Mandatory Schooling for Parents Who Don’t Like the Word “Mandatory”

Perhaps you are one of the many parents who approach parenting not just as something that happens to you, but as a vocation, a sacred duty, a calling. If you are, I like to think of you as “on-purpose parents.”

Whether you planned to have a family or were surprised by it, if you’re an on-purpose parent, you make it your business to raise your kids according to your deepest beliefs, your inner-knowing. You want to raise kids who are awake, aware, creative, civilized, powerful, joyful, giving, self-directed, and above all, free.

On-purpose parents like us want to show our kids how to live a free and abundant life. For us, the word “mandatory” anything feels intrusive and oppressive, after all, we’ve already taken full responsibility for our children. For a grown adult deeply committed to parenting, hearing that something is “mandatory” raises the hackles. Nevertheless, every parent in Colorado must sign an acknowledgment that school attendance is mandatory in this state.

When I signed the acknowledgement, my internal dialogue went something like this, “Hey, who’s raising these kids? Who’s reading every darned parenting book they can lay their hands on? Not you, Ms. Attendance Clerk. Who’s paying the bills? Not you, Mr. Superintendant. Who’s staying up into the night with their child suffering from an asthma attack? Not you, Mrs. School Board Member. Who’s cooking, cleaning, folding clothes, matching socks, kissing boo boos? Certainly not you, Mr. Governor.

The Government Tells Great Parents What to Do

My BFF Alexis, like me, is an on-purpose parent. She’s also an entrepreneur, a go-getter, an inspiration to woman all over the country who look to her for guidance as they reach for their fullest potential. She’s had to make the call about whether to bring the kids with her on her travels or to find someone here to care for them. She decided to bring them with her and show them the world.

And so, the kids have missed a lot of school—really, a lot. Now the school district has served her with a summons to appear for a hearing to force her to sign a contract that the kids won’t miss any more school this year, backed up by the threat of fines or jail. The summons even said the kids are failing to achieve even the simplest of academic goals (despite the note on one’s report card that said she’s doing really quite well).

Wait. What? Forcing? Can they do that? Can a school district ORDER a parent to keep their kids in school?

Maybe so.

Alexis is a good mom. She loves her kids. She feeds them, provides for them, makes sure they have clean clothes and all the activities they could possibly need. She spends time reading to them. She never raises her voice at them. She hugs them many times every day. Yet, she’s being summoned from on high to appear before a truancy liaison who, I’m sure, is just doing her job.

I get it! I really do. I know that kids who have fallen through the cracks could change their future if they showed up at school. I get that kids who are truant are often the kids who suddenly appear at school bruised, emaciated, and emotionally overwrought. I get that truancy is a strong correlate of crime.

Truancy Enforcement in 2010

This year, every parent I know has received a warning from the school when their kid got sick and missed more than three days of school. In our area, this is a huge departure from the practices we’re accustomed to. Here, parents often take their kids out of school for life-enriching activities: music lessons, skiing, travel, participation in groups and events that occur during school hours. School absences have been the norm for these parents who are heavily involved in and direct their children’s schooling.

But no more. We’re no longer “allowed” to take our kids out of school. Instead, we must have a doctor’s note to prove that our child was sick.

Truancy Laws Impact Parental Healthcare Decisions

One of the consequences of the new enforcement is that parents who don’t want their children to be in the sick-care system now have to bring them in to see MDs to get the darned doctor’s note. Once children are in the doctor’s office, doctors will prescribe and treat ailments in the traditional sick-care manner.

Parents who object to Western medicine or who prefer alternative treatments are identified by healthcare workers. Healthcare workers make note of any objection in their charts, providing evidence of unfitness because the parent made a choice different than a doctor’s recommendation.

Many parents have made conscious decisions to avoid the traditional healthcare system for all but serious illness or injury. For these parents, the thought of giving their child an antibiotic “just to be sure” is tantamount to abuse itself because, they believe with good reason, that antibiotics harm children’s growing immune system.

Further, these parents struggle to keep their kids healthy through good nutrition, hydration, exercise and all-around good living. They resist pressure to medicate, preferring instead to treat illness naturally if at all possible. These parents, like me, distrust the healthcare system because it treats symptoms, not the causes of disease.

Being forced to visit a doctor to get a note is not only humiliating to a fit parent, it puts them on the “radar” of the establishment. You might think that being on the radar should not bother a fit parent. Perhaps that would be true, if one could be assured that being on the radar would preserve and support the family unit. But we can’t know that, and that’s why many on-purpose parents shudder at the thought of being in the “System.”

Enforcement of the Truancy Laws Forces Kids into the System.

The System is the governmental radar screen that looks for wayward parents, takes children out of homes, places them in foster care, and makes parents shape up or ship out. The System is composed of each county’s child welfare office, case workers, supervisors, therapists, child-development specialists, investigators, dependency & neglect prosecutors, judges, probation officers, inside and outside therapeutic service providers. Every last one of them are well meaning, thoughtful, educated people. But their job is to protect kids.

The System traditionally has been fed by reports of abuse and neglect primarily from mandatory reporters such as doctors, day care workers, and teachers. But it may now have a new source of dependency and neglect work—truancy cases.

You would think this is a good thing. Often it is. There are kids on the streets who would be better served training their brains to become more than they imagine they can. There are kids who are so distraught with their circumstances that school seems hopeless. Many of these kids can be helped with caring intervention.

But you’ve also heard about the reporting system being used to harass and coerce. What springs to mind are parents who make false accusations against each other to get custody or hurt their former partner. In the same way, the new enforcement of truancy laws are having the effect of harassing and coercing parents to raise their kids the way the state sees fit, not the way a fit parent sees fit.

