When parents feel “weird/crazy/bad” for not putting their children in to school, or for taking them out.

Yesterday I received an email from a mother who’s son is deeply unhappy at school, but who is being criticised and told she is a “bad mother” for not forcing her child to attend. A week or so ago I was chatting to a mum I hadn’t met before, in a playground, and home ed came up because there were home ed kids there. The mum said that she was stressed about how to support her 6 year old son because he was getting in trouble at school. The main reasons she gave was because he didn’t want to sit still all day, and had a good idea himself of what he wanted/needed to be doing. That was getting him into trouble because it’s not ok in school to choose how you use your time. Lets say the school wasn’t particularly interested in her son’s need to move or direct his own learning, and was more comfortable labelling him as disobedient/naughty, and insisting that she toe some kind of line to get him under control.

Now, I’m going to take the space of this blogpost to address something that I think is really inexcusable. It is when parents (or children) are left feeling like they are “weird/crazy/bad” by the people around them for questioning schooling.

I’d like to highlight that this is a feminist issue, because it is most often mothers who are experiencing this – they tend to be the ones closest to the coal face of children’s experience. They also have a long history of being diminished and labelled as ‘crazy’ when challenging authority and/or deviating from the norm/what is expected of them, and we need to collectively stop doing that because it is abusive, silencing and limiting to progress.

This is also a children’s rights issue, because children’s access to their rights at all times and in all places (including school) should be a primary concern to us all. The very nature of schooling as it currently exists is a direct obstacle to this, as are the attitudes and behaviour of some adults and even children who have internalised the marginalisation of children as normal, natural or necessary. Who have also learned that conformity and obeying the system of schooling is more important than questioning whether it is a healthy space or best serving children’s needs, individuality and growth.

So, back to the main point, of parents feeling “weird/crazy/bad” for challenging schooling.

A survey of young people published earlier this year by Barnados, identified SCHOOL as being their most cited cause of stress: “By the age of 16, stress at school was a worry for 83% of children.”

There seems to be a cumulative negative effect of schooling on children, peaking at the end but starting in the primary school years. I would suggest that in actually starts in the preschool years (and continues to impact and influence throughout adulthood), and that children themselves underestimate it’s full impact because they have adapted to and accepted various aspects of schooling that is damaging to their sense of self and personal agency.

The diminishing mental health of children is a symptom of a dysfunctional system and environment of schooling. Let’s highlight here that schooling, and education, are not one and the same.

As a parent, if someone said to you: “You can send your child to school, but by the time they are 16 there is an 83% chance that it will be negatively affecting their mental health”, what would you say? “Oh yes please where do I sign them up?” Or would you ask what you other options were?

It is deeply uncomfortable to start interrogating and addressing the full problematic extent of schooling, seeing as almost all families in our society use schools, parents love and want what is best for their children, and teachers enter schools with a passion for education, not wanting to negatively impact the children in their care.

It is uncomfortable, but it is absolutely critical that we do it.

Parents and children that question the system, or make the decision to do something other than school, are deserving of recognition and support, not undermining or black sheeping. As a society we need to be questioning schooling and working on alternatives, so that things can change positively now and in the future for children and society as a whole.

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6 thoughts on “When parents feel “weird/crazy/bad” for not putting their children in to school, or for taking them out.

  1. Totally agree. I think there is an enormous pressure on mothers to be seen as the ‘good’ mother. Perpetrated by other mothers and the media that does little to support alternatives. Any mother, who leads any sort of ‘alternative’ lifestyle is seen as weirded. Been there, done that, got the award !

  2. I can relate to this wholeheartedly. I am convinced that it is at the root of my own depression, which was diagnosed 6 months after my eldest started school, and after difficult preschool experience for her and I.

  3. I’ve always worn ‘weird’ as a badge of honour 😁 Even back when I went to school I was a bit ‘weird’ and didn’t do ‘what everybody does’ without question. Looking at the big picture of my life the decision to home ed was no great surprise and what other people think was never going to bother me. That said the reactions I’ve got IRL have been overwealmingly positive. There are plenty of trolls on the internet, but face to face it’s usually approval or curiosity.

  4. I have been a homeschool mom, teacher, grandmother and founded a private alternative school 35 years ago that is child centered. Most of our children enter now with some form of school related anxiety/depression. Our biggest problem? Helping our parents and teachers understand what children need and feeling ok about providing it. They are constantly questioning their choice. It feels like cheating because their kids are happy. Be proud of your choice to create a life where your children’s needs come first.

  5. Thank you for this article. My son has always had a difficult in school. From kindergarten to now (7th grade). I home schooled or more like unschooled him a few years during the elementary years, he attended a free school for two and then we moved to another state. His sixth grade was ok due to his odd ball weird teacher. We loved him. But things went awful for my son in middle school, and the teachers and administrators were of no help. He has been home over two months now. Family members judge, everyone we judges. My weird friends are back east. Thanks again for the validation. My son was near suicidal while in school. His friends from school have been called names by teachers because their grades are not great such as a waste of space and such. I feel I made the right decisions . He is much more at peace with himself now.

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