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Rethinking School: How to Take Charge of Your Child's Education

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Our K–12 school system is an artificial product of market forces. It isn’t a good fit for all—or even most—students. It prioritizes a single way of understanding the world over all others, pushes children into a rigid set of grades with little regard for individual maturity, and slaps “disability” labels over differences in learning style. Caught in this system, far too man Our K–12 school system is an artificial product of market forces. It isn’t a good fit for all—or even most—students. It prioritizes a single way of understanding the world over all others, pushes children into a rigid set of grades with little regard for individual maturity, and slaps “disability” labels over differences in learning style. Caught in this system, far too many young learners end up discouraged, disconnected, and unhappy. And when they struggle, school pressures parents, with overwhelming force, into “fixing” their children rather than questioning the system. With boldness, experience, and humor, Susan Wise Bauer turns conventional wisdom on its head: When a serious problem arises at school, the fault is more likely to lie with the school, or the educational system itself, than with the child. In five illuminating sections, Bauer teaches parents how to flex the K–12 system, rather than the child. She closely analyzes the traditional school structure, gives trenchant criticisms of its weaknesses, and offers a wealth of advice for parents of children whose difficulties may stem from struggling with learning differences, maturity differences, toxic classroom environments, and even from giftedness (not as much of a “gift” as you might think!). As the author of the classic book on home-schooling, The Well-Trained Mind, Bauer knows how children learn and how schools work. Her advice here is comprehensive and anecdotal, including material drawn from experience with her own four children and more than twenty years of educational consulting and university teaching. Rethinking School is a guide to one aspect of sane, humane parenting: negotiating the twelve-grade school system in a way that nurtures and protects your child’s mind, emotions, and spirit.


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Our K–12 school system is an artificial product of market forces. It isn’t a good fit for all—or even most—students. It prioritizes a single way of understanding the world over all others, pushes children into a rigid set of grades with little regard for individual maturity, and slaps “disability” labels over differences in learning style. Caught in this system, far too man Our K–12 school system is an artificial product of market forces. It isn’t a good fit for all—or even most—students. It prioritizes a single way of understanding the world over all others, pushes children into a rigid set of grades with little regard for individual maturity, and slaps “disability” labels over differences in learning style. Caught in this system, far too many young learners end up discouraged, disconnected, and unhappy. And when they struggle, school pressures parents, with overwhelming force, into “fixing” their children rather than questioning the system. With boldness, experience, and humor, Susan Wise Bauer turns conventional wisdom on its head: When a serious problem arises at school, the fault is more likely to lie with the school, or the educational system itself, than with the child. In five illuminating sections, Bauer teaches parents how to flex the K–12 system, rather than the child. She closely analyzes the traditional school structure, gives trenchant criticisms of its weaknesses, and offers a wealth of advice for parents of children whose difficulties may stem from struggling with learning differences, maturity differences, toxic classroom environments, and even from giftedness (not as much of a “gift” as you might think!). As the author of the classic book on home-schooling, The Well-Trained Mind, Bauer knows how children learn and how schools work. Her advice here is comprehensive and anecdotal, including material drawn from experience with her own four children and more than twenty years of educational consulting and university teaching. Rethinking School is a guide to one aspect of sane, humane parenting: negotiating the twelve-grade school system in a way that nurtures and protects your child’s mind, emotions, and spirit.

30 review for Rethinking School: How to Take Charge of Your Child's Education

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rose

    If you have a child that is struggling in the K-12 system, for any reason, this is the book for you. It offers explanation, diagnosis, and treatment options. Homeschooling is only one of the many options covered. If you've already decided to homeschool, check out The Well-Trained Mind for more details about how to do it - that really isn't the focus of this book. This book really empowers you to be an advocate for and actively involved in your child's education.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I abandoned this book for the rest of my stack. Parts I didn't agree with, parts resonated but really there wasn't enough nuance or new info for me to want to continue.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Danielle Cumberland