Truancy proceedings, meant to protect kids from falling through the cracks, will infringe on parents’ obligation to direct and control the education of their kids. These very good parents risk ending up on the state’s radar in both the educational and medical spheres of life.  If these parents choose to raise their children in a manner that’s different from the System’s established definition of “good parenting,” they stand a much greater chance of losing their children.

Here’s an example. I have another friend who unschools her kids. Unschooling is different from homeschooling in that unschoolers have no agenda for learning. They learn the world as it comes to them and as they seek it out naturally. Her kids have never been in public school but do spend time in various homeschooling groups. Their main schooling is done through extensive travel. Her kids are smart, lively, engaged in the world. I would be hard pressed to consider these kids neglected or abused. She is taking full responsibility for her kids’ education in the way she has decided is best for them.

Because she’s off the grid, she runs the risk of being put on the grid any time she comes into contact with the state. If she needs to take her kids to the doctor or ER, gets a ticket, files a tax return, registers them for a parks and recreation classes, she’s telegraphing that her kids are not in school. The trouble is, if someone she comes into contact with gets it in their head that her kids are truant or neglected because they don’t go to school, she’s exposed to state scrutiny and the unpredictability of the System. There’s no telling what could happen if someone gets a bee in their bonnet and calls social services.

The issue is not whether the state should intervene. Obviously, truancy can be a symptom of a larger family problem warranting some kind of intervention. Truancy intervention will save some of the kids who would otherwise die at the hands of abusers. The issue is when to intervene and who decides under what circumstances it is appropriate. These decisions are left in the hands of case workers, supervisors, and prosecutors using standards few people know, understand, or trust.

Choices, Choices

Alexis now has a very important choice to make. Either way, she has to be committed to her course of action. She can homeschool her kids. Or she can have them go to school but only if they don’t miss any more days this year. There is no middle ground. When once the school district honored parents’ choices for enriching their kids’ lives and worked around the lost time at school, parents now must comply with the state’s mandatory attendance policies.

My other friend has made her choice to school her kids in a more natural, child-centered way, Thomas Edison style. I honor her courage in swimming up the cultural stream. It takes a lot of energy and commitment to do it well. Someday maybe it won’t take as much courage or fortitude to stand against the flow. But for on-purpose parents, strength of spirit comes from finding your own way. And that’s a quality we want for our children.

If money were no object, and someone in your family could homeschool your kids, would you? If you knew your kids would receive a good education, socialization, stimulation, and enrichment through homeschooling, would you? Wouldn’t you? If I could, I would. But I can’t.

Such is the life of a single mother.

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97 Comments (+add yours?)

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  2. Chuck Rylant
    Dec 11, 2010 @ 11:34:01

    We got a similar letter because we believe/know that taking kids on occasional trips around the world adds more to their life than anything else. Plus the added time with family is more than many parents are able to give when school is often treated as free day care.

    And don’t ever forget the real motivation. Schools get funding only when a kid is in a seat, not when learning. So if your child is taking a once in a life time trip and learning about a new culture, to the schools, the loss of income is more important than the educational and family bonding experience.

    Reply

    • Susan (5 Minutes for Mom)
      Dec 13, 2010 @ 10:51:32

      I completely agree that traveling with family is a huge asset and especially when kids are young is worth the time missed at school.

      This whole subject is new to me as my oldest has just entered Kindergarten. I am floored by these rules and enraged at what the system is saying to Alexis. My heart goes out to her and I hope she can work out a solution.

      Reply

  3. Janice
    Dec 11, 2010 @ 11:43:50

    I have a friend whose brother home-schooled his son and two daughters. His wife was a critical care nurse with long hours at the hospital, and shift work. They lived in a remote part of the county on a farm, growing their own vegetables, and caring for the land. He was one of the first to take on this responsibility in that area. Their vacations were spent in travel discovering what they had learned. I remember how they loved Ireland as junior high aged students, and South America as high school age students. They never had to worry about buying school clothes or lunches. When they studied electricity, he took them to the electric company and they were given a “tour”. He took them to the State Cultural Center to learn about places — and they would drive to locations to see them first hand. All three of them have now graduated from college – one as a marine biologist, one working on her Master’s and the son in Los Angeles working on a firm crew — his goal to work in the movies. I can honestly say, they did not “have money” and saved all they could each month for each of their vacations. However, their home-schooling put them way ahead of their friends who attended public schools. They all speak/read/write a foreign language and participated in sports – martial arts/kickboxing – having participated in international competitions. All three of them worked while attending college full-time. I honestly believe they received a better education because of fit parents and they were not held back by the educational system that would have told them what to learn.

    I also worked with a lady whose five grandchildren are being home-schooled. Their parents are more affluent than the prior family — this one owning several businesses. However, the parents made a decision that they wanted their children to learn more and to become productive citizens.

    Here are some things that parents I know have done as part of their homeschooling:

    I know children have taken private art and music lessons, and all work on learning a foreign language. Some parents have hired former teachers to handle some subjects, such as “state history”. The teacher took them to the Capitol and showed them the legislative branches and how they worked; she took them to a civil war battleground; and many other places. One parent hired a retired scientist from Union Carbide to teach them science. The parents would bring in a fireman to teach them fire safety; a policeman to teach them bike safety, and how to stay safe themselves. These parents made sure their kids attended music concerts by the youth symphony and art projects are local colleges. They visit the county library once a week for a book, that must be read and returned by the next week. One parent took her kids to the Family “Y”‘s indoor pool for swimming and exercise twice a week.

    From the families that I know who have home-schooled their children, the children were far better off than those in the public school system. They were given the opportunity to learn something every day, all day if they wanted — even on weekends.

    Having said that, I think if you want to keep your children from “mandatory” attendance, you must assure that they are learning during their absence. The “basics” must be taught in either environment. It is the continuous learning that benefits the home-schooled.

