Letter from a 13-year-old Going to Summer School Because of an A-

Readers bihfnkkkak
— Here’s the letter. All I took out was the name of her town:

Hello Lenore!

I’m a 13 year old living in a suburb . I have a problem and I wish to see the viewpoint of a free-range advocate.

Basically, my mother signed me up for academic programs over the summer. I am three days into these programs (four days into summer) and I am already dreading them. I don’t want to brag or anything, but I don’t feel as if I need them since I am in the ninety-ninth percentile in my grade.

One of the programs happens for three hours four times a week and they are English/ debate programs. It gives out so much homework that I can already see my summer as bleak as the Detroit atmosphere. This program lasts for four weeks over the course of summer.

The other program is Kumon (which I am assuming you are familiar with since I have seen them mentioned in your posts) and I take math there. The primary reason why I attend this is that I got an A- in math for one of our school’s trimesters this year, something that my parents were extremely uncomfortable with. This program will last not only for the summer but until I finish the entire Kumon Math Program, which would take about five hellish years.

Once again, I wish to see your viewpoint on these issues so I can hopefully convinced parents into taking me out of at least one of these programs. I understand if you don’t respond to this, as you are a very active woman.

Thank you for your time and consideration. — Distressed

Dear Distressed: I am distressed too! I am not your mom, so I obviously don’t know you the way she does, but to me, the Kumon program sounds like a pyramid scam — it ropes you in and then you (and your parents’ bank account) are stuck. The five-year aspect seems like a money-making scheme that thrives on making parents scared that, without it, their kids will fail, fail, fail.

As I see nothing but a bright future for you, that “fail” outlook is wrong.

Your parents clearly love you and want the best. And different families, cultures, neighborhoods, kids — they all have different priorities. Mine were shaped by my own Free-Range upbringing, and recently reinforced by the book “Free to Learn,” by Peter Gray. He makes a very clear case for free time and playing being the building blocks of ALL learning, even academic learning. That includes English and math!

When kids have time to goof off, read, organize a game of kickball or pretend to be space aliens, they may LOOK like they’re “wasting time.” But actually they are learning truly key skills like organization, cooperation, communication, problem-solving AND “executive function” — the ability to focus and do the right thing, even if it’s hard. (To start a game and keep it going takes focus  and restraint. It just doesn’t feel that way, which is why it’s such an ideal way for kids to learn. That’s why Mother Nature gave kids the DRIVE to play.)

I also remember the principal of my sons’ middle school telling us parents: “When we look back on our childhoods, somehow we remember summer the best, even though we spent a whole lot more time at school.” For that reason he did not assign summer homework. He felt summer was a time for kids to have off, and make some lifetime memories.

Can I post your note on my blog? L.

(Replied the girl): Yes! This means a lot to me and as I know, to dozens of those who live around me.  

Come here, little girl!

But wait! There’s more! 


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78 Responses to Letter from a 13-year-old Going to Summer School Because of an A-

  1. Warren June 20, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

    With grades like that and how well spoken she appears, I would be grateful and proud. Not sending her to summer school.

  2. Teacher Lady June 20, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

    I teach at the top high school in my state. An “A-” is called an “Asian F.” Kids freak out about their grades and they will hassle you for every single 100th of a point.

    This is such a terrible mindset… kids are so focused on the grade that they are not focused on what they are learning.

    Sad for this young girl… while I think that students are better off if they keep up with studies to a certain extent… it sounds like her parents have gone off the deep end. Being sure your kid reads or having them do real life math (help us calculate this tip, for example, when eating out) is one thing…. but what’s happening to her is something else. She would benefit more if they spent that money on a trip going to museums and national parks or going digging fossils somewhere.

  3. Reziac June 20, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

    I was going to say the same thing. This girl is already writing at college-level competence. What on earth does she need extra work for?

    Hey parents, everything your kid does need not be perfect; it need only be the best the kid can do. If you believe any imperfection is failure, you’ll cripple your kid emotionally.

    Now, if our young writer wants to take an advanced class on her own, go for it! BUT — kids need time to decompress, even more than adults do. It’s called summer “vacation” for a reason.