    As a long-time homeschooler Many parts of this book delighted me, but a few parts frustrated me. I have been a member of the Well Trained Mind forum community for many years, and am long familiar with the author and her philosophy. It was refreshing to see that she has changed how she views many things about what and in what way kids should learn. Experience is a good teacher and kids do not all learn the same way. It’s good that she realized this; it is something I also had to reckon with in my As a long-time homeschooler Many parts of this book delighted me, but a few parts frustrated me. I have been a member of the Well Trained Mind forum community for many years, and am long familiar with the author and her philosophy. It was refreshing to see that she has changed how she views many things about what and in what way kids should learn. Experience is a good teacher and kids do not all learn the same way. It’s good that she realized this; it is something I also had to reckon with in my own decade-and-a-half homeschooling three kids with different learning styles, strengths, gifts, goals. The part that frustrates me -and this may be more a weakness of mine than of the book - is that it is all well and good to recommend your differently-learning students have tailored learning activities, but it is quite another to actually make that happen and fit it in. It takes tons of time to do non-traditional methods of learning, which is the most obvious reason why schools can’t do them much. Also that bit about the steps and stages for helping children move into much less dependent homeschooling frustrates me because for two of my kids, this simply has not worked. They need explicit instruction, unlike the one child who learns well implicitly. So, I currently have a seventh grader who is still mostly in the Parent-at-Elbow or Hovering Parent stage for every subject. *sigh*

  4. 5 out of 5

    Amber Knapp

    This will be a good one to revisit as we enter the later stages of schooling. This is a good book to read for any parent with kids in school, public, private or at home. Having taught for a decade in the public school system I wish I would have been more aware of the background of our system and been more brave to push back against things/expectations/rules that didn’t make sense for kids or were clearly not best for the many different learners present. It would have helped me be a better teache This will be a good one to revisit as we enter the later stages of schooling. This is a good book to read for any parent with kids in school, public, private or at home. Having taught for a decade in the public school system I wish I would have been more aware of the background of our system and been more brave to push back against things/expectations/rules that didn’t make sense for kids or were clearly not best for the many different learners present. It would have helped me be a better teacher to them and now I hope will aid me in being better for my kids. This is not an answer to all problems but definitely a good exercise in thinking and reshaping or challenging beliefs around education and what makes it “good”.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Melanie Rightmyer

    This book is mostly useful for those parents who have kids in the public school system. There are useful bits of information for homeschool parents too. Another great book to have on my shelf for reference!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mandy

    “Who do you want this child to become?” And “Who does the child want to be?” I really like how the author hits home about the importance of focusing on the child as an individual and not producing another teenager from a “mold.” Qualities and not accomplishments. Rather than asking the age old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We should be asking “Who do you want to be?” While a lot of this book didn’t really apply to my family since we already homeschool (and haven’t had to dea “Who do you want this child to become?” And “Who does the child want to be?” I really like how the author hits home about the importance of focusing on the child as an individual and not producing another teenager from a “mold.” Qualities and not accomplishments. Rather than asking the age old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We should be asking “Who do you want to be?” While a lot of this book didn’t really apply to my family since we already homeschool (and haven’t had to deal with public school), I did find it empowering to know that as parents we do have more of a say and a large role in their education. It’s our responsibility to advocate for them and recognize when something isn’t working, we can make adjustments. Speak up to teachers and administrators - and keep in mind that we’re dealing with individuals...different learning styles, passions, struggles, etc. I do think this is a great book/resource for all parents (with children in K-12), whether public school or homeschool. The exercises/challenges are helpful and thought provoking - and I think the book, as a whole, could serve as a guide to find what works for best for the child and family unit.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Amy T.

