First Day of School at 13
by Thumper and Gail Nagasako
On March 18, Thumper went on a field trip to school, his first time ever in school. He has been unschooled all his life, with bodyboarding and rollerblading his main activities, with abundant field trips and lots of unplanned learning, mostly prompted by his own questions or by what happened around us. This last year he chose to focus on academics, especially polishing his grammar and spelling.
About a year ago, we started to feel it was time for him to see for himself what school was like — partly because he was concerned about not knowing enough and partly because kids were always telling him how much fun it was to be with friends all day and partly because it seemed to me that a well-rounded education would include knowing what school was really like. I have always been an articulate advocate of the joys and advantages of homeschooling and now we both felt that only by his experiencing school for himself could he continue to decide whether homeschooling or going to school would be best for him. So we set up for him to attend school (8th grade) all day with a friend.
As preparation, we discussed various situations that might come up and how he might handle them. We had his friend over and asked him to describe his exact schedule of classes and what was done in each and what to expect at recess and lunch. The following week, we did what we could to prepare him for the classes. In computer class, they were doing animation, and Thumper had done a class at the Maui Research and Tech Park, so he was set for that. In math, they were doing batting averages and pie graphs, so we just had to tell Thumper what a batting average was as he’s never been into baseball. General sports was weight-lifting, which Thumper has done with his dad at home. In business, they were buying and selling stocks on paper. So we spent an hour or so teaching Thumper the basics about stocks and having him pick a few to “buy” out of the Wall Street Journal. We assumed this was what they used in school, but it turned out they use a watered-down sheet of paper listing a few stocks. In English, they write essays, so I gave Thumper a list of things to observe in school and he was to write those up in English class. In Social Studies, they were doing worksheets from a textbook, so he could just read the textbook in that class.
As the day approached, we were both nervous and when I drove away from the school that morning, my stomach was churning. I was aware all day of what class he was in and at 2:00, I wrote the following:
“I sit waiting for school to get out and my son to call. Will he wish he’d gone from the beginning? Will he wish he’d gone earlier? Will he feel denied a full education? Will he be grateful for the freedom he’s had? Will his education actually be better? Did he get harassed? Did he fit in? What’s school really like now anyway? Was he dressed ok? Did he say or do the wrong thing? Have I raised a kid who doesn’t fit in? Do I want my kid to “fit in”? Have I held onto him for too long? Am I holding onto him at all? Did I choose this path for him or did he choose this path for me? Will he be sad over something that happened? What if his friends made him feel like an outsider? What if he’s mad at me because I didn’t send him to school? What if he’s grateful? In some existential way, we have both taken a big step today, letting go, so he can see for himself, choose for himself, his own path.”
And here’s the answers, told by Thumper in his English class essay, in his journal that day and also three weeks later when he reflected on the experience:
“To me school seems a lot more slacked off than I thought it would be like. The work seems pretty easy. Nobody bugged me and stuff, but I don’t think I would like it here, at least right now.
“In this one class, some of the kids goof off so much. They’re all hiding under desks fooling around and being sarcastic to the teacher. I would crack if I went to school! It just seems like a waste of time. The other students’ attitudes seem better then I thought though.
“The activities seem pretty stupid and maybe a little too easy for them. Seems like I could catch on real fast. I know most of the stuff already, I think. The teachers seem pretty slacked off. They let lots of kids talk and seem to just ask, then yell, then threaten.
“Lots of kids bring candy to school. I couldn’t believe how much candy they were busting out.
“By then (second period) I felt like I never wanted to go to school — I was overwhelmed with boredom….I understood the math stuff and could’ve done it but it seemed sorta boring and pointless.
“Then the bell rang — finally — and we went to recess….We’re walking through the school and among all these kids and for once I felt sort of like a regular kid, walking with a friend, seeing all these kids.
“(In) the cafeteria, these two workers are scooping up rice and I wondered how they could survive in that atmosphere…doing the same thing over and over. Most kids have cole slaw and a couple scoops of rice — I guess they call it a salad bar.
“Then in (one class) — you haven’t been in hell until you’ve been in (that class)….(The teacher) says she’ll introduce me and she’s yelling at the kids and then she turns to me and says, ‘Sorry’ and yells at the kids some more. And she tells me, ‘It’s like this everyday.’ I think, ‘How can God be so cruel to one human?’ ….I asked (one student) what class he’d do all day if he could only do one and he said that one. He’d rather be not learning anything and just goofing off than learn stuff he could apply. I never saw chaos til I saw that class.
“I think I’d get Cs and Bs to start and within a month, I’d be getting at least all Bs….I feel the stuff I do at home is harder. It seemed like they got about 45 minutes of work done all day and my friend said it was an average day. It’s amazing how slow it goes!
“I don’t know how school can work — for the teachers, the students, the bus drivers, and the so-called cooks. They must have some sort of adaptation in their brain to deal with the boredom….and they think what they’re doing is great. They should be in my life. School’s like nicotine — they know it’s not good for them, but they crave it.
“I just can’t believe it’s over. I mean it’s been a year since I thought of doing that. And I’m just so stoked how it turned out! I’m so glad I’m home schooling! I used to feel dumb when I would mess up and stuff but to see how much I get done compared to them, I feel real good about my school, my intelligence and life overall is great!
“I also heard it was this big social scene and it wasn’t. There was about as much taunting and hassling as I expected and it seemed like the kids were just school friends. It didn’t seem too social to me.
“The school experience made me a lot more extroverted and it put everything in perspective. Now I don’t get so embarrassed if I say something stupid, and I’m more willing to goof off and crack jokes in front of more people. I feel more confident in myself and that I’m doing the right thing with my life.”