Lesson I need to learn?


It might be good I’m on my way to a beach vacation tomorrow…

People who know me, know that my 13 year-old son has been struggling in school. He quit going altogether in the first semester. Then he started the second semester full of promise, excited to go back and be again among his peers. He was still missing a fair number of days, but it seemed to be going OK, for a while. Or maybe I was just hoping that it would be OK.

He saw his counsellor today. She thinks he’s heading for another bout of depression/ shut down. She doesn’t think he’ll make it through the semester. He really, really hates school. I already knew that. He wrote the story below a couple of days ago.


Lesson I learned…  (shared with permission)

by Brent

School is like a prison. You have no power and have no say in what happens around you. It is a system that is awfully designed because they force everyone to learn the same stuff even if they have absolutely no interest.

If it were up to me, you’d have people learning what they want to learn. Then you would have someone to help them learn what they want to learn. You would have classrooms where people could talk to each other about the stuff they learned. For example I might be able to go to a class to talk to others about what I’d learned about global warming. Then we would have debates about how fast it is going and if it is a real thing. You could publish papers about what you had learned and then make videos to reach the people who won’t read the papers.

My school would allow for a good amount of free time. You’d go there for four days a week from 10am – 3pm. When you arrived, you’d pick the class you wanted to go to that day based on the topic you’d been thinking about and working on in your spare time. Every week, there would be a vote among the students to decide what the classroom topics would be for the next week. There would need to be some limits like on lunch. You could only have one lunch block a day because the purpose of being there would be to learn.

My plan is to change the whole school system in the next 20 years. In the meantime, I’ve learned that some teachers are better than others. Some teachers will let me change the things I’m working on like my English teacher who let me read The Iliad instead of The Outsiders.


Back to my words and thoughts…

I’m in the weeks in between two learning conferences that will have in attendance some of the smartest folks I know studying learning (LAK17 and OER17). It is those types of conferences that inspire me, encourage me, enable me to believe that changes is possible.

Description of the new BC science curriculum

We started to talk about an e-portfolio to demonstrate his knowledge in science. He learn more l the quantum stuff he’s always talking about and explain why “every gade 8 student should understand quarks.” I started to even think we could generate xAPI statements from his work and think more about what they said about his learning. Maybe he could write some. He does have an interest in programming. We read the new BC Grade 8 science curriculum “with a renewed focus on inquiry…” and got excited.


Then I got an email from the school principal explaining that the only person who could set up a package to demonstrate his learning was a single teacher. The same teacher who has already told me that the only possible way to demonstrate the Grade 8 science competencies was to complete his content-driven multiple choice, fill-in -the-blank and short answer tests and to complete a series of pre-determined lab assignments.

Twice today someone has suggested home schooling. It’s not the first time.

So I think: If the system is not working, leave it? It’s certainly the sane answer.

But as someone who is supposed to start doctoral studies in education this summer who describes her job mostly as enabling change, if I can’t fight to make the system better then who will? Where will my son learn to stand up for his beliefs if I don’t support him? Doesn’t change often start with one child who takes a stand (one smart, sensitive, stubborn child)? Maybe we can work within the system, bring together the administrators, teachers, counsellors (school and private) and psychologist together to think differently and achieve something that benefits more than just us?

And then I think: Maybe the lesson I need to learn is when to simply walk away. (Maybe it’s the lesson I’m about to teach my kids?)


Post Script: Hoping that this is a temporary deflation and that I return from holidays and OER17 re-energized and ready to push more big learning rocks up steep hills.


5 thoughts to “Lesson I need to learn?”

  1. Oh Tanya. This must be a really really tough time for you and I hope you and Brent find your way. He is clearly a brilliant and critical child, and despite depression (which cannot be underestimated) is a resister, challenging the status quo in a critical manner, not a rebel who is objecting with nonsense. Thank you for sharing his thoughts with us. I struggle daily with education here and I am myself frustrated with it but my child seems not to be too frustrated with it yet. Maybe you will find your way within the system or maybe you will try homeschooling – either way, I know you and Brent will find a way. Inshallah. Looking forward to hugging you

  2. Tanya,

    Brent is clearly ahead of the curve, and I don’t say that as a platitude. Maha summarizes it well when shes points out that Brent is ‘challenging the status quo in a critical manner’. Not only that, but he has a clear vision of what needs to be changed.