    As my daughter said, at her college graduation, “Mom, you know what is so sad?” I asked, “What?” She said, “Almost all of these kids think they just finished their education. They have no idea it is a life-long job.” The curiosity raised in home-schooling allows for the life-long education to continue; the student does not feel they have learned everything they need to because they have a piece of paper to prove it.

    Reply

  4. Todd
    Dec 11, 2010 @ 16:40:30

    Martha is full of BS. She is hypocritical and should mind her own flippn business. They all live in a village and yet know cared enough in their tribe to get these kids to school regularly. How sad is that. Sounds like propaganda to me. The internet is full of mis and dis information and this is just one side of the story.

    Reply

  5. Jerry
    Dec 11, 2010 @ 17:43:36

    Isn’t home schooling an option in CO?

    There is a benefit to regular schooling: 1) routines; 2) socialization; 3) continuity and consistency in a child’s life; 4) benefit of loving teachers (yes, there are some); 5) learing that you are responsible for others, and not just yourself; 6) being part of a community in school; 7) not missing out on a life with your school friends, and many more.

    When you choose to put your business above all of that, and take your kids along on business trips because your other resources just are not there, then you are just putting your business first!!

    Should the school get involved? NO!! But, those laws were just put there to make you AWARE of yourself, and not to put your other interests before the insterest of your children.

    Didn’t your friend try homeschooling for a while, and couldn’t quite hack it?

    Reply

  6. Todd
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 08:06:54

    I am glad to see you did a little editing to your original blog post.

    Reply

  7. John Fischer
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 09:14:16

    My feelings on our particular public school situation is, that as a parent you are either “all-in” or “all-out”. “All-in” means that the kids feel that the school is theirs, that the parents are well-known as active volunteers in the school system and the staff of the schools know you by first name, look forward to seeing you and love your contribution and your understanding that everyone is making the best of a situation and a system that has to make compromises to serve a diverse community.

    I have seen incredible successes from families that were “all-in” a boy we know who is graduating from Lyons HS this fall is accepted to the Air Force Academy, Mines and Stanford. WOW! He is a Eagle Scout, a private pilot, a black belt, an amazing musician and a 4.0 student.

    The other fantastic thing a school system provides is a social laboratory for your children to find themselves. They discover that popularity and success is tied to what you can do, your skills, your intelligence, not clothes, not the music you listen to, not looks, not money, but what you can accomplish. My children thrive in the SVVSD system, they are world class musicians, 4.0 students, and they have traveled the world during school time. Because we volunteer so heavily in the school system, nobody says “boo” to us, they love the Fischers and we can do no wrong. Grease the system, embrace it, and teach your children how to conquer bureaucracies from the inside.

    John Mackey, the founder of Whole Foods taught me that to create change you have to embrace the system you wish to overturn, get inside it, grow your influence, and make change happen on your terms once you have established influence.

    My advice to Alexis, go volunteer at Hygiene, spend at least 2 hours a week volunteering, run events for the PTO, heck, become president of the PTO, be present, establish yourself as a work-horse in the system and over time gain the trust and admiration of the staff. Once that is accomplished nobody is going to question absences.

    If you don’t like the system that our government provides there are a number of private schools available in Boulder County that rock and can provide some of the freedom that public schools cannot provide due to the nature of their mission.

    Or there is always boarding school, this one is incredible: http://www.brockwood.org.uk/

    Reply

  8. John Fischer
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 10:19:44

    If you dream of a world class college education for your kids and you want to home school, here are guidelines from Stanford, as an example, on home-school applicants. The low-down, you need to out-academic your traditionally educated competition to get in.

    Stanford on entrance exams: “It is even more important for home-schooled students to take the subject tests in order to provide some measure of relative achievement to assist us in our evaluation of your application.”

    http://admission.stanford.edu/basics/requirements/home_school.html

    Reply

  9. Alexis Neely
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 10:25:39

    I have a lot more to say about this than I have time to write here now and will write more on my blog.

    But for the meantime, I’ll say this to @Jerry and @John – it’s clear that neither of you have lived the life of a single mom with primary financial and physical responsibility for her children. I’d love for you to put yourself in my shoes for a week and see if your perspective changes at all.

    @Jerry yes, I couldn’t hack homeschooling. I’m the breadwinner in my family and providing for my family financially and homeschooling the kids proved to be too much for me without the right teacher. If I can find the right teacher, perhaps we can try it again.

    @John Theoretically, assuming I did want to be workhorse for the system, I’d need a source of financial support to be able to do that. As things stand now, I am the source of financial support for our family and therefore cannot devote hours each day to being President of the PTO. I invest the hours my children are in school to the business that supports all of us, not to volunteer activities. When I did volunteer at the school, I found it to be less than inspiring to want to do more. And if I had hours of free time each week, I’d prefer to spend it with my kids. I’m glad you and Xan are able to volunteer for hours each week at the school. That’s one of the benefits of a stable two parent family with a great business that provides lots of freedom, though I do wonder how many of those hours are Xan’s hours and how many are your hours. I find your suggestion of a boarding school to be rude and unfeeling.

    Much more to write about this, but it’ll have to wait until later. Look for it on my blog.

    Thank you to Martha for opening up the discussion.

    Alexis

    Reply

    • Susan (5 Minutes for Mom)
      Dec 13, 2010 @ 10:59:29

      Alexis, I am so sorry that you are going through this terrible ordeal with the school system. I am shocked by it and by some of the comments here.

      As an entrepreneur taking your children on business trips, I imagine you are a fantastic, positive example for your children.

      Being a mother and an entrepreneur can be unbelievably difficult and when you’re a single mother, well… obviously it’s close to impossible. I am so impressed by you and your success.

      I wish you all the best as you try to resolve this situation and I want you to know that you truly are an inspiration!