    I have a lot of respect for Susan Wise Bauer as a home educator, and I loved a lot of what she had to say in this book. The idea that our current K-12 system does not serve students of all learning types, that each grade level’s skills and knowledge are so narrowly defined that there is no room for natural vaiations in maturity levels, and that getting your child a customized education might be more possible than you think. A big YES to all these things. But for some reason the chapters on deali I have a lot of respect for Susan Wise Bauer as a home educator, and I loved a lot of what she had to say in this book. The idea that our current K-12 system does not serve students of all learning types, that each grade level’s skills and knowledge are so narrowly defined that there is no room for natural vaiations in maturity levels, and that getting your child a customized education might be more possible than you think. A big YES to all these things. But for some reason the chapters on dealing with learning differences within the context of a traditional classroom rubbed me the wrong way. I’m not sure why, other than Bauer comes across as very opinionated, and I don’t think she has much personal experience in this area. I did appreciate the chapters on homeschooling, particularly homeschooling high school and what would need to be included on a transcript. I also added some of the books in the bibliography to my “to read” list. Overall, the scope of this book is too broad: How to deal with a myriad of issues in a traditional classroom PLUS everything you ever wanted to know about homeschooling. What I would love to see from SWB would be more of a memoir, describing her experiences growing up in the early days of homeschooling, becoming a well-known name in the homeschool speaking circuit, and what she learned by homeschooling her own kids. She alluded to all of this, but I would like to see it fleshed out and in a volume on its own.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    This book was helpful in encouraging me to question some things about our school that are presented as "have to's". I think there are sections of the book that are helpful to all parents with kids in public school, but it is primarily focused on parents with kids in public school that are struggling. My kids are neither gifted or delayed (so far, at least), and I have often felt they are overlooked in school for being average - the same is true in this book. There was a point in the book that ra This book was helpful in encouraging me to question some things about our school that are presented as "have to's". I think there are sections of the book that are helpful to all parents with kids in public school, but it is primarily focused on parents with kids in public school that are struggling. My kids are neither gifted or delayed (so far, at least), and I have often felt they are overlooked in school for being average - the same is true in this book. There was a point in the book that rather infuriated me when she spoke about the push for a [college] education that gave me the impression that she did not see value in trade schools, or skilled labor-type jobs. However by the time I reached the final chapter I realized that I must have misunderstood her. Which is good, since there is a shortage in supply for those jobs. Also, as I noted while I was reading the book, although Ms. Bauer acknowledges the faults of the public school system, she brushes past the realities that make it so. The book reads to me as very much focused on the privileged and elite of our society who can eschew much of what the rest of the society must endure. My favorite thing about the book was her constant emphasis that school is not for college prep, but about preparing for LIFE.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Heather Hale

    This book exists for one sole purpose- to scare parents into homeschooling. I’m not anti-homeschool by any measure, but the author spends the first two-thirds of the book outlining the evils of public schools and the last third saying that homeschool is the only way out, without detailing any pitfalls of homeschool. If you are currently homeschooling, you will probably like her way of thinking. If you are trying to make public school work in your family (which is supposedly the premise), this is This book exists for one sole purpose- to scare parents into homeschooling. I’m not anti-homeschool by any measure, but the author spends the first two-thirds of the book outlining the evils of public schools and the last third saying that homeschool is the only way out, without detailing any pitfalls of homeschool. If you are currently homeschooling, you will probably like her way of thinking. If you are trying to make public school work in your family (which is supposedly the premise), this is a complete waste of time. What’s most offensive to me is that the author is so clearly biased- she was homeschooled and then homeschooled her children. That’s fine, but then why write a book about the public school system, of which she knows very, very little? The author also holds herself up as an authority then repeatedly tells the reader, “I’m not a mental health professional.” There is zero credibility. The only redeeming grace is the quotes and studies she shares. There are some informational gems if you ignore the narration completely. In truth, the primary sources are the only reason I finished the book. My advice? Get the sources from the bibliography and don’t read the book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sarah McGinnis

