An Open Letter of Apology to My Former High School Student

Dear Jacob,

I taught you in English class when you were eighteen years old and I owe you an apology. In fact, all your teachers do.

I bought the lie and I lied to you, and it had a profoundly negative impact on you.

I told you that since you weren’t interested in dissecting Shakespeare, you wouldn’t amount to much in life. Oh I didn’t say it in those exact words, but close.

I remember taking you into the hallway–I know you remember it too (shame on me for shaming you) and telling you that “successful people pay attention and do well in class and study and make good grades.”

Your eyes filled with tears because that news must have been a crushing blow. (I can’t imagine being told that if I didn’t paint as well as the others in my art class, I wasn’t as good as them, and doomed to a life of failure.)

That’s what we’re all brainwashed to believe. That’s what the “smart” people say, and no one really sees how stupid it is. That grades are what makes someone successful? How were we even convinced of such nonsense?

You were smart. You were smart in a hundred ways but we used our tiny little measuring stick in our tiny little boxes and the ones who refused to jump through our tiny little hoops were made to feel stupid.

Thousands of children still suffer every day the way I made you suffer.

You knew back then what I refused to see. That there is nothing normal or productive about forcing energetic, curious boys to sit in desks all day and force-feed them Chaucer. Some are even being drugged to sit there. Perfectly wonderful boys, sedated to act like something they aren’t, to waste valuable time on a lecture they won’t remember when they could be learning so much more–stuff that will really give them a good life. I can’t believe we sit by and let it happen.

You didn’t need Chaucer.

You needed freedom. You needed to work with your hands and do what you were good at. To improve those skills that were uniquely yours and uniquely wonderful and just as important as writing essays.

And you needed us to tell you that. To say that there are a thousand ways to be smart. Some people do love Chaucer and some people love taking a car apart and putting it back together. Both of those things are good and needful and should receive equal attention and affirmation.

We told you it was good and normal to be isolated from real life all day in small cells, requiring permission to even go to the bathroom. You were a man and you couldn’t go to the bathroom unless I let you! We used bells to program you to stop and start on command, essentially saying that nothing is worth pouring your time and energy into until it’s finished.

We told you we were the experts and we defined “success” and we got to stamp your card for life to tell the world you were either a “good student” or a “bad student.”

Jacob, I am so ashamed to have claimed to be helping children, all the while hurting you and many others.

You survived despite our efforts to keep you confined within that box. That’s what the human spirit does. But I’m sure you would have been so much better off without us.

Well I’m different now, Jacob. I fight, in my little corner of the world, for people like you. For people like my own children–for the majority of children who are having their creativity, their originality, their unique gifts and interests crushed by those they trust.

Please forgive me. And don’t buy the lie. I was wrong. They are wrong.


There is an alternative to forced-schooling. Think Outside the Classroom.

“Schools are for showing off, not for learning.  When we enroll our children in school, we enroll them into a never ending series of contests—to see who is best, who can get the highest grades, the highest scores on standardized tests, win the most honors, make it into the most advanced placement classes, get into the best colleges.  We see those grades and hoops jumped through as measures not only of our children, but also of ourselves as parents.  We find ways, subtly or not so subtly, to brag about them to our friends and relatives. All this has nothing to do with learning, and, really, we all know it.” -Dr. Peter Gray, Schools Are Good For Showing Off, Not for Learning

41 Responses to “An Open Letter of Apology to My Former High School Student”

  1. Angie says:

    I’m thankful for your inspiring insights! There truly are varied giftings, and each is valuable. I hope I don’t forget this when I’m teaching my wiggly six year old his grammar lessons. 🙂 I do hope that you have been able to track down Jacob to personally share this with him.

    • Angie,

      Thank you. Yes, I found him on facebook and sent him the link and a personal apology. I asked him if he wanted me to share his real name, so if he does, the name in the post will change 😉

  2. Cindy says:

    How cool is it that you actually, really, truly sent him the link? 🙂 Awesome post. Spreading it far and wide.

  3. Katy says:

    WOW!!! That was amazing, truly! Thank you for sharing it!

  4. S Adams says:

    He was asking permission to use the bathroom so as not to disturb the students who WERE interested in Chaucer. Common courtesy, really.

    If he were working at McD as a cashier, he”d also need permission to leave his work. Courtesy is not a bad thing for a young man to learn.

    There are plenty of things young adults need to ask permission for. Your daughter is an adult yet there are things you don”t let her do.

    Perhaps the fault lay not with schools, but with your inability to spark an interest in Chaucer in him. And shaming him in front of his peers.