      ~ Susan

      Reply

    • esqcpa
      Dec 16, 2010 @ 12:26:35

      Alexis, I’m calling B.S. Parents make decisions, including where they work, based on their children’s needs. If you can’t hack it, you should grant custody to their father (or someone else) and then pay him/them child support. Single parents, both men and women, buck up and find a profession or career that enables them to be stable for their kids which includes sending them off to school and being there when they get home. They aren’t running off to Burning Man and marrying some guy they’ve barely dated.

      Reply

  10. John Fischer
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 10:56:05

    @Alexis, you are correct, Xan volunteers more than I do, although when the kids were small we were about equal, and you are also correct that I do not know what it is like to be divorced and sharing custody. You are also correct that I have the freedom to do this, I am very blessed to be where I am at.

    My suggestion to consider boarding school was serious, there are some incredible options out there. The boarding school I suggested is only for older kids, (age 14+) it is a Krishnamurti school and I visited it recently because we have a family friend attending. Joey, my 14 yr. old is considering it. Amazing place, simply incredible and inspiring, I was moved just being present in this place. Sorry if I struck a tender spot…

    More about Krishnamurti:

    http://www.jkrishnamurti.org/about-krishnamurti/biography.php

    Reply

  11. Sally
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 11:14:50

    My personal opinion is that everyone is making this subject way too hard. If the kids get to go on a “once in a lifetime trip” the school usually gives them the work that needs to be finished and it expects it to be. On the other hand, if one is just taking their kids on “business trips” to a hot springs to where people forget they have clothes to put on, watching hippies meditate or find themselves, then they should be home and in school.

    Everything I’m seeing in this post is about Alexis and HER business trips – put yourself in your kids’ shoes. Do they like being hauled around or would they really just like to hang with their friends. I know my opinion doesn’t count but your kids seem to have gone through a lot in less than 1 year. They went to burning man last year, moved to Colorado on a whim, was used to their dad being around, hung out with you boyfriend, and then all of a sudden got a new step dad. I really don’t think these are very educational for young children.

    And, I just have to say that you can stop pulling the single mom card. My sister very educated through no fault of her own (and she is the breadwinner) raised four boys by herself and they got to separate schools on time, every day. If she had to go out of town – I watched them. I have many more stories regarding single moms/dads and their kids don’t go truant even without a’village’ to raise them.

    The reason I said that you can stop playing the single card is now plain and simple, aren’t you married? Why don’t you try to live under on roof and when you have travels for work that take you somewhere your spouse could watch them and vice-versa. You see, life isn’t all that complicated just sounds like you need systems in place.

    Reply

  12. Martha James Hartney
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 11:36:51

    What a great conversation! So many piercing insights. The main point is more how the state interacts with parents because at any time, we could be on the receiving end of a summons if we aren’t careful, as a country of parents, to make sure our agencies operate according to an established set of standards. We don’t have to agree on how to educate our kids. But it’s important to be aware of how the state affects all parents and stand by each other’s rights to decide for ourselves how to raise our kids while doing our best to give them the tools they need as adults.

    The questions I pose to everyone and myself are: When can the state legitimately intervene in a family? Who makes that decision? What is good parenting? Who decides that? What factors are involved (with total transparency)? And how would each of us like to be held accountable for our parenting (because we are)?

    I stand by your right, as fit parents, to direct and control your kids’ education whether you choose to utilize the public system, or choose to do it some other way. As a culture, we ask of each other that the job be done well so that we all send into the future the kinds of souls who are a blessing. A delicate balance for sure.

    Reply

  13. Martha James Hartney
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 13:53:39

    A quick response to @Sally…socio-economic and gender-based pressures abound. The single mom card isn’t about pity. It’s real. The statistics are striking on how the economic health of the mother is directly related to the child’s outcome–maybe even more so than the number of days they go to school. I doubt your sister would object to an acknowledgement of how difficult her life was as a single mom–it’s an immense task to do it alone.

    Also, having a spouse is not the same as having the other parent of your children in the picture. Stepparents can do wonders. But they can’t replace a parent. It’s the parents’ job, not the stepparents’ to raise the children. My future husband is a great blessing to me and my kids. But it’s not his job to care for my children. It’s my job to make sure they have what they need. Sometimes he helps with that. He has his own children and sometimes I help with that. Fortunately, my ex-husband is very present and accounted for so I’m more supported than many single moms.

    Thank you, Kevin! I’m glad neither of us are alone in raising our sons. I appreciate all you do. I’m full of gratitude for you!

    Reply

  14. Sally
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 14:27:39

    Just a quick reply, I never said that being a single mom was a piece of cake. I said that many single people get there kids to school on time, most days. If you’re in the public school system then it’s their job to look out for the truant students and get them back into school. I also agree with the other poster, join in and volunteer. But it seems like she doesn’t find the fulfilling; however, may be your kids would like it if you showed up for school projects every now and then.

    And, I also stand by if you get remarried and you have minor kids, then yes, I would expect my new spouse to watch them if I had to go somewhere. When someone marries a person with kids, they also marry the kids -that is family. And everyone is always talking ‘community’ isn’t that community? I wouldn’t want a spouse that thinks these are your kids, now figure out what to do with them – I’m not helping. That would mean to me: I’m self-centered and I really don’t care about you and I’ll just stand by and watch you struggle.

    What I do agree with is the step-parent can’t take the place of the other parent, but when it comes down to watching kids and keeping them safe then it is their jobs as an adult to step up and do so.

    Reply

  15. Kristen
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 17:19:57

    I think that the issue may be that the school has to enforce the rules uniformly, across the board, regardless of income, race, or marital status of the family involved.

    My kids go to a school where nearly 70% of the student population qualifies for free/reduced lunch. There is some pretty dire poverty at our school. The school wants the kids to be at school where they can get meals, attention and an education. The home situation for many of these kids is really not ideal. Child poverty is pretty awful.

