a cramp in their hand writing their spelling words 5 times each? (which obviously doesn’t work because I know plenty of adults who couldn’t spell to save their life) There are better ways to learn these things that don’t involve mind-numbing repetition. 

Back to the health issues, I didn’t have the energy to burn on this kind of thing. By the time I was done wasting my energy on busywork, I had no energy left to do anything I enjoyed. I gave up sports, I wasn’t in any clubs, I played guitar but was having issues learning it because I was so tired. I didn’t have many friends because there just wasn’t time for it, especially when I started getting homework on weekends. It was never-ending. There are healthy kids who feel this way too. It’s just too much.

Teachers are assholes, too. Not all of them, of course. But a lot of them. They want to be there as much as the kids do, and they take it out on everyone. Kids get poor grades because they forgot to put their name on their paper, or some other ridiculous mistake, so they aren’t even being graded on the material. They’re being graded on the fact that school makes them so tired they forget to put their name on things. I did an illustration once for science class, and I spend all evening on it because I love to draw, and there was nowhere on the front for me to put my name, so I put it on the back. I handed it to the teacher and I said “I couldn’t fit my name on the front” and he said “Well I’m taking ten points off because we put our names on the front of our assignments in this class.”

Kids don’t need to be dealing with this stupidity. It’s unnecessary and all it does is add frustration and cause self-esteem issues. This isn’t learning.

Things got better when I decided to change the way I learn. My mom found and signed me up for independent study. In this program, I saw a teacher once a week to turn in my work, have conversations about literature, take tests, or get any help I might need on assignments. The rest of the time, my education was up to me. I was on my own time. I could get the sleep I needed to be able to devote energy to learning and remembering. I wasn’t doing busy work. If I understood something, there was no need to spend further time on it. I wasn’t being exposed to all sorts of germs day in and day out. And I wasn’t being picked on by teachers for being sick.

My little brother has also chosen the independent study route. He hasn’t been sick like me, but busywork isn’t for him, either. He too got tired of the stupidity that goes on in public schools, and the exhaustion that ensues afterward. He is absolutely brilliant. Public school was holding him back. He is in High School and currently taking college classes that give him both high school and college credit, and he is getting ahead.

Unfortunately, home schooled kids and independent study kids are looked down upon by society because they don’t fit into the cookie-cutter school system. Whenever I bring up alternative schooling to adults they think it’s ridiculous, which is unfair, because they haven’t experienced what public school is like in the 21st century. Kids also seem to think it’s not real school. But having the ability to manage your own education is more adult-like and provides more useful experience for your future than picking your nose in some classroom.

Independent study isn’t for everyone. But public school isn’t for everyone, either, and people need to stop acting like it is. Everyone learns in their own way on their own time, and you need to do what is best for you. If in any way you or your child is having a hard time in school, it is worth considering. It is worth preserving self-esteem. It is worth experiencing your full potential. 

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