In Which I Extract My Kid From the Clutches of Traditional Schooling


J.D. Tuccille

I can't say it was the stress-induced puking that caused my wife and I to finally pull our son from his brick-and-mortar charter school. We'd been contemplating yanking him from a classroom setting for the past year or so. Over the summer, we ran him through a battery of academic tests and encouraged him to study math and Spanish online. The results were enlightening, but we thought he might be a little young for a full online education. And then the nervous tic developed as the start of school approached. That decided us well before he barfed at the thought of the next day's schedule of classes.

Anthony's (he started insisting on his full name) charter school is a good effort of the type. During a July meet-and-greet, the school principal and his teacher were amenable to a flexible approach—especially one that takes into account the flawed math genes I handed off to him. He grasps some lessons about math, while others on exactly the same concepts might as well be written in Sanskrit. They said they'd work with him. And they tried.

But a classroom is fundamentally a classroom. It has a structured day, and a bunch of kids requiring the divided attention of a teacher. The kids are part of a group, and mostly they're taught as part of that group.

And my kid is now twitching and puking at the thought of school. This does not work for me.

So we took the lead from the online lessons that worked so well for Anthony over the summer, and for his new penchant for googling the shit out of animals, battles, and historical figures who catch his interest. Personally, I had ever heard of slave-making ants, but I walked out of my office one day to find that a mention of them in his encyclopedia of animals started him on an online research foray into the nastier sorts of crawling things. This was after he became fascinated by the shifts in Roman military gear from 100 A.D., to 400 A.D., to 1000 A.D. He has become very familiar with the websites where you can track the evolution.

So now he's enrolled in an online private school. The school promises an individualized approach—we already know from experience that many of the lessons are designed to automatically adjust their pace to the needs of students working through online lessons. He'll still work with a couple of online teachers, and my wife and I take on larger roles in monitoring his work and coaching him through the offline material. It's as much a homeschooling effort with organizational and technological backup as it is a private school.

It's an alternative to what we tried before, which didn't work. And while there's no guarantee that this is the "right" approach for Anthony, I have no doubt that it's an improvement for my kid, whatever may work for others.

It would have been nice to have an option like this back when I was twitching and puking my own way through public schools in New York and Connecticut.

Update: And, for the inevitable accusations that we're now keeping Anthony locked in the closet…He can kick his way through the door with his Tae Kwon Do skills.