    So, they need to enforce the rules. Sure, they could let the rules slide for me – a middle-class, married, white mother who is financially able to take my kids out of school for fun trips across the country. But that really wouldn’t be fair…especially when they absolutely need to enforce the rules for a kid who goes without meals when he goes without school.

    Sometimes rules may not seem fair to our individual situation, but they are often there for a broader good – one that reaches far beyond ourselves.

    For me, volunteering in the school has been one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever done. Working directly with kids living in poverty has been a powerful experience, and it has changed my views on many things – especially school rules. And yes, I did become PTO president – but it had nothing to do with my own kids. That position put me in a better position to help the entire school.

    You mock the school board members and teachers and principals, but in my experience, they are actively doing more to fight childhood poverty than most others I know.

    Reply

  16. Tiffany
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 20:30:12

    I am commenting for nothing else than to be the voice of a child who grew up in the public school system with a single mother of four. and when I say single, I mean… financially, emotionally, mentally, physically, completely single. No support from my father, her parents, our aunts, uncles, etc… completely and utterly single. There is so much I want to say here, but I will try and be direct as I see everyone else is doing such a great job at. ;)

    Whatever anyone chooses to do in raising their children, your children will understand. Whatever it is. The choices you make today will indeed have an impact on the developmental growth of these young beings you are raising, but remember, they are people too. They will grow up and understand whatever decision you parents make. Of course, not always with great ease and sometimes it might take awhile to get there.

    In the short time I have known Alexis, I have known her to be a very conscious being. When you are conscious and connected to your heart in raising children, there is no “good or bad”, there is no “right or wrong”, there is only love, and all is love, all is light, all is divine exactly how it is. Whatever choices are made today, trust and know, these children will understand.

    Now, as far as the state is concerned, I like what Kristen said. As much as I am on the fence about public schooling our own children (which we have plenty of time since we have none… yet ;), I do believe they have to apply the rules across the board… but do I believe in this rule and that kids need to be mandated to a public school system in order for it to get funds? No, I believe that is the choice of every parent to decide. It would be great to see the schools getting money for just being a public school… creating activities and events for kids and the community… free, organic, lunch to all kids… and most of all, to pay our teachers better than the corporations… I feel I can go more places here, but I’ll stop rambling.

    Thanks for letting me comment… blessings to all of you parents… raising kids is one heck-of-a-job! I bow to all of you…

    Reply

  17. Elizabeth
    Dec 13, 2010 @ 11:06:09

    Time to grow up! The entitlement astounds! Freedom comes at a price and the pricetag is personal responsibility. She maintained a codependent relationship for over a decade so that she could further her ego’s desire for fame and fortune, now she thinks she should be able to use the public school system at her whim while she chases enlightenment around the globe with her latest guru. Those kids have been/are going through a lot and there will likely be more drama in thier future, sadly most of it made public by their mother who doesn’t have time or inclination to spend time in the uninspiring classroom she’s deemed fit for her kids. On purpose?

    Reply

    • esqcpa
      Dec 16, 2010 @ 12:31:20

      Completely agree with Elizabeth. More to the point, the last “guru” was some sales schmuck and all we heard about was how great the relationship was. Then he was dropped in a heartbeat and we get spammed galore by the new guy. Pathetic, really. Grow up and take responsibility. The entitlement IS astounding.

      Reply

      • Tiffany
        Dec 16, 2010 @ 12:51:00

        the personal stabs is what is astounding to me. whether people make the choices YOU would make or that YOU think they ‘should’ make only leaves the judgment on YOUR shoulders, on YOUR heart, and really only reflects that there is judgment on YOURself by you. this post has not been about anyone’s choices in marriage or dating or job-hunting… we are all on our own paths here, who is to say otherwise, who is to say this is all not in the divine? it astounds me that grown adults/parents are throwing out people’s choices in relationships like that defines them as a character or a whole or better yet, what kind of parent they are to their children… i am baffled. what kind of role model are you to judge someone for their personal choices? isn’t that why every celebrity is making a “it gets better” video, to encourage people that this type of judgment from people “gets better” as you grow up. seriously, what kind of role model are you for your children? whether you volunteer, whether you are there at home when they get home (two things i never had growing up), how does THAT make you a good parent? or possibly some better parent than someone who is raising their children to ACCEPT everyone and their choices? ASTOUNDING all right!

      • esqcpa
        Dec 16, 2010 @ 13:21:47

        @Tiffany, points well taken. Either conformity or non-conformity aren’t good or ill on their own. They are both meaningless yardsticks. However, if one is going to subject themselves to certain rules by living in any particular microcosm, such as a public school, then you have to expect that there will be sanctions for non-conformity to the rules that you’ve agreed to play by.

        What your post doesn’t address is what is best for the child — something on which the best and most reasonable minds will disagree.

      • Tiffany
        Dec 16, 2010 @ 13:39:22

        thank you for hearing my points. i am not going to post what is best for the child. i fully trust each parent to decide that for themselves and their own family… because whatever choice the parent makes… is best at that time. it is all in divine timing.

      • esqcpa
        Dec 16, 2010 @ 14:04:42

        @Tiffany, my point about being home when the child gets home, etc, isn’t to be taken literally. My point is really about what Gloria, below, is saying — that all things being equal (ie. being a loving, caring, instructive parent), children do better when there is consistency, routine, and stability. People can disagree about that, however, and I suppose there are those who might think that a well-intended and educational yet inconsistent and unstable environment is better.

      • esqcpa
        Dec 16, 2010 @ 14:08:19

        @Tiff I was apparently posting just as you were, hence didn’t read your last post before I hit the button. Not sure what divinity has to do with anything, but whatever.