    DNF. Sentences like this make me cringe: "Tests are the only leveler that outside observers can use. So standardized tests are not going to go away anytime soon. Knowing how to take those tests can actually be a valuable life skill, even though they're arbitrary and unreliable". I thought this book would offer new methods or suggest alternative education options but instead it's more of a how to book for homeschool parents / parents who are trying to get special treatment for their children in a DNF. Sentences like this make me cringe: "Tests are the only leveler that outside observers can use. So standardized tests are not going to go away anytime soon. Knowing how to take those tests can actually be a valuable life skill, even though they're arbitrary and unreliable". I thought this book would offer new methods or suggest alternative education options but instead it's more of a how to book for homeschool parents / parents who are trying to get special treatment for their children in a broken public education system.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jessi

    I would recommend this book to anyone whose children are in public schools. It has some pointers for getting around the system and for taking charge of more aspects of your children's education than you typically might think is possible. (For example, she gives tips and information about opting out of homework or standardized tests.) She gives the very most basic tips on how to opt out of the whole system, too, if interested, but that is not the point of this book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Holly Minion

    As we prepare to start the schooling journey with our oldest, my husband and I have both been doing a lot of research on education. Learning about the history and pitfalls of graded k-12 education in America has definitely been eye-opening. It reaffirmed our decision to plan for a post-high school gap year before college and to encourage our boys in their personal education paths. This book really emphasizes that each child is created differently with different gifts and that those differences a As we prepare to start the schooling journey with our oldest, my husband and I have both been doing a lot of research on education. Learning about the history and pitfalls of graded k-12 education in America has definitely been eye-opening. It reaffirmed our decision to plan for a post-high school gap year before college and to encourage our boys in their personal education paths. This book really emphasizes that each child is created differently with different gifts and that those differences aren't bad, but rather something to be celebrated. The author covers both how to handle difficulties inside a traditional school system as well as a home school environment. It is a book I will think about for a long time.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Stefan Hull

    Very encouraging read for a classically minded homeschool family. Challenged my thinking on what education is. It was especially eye opening since I am a product of the public education system and have been greatly shaped by it. A good portion wasn’t relevant to my family, being geared toward families in public schools, but still a recommended read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Julie Mabus

    I think every parent should read this book. Many of the things were not new to me but I think there is some very helpful ideas that are addressed that will help parents evaluate the education of their children.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ivan

    Full of unconventional advice for your child’s education whether you homeschool or not. Extremely helpful for a newbie in this area.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    This gave me so much to think about, and the works cited is sending me off to think about even more!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Well organized, informative, and very helpful. I especially enjoyed the author sharing her journey and life lessons. Research and arguments are strong and solid. A great resource.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Serena Hasler

    I am not rating this book because I skim-read large portions of it since quite a bit of the information doesn't really apply to my teenagers. However, I so wish that the book had been available when they were young! This is a great tool for any parent; Bauer gives a brief history/assessment of our educational system & then offers a sliding scale of recommendations for parents whose children are not being well-served by the system. She does end with homeschooling, but provides several other optio I am not rating this book because I skim-read large portions of it since quite a bit of the information doesn't really apply to my teenagers. However, I so wish that the book had been available when they were young! This is a great tool for any parent; Bauer gives a brief history/assessment of our educational system & then offers a sliding scale of recommendations for parents whose children are not being well-served by the system. She does end with homeschooling, but provides several other options first.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Peterson

    Parents everywhere should read this, whether you intend to homeschool or not. SWB makes fantastic points about the failings and arbitrary assumptions of our education system/mindset, and provides information that could help you navigate the school system with struggling child. If you ARE homeschooling, it’s a must read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Karen (Living Unabridged)

