Recently, my husband and daughter (14) enjoyed a raucous dinner conversation where she declared her love for Voltaire and jokingly attempted to work all of her recent vocabulary words — including misogyny, misanthrope, monogamy, and matriculate — into one sentence. We discussed historical popes and the French Revolution. We chatted about the life of Dickens and what motivated him to write A Tale of Two Cities. We weren’t lecturing her. Though she did occasionally lecture us about political injustice — using an intimidating number of facts to back up her ideas.
A year ago, I was worried about her education. She was failing to understand math, her school hadn’t asked her to read anything in months (and never anything more challenging than Harry Potter), and — though she was already a teenager — no teacher had ever covered history in depth.
She is not my first child. So I’ve been through this before. We are not poor. We live in a nice neighborhood. We have changed schools several times. We even moved looking for better schools. Our schools are simply broken — even if you aren’t growing up poor in America. There are shocking numbers to support this.
My father grew up (poor-ish) in Ireland, where he attended public school. There he learned four languages, studied classical history and literature, and had to translate from Latin to Greek before he could graduate from (what we call) high school. American kids are dropping out of high school in astonishing numbers and many are graduating without learning to read and write proficiently in any language. I’m not a big home school advocate. I’d rather send my kids to school. But I was done trying to ask for a faster pace — something that might help American kids in general keep up globally and that might engage my own two kids’ minds enough to keep their attention away from the mild entertainment available to them 24/7 on the Internet. My suggestions and requests for history, literature, and science topics — even my offers to help — mostly seemed to annoy the teachers. (They were not subtle about their belief that I didn’t “get” the real issues — bad kids, test scores, etc. — they have to deal with and how my desire for a study of classics and history wasn’t even making their wish list.)
I was trying to supplement my daughter’s education after school. But she was spending so many hours of the day bored that she was drifting away from her own curiosity. I am self employed. I work almost entirely over the Internet, often for clients I have not met in any other way. I have written extensively about education and technologies that can fix it. So I knew there was a better way. I pulled my daughter out of school. (She was willing.) I am too busy to home school her. But I have space in my office for her. So I enrolled her in the virtual middle school at K12.com. (I pay tuition but it is a free option in many states. I covered this decision in some depth at Greatschools.org.)
And now, she comes to the office with me. She meets with her teachers and classmates in virtual classrooms and on Skype. And one year later, I’m amazed by the brain on her. She is passionate about political history. She loves science. (I know when she is in a science class because she dons a lab coat and goggles.) She is acing math. She reads voraciously. (Today she is immersed in Sophocles’ Antigone.) And she is having a blast — both intellectually (which was completely missing in school) and socially. I am not worried about her education anymore. She has it well in hand. She plans to go back to a brick and mortar school next year. My big concern about that? She will be disappointed in the reading list. So I’m just saying. We can fix this. Technology can help. Our kids are too small to fail. (Watch the video above. It’s announcing a campaign to fix schools.)
(Updated July 1, 2013)