Thumper’s story of his first time to school at age 13
Introduction to author’s son Thumper’s story
When Thumper was thirteen, he went on a field trip to school, his first time ever inside school walls. He has been unschooled all his life. About a year before, my husband and I started to feel it was time for him to see for himself what school was like. We had several reasons for this: Thumper was concerned about how his knowledge compared to that of his friends in school, kids were always telling him how much fun it was to be with friends all day, and it seemed to me that a well-rounded education would include personal experience of the institution where most others spend their youth. I have always been an advocate of the joys and advantages of homeschooling, and we felt that only by experiencing school for himself could Thumper decide whether homeschooling or going to school would be best for him. So we arranged for him to attend school—eighth grade—all day with a friend.
As preparation, we discussed with Thumper 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. We wanted to know what work was being done in each class and what to expect at recess and lunch. The following week, we did what we could to prepare him for the classes.
When the day arrived, we were both extremely nervous, and when I drove away from the school that morning, my stomach was churning.
From Thumper, after his first day of school at age thirteen
…Lots of kids bring candy to school—no wonder they don’t do well in school. Math class seemed real easy. So far, everything they’ve done, I knew. We flicked these spinners to figure batting averages and I’m thinking, We’re just flicking spinners and writing down on the little chart! By then I was overwhelmed with boredom.…One kid was teasing this one girl in class that they play baseball with, and I didn’t really like that, but I guess that’s just how it is.
Then we went over to recess and got some grub. The food looked like some sort of chunks of meat, but it had all different kinds of bones in it going all different directions. I ate a little—I had to get the feeling of eating cafeteria food—and it gave me a little stomachache, but I was okay.
We saw this little scuffle at recess. One guy is going toward this other guy, and a huge guy is holding him back. My friend had told me that these guys could pick fights, so I was worried about that. But they’re in their own little gang thing, and they’re worried about gang guys against them, not just regular guys walking around.
Next we went into the weight lifting class, and all they did in that class was talk about muscles and tendons. All the kids were just talking to [the teacher], talking about fighting, and the teacher’s saying, “I don’t mess with anybody that can beat me up, but if I think I can beat them up…” I forgot what he said, but out of all the teachers, he seemed the most macho.
General sports, math, and computer—those didn’t even actually seem like actual classes with tables or anything lined up or in groups. They could put their chairs where they wanted and one kid even sat at the teacher’s desk.
Then business. You haven’t been in hell if you haven’t been in business. When we went in, Jack says, “Yeah! The cruise class.” And like every class I saw him at, he waits until a couple of minutes after the bell rings and then goes into the class and the teacher’s just setting things up or unlocking the door. Not very professional.
When I went in, I gave the teacher the note and she says, “I’ll introduce you.” She’s going, “Class! Class! Hey, you, sit down! Charlie, come on man, sit down! And you, stop walking around! Come on, sit down! Everybody sit down! Stop playing with those things!” Then she turns to me and says, “Sorry. It’s like this every day!” and I’m just thinking, How can God be so cruel to humankind?
Some kids dragged four desks in the back and put the fan behind me and the rubbish can next to me and tried to move the bookshelf and recycling bins over there and they were all just goofing off and rearranging the class. Then the teacher scolded them, and they put everything back.
Lenny draws a face on his finger and he puts it through a hole in this little part of the fan and he’s going, “Hi kids! Look at me—I’m Skippy the sandworm. Everybody, say hi to Skippy the sandworm.” And another kid’s hiding behind the rubbish can and they’re running around acting as if they’re holding guns and [the teacher]’s going, “Sit down you guys, get the show on.” She’s just yelling at them and when she saw the kids opening and closing the vents, she said, “Fine, if you want it to get hot in here, it’s your problem.” And she’s yelling at them, and the kids are on the side opening and closing vents and then this kid turns out the light and starts to close the door. It started to go almost black in the room, and she got everything together and then got the lights turned on. Guys are talking in class while she’s explaining. And I asked Jack, “What kind of grades do you get?” expecting, “Oh, D or D+ or something,” but he goes, “Oh, Bs—this class is so cruise.”
The teacher had this piece of paper for kids to copy what it says and Jack walks up, tears it down, and grabs the one underneath and puts the first one back up, and it just falls on the floor and the kids are supposed to be copying it. And he tries to put it back up, but it just falls down, and he walks away and makes the other one into a sort of cone and he says, “Look at me, I’m the flying nun,” and he runs around the class flapping his arms and going, “Do do do.” He sits back down with the paper and copies it and then he gave it back later. Then he walked over and grabs a hall pass and walks out of the room.