    Highly recommended for all parents of school age children. Newsflash: the K-12 system is not designed for all children (or even most children). So, how do you make it work for your child within your family's unique strengths and weaknesses? This book is full of practical advice, wisdom, and wit.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    When I heard that SWB has written a book on “rethinking school” I was skeptical. I know she’s penned curriculum, so I wondered if she had changed her view on homeschooling? No. She has not. But then this book isn’t entirely about that. This book is really about how to make education work for your child no matter which path of education you choose. SWB still advocates home schooling as an optimal choice (because of its natural flexibility), but she also gives a plethora of idea and tools to help When I heard that SWB has written a book on “rethinking school” I was skeptical. I know she’s penned curriculum, so I wondered if she had changed her view on homeschooling? No. She has not. But then this book isn’t entirely about that. This book is really about how to make education work for your child no matter which path of education you choose. SWB still advocates home schooling as an optimal choice (because of its natural flexibility), but she also gives a plethora of idea and tools to help parents in traditional school settings have the ability to help their children succeed. She really pushes you to think outside the box of education-as-we-know-it and this book was well worth the read. I was greatly encouraged. Definitely recommend it for any parent with a child in school (home or elsewhere), but especially those who are struggling in some area.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kim Mallady

    I read this book looking for advice on how to work within the school system when you feel your child's needs aren't being met. And there was a lot of advice for that, but ultimately this author was pushing for homeschooling. And, unfortunately, this author also said that medicating a child with ADHD is "drugging them into compliance" and that kids diagnosed with ASD-1 are actually just immature and that their "so-called problem behaviors are a lot more likely to occur in children who aren't taug I read this book looking for advice on how to work within the school system when you feel your child's needs aren't being met. And there was a lot of advice for that, but ultimately this author was pushing for homeschooling. And, unfortunately, this author also said that medicating a child with ADHD is "drugging them into compliance" and that kids diagnosed with ASD-1 are actually just immature and that their "so-called problem behaviors are a lot more likely to occur in children who aren't taught and praised, who are given unclear commands, who are asked to do tasks that they can't manage and who aren't provided snacks when their blood sugar gets low." A pat on the back and a snack will apparently cure autism. Such inane and uneducated comments as that bring the accuracy and helpfulness of the entire rest of the book into question and for that I can't give it many stars.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    I have been homeschooling with The Well-trained Mind for almost 8 years, so when I saw SWB had a new book coming out, of I picked it up. In Rethinking School, SWB offers sound advice to all parents regarding their children’s education. I absolutely agree with SWB, “Not everyone can, or should, homeschool.” (p.182). So, how does one work within the K-12 system? This book answers that question. Even as a homeschooler, I found Rethinking School helpful and informative for my own children’s educatio I have been homeschooling with The Well-trained Mind for almost 8 years, so when I saw SWB had a new book coming out, of I picked it up. In Rethinking School, SWB offers sound advice to all parents regarding their children’s education. I absolutely agree with SWB, “Not everyone can, or should, homeschool.” (p.182). So, how does one work within the K-12 system? This book answers that question. Even as a homeschooler, I found Rethinking School helpful and informative for my own children’s education. The Thought Experiments in Part IV are especially wonderful and I plan to work through them at least once a year, maybe twice.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    3 1/2 A worthwhile resource for any parent of a K-12 student in the public school system. Slightly less useful for a homeschool parent, like myself, but I appreciated much about the book - particularly the thought experiments.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rachelle

    For every parent who wants to nurture their child's soul. Loved this book that reminded me not to parent out of fear, not to make educational decisions out of fear (or based on what colleges are looking for) and find the heart of my kids.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    I was hoping this book would have more strategies for navigating traditional school with a home schooling mindset. Instead it was a book where pretty much every path led to homeschooling, which is not in the cards for our family.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    This one isn't necessarily helpful for someone who is already homeschooling, but I can see where it would be a useful resource for someone struggling in the school system.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Janalee

    Really liked the cover. The rest, I don't know how to put into a simple review. And/or don't know what to say.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Hyatt

