When Traditional Schooling Fails

By Mary Ann Kuchera


Harry was extremely excited to attend school right up until the moment he walked into a classroom. From the time Harry was very small, he was an enthusiastic and engaged student. Inspired by the deep Reggio and Monntissorrie teaching we had done with him, he was reading and writing at an early age. So you can imagine our surprise when the school told us it was our fault that he was ahead of his classmates and that they could not keep him in Seattle Public Schools.


The first day of kindergarten he came home and looked me in the eye and said, ”Mommy you lied, you told me they would teach me! I learned nothing!" His anger with me was palpable. By the end of his kindergarten year, he was terribly bored and begging us to keep him at home every single day of the week and learn with us.


Seattle Public Schools offered accelerated learning for first graders, (this meant for him at 7 years old, an hour plus bus ride each way, across downtown Seattle to get to the new school). So we placed him in that program in the hope that he would be engaged in class learning. By Christmas, he was asking us to keep him at home once again, but we let the teacher pressure us into hanging in until the end of the school year.


By June, he hated the idea of school and wanted nothing to do with learning, which was a complete turn around from his attitude of two years before. We gave in.

When we started his home-school program, we had to approach learning in non-traditional ways. We did a lot of art and music. We taught math by having him budget and shop for our groceries. We taught history and natural science through documentaries.


Slowly, he came around to the idea that he would need a more traditional schooling, and a year after his initial resistance faded, he had embraced his lessons again completely. We taught him anatomy out of my Clooege Anatomy text book, planned and wrote a novella (along with reviewing important language skills) with John Gust's Adventures in Fantasyland and covered reading comprehension with The Hook ed On Phonics card sets.

Then, about the time he would have entered 8th grade, he took his schooling away from us. He stopped studying with his parents, and took complete control of it, working alone in his room or at the dining room table, studying what he thought would be important. When we asked what he was learning, we never got an answer more specific than "Stuff."


There were... disagreements over this, obviously. As his parents, we were responsible for his education, and we tried several times to wrest control of it from him. What we quickly learned, however, was that he was more dedicated and diligent when he taught himself than when he followed our lessons. He was aware of the gaps in his knowledge and sought out information on geography, 20th century European history, and math. Most of all, math.

As he was growing up, we often had opportunity to ask ourselves if he was being honest--Did he really know nothing about a broken glass? Was he pretending to be sick because he wanted attention--and in every instance our suspicions were misplaced. So we cut the leash and let him run.


Eventually, he surpassed us, until finally he reached a point that was too difficult for self-study. So we found a tutor, and he kept learning more and more abstract material. He decided to teach himself to code, and against all advice he started with C++, because he wanted to do the hardest language first, so the other languages would be easier.


Then came “us parents“ needing to think about college. He was just 15-years old. He said he wanted to go to the top schools for math and science or go right to work. So SAT, ACT and GED scores were needed to jump throw the "hoops'. He took all this on with gusto. He felt he knew nothing so we did some practice test. Most of what he did not know he puzzled out.

He saw the game formula of the test and was working it. In a little more then a years time he had taken his SAT, ACT and in a single 7 hour sitting the whole new GED.

He did very well, but once again this experience with "classical education" made him not want to go to college. He found the process of taking those tests to be so soul-killing that it took him about three months to recover.

My son has been looking for deep intellectual compassionate thinkers to share with his whole live. I only worry about his, and so many other young thinkers, ability to conform their learning to the requirements of teachers and the classroom.

My son has been his own teacher for years. When he reaches out to people he looks for people who will not place him by age but by thought-content.

My wish is that all young people receive this same opportunity.



Mary Ann Kuchera

Artist, Massage Therapist

I have always made. My tools have changed over the years. What inspires me is the power of nature. The color, the shapes, the experience of being in its presence. We can never copy it, only try to translate what we see.

Her biggest creative endeavor being the un-schooling of her son, which she calls her long term conceptual art project, made with her novelist husband.


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