Thursday, February 16, 2012

Should mother let child drop out

I read a blog post from a mother questioning whether she should let her child drop out and earn a GED. Apparently, the child was doing well in school but got sick with mono and asthma, and also became uncomfortable around other students. I don't know that her question is related to homework issues, but it is related to exercising parental judgment in the face of a child having a problem that seriously threatens her academic success. I offered the following thoughts.

I have three children who are adults. Two graduated high school and college and are doing very well. One dropped out, got his GED. I wish he had graduated, but he's doing much better this way than he would have if he had to continue going to school day in and day out facing unrelenting negativity and pressures.  The truth is we didn't really have an alternative to letting him drop out because he wasn't going to show up and pass anyway. The problem started long before we reached the point of having to make the decision. In our case, the problem was almost completely due to the unrelenting nature of the homework system. Our child liked school, but hated homework from a very young age on. We got sucked into a system that acted as if homework was the end all, and be all of being successful at school. Penalties for homework not done were so severe (zeros for the missed assignments, 25% of the grade), that homework terror dominated our lives. It pushed us off center from being able to parent (and address our child's problems), using our own judgment, in a rational way. I am a psychologist, so at the same time this was happening in our home, I was privy to stories from other parents with similar problems, and from adults who were in this "homework trap" when they were children. I've written a book, The Homework Trap ( with the hopes that it will help other parents. In our case, it was very clear that we needed to take charge and have full control of the decisions to be made in our home if our child was to be successful at school. And unfortunately, the system is set up now where parents have high levels of responsibility to make their children do the work, with little authority to control the assignments, and that leaves them powerless. I don't think my experience is the same as that of the writer of this question except to the degree that, as a parent, the writer needs more authority to access the situation, figure out what her daughter can do, and then tell the school what her decision is. This parent should be able to say to the school, "My daughter has been sick. It's hard enough for her to get to school. You have to reduce the assignments, let her do what she can do, pass her for learning enough to graduate, and get off her back. We need a solution that gives her a pathway to graduation, not blind demands that she either conform or fail."


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