Having grown up vulnerable, I experienced quite a bit of abuse at school—extreme bullying and threats—from both children and teachers. Because my parents grasped the risk to me, they let me get out before any of the threats could be implemented. I’m eternally grateful for that.
Many families living paycheque to paycheque, or in extreme poverty, are at risk of staying in schools (or jobs) where abuse is par for the course. This is one of the key reasons that it’s essential to be financially free, and to begin working toward that end as early in life as possible.
As a result of my experience, by the time I had a child of my own I was wary of the school system—painfully aware that many teachers and administrators do nothing to stop it, or even facilitate it or participate. However, my kid was keen to give it a go, seeing school as a daily party, full of friends and fun.
Like many, he found that while school had many wonderful aspects, a person needed to be pretty darn strategic to stay safe from bullies of all ages as well as from district policies.
When a broke family is experiencing terrible things as a result of school, what are its options? It will depend somewhat on what part of the world you are in, but following are approaches that have worked for some, from least involved to most.
Obviously, the topic of education for children is big, long, and complex. No blog post will ever do it justice. However, for the family whose child is experiencing bullying, I hope these ideas—each of which have been successfully implemented by countless families—spark creative juices, such that your child is one step closer to a safe education.
1. Medical consultation. Getting a child assessed for learning disabilities or other issues can result in an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). Once the IEP is in place, your child may be eligible for more support. When support for the child continues to be insufficient, a follow-up letter from the doctor, or a visit between the doctor and school staff, can help resolve matters.
2. Audio recording. Where an IEP is still being ignored, at least one family has found success by stating it will record IEP planning sessions. This simple strategy can inspire workers to align their actions with laws and policies.
3. Legal intervention. In some regions, a school or district is responsive to the voice and weight of a legal letter or a lawsuit. If a lawyer or nonprofit legal agency is willing to intervene in your child’s case without charge, or for a very limited fee, this may resolve much.
4. Unschooling. Increasingly, families all over the world are waking up to two long-known facts: children are people and people learn by living. Many are choosing to shuck desks and curriculum in favour of cooking, reading, following personal interests, entrepreneurship, budgeting, and playing—and seeing perfectly grounded, intelligent, educated, wise people emerge. Access to the internet, and resources such as Khan Academy, make the more recent (“traditional”) model moot.
Unschooling is legal in some regions and not legal in others. Check your area’s laws.
Of course, unschooling will require that at least one adult is present for a child’s safety. However, by eliminating a commute to school (which in many families demands a second car), school fundraisers, school fees, textbook costs, and so on, many families can suddenly afford to have one parent stay at home. If necessary, the parent might do some flexible work from home, or work a shift opposite to the other parent’s. Alternatively, grandma can play with the children all day.
Does this concept trigger outrage or fear in you? Google unschooling or homeschooling for books and websites sharing the results of unschooling. Contrary to popular belief, kids who opt out of “bricks and mortar” schools aren’t locked in cellars all day. They usually spend time with other homeschooled kids, going on field trips, playing group games together, sharing equipment, swapping books, swimming, and so on. A child might also attend an after-school program daily, spending another three hours with his peers there. Children who unschool or homeschool also (yes) qualify for postsecondary education. If you have strong opinions about the topic, be sure to check any prejudices and complete a reasonable amount of research before determining which ones to hang onto.
5. Homeschooling. Ditto all of #4, but add any amount of curriculum. Most kids manage to complete grade level curriculum in 1-2 hours per weekday, and then are free! An advantage to homeschooling is that some regions provide funding. In British Columbia Canada, for example, all families willing to report to an agency are eligible for a small amount of funding for tutors, classes, equipment, and more. Children with special needs might be able to access up to $10,000 per year. Google homeschooling + your region to connect with local families in the know.
6. Independent (“private”) school. Some public schools are very safe and nurturing. Some private ones are not. Public vs private is not what determines excellence. However, if your child is experiencing abuse in a public school, research the private options. Many private schools offer full or partial bursaries for families with lower income. Take them up on those. Also, schools offering tailored support may be funded fully or partially through third-party insurance for “lifeskills”, “therapy”, and so on.
7. Hybrid. Some options are essentially a mix and match of any of the above. An independent school might essentially offer an unschooling or homeschooling approach under the supervision of paid staff within a building. Or, a child might attend just his desired classes at the local public school. As mentioned earlier, a child might pursue his academic goals at home, but participate in an “after-school” program to help meet some of his social cravings.
8. Geographic move. Some families find it worth moving to a lower cost of living area in order to make any of the above possible. Others elect to move into a catchment area for a better school, perhaps dramatically downsizing their home and lifestyle in order to prioritize safe schooling for their charge.
School bullying, whether by children or teachers, is a terrible thing to have to endure. As we all know, it can have devastating effects. Transitioning to safety is no longer only for the wealthiest. By applying some straightforward OR creative strategies, many more children can start moving now toward safety and freedom.
For tips on how to downsize your lifestyle for more options, pursue programs, or access funding, please see my book Rising: Strategies for the Broke, the At-Risk, and Those Who Love Them (released April 19, 2016).