    • Laura(yet another) says:

      I think you are missing the point that Kelly is trying to make. Every person has their own bent… Mine is more arts/literature… anything science/math related is NOT my cup of tea. It doesn’t come easy and I don’t enjoy it! I don’t care how “good” a teacher is, there is very little that will get me interested in algorithms, or calculus… It’s just NOT my bent (and I took up through Trigonometry and got A’s, so don’t get all lectury about how I should apply myself to things I don’t like–I did apply myself, and while I did “well” I don’t remember a darn thing, still didn’t like it, but was too conscientious to fail in it). All Kelly means is that our schools are often too limiting by what they require and how narrowly they “educate”… and for her lack of appreciation of a student who has skills/interest that she couldn’t see or wouldn’t acknowledge…

  5. S Adams says:

    Kids must ask permission to use the BR to prevent the disinterested kids from leaving all in a bunch to hang around in the halls.

  6. shannon says:

    Well said Kelly. Love your thoughts. Due to the snow in my state, schools have been cancelled for what seems like a gazillion days. To make up for it, 2 local schools starting this week are having students stay over an HOUR a day through the end of April. Isn’t that sad? I can’t sit still that long and get grumpy at the end of a long day, let alone children.

  7. Jennifer says:

    Good, but I disagree that telling him successful people pay attention and study is wrong.

  8. MelissaJoy says:

    I got what you’re saying, Kelly. Bravo!

  9. Karen says:

    Among the things Jacob needed and apparently never received was an English teacher who knew better than to write “what you were good at.” Standard English sentences never end with “at.”

    Also, why shouldn’t a mechanic appreciate Shakespeare? Shakespeare is the world’s only universal poet; his works are taught in all languages and all countries. He coined thousands of common words, including “skim milk” and “assassination.” His plays were performed for the London riffraff, so why do you think modern people of all walks of life should appreciate them? Your idea will trap thousands of kids in the sewer of popular culture by indulging their initial dislike of good stuff.

    • Karen,

      It’s actually a myth that you are to never use a preposition at the end of a sentence; often doing so is overtly pedantic. Winston Churchill once said:

      “This is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I shall not put.” Please save your grammar advice unless it is actually correct.

      I don’t know “why a mechanic shouldn’t appreciate Shakespeare?” Some just don’t. What don’t you appreciate? Are you willing to admit that you are interested in everything? Do you know how silly it is for you to make the point that he coined some common words as proof that Jacob should have been an eager student of Shakespeare? (More evidence of how schools ruin us–people come out with the inability to even make a logical argument.)

      Thousands of kids are already trapped in a sewer of forced-schooling, with little opportunity to even know what their passions are or the freedoms to explore them. I consider an appreciation for art and culture to be one of the bedrocks of a good education. But force-feeding it to disinterested kids isn’t what inspires them. Letting them touch and hear and see and taste it in the real world–the world they hardly ever get to see–that’s how they learn to appreciate beautiful works of art.

    • JenniferC says:

      I love for people to correct grammar and spelling. There are lots of comments here. Please oh please continue correcting because blogs are not for casual conversation. We should be stressed and playing our A game at all times to make the academics proud.

      • Jane says:

        They always fall back on the old grammar/spelling Nazi technique when they have no better response, no logical argument. Or personal attacks. Ooops, sentence fragment. LOL

        • Jane says:

          I would like to apologize for my sarcasm. I sometimes type before I think and I don’t think my words were becoming of a Christian. The Holy Spirit got on my back about it. What I said was true but I could have said it differently.

          • JenniferC says:

            Well fine. I apologize too. Actually I think I got on Kelly’s case one time for using too much sarcasm in her comments! Sometimes it just can’t be helped

          • T Rhett says:

            Personally, I would rather see “grammar policing” than Nazi references. Google “Godwin’s Law.”

            • Jane says:

              Oh, for heaven’s sake! It’s a figure of speech! I will apologize for sarcasm but not because my language isn’t politically correct!

  10. […] Kelly Crawford, a former high school teacher turned homeschool mom of nine wrote ”An Open Letter of Apology to My Former High School Student“ […]

  11. Terri White says:

    Thank you, Kelly, for your honesty. I was thankfully homeschooled, but my husband was convinced by well-meaning teachers and others in his life that he wasn’t smart because he was good with his hands instead of good at school. It took him over 10 years to begin to start enjoying all that God made him to be and now 20 years after high school he is just starting to think maybe he has something to pass on to our children. It breaks my heart because he still sees himself as “dumb”. He is now a plumber and carpenter, able to take anything apart and fix it. He also can easily jump in and help any of the local ranchers and has taken my appliances as well as my mom’s appliances apart and repaired them with nothing more than a picture to look at.

    I am soon to give birth to our 5th sweet son (along with 2 daughters) and am determined to make sure all my children understand that God gave them each precious gifts, they just are in different areas.

    Again, thank you for being honest and open about how the best meaning people are taught things from our society that are truly hurting those God has given such wonderful talents.