  18. Gloria Perez-Walker
    Dec 13, 2010 @ 11:37:41

    I’m a public school advocate and community organizer. On a daily basis, I practice civic engagement, volunteerism, etc. and believe in its importance and push my clients to do the same at their schools to develop relationships with their schools. I also deal with client issues of truancy, CPS (child protective services in this state), and parent-blaming when children don’t quite fit into state systems. As an advocate I find myself in front of judges or hearing officers explaining transportation, work, special needs situations, and the parental-blame thing is just an all-too-easy an argument.

    Yes, the state has an unfair say in our lives as parents/families and while it’s necessary for the common good, there’s also an element of–dissent, voice, awareness–whatever you want to call it, that is missing in these matters, which is why I truly appreciate this post. It’s something I think about daily about those who don’t quite “fit” into the system. And there’s nothing wrong with saying it. I also hear the argument (quite a bit really) that parents who don’t fit into it should just homeschool or do private school.

    Again, both those options assume quite a bit of privilege. I don’t see anything wrong with a parent exercising their right to a say in public education, or even (god forbid!) arguing that their personal family situation doesn’t fit into that system and a concession needs to be made. But maybe that’s my background as an organizer and questioning systems and policies and making them more parent/family/human friendly. It’s Alexis’ right to send her children to public school and it’s also her right to say something about procedures that don’t fit her children. As someone who has successfully advocated for home-based service, shortened (or longer) schooldays, different programming, etc. for clients, I love to see other parents voicing their dissent against our public school system. Yes, even while sending their children there. That’s a basic right.

    I’ve come full circle–as a former PTO president and fundraiser and grantwriter for my son’s school, I had to stop and focus on my son, business, life and truly admit that it wasn’t worth the energy it took out of me. As someone who is trained in community organizing (a la Saul Alinsky and meatpackers and factory workers), that was a HARD pill for me to swallow. I started a nonprofit in my early 20s with my boy on my hip, organizing low-income Spanish speaking women and did a damn fine job of it for 10 years (for no pay, I might add).

    But when I looked at the impact of what I was really doing at my son’s school, it wasn’t meaningful when it made me more harried, had less time to be with him or plan for him or make money for him. That was my personal choice for my family and just because I made it doesn’t mean I made light of it.

    I think we all agree that kids needs consistency and routine. (My son has autism–trust me, I get that.) But to me this conversation is getting at parenting styles and blame. It’s so easy to blame people and they are certainly an easy target when they are “in trouble” with the system, aren’t they?

    I have followed Alexis for a while and love that she’s a conscious parent and human being and is so transparent, who truly helps others not only in her community, but others like me who appreciate and are able to use such energy in their own lives and work. It’s a broad impact and she is juggling it well. (Yes, even with a school truancy charge.)

    Reply

  19. Elizabeth
    Dec 13, 2010 @ 12:15:49

    I think we all have the right to parent our kids as we see fit. Not everyone sees getting into an Ivy League school as the only definition of success (and this is from someone who attended one). But putting that part aside and commenting on the original questions posed here – it REALLY bugs me that the you can face legal action for your own personal choices regarding your children’s education, but I understand it. This is the world we live in. You can’t homeschool without jumping through hoops, and the assumption is that if you are schooling your children, you will do so. The rules are there to prevent kids from being neglected, and they don’t have the resources to tailor personal plans for individual parents. I agree that some of these experiences Alexis’ kids have had have been incredible. I wish I could share experiences like this with my own children. However, if your children fall behind due to the extended absences and then use more of the already tapped school system’s resources upon return due to being behind, it isn’t fair to the other children. I have no doubt Alexis is a wonderful mother, but the school system just doesn’t work the way she wants it to.

    That said, I have heard of people making plans ahead of time with a school system when the children would be out of school for a long time.

    Reply

  20. Jerry
    Dec 13, 2010 @ 21:14:46

    You said you are a single parent? aren’t you married now? The single parent idea is an excuse, but a really poor one. You CHOOSE what you do for your kids or TO your kids.

    You chose to be single. Wasn’t the guy’s name Green somthing back then? Then you moved on to Dave, used up Dave to get marketing info, then dumped him for this new dude! History repeats…

    These people don’t mean evil, they just want you to open up your eyes. (you know, eyes wide open or shut, or whatever!) Not too many people buy the million dollar bz idea, especially since it’s so easy to check income of a co to be $300k or so.

    Be honest, be real. Volunteer your time for your kids.

    Reply

  21. Alexis Neely
    Dec 13, 2010 @ 22:31:37

    So interesting to see what this is bringing up for so many of you. Yes, I was recently married. It’s a very new relationship and while Russell is a tremendous source of support to me, the reality is that K & N are solely my responsibility. Russell and I are discovering together what it means for him to be their stepdad and at this point it does not mean he has financial or physical responsibility for them. Perhaps that will change over time, but I’ve only been in this relationship 5 months, so let’s give it time.

    @Jerry – I’m not sure what you are talking about re “the million dollar bz idea” – pls clarify.

    @Sally – you said “They went to burning man last year, moved to Colorado on a whim, was used to their dad being around, hung out with you boyfriend, and then all of a sudden got a new step dad. I really don’t think these are very educational for young children.” I disagree.

    I want my children to be exposed to many different environments and experiences. One of the experiences I took them out of school this year for was a retreat in Arizona where they learned about evolution, healthy eating, and how to care for themselves deeply and powerfully. These are things many people NEVER learn because they spend their lives in school and jobs. And they are miserable. I want more for my kids than that.

    Most of us want more than that in our lives, but we find ourselves stuck in situations that we hope will bring us safety and security and trade that for the lives we really wish we had. I’m not willing to perpetuate that belief system in my kids.

    @Susan @Tiffany and @Gloria, thank you. I appreciate your comments very much.

