“For their Mental Health…”

Flo Gascon, longtime unschooler shares what many home educating parents have been thinking when their news is filled with comments about how children need to return to school "for their mental health."

The conversation around reopening schools has turned to the question of mental health. As in,

“Kids must return to school for the sake of their mental health.”

What a slap in the face to those of us who have been happily homeschooling for decades. Are our kids not mentally fit?

This pandemic has been hard for everyone. Kids are missing their friends and normal routines, no matter their age or education style. But homeschoolers don't have the option of sending their kids back to school so we need to be creative to keep our kids going. May I suggest that for everyone? Change is hard but this where we're finding ourselves.

So let's ask:

Are schools the best and only way to ensure mental health for our children?

Homeschoolers can say no.

Have we forgotten about all the mental health problems that schools create? Are we now idealizing a broken system that is full of bullies, both big and small; that creates so much pressure that anti-anxiety meds are a daily cocktail; that insists on such a demanding schedule that family members are like ships passing in the night?

This is our chance to make it better. To re-imagine (there’s that word again) what learning can look like. Socializing. Relationships. Family time. Don’t tell me that school is the only or best way to get there.

We have tried to help you.

Way back in March we told you to relax, that your kids would be okay if you didn’t dive into “school at home.” That there is no such thing as “behind,” especially when everyone is living in the same goddamn pandemic. Especially when you set your own standards, but I’m here getting ahead of myself because you are still beholden to the system as it exists.

We have answered your questions, created Facebook groups for you, gone live to give tips, and words of wisdom to make it easier. We pointed you in the right directions, shared resources and links, and Netflix curriculums. We reassured you that giving your kids some leeway does not condemn them to a fruitless life.

We sat back while you said, “hold my beer” and you broke out your color-coded schedules and your Kiwi Crates as if you just discovered a promised land and set about to colonize it the homeschooling world in true Discoverer fashion. You know how to do this and were hell-bent on making it work, despite our warnings.

We sat and watched very patiently as you set about pandemic schooling, not actually homeschooling. Playing school.

Just so we’re clear on that. Nobody has been homeschooling here, not even the homeschoolers. Wanna know why? Because homeschooling is about going out into the big wide world and meeting up with friends and having adventures. True homeschooling is looking at your child and deciding for yourself what the standards are and set about making that learning come to life. Not sitting around the kitchen table trying to “distance learn.”

And we watched it crash and burn.

So, let’s open back up the schools so we can just make it all better again! For their mental health. (I swear it’s not for mine. I swear it’s not for the economy. And I swear that it is especially for those poor children who get meals, love, and therapy only in school.)

I’m sorry to break it to you, but we’re never going back to the way it was. I’m even more sorry for all the hardworking, caring teachers who are getting thrown under the bus. (Although this phenomenon is not new for them, asking them to risk their lives certainly is.)

So what’s the way forward? You need to detox. We have a name for this: de-schooling. It involves dropping everything you ever believed about school. Education. Learning. “Socialization.” Take a hot shower and rinse all that off and down the drain.

All those taunts you tossed the homeschoolers’ way?

Yeah, now you get to sit and think about what you said.

Is it true?

  • Can your kids only get their social needs met at school?
  • Are those the type of socializing opportunities you want for them?
  • What are they learning, why, and who's doing the teaching?
  • Who’s writing those textbooks and who’s putting them in the curriculum?
  • Is there a timeline, a window of opportunity in which to learn x, y, and z?
  • And to what/whose standards? Why?
  • Does that help your child, truly? Is it the only way?
  • Is it *all* necessary?
  • What is the hurry?

“Kids need to return to school for their mental health.”

This is insulting to those of us who have been homeschooling for decades, well before your zoom rooms and drive-by birthday parties.

Are you saying that our kids have poor mental health because they do not attend the same four walls that your kids do?

Let me tell you what you clearly don’t believe or seem to know:

Our kids are amazing. They are more mentally fit than most adults I know.

Are they perfect? No.
Are they immune to bullies, harassment, and peer pressure? Nope.

But the scale is vastly smaller and they have the choice to walk away. To choose who to spend their time with, how to approach the mean girls, to develop strategies to cope with life at their pace according to their unique needs. Do you know how many parents pull their kids OUT of school because their mental health is suffering?

And that’s not even touching the bigger issues- the workload, the pressure, the impossible standards, the lack of downtime, the constant testing, the surveillance of their every move, the active shooter drills, the failure that’s held over their heads if they make a mistake.

That harms my mental health just typing it out.

I will never concede that going to school is necessary for a child’s mental health.