    I'm counting this one as finished, even though I skimmed the homeschooling sections. If I could design a book that I expected to be exactly my niche, this would be it. Out of the box solutions for a kid while still being in the school system? Check! Complete rejection of the school SYSTEM as a monolithic thing? Check! Complaints about how forking damaging schools often are? Check! Aesthetically pleasing cover? THE ICING ON THE CAKE. But this book was so extremely disappointing. There are a few ch I'm counting this one as finished, even though I skimmed the homeschooling sections. If I could design a book that I expected to be exactly my niche, this would be it. Out of the box solutions for a kid while still being in the school system? Check! Complete rejection of the school SYSTEM as a monolithic thing? Check! Complaints about how forking damaging schools often are? Check! Aesthetically pleasing cover? THE ICING ON THE CAKE. But this book was so extremely disappointing. There are a few chapters that are helpful, mostly around the idea that hey, you don't just have to accept what the school hands you, and then a lot of chapters that aren't, including an ableist rant about how learning disabilities are overdiagnosed (it's an odd take clearly centered around the author's bias against the word "disability" because on one hand, she's like, yeah, these kids have these learning ~dIfFerEncEs~ but they're definitely not disabilities! No, Susan, they are. AND THAT'S OKAY. Like she's so close to being insightful and then just... isn't. Oddly enough everything in that chapter could be equally used to make a case for why "rethinking school" is a good thing to do. It doesn't need the ableism to be a strong argument. But she chooses to take it there. It's weird). Other suggestions include being sure to teach your kid to read before they start school (because that's developmentally appropriate and in keeping with the arguments elsewhere that kids all. learn differently), using flashcards and academic instruction for preschoolers, "after-schooling" subjects in which your kid is needing additional support or challenge (at the same time she argues against homework), volunteering as a regular helper in the classroom before asking for "accommodations" in assignments from teachers, using the word "accommodations" to mean "flexibility in assignments" when "accommodations" it's an actual legal thing that students with disabilities are entitled to by law and not a special consideration, and so on, and so on... Her response to homeschooling parents dealing with defiance is at some points "you're responsible, you're the teacher and they're bored" (this seems valid, this is the main critique of the public school system and honestly something every teacher should take to heart) and then in the next breath "IDK, we never deal with defiance, my kids would never, you need therapy." And let me say for the record, therapy is GREAT. Normalize therapy for everybody. But the way it's used in this book feels like the typical weaponized "get counseling" that's thrown around in the same way religious people say "you need prayer/I'll pray for you" and also in a way that is dismissive and ignorant of the fact that not all therapy is created equal, that bad therapy is worse than no therapy, and that maybe the whole conversation is beyond the expertise of the author and outside the needed scope of the book. I know some people have added this book as a result of me adding it. If you can easily get it from the library for free, like I did, have at it. Skim it. There are some out of the box ideas. Not as many as I was hoping from the title, and too much other garbage to wholly recommend it. If you're looking for a book along these lines with less wading through nonsense, Heather Shumaker's It's OK to Go Up the Slide is aimed at school agers and deals with questioning the system in a much better way. Peter Gray's Free to Learn is also helpful. I also found a lot of insight into education and parenting in general in The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart, which is aimed at homeschooling families but is applicable to all.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Hilary Forrest

    I am really glad I read this book. I have been homeschooling for over 10 years, and although this book isn't written entirely to the homeschool parent, there are definitely useful pieces of information I came away with. Even though I have been homeschooling, I still cannot totally move away from the more traditional K-12 school setting and way of thinking. I can't help it, it's how I was raised and my first few years of teaching were in a traditional school setting. I don't believe Bauer implies I am really glad I read this book. I have been homeschooling for over 10 years, and although this book isn't written entirely to the homeschool parent, there are definitely useful pieces of information I came away with. Even though I have been homeschooling, I still cannot totally move away from the more traditional K-12 school setting and way of thinking. I can't help it, it's how I was raised and my first few years of teaching were in a traditional school setting. I don't believe Bauer implies that one way is better than another in this book. Rethinking School helped me make some important decisions regarding one of my children in particular who struggles with school and has given me some assurance that it is totally okay to not funnel my kids through 12 years of school and then onto a college level setting. Not every child is cut out for that. Bauer also puts in helpful tips for doing certain subjects a little more out of the box and spends a portion of the book on learning disabilities and giftedness. There were sections of the book I skimmed as they totally don't apply to me, but by in large, I am grateful for what I learned and for the encouragement that I am making the right decision for my family and my particular children.

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