When children don’t want to go to school

I read another article this morning about the Missouri woman who has been sentenced to serve jail time due to her son’s truancy. What struck me the most in this article was that the jury wanted to give Kathleen Casteel of Walnut Grove, MO seven days in jail, but the Judge determined two. From a December article, I learned that officials in the county where Ms. Casteel resides had decided to crack down on truancy this last school year. I don’t know who served on the jury, nor do I know all the details, but it seemed a rather strong ruling.

After reading about these families, I wonder what a parent is expected to do when a child doesn’t want to go to school? At HEM News & Commentary, Valerie Bonham Moon shared an article which reported that Ms. Casteel had attempted to take her handicapped son to school and that he fought her most of the way, sometimes leaving through windows, jumping out of the car and more. It seems to me, that if a child will go to those lengths to avoid going to school, someone ought to find out why. In one of the many articles I read, the jury felt Ms. Casteel’s sentence would send a loud message to everyone in the county. I just wonder how that strong message will help her son WANT to attend school?

I had a taste of the importance my school placed on “compulsory attendance” in high school one year after I had gathered quite a few absences after a few major illnesses that had kept me out of classes. I don’t believe I was in danger of being truant, but one day when I hurt my back in gym class I followed school procedure and went to the office to request permission to go home. I remember how shocked I was when permission was DENIED. I was told that I had missed too much school and could not miss any more. My wonderful Mother always made sure I had a quarter (this was long before cell phones) and I used it to call her and tell her about my back and that I wasn’t permitted to leave. I distinctly remember the assistant Principal’s shock as I proceeded to walk out the door. As I was walking out he said he was concerned that my absences could affect my grades and he just wanted me to live up to my potential. Mom was waiting in the parking lot and took me directly to our Doctor who diagnosed a major muscle tear in my back and ordered me to bed for a week. It was one of the first of many lessons in my life that one had to follow their heart and instincts.

I keep coming back to truancy and the fact that compulsory attendance fuels it. I think like many other laws, it is a good example of hard cases make bad law. It certainly serves those who wish to be there, but it also forces many who do not. Additionally, teachers, guidance counselors and administrators are forced to become truancy enforcers.

I cannot imagine how one forces a child, handicapped or not to attend any event? Especially if they are not doing well, dislike it or if they are getting picked on or bullied? It seems to put these children and their families constantly swimming against the tide without a life jacket.

I wonder if attempts to comply with programs such as No Child Left Behind, aren’t causing confusion between compulsory education and compulsory attendance? Some may wonder what the difference is between the two and as they often do, Larry and Susan Kaseman explain it well in their July/August Home Education Magazine Taking Charge Column article,
Don’t Let Compulsory Attendance Turn into Compulsory Education.

I am grateful that my Mom always trusted me when I said I didn’t feel well and allowed me to stay home from school. I never had to fight her about it. It seems to me that trusting children and families is the key. They are not guilty until proven innocent. These are American families who are most often trying to live their lives and do their best for themselves and their community. It may not always be the same way the experts expect it to be done, but after all, each of us are unique individuals. I believe that most parents are trying to give children their love and a nurturing environment to grow and learn in. These come from the heart and cannot be forced, nor legislated.

I don’t know that I ever lived up to my public school potential, but years later, that former assistant principal called me about an alumni event and we got to talking. He asked me what I was doing and how I was. I told him I was now a mother and how much I was enjoying homeschooling with my boys. His response surprised me. He said there was no greater vocation in life than that of a parent and he had always known I would do well. So in the end, I guess that week I missed in school didn’t really matter that much after all.

Truant, homeschooling or a push-out?

Have you ever heard of the term push-out? It is a newer term that describes a child whose family has been told by their school district that their child would most likely be better off not enrolled there. As hard as it is to believe, the reports keep coming in that this is happening. I’m not complaining mind you, as I believe many a child thrives when given the opportunity to live and learn in an environment with a nurturing family, but I think it should be a family choice, not a coercion.

I’ve know many children who were having a hard time in a school setting who left those circumstances and thrived at home. Susan Ohanian has written about push-outs for many years here. Many push-outs are ending up in the news. Too often we read stories such as the truancy case that Susan Ryan and Valerie Bonham Moon posted today about the Missouri mom jailed for her son’s truancy. Susan and Valerie both provide good resources on this situation and past push-outs in the news.

This is not a new story. A quick search brought up a post at Why Homeschool from February of this year, that talks about Another Case of “Push-out.” If you ask any homeschool activist about push-outs, most will have a story to tell you. Over fifteen years ago, I attended a speaking engagement featuring John Taylor Gatto and he warned the audience then that school districts would start sending their ‘troubled’ students into homeschooling to bring down the bar so to speak. I said then and say now to bring them on and welcome these families and their children with open arms. Share the ropes with them. Tell them about natural learning and that they aren’t alone. There are many, many square pegs that don’t fit into the round hole of public school and homeschooling might be just the safety net that will help their child to flourish.

I’ve read and heard some comments on these cases that state that perhaps these are just cases of abuse or below par parenting? If so, then we are talking about criminal acts and there are laws that address those situations. However, I think there are times where this might be a case of blind judgement. What is the proper way to homeschool, anyway? How does one properly parent? There is a Seneca saying that states: “If you judge, investigate.” My version of this would be before you think a family is not qualified to homeschool, talk to them yourself. Find out where they have come from. How has their child been treated in school? How have they been treated? Put yourself in their place and imagine where they have come from and how much better off their child might be in a loving and nurturing environment. I know there is a book in the works by HEM Publishing that will help these families, but in the meantime, I’ve been wondering something. I have to wonder if we parents have reached a place that we think there are very narrow and proper ways to parent? Are we buying the NCLB mandates of how, when and what a child is to learn at any given age? In this day and time of Zero to Three, Universal Preschool and testing for all mentality perhaps it is high time we stood together as parents, helping new folks if they want help and encouraging those who might be having a hard time of it. Parents are a child’s biggest support network, but sometimes the parents don’t have support. I think as informed parents we can and should start a revolution of empowerment and let others know how to find their rights and responsibilities so that they too can be their family’s best expert.

I hope that Kathleen Casteel and her family are getting that kind of support.