    All of this has inspired me to begin the search for the right teacher in earnest. I agree that their are many benefits of public school and I would love for them to stay in school.

    Despite their absences, K is doing great. And N is doing better than K was at the same age, even though he cries every day about how much he hates it. My prayer is that the school can accommodate our odd family, but if they cannot I will find an alternative that fits for us.

    Reply

  22. Chuck Rylant
    Dec 13, 2010 @ 23:31:15

    Tonight I read through the comments and I’m shocked by all of the personal attacks. It’s interesting that the personal attacks come from first name only people with no website attached. I wonder why?

    It does not seem fair to personally attack someone because she has voiced her perspective about the school system. It would be very fair and reasonable to share your opposing view, because that type of debate makes life interesting and often yields more informed decisions.

    But why does someone sharing her views on schooling open the door to attacking someone’s relationships, income, or lifestyle choices? I don’t know Alexis, but she has chosen to share her life in a very public way and certainly there are two ways to view that.

    The first is that there are most likely many who connect deeply with her and they become motivated and inspired to do great things. That is a wonderful thing.

    The second, are those who do not agree with her lifestyle and are free to think as they wish and live their own lives differently. But just because you don’t agree with someone’s choices, why does that give you the right to personally attack her?

    I very confident that if we looked into the glass houses of these people making the personal attacks, I’m certain they are also doing things that many would not agree with.

    Each of us has our flaws and we each have the freedom to make the best choices we can with the information we have at the time. But those choices are rarely perfect and only the individual can decide if the choice was right for themselves. Outsiders looking in with only a fraction of the information can’t fairly judge or decide what is right or wrong.

    Reply

  23. Martha James Hartney
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 07:59:12

    As I woke this morning, it dawned on my why I’m so interested in this issue. The cultural power structure in which the educational system has shifted. Schools are becoming parent managers. It used to be that schools served the family. But now, as public education has become so micromanaged by the federal and state governments (NCLB, standardized testing and the push to quantify results), school districts are turning to parents for accountability.

    Whether this is good or not is not what I’m focusing on, in part because this shift is likely to have both good and bad consequences. But we need to be AWARE of this shift. It is a subtle manifestation of the power of the majority over the minority–power the Constitution is supposed to balance. It’s easy to fall back on uniformity of enforcement. But there is not equal enforcement if what John says about being able to do as he pleases is accurate. Also, equal enforcement can infringe on individual liberties. This is not criminal law. It’s about public education, which, by the way, is not even an entitlement.

    There are a lot of very astute opinions here and I’m so grateful for all your thoughts. The personal nature of some of the comments show that we’re tempted to hold each other in contempt if we make choices that differ from others. One thing I learned in my work with new mothers is that we learn the most when we accept the wisdom of others that works for us, and leave the rest.

    I would love to be able to bring my kids on such great adventures. When I was married to my ex, we took them out of school for trips a couple times every year–almost all of them were business trips a part of which are expenses of the business and a smart way to make it work financially. Travel and experiencing new things was and is a tremendous value to us. So is a good education.

    How much of our feelings about what someone else does with their kids is our own wishing for adventure, newness, growth, challenge? How much of it is our resentment at the lack of it in our own lives?

    Jefferson didn’t believe in education by mandate but by natural curiosity. He also deplored the idea of grading. Thomas Edison was thrown out of school because he couldn’t stay in his seat for seven hours a day. Mark Twain said, “I never let my schooling get in the way of my education.”

    @Kristen–you thought I was mocking school administrators. That was not intended to mock though I see how you read that in it. Actually, I think we need to do more to support our schools (for all-in parents). I want them to make more money, to get a sabbatical to refresh themselves and have the creative, joyous life they should have. We should pay them as professionals–whether the kid is there or not, not piecemeal as we are doing now. Most of my kids’ teachers have made a tremendous positive impact on them! At the same time, some teachers have lost their joie de vivre and I wish they could find it again. Parents communicate that loss of joy to each other with this phrase, “Oh, So-and-So is retiring soon.” That’s a proxy for “they’re done.”

    I’ve heard many people say they think we overpay teachers for what they do. I just don’t see how. The average salary is something like $52, 000. A family cannot live on that. And the work they do is emotionally and intellectually difficult. They have to figure out how to get the best out of kids, satisfy a bunch of parents, and make sure the kids pass the CSAP, among many other things. Sure, they get time off. But few teachers can supplement that salary in any meaningful way in three months. But that’s a topic for another post.

    I am an “all-in” parent. I can’t volunteer like I did before because now I am a breadwinner too. The middle school doesn’t really want a bunch of parents underfoot anyway. My options are limited. I must rely on the public education system to educate my kids. That being the case, I’m hoping to support my kids’ teachers as best I can and honor the sacred work they do. But that doesn’t mean I won’t question things.

    Reply

  24. Jennifer Nagel
    Dec 16, 2010 @ 13:24:28

    Just wanted to say that Alexis and Martha, you are both doing a wonderful job of staying above the fray and keeping your heads in the right place. Excellent responses. “Good on ya” for not letting the far-too-personal, nasty, rather misogynistic comments drag you down.

    Reply

  25. ~claudia
    Dec 16, 2010 @ 13:47:25

    Martha & Alexis: Have you heard about http://www.selfdesign.com ? I had the opportunity to meet Brent Cameron, parent, author and founder of this organization which is another learning option for families in British Columbia, Canada, while our family attended the Rethinking Everything conference in Texas last year. SelfDesign Global was launched after I met him, but it may be an option to look at for resources and guidance for other learning options.

    What an interesting discussion here in the comments… I was especially intrigued by Martha’s realization of the power structure shift and her comment about it being “a subtle manifestation of the power of the majority over the minority–power the Constitution is supposed to balance.” Would you be willing to share more about this, Martha?