  4. Will June 20, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

    5 years? Really? That’s a hot mess. Math is important. Reading is important. Life skills are important. My daughter has some issues in the learning department, but with medication (which I resisted for as long as I could – she’s a lot better off with it, I was hoping for her to be able to “grow out of it”), and, this summer, a short tutoring class designed to help her with her basic organizational skills for managing short- and long-term projects of schoolwork, I’m actually looking forward to next year, and can see her really excelling at her school. But that’s as far as I’m willing to take it for a 6th grader. At 13, it’ll be the start of High School, right? This girl is going to be stuck in Kumon for her entire HS career. What does that mean for other extra-curricular activities? Band? Sports? Drama? Likely all out of reach. Academics are fine. But look around you. The job I do today, I didn’t have a hope of preparing for that in school. What allows me to be successful is that I am adaptable. And if you spend your life chasing grades, or worse, forcing your children to chase grades, you will never be adaptable. I have a really comfortable upper middle-class life with my degree from a state uni and dropping out of grad school. Would I like a Ferrari? Sure. Would I like the person I would become to get a Ferrari? No.

  5. MichaelF June 20, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    I’m going to guess she is a daughter of a family of either Asian parents (more likely) or her Mom is an over-achiever with a Munchausen complex. I have heard the same thing about the Asian F before, if you don’t have perfect 100’s supposedly the parents will beat that last few points out of you. Thankfully, the Chinese families in my neighborhood are more relaxed, we have a few families that meet (my wife is from Taiwan so we have a lot of cultural mixing) and no one is that hung up on grades. One father is very Free Range, he loves that the kids can walk down the street and find playdates and encourages it.

    If this girl’s parents signed her up for these classes there’s probably little that can be done to dissuade the parents that it will do nothing but help their daughter keep her grades up to the level of exceptional performance they expect.

  6. Paul R. Welke June 20, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    She already writes better than most adults I see online.

    My suggestion to her parents is to let her quit and explore her interests over the summer. Maybe she’ll just chill out with some friends, explore her little corner of the world, and live a little. Or maybe, just maybe, if left to her own devices, she’ll invent the next Twitter or something.

  7. Emily June 20, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    I have an extremely smart 8 year old. We do some summer “enrichment” but nothing crazy and the enrichment part gets lost in the fact that it’s fun. Remember, when your kids cook, they’re doing math! He can do algebra, so even if he forgets some, he’s way ahead of the rest of his peers.

    I DO expect a lot out of his grades. That said, his 91.7 average for the year is something to be proud of. He had some Bs this last quarter so there was a conversation about turning in homework, but more from the aspect of it being part of his job right now. Now, I think homework is pretty dumb this young, but it IS a requirement of his school.

    To this well spoken, obviously mature and intelligent young woman. I’m sorry that your mother decided to essentially punish you. I’m willing to bet that she thinks that she’s doing the best for you. As parents, we think that but are wrong sometimes.

    I hope that you can talk to your mother, and especially show her what Lenore said about pyramid schemes and making money off of your mother’s fears.

  8. Deanne June 20, 2014 at 12:56 pm #

    Last night my 13 year old was outside playing a game of tag in the dark with about 12 other neighbor kids. It brought wonderful memories back for me and knew she is going to remember it for the rest of her life! I only hope the sweet 13 year old who wrote for advice can be given the same opportunity to make unforgettable summer memories.

  9. Ann in L.A. June 20, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

    We have the opposite problem, a 12 year old who hates summer and begs to go to summer school. What he really needs is a job, but he’s 12. He’s distressed because he isn’t doing anything (we’re not sending him to summer school but camps start next week,) and I keep telling him that the world doesn’t really want 12 year olds doing things, and that right now, his job is to learn and to play. He’d rather do something “productive”. I tell him playing is productive, and he mopes.

  10. Powers June 20, 2014 at 1:08 pm #

    “When we look back on our childhoods, somehow we remember summer the best, even though we spent a whole lot more time at school.”

    Speak for yourself. I remember school the best. Summer was boring.

  11. Elfir June 20, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

    If my kid’s grades are that good the only summer school I’d sign her up for is low-level community college courses! Assuming she didn’t want to attend art camp or photography camp or volunteer or spend a month on grandma’s farm etc. There are thousands of more valuable uses of a kid’s time than improving grades a couple percentage points.

  12. Powers June 20, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

    Ann in L.A.:

    I don’t know your son, but I have a hunch. “Productivity” is likely the hook he’s latched onto simply because he doesn’t like playing outside. (Not to say he doesn’t like being productive; he probably does! But he may not need productivity to feel satisfied; he may just not want to go outside.)