    • Terri,

      I’m so glad your husband is beginning to discover his gifts. It’s so tragic that many do not.

      My husband and I were discussing this with his upbringing. He grew up in an affluent home where certainly, the only thing to do was to follow the college career path. It didn’t matter that he had no idea what he wanted to do, or that he wasn’t cut out for college.

      It wasn’t until long after we married that he discovered all kinds of gifts he had. Gifts that, had he been encouraged to hone, would have put him SO far ahead of the game. We married with tons of student loans and for him, nothing to show for it, besides all the lost time and direction.

      It’s so wise, as parents, to help our children find their path.

  12. I always appreciate the words that you right, but lately they have been just what I have needed to read. My oldest child is almost 10 and we have always homeschooled, but lately I had been feeling major burn out. We were trying to do ‘traditional’ education in our home setting. I was the mom who bought the ‘everything your child needs to know in first grade’ books, and so on, and we did not move on until my children knew EVERYTHING. It was exhausting, but we pressed on. Lately, though, we hit a new snag with long division and many days were ending in tears (both mine and hers). We also just moved to a new state where we have yet to meet any other families who home educate, and I was ready to give up. I am so sad to admit that I was actually researching private schools. However, I stumbled upon your thoughts on a complete Christian education a few posts back, and my heart literally began to sing! I had never even thought about looking at the gifts that God has placed in my children and guiding them in that direction! I have never felt more freedom (or excitement) in teaching my children at home. This…. this I can do. Thank you for sharing and inspiring from your heart. Your words really do make a difference.

  13. Kristen says:

    Well…… I can see and understand your point. About labeling kids, grades, etc. However, successful people do pay attention. Successful people do apply themselves, even to tasks they are not interested in, because that’s what creates in us diligence and patience. Successful people work hard and do their best at whatever they are told to do. I have no idea what to think about Jacob here. Perhaps he truly was lazy, and should have been applying himself in English. Maybe you were just ticked off at him because he didn’t love Chaucer as much as you did. But that’s not the point of education. Education is not just what is interesting or practical right now. Educatin is training and disciplining the mind and heart. You’re creating lazy minded children if you only expect them to study things that they are good at, or interest them.

    • Kristen,

      I respectfully disagree, and will continue to boldly beg parents to rethink what they’ve been programmed to think. A difficult thing, I know.

      John Taylor Gatto said:

      “Like all school categories, these are sacred myths, created by human imagination. They derive from questionable values we never examine because they preserve the temple of schooling. That’s the secret behind short-answer tests, bells, uniform time blocks, age grading, standardization, and all the rest of the school religion punishing our nation. There isn’t a right way to become educated; there are as many ways as fingerprints. We don’t need state-certified teachers to make education happen—that probably guarantees it won’t.”

      You are right that successful people apply themselves. But not necessarily in the way schools defines it. Schools say there is only one way to apply one’s self. That is a lie.

      Life presents plenty of opportunities to do hard things that discipline the mind and heart. Why would we abuse the natural gift of learning, the uniqueness God has given to each person by confining them to a tiny scope of knowledge, and telling them that the other stuff is less important?

      School is so consuming, when homework is added to the mix, children have hardly any time to pursue interests “outside the box.”

      Historically, the early schools taught the 3 R’s, and then children were given more freedom to apprentice or develop in whatever areas they wished. (By the way, even the 3 R’s are far easier to learn without formal schooling in our day with our access to books and basic materials.)

      Rivera Sun writes:

      “From our leaders’ viewpoint, American society no longer requires pioneers, artists, and innovators. The wealthy elite births just enough entrepreneurs to generate fresh, controllable income. Inventors are cheaper in China, where such questioning minds pose problems to other corrupt governments, not ours. Puppet artists who uphold the entrenched snobbery of the classical arts can be imported along with fine furniture and fancy electronics.

      Our nation requires soldiers and servants – though impoverished citizens enslaved by debt will suffice if the correct attitudes of patriotism and servility cannot be inspired. It is best, however, if obedience can be drilled into the children from an early age. A questioning mind is a dangerous weapon. A dissenter could cause massive societal destruction. A dreamer who paints the world outside the corporate box is an undeniable enemy of the State.”

      The way we school has been carefully engineered to breed boredom. Long story, but I strongly recommend The Underground History of American Education.

      We are so entrenched in the thinking, we can hardly break out. But if you spend enough time looking, researching and thinking, I think you’ll see true education in a whole new way.

  14. Summer says:

    I love this, Kelly. It about made me cry because I’ve been there and have put my own kiddos thru that to a certain extent as well. So many guys I went to high school with that were really smart and talented, but in a hands-on sort of way–not necessarily book-smart. But, they were looked at as the dumb guys in the shop class. So sad, because they weren’t dumb at all! They’re the ones fixing my car now that I have no idea how to fix. But, oh boy, I could definitely explain Chaucer to someone. Anyone…anyone…. hmmm…no one there.