    Reply

  26. Karissa Watson
    Dec 16, 2010 @ 22:50:23

    As a child that was homeschooled in Colorado, I can say that the one prevalent thing I remembered is the constant being afraid to be seen in public during school hours. It wasn’t fair to me that if I got all my “state required work” done fast that I wasn’t free to do and go freely. One “helpful” neighbor reported seeing me and then I had to go see a social worker. Luckily I was able to prove my non-neglect by having an intelligent conversation and using big words like astonished at such a young age.

    One of my greatest prides is that I can say that I have physically been through at least 46 states and have great memories of standing on Four Corners, sitting on a pile of salt in Utah, seeing New York City, going to Canada, picking up shells and coconuts on the beach in Florida, seeing the jelly fish in the tide pools in California, visiting real Indians Tribes in New Mexico and the Dakotas, watching the fighter jet airshow in the Nevada desert, the St. Louis Arch… Wow I could really go on!

    That schooling prepared me to start my own business at 21 and 6 years later still run.

    As for the personal attacks on Alexis, I find it really misplaced. As a child I would have loved what she is able to do with her kids.

    Since I am part of her LIFT program, I can personally say that the information and content is worth it.

    Reply

  27. Dawn Pigoni
    Dec 17, 2010 @ 10:23:28

    As a parent who is strong in the school system and truly have no interest in homeschooling my children, but make sure to be involved in the classes so I am aware of what is going on.
    I still believe that every parent has a right to raise their children the way they feel best!
    As long as a child isn’t suffering (grades, behavior or otherwise) there in no need for the school system to interfere – I think it has more to do with the school making sure they get their money than a true concern for the child.

    Reply

  28. sheryl
    Dec 18, 2010 @ 06:51:32

    Sorry that this is long, but I wanted to respond to a couple of the “issues” that this blog post triggered. Just a little history so you can see where I am coming from. I was raised by a mostly single mom. There were 7 kids in all, I was the oldest. Until high school I never finished an entire school year in one school, to say the least we moved a lot. My mom was married 5 different times and she had many relationships that didn’t result in a marriage. So I can speak from a very unconventional background.

    I came into contact with Alexis about 18 months ago and so I have heard her story and watched a couple of relationships and at first when she recently got married it did trigger my inner mean girl because I know it can be hard on kids when they have a new “dad” in their lives over and over again. The move to Colorado, not so much, because I grew used to the moves and new friends, and that isn’t a pattern in her life.
    Then I thought about it and reading the posts to this blog really drove home, how all of the comments actually reflect our own triggers being mirrored in her life. We forget that we don’t see all of the story, just the snatches that this online world gives us into peoples lives. Both the negative and positive responses come from our “own” internal issues and really have nothing to do with her.

    I thought about home schooling my children (4 children all now grown and married) but decided not to, because I didn’t think I had the patience to teach four different children within their learning styles, make sure they did the school work, cleaned their rooms, etc… without harming our relationships (meaning I knew I would become a worse perfectionist nag than I already was!).

    What I can speak to is that while I didn’t get vacations during the school year the constant moving from city to city and state to state did bounce me around the school curiculum as no school was in the same math book or at the same place. So I was either way ahead or way behind the new school. What it comes down to is the child and their ability to learn on their own, with their mom’s help or asking the teacher for help. I was very self sufficient and actually skipped a grade and had the opportunity to skip another, but my mom decided that she didn’t want me to be 3 years younger than the rest of my class. Alexis comes across as a very caring mom and I am sure that if her children needed help that would help them or hire a tutor.
    What the post was really asking is should the government have the right to be so involved in how we raise our children? I don’t think that McDonalds is healthy to eat everyday, but I also don’t think that some governmental official has the right to tell me what I can feed my children. I think that people try to enact rules and regulations from a good motive, because there have always been those who seem to be incapable of good parenting. But at the same time I don’t feel that the minority should rule the majority of us.

    Reply

  29. Alexis Neely
    Dec 19, 2010 @ 23:13:55

    Hi everyone,

    Since I’m sure everyone is curious, I thought I’d give you an update on the truancy board hearing, which we had last Friday.

    First of all, it was held during school hours, which I found very odd, considering the kids had to be there and they don’t want the kids missing more school.

    Second, the focus was all on the kids, as if they were to blame for missing so much school. The meeting began with the attendance clerk asking Noah, my 7 year old, why he missed so much school. It was my decision to take them out of school, not their choice to miss school (although Noah did request the occasional mental health day).

    Other than that, the meeting was pretty straight forward. The attendance clerk created an agreement that we all had to sign stating that the kids would not miss another day of school this year, unless they were sick. In order for them to be deemed sick they would need to see a doctor or be brought into the school nurse. The attendance clerk was very clear that if we violate the agreement, we would go to truancy court and I could go to jail. Pretty scary.

    I did get prior approval for an already scheduled trip to the East Coast for Russell’s nephew’s bar mitzvah in May at the end of the school year and that was approved on the premise that no days were missed other than that.

    So that’s the story. As of right now, we are remaining in the school system and the kids’ dad has agreed to do everything he can to be with them when I travel.

    My inner rebel is all up in arms about the whole situation and I am actively working with her to keep the peace, inside and out.

    Thanks everyone,
    Alexis

    Reply

    • Stoonkie
      Dec 21, 2010 @ 12:48:40

      A 7-year-old needs a mental health day???!!!!!??? Plus he cries every night because he hates going to school???? There is something much deeper going on–no 7-year-old should be so miserable or even know what it is to need a mental health day!

      Reply

  30. Robert Cannady
    Dec 20, 2010 @ 18:55:37

    Alexis, your ‘great work’ certainly has its share of detractors. Having critics proves you’re doing something significant. Congratulations!!!

    Reply

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