But man, they were goofing off so much there. Then [the teacher]’s in the middle of explaining something and Lenny says, “It’s army time,” and he crumples up this piece of paper into a long piece and holds it up and says, “This is my telescope.” He should have said “periscope.” And he holds it up and makes like he’s looking through it, and then he jumps up in the middle of the aisle and lays down on his stomach and crawls with his arms looking through his periscope and a couple of guys follow and they’re acting like they’re wielding guns, and one guy is crawling around on his knees around the aisle ,and the whole forty-five minutes, she only got about five sentences said.
I asked Jack, “If you could have any class all day, what would it be?”
He answered, “This one.”
I asked, “Why?” and he says, “It’s so cruise.” And I think, Man, he would rather not learn anything at all and just kick back than learn. Just waste time. It was fun and all, but after a while, it’s got to be total boredom to the other kids and a waste of time. He’d rather spend his time in a cruise class wasting his time than in classes not goofing off and learning a bunch of stuff he could apply!
Man, I’ve never seen chaos till I’ve been in there! Another kid skips around the room with the cone on his head while [the teacher]’s not looking. And when she’s talking to the some other kids, they turn their backs to her. At the end of the class they got a talking-to and she’s all going, “What’s wrong with you guys? What’re you guys doing?”
They told me, “Every week they say that to us, but we’d be good the next day…[T]hen the next week we’ll be bad again and she just won’t do anything.” You should’ve seen how many threats she made to them.
“You’ll get detention all spring break. I’ll call your parents. We’ll get you kicked out of the school.” But it never happens. Every day it’s like that.
Then there was lunch. We’re sitting on the curb just doing nothing. And a kid says, “Oh look, there’s Frank, let’s go tease him.” and the other kids say, “Yeah! All right! Let’s go!” and they all go. He’s throwing rubbish into the rubbish bin and Lenny takes one piece of it back out and throws it in the bushes and Jack says, “Eh, heh! You dropped it. Eh, heh, ey, you wuss!” teasing him and [Frank] says, “F— you,” and he’s looking like he’s going to cry and the guy’s putting him down. If this was happening in my territory, like at the skate park, I’d say, “Leave him alone,” but since it’s in someone else’s territory, I thought, Just don’t do anything, just watch, just observe, I’m observing. Then [Frank] went away carrying the rubbish cans and he was all mad and stuff. I felt sorry for him.
Next was English. This was actually the realest class we were in. We sat down and she says to write a five-paragraph essay and back it up with facts. While they wrote, I wrote:
“What I’ve observed so far:
“To me, school seems a lot more slacked off than I thought it would be like. The work seems pretty easy…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 unprofessional. They let lots of kids talk and seem to just ask, then yell, then threaten.”
Anyway, then we went into social studies and that class…seemed pretty easy.
And then we rode the bus, and [there] was loud, pounding music, guys just all talking, and the bus driver’s yelling at the kids. And I was thinking, Man, I don’t know how this school thing can work for the kids, for the teachers, the bus drivers, the so-called cooks. I don’t know how they do it—I don’t know how they even survive! They must somehow adapt some sort of blankness in their brains, which makes them be totally resistant to boredom.
It took me until last night to realize it’s over! I’ve been to school. I’ve seen the demon in its eyes, and I can’t believe it! It’s like I was in a daze, and I actually realized I’ve been to school and I’ve seen what everybody thought the big deal is and it’s just totally boring! They think what they’re doing is so great—they should be in my life. I guess for some kids, it’s like nicotine—you know you hate it, you know it’s unhealthy and not good for you, but it’s addictive. You get a craving for it or something.
I feel I could do well in school. And I feel that the work I do at home is just as hard as or harder than the work they’re doing in school. Like I could probably get the school day’s work done in forty-five minutes and the stuff I usually do takes me about two hours. It’s amazing how slow it goes! They say you got to learn, and I should say, “Yeah, you really do.”
From Thumper, three weeks after his day at school:
“I just can’t believe it’s over. It’s been a year since I thought of checking out school. And now that I have, I’m just so stoked how it turned out! I’m so glad I’m homeschooling! I used to feel dumb when I would mess up, but to see how much I get done compared to them, I feel real good about my education [and] 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.
Names have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty. Schools in your area may not be as bad as this (though they might be worse), but you might want to ask your children to read this account and tell you if any of these antics go on in their classes.