  15. Hayley Ferguson says:

    THANK YOU THANK YOU KELLY 😀 😀 I was a “Jacob” at school and my husband was “a good student” his parents were still are boastful/hurtful teachers. In fact, my mil is a music teacher who recently related to me how a 7 yo student of hers, moved ahead in her piano book at her own discretion. My mil’s response was one of correction; telling the girl she needed to check with my mil first before moving ahead, otherwise she may make a mistake 🙁 It’s so sad this poor girl is being stunted in her enthusiasm for music because she might make a mistake!! I was angered to hear this and was left speechless. I have just turned 35 and with 11 children 15 – 7 months, I still struggle with the thoughts that I’m stupid. My dad wasn’t happy when I couldn’t read well at 7 and threatened to dob us in for not being registered home schoolers if my daughter couldn’t read at 7. My eldest was 7 and 2 months and then she could read and all at once her reading level was four grades ahead of her age level. Now I don’t say this to boast but to point out that it didn’t hold her back because she couldn’t read at 6. My next oldest daughter felt that the curriculum helped and my eldest son feels understanding grammar rules helped him. It’s all individual. I hate how the state wants to impose it’s silly system on even those like us who opt out. That’s the end times for you. Keep up the fight Kelly; you are a gem. Lots of Love Hayley Ferguson (from the dummy class.)

  16. Claudia says:

    I loved this post, Kelly! I am soooooooo glad you were able to contact this student. Today, for the first time, I didn’t feel angry at your attackers. Clearly, these responses are not respectful disagreements, but eager efforts to find fault. How sad is that? No matter! Your letter and Kendra’s comment made my day! Press on!

    • Claudia,

      You’re right. And I’m still so bad at deleting comments so obviously meant to harass rather than offer a respectful dissenting opinion. (Do I just like to argue? 🙂 Kidding. I don’t.) Remind me!

  17. T Rhett says:

    Well, this kind of went around the elbow and down the thigh to get there, but if the main point of this piece is that we need to stop the stigmatization of students who do NOT belong (for whatever reason) on the “college track” – I agree completely. Many European countries (successfully) “separate” students into “trade” and “university” tracks, and don’t waste unnecessary resources on either. I believe we need to start doing that in America.

  18. Kelly L says:

    Wow. Well said.
    I was so big on grades when we started schooling that I made my poor kid crazy about them. If she misses anything on a test, to this day, she gets frustrated with herself. She’s really smart and has a photographic memory, so missing a problem doesn’t happen often, which I think makes it worse.

    It is sad that I made her this way through my own ignorance that an “A” means everything; That perfection is something to be attained (only Christ was capable). I’ve tried to undo it, but I was a really good teacher…. SIGH

    Keep screaming these truths. Others with little ones will be spared the remorse of creating a perfectionist……

  19. […] An Open Letter of Apology to my Former High School Student at Generation Cedar […]

  20. […] with a feeling of total despair, dizzying grief as if from a horrible loss.  As I read yet another poignant article that portrayed how our traditional educational system can extinguish a child’s natural desire to […]

  21. This post is so good, so very good. And even when we homeschool, we tend toward this silliness. I needed to read this. I needed to refocus and remember why I do this.

  22. Ellen says:

    I think everyone is going overboard here…I was raised in a traditional school and yes, they did have their rules and regs, but we all were taught to respect them. I still had my freedom to become who I wanted to be – teachers are not trying to change us or mold us to what they want us to be, they are merely trying to educate us as to life choices and to be able to function literately in this world. Apparently, these days it really doesn’t matter because from what I’m seeing, there are a growing number of people that cannot spell or use words in the proper context, it’s sad really…back in the day, we would have welcomed the knowledge, today, it’s all about protest! Sad really….

  23. Came across this a bit late, but just in time for me! We’re dealing with an ADHA diagnosis with our 9 yo right now–the daydreamer type, not the hyper type–and these words are so encouraging! This is exactly what we’ve been saying as we push back against everyone suggesting medication! She has talents and gifts that don’t lend themselves to the stereotypical classroom but are just as important in life! Does she need some coping strategies? Yes, but more than that, she needs room and encouragement to explore why God made her this way and what purpose He has for giving her abundant social grace, amazing cooperative leadership, emotional maturity, and a heart for service–rather than making her a book lover or a math genius or a spelling whiz. Everyone doesn’t need to achieve the same thing to be successful!

  24. Erendira says:

    Kelly, Thank you for this honest lamentation. I was inspired by this some time ago to write my own letter. Here is mine, as our experiences are very similar. I have a heart for the families and mothers especially who are torn between home schooling by conviction, or staying in a place that has no eternal value for the kingdom.
    Thanks again. You are appreciated.

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