    From the very beginning of Brent’s story, I knew that he wasn’t disengaged because he wants to be a rebel. He genuinely has insight into how the system is setting him up for failure. He has some critical answers to the problems of student engagement and retention. Inquiry. Agency. Autonomy. Responsibility. He’s not using our buzzwords, but he knows better than this sciency-type ‘teacher’.

    My goodness… “Some teachers will let me change the things I’m working on like my English teacher who let me read The Iliad instead of The Outsiders.” The freaking Iliad!

    As soon as you mentioned a portfolio, I thought that some sort of homeschool might fit Brent better than the status quo. My two oldest kids did that for three years, and it is clearly not a panacea, but I suspect that you could find a school that will allow Brent to do exactly what he is talking about. bc.onlineschool.ca is the ‘public’ branch of an online Christian school based in Kelowna, but there are other non-sectarian options. Often, with homeschool or other alternative options, students are still registered with a local school and can even take some courses f2f.

    Here is my caution…I would be very hesitant to put the burden of changing ‘school’ on Brent’s shoulders. We both know that changing a system like public education is a massive task, even changing a school is hard, let alone a single teacher. I don’t think that allowing Brent the opportunity to take control of his own education is capitulating to the system at all. I think that would be a huge vote of confidence in a clearly bright young man who is taking a stand by refusing to participate in a broken system.

    You can certainly work to influence the system, but Brent shouldn’t have to think that he has to be miserable to make a difference.

    I hope my perspective helps, but it certainly isn’t the only way to go. Happy to help any way I can.

    You’ve got this.

    Hope OER17 is exactly what you need. I’ll be looking for feeds…esp Maha’s keynote!

    1. Thanks Colin!

      I agree it’s not Brent’s job to change the system and do expect home schooling will likely be the option we pursue. I also hope OER17 will be what I need – Looking so forward to Maha’s keynote tomorrow. Wish you were here! all the best.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing Tanya,
    You are not alone in the struggle with education systems and deciding what is the right path for Brent, your family and yourself. Brent appears to me to be full of energy, curiosity and passion for learning. I truly wish that he (and you together) find the best option to express that, to develop and cultivate that.

    I shared this with you earlier but I will add here the link to Jon Becker’s post found here with the thought that others that land on your post here have another post from another educator to consider. http://www.jonbecker.net/with-a-little-help-from-my-edufriends/

    Thank you so much for joining us in the Virtually Connecting session this morning, it was wonderful to meet you online via video and I hope to meet someday soon in person.

  4. Hi Tanya,
    I came here via #OER17 and now I am even more disappointed that I didn’t get the chance to speak more at the conference. I was aware of your name beforehand and would have loved to have attended your session but it was parallel to a panel I was on. I kept hearing your name and we spoke very briefly but I think I was rushing somewhere else. That was my problem at OER17 – I was overcommitted at a busy conference and that left me with too little space to listen and chat. My children are adults now and I am unfamiliar with secondary (high) schools now but I learned the hard way that the one huge homogenous school that my children attended was a poor fit (in very different ways) for all of them. Two had mixed experiences and one withdrew but that’s a story I can’t tell here.
    My longer term reflection was that the ghastly performance indicators imposed upon it had helped to produce an education system where some thrived but many didn’t. It also tends to reinforce a status quo (obviously race and gender privileges are reinforced as elsewhere) and favours the popular in a way that I see rehearsed on social media (along with all the examples of caring and other benefits of sharing).
    So this is all a long way around to say what I came to say. Brent is my new hero. How wonderful it would be if educational reformers and policy-makers could get Brent and lots of other kids together who have fallen through the cracks but can still imagine a different future. I feel sure that such a group could make some sensible recommendations for change and imagine what schools (not just one model) could be like.
    This is a big challenge though. The status quo and vested interests have a strong pull and are more likely to see innovation in edtech packages and services, outsourcing, efficiency via precarious labour are not so likely to look for a values-based approach, difference and the beautiful joyful learning and being that falls between measurement points. All things that Brent clearly understands.

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