All I have to do is look around me at all the homeschoolers I know. Our kids are happy. Healthy. Strong. Smart. Clever. Capable. They are doing amazing things right now, not waiting for an 8th-grade promotion or paper diploma.

They are thriving.

And maybe it’s time to take your beer out of my hand and sit down.

We know that people in crisis don’t make very good decisions. Panic is not the state of mind for reason and rationale. Flailing will only take everyone down with you.

You know who isn’t panicking right now? The homeschoolers.

We know what we’re doing because we’ve been doing it for a very long time. We have the kinks worked out. We know how to find resources, mentors, friends, opportunities, how to spark imagination, facilitate learning- true learning, not regurgitation. And with the internet, there's nothing we cannot do. The government has been trying to regulate us for years because we don’t fit into their boxes. And guess what we need right now?

Out of the box solutions. This is not a time to shop from the rack. We need custom solutions. We need to start from the cloth we have to work with and build something much more beautiful than it was.

As I’ve watched this "school's out" experiment play out, I have seen so many parents say that their kids are doing better without it. Yes, they miss their friends and their teachers. But they’re different and many parents are choosing to keep them home because they believe there might be another way.

Did you know that you even have a choice?

It’s been there all along, just like Dorothy said. There’s no place like home.

Are there exceptions? Of course, there are. But school is not the actual answer to those circumstances, just like the police aren’t. If it were, we would have eradicated those issues long ago. It’s just a band-aid we slap on to ignore the bleeding. And if you want to fix those problems- bring it. Let’s fix them. Let’s get a living wage in every pocket, a meal on every table, an end to domestic violence, and proper therapy for every need.

Bring it.

If we didn’t spend so much money on broken school systems we might be able to make some real progress. Can we feed two birds with one seed here? Let's not keep propping up a failing institution to serve the most of us under the guise of serving the least. Take the exceptions for which you have so much concern and create community centers to provide for their needs, as a start.

To ensure the wellbeing of everyone, there are yet more ideas!
Create co-ops and outdoor adventures.
Well done virtual classes.
Research projects.
Hands-on and project-based learning.
Experiential learning that comes from living life and spending time on the things of interest.
Reduce the standards and open up the deadlines.
Create space so there's no rush, no panic, no worry about a child left behind. Because when kids are on their own time, they simply cannot be behind.

There are so many possibilities and nuances that we could discuss this for years. Which is what it might take for us to get us out of this pandemic. What do you want the future to look like?

Think bigger. Don’t rush blindly back to normal, especially in a public health emergency.

Make like a homeschooler and educate yourself.

Is this for the privileged? We can work on that. See above.

Will this require a sacrifice? A one-income household and reduction in expenses? We can work on that. Many of us have been in this situation for all of our children's lives and we figure it out. And the entire country is sacrificing right now, like it or not. This is a bigger conversation that requires an examination of the intersection of the nature of work/economy, education, and quality of life.

"I still don’t buy any of this. My kids love school!"

Well, have you considered what that’s actually going to look like in a pandemic?

What are the mental health ramifications of attending school in which there is relentless supervision of masking, sanitation, and physical and social distancing?

How much anxiety will that produce?

And how sad will it be to not play together, not hug the teacher, not eat together in the cafeteria but hunker over your desk alone?

Classes will be severely limited in size, scope, and schedule and will likely not be as engaging as they may have found it before.

No group projects. They will be isolated in their classroom.

Alone amongst peers and a worried teacher. How will that impact their mental health?

See, it's just not simple. We don't just open up the schools, put all the parents back to work, and get our economy back, get our life back.

Take a breath and stop flailing. Just long enough to think some new thoughts.
If you could re-imagine life with your kids what would it really look like? Underneath the snark and angst about them being in your hair all day, don't you actually want to enjoy your days together? We have an opportunity here like none other and that can be our silver lining.

It’s time to sit down and listen to the people who have been doing this for more than the past four months. How about you hold my beer?

Also... of course it’s about the economy and parents needing to work.

Of course we need to take care of those kids for whom school is a safe haven.

How do we do that without endangering lives?

7 thoughts on ““For their Mental Health…”

  1. Suzanne Bissell says:

    Wow Sue. Excellent, excellent article. Best article I’ve read about the pandemic and my irritation with hearing that kids “need” school for their mental health. That’s why I took my kids out – school was ruining their mental health. Thanks for this.

  2. Sue Patterson says:

    Wasn’t it great? Flo has a way with words!

    I can’t tell you how many families I’ve talked to who are just like yours – LEAVING the school system to PRESERVE their mental health! I’m so glad you did!

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