    Some kids are like that. I was, and am. The outdoors are weird to us. It’s not a controlled environment. (I realize, that’s the point. Nonetheless…)

    It’s probably not a good idea to allow him to stay inside all summer, but it’s also not a good idea to force him to be outside all summer. Push his boundaries, force him to push his own boundaries, but don’t go so overboard that he shuts down completely.

    Find him something productive to do! Heck, make him find something productive to do. What does he like? There is a lot he could be doing. He’s too young for a traditional job, but he’s not too young to earn money (babysitting, lawn work). He’s not too young to volunteer.

    But if what he wants to do is stay inside, that’s probably going to be what he does most of the summer. The important thing is that he’s actively engaged, in something that he enjoys doing. If you can help him find something like that, complaints about “productivity” will disappear.

  13. Hellen June 20, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

    Maybe find out about classes on things that you like that are not academic like cooking, art, music, revolutionary history or wilderness survival. My son is a good student, not all A’s but he tries hard. The thought of doing more academics in the summer would just kill him and me. The school year is long enough and stressful enough to continue doing more of the same over the summer. I feel it is an opportunity to explore other areas of interest that are not taught at school hence the wilderness survival and revolutionary history camp where he got to learn hands on instead of sitting at a desk. Good luck!

  14. EricS June 20, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    Dang. An A- student? I could’ve only wished I were, at that age. I was a B average. Sounds like your parents have the “no fail”, “must be the best” attitude. And trust me, as rare as they were when I was growing up, there were still those types of parents in my day. And their kids were the most socially awkward, socially inept, and insecure kids. They cried often when they got a question wrong. Or weren’t picked first. They would throw tantrums when they didn’t get a good grade on a test.

    We also had A+ students, BUT…their parents didn’t force education on them. They let them choose to go to summer school, or take extra credits. And because they had the choice, they were able to balance school AND play. And were very well adjusted. Because there was no pressure from their parents. In fact, back in my day, parents hardly pressured their kids to be the best. They let us be kids. But they did encourage and support us. Much different than pressuring us.

    I went to summer school for a few summers, starting at the age of 8. But that’s only because I wanted to. My cousins went, and me and my brother spent most of our summer at their place. So we joined too. We didn’t take English or Math, we took P.E. So it was pretty much play every day. Go on field trips. And be active for the most part of the day.

    If I were you, I would voice out my concerns. I’m sure your parents mean well, but I also believe, this is more about them than you. Which, in my view, is not right. They are taking your childhood away from you, so that you can be an “adult” much sooner. And be ready years in advance, for a future that is yet to be determined. Trust me when I tell you, I have known plenty of kids, including myself, who thought we knew what were going to be when we were older. Many of us, went on to University taking majors for that ideal. And many of those now, aren’t doing what they went to school for. So all those years wasted, ending up doing something completely different. It’s good to prepare for the future. But it’s more important to live in the now. After all, what we do today, affects what happens to us in the future. And as good as education is, there are other things just as important for children growing up. Find the balance. You can also look at it this way, putting your foot down for what is right for you, is a step in learning how to do it in the real world when you are an adult.

    Just remember, you can voice your opinion, and still be respectful at the same time. Good luck.

  15. SKL June 20, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

    I don’t have a problem with kids doing a little academics on most days throughout the summer. Reading, writing, and math are basic life skills and it’s true that skills can be lost if they aren’t done at all for weeks or months. For some kids, this will mean having a rough time in school the next year. For others, it is not really needed but I don’t think a bit of it hurts, either.

    Also, one of mine is also very bright, and kind of geeky, and truly, these camps are more of a social outlet for her because she doesn’t have other places where she can meet so many geeks. LOL. Even for my average kid, it’s good for her to have some of these social experiences, because geeks are people too. 😛 Seeing that there are kids who live for math helped my average kid to realize that math is not just another method of torture. The fact that they don’t have grades, tests, quiet rules, discipline cards, etc. makes it relaxed despite the subject matter.

    That said, obviously there needs to be a balance. I think a 13yo should have a say in how much is done, also. On the other hand, the parents’ priorities are not to be ignored just because they are different from the ones my parents had.

    What I would suggest to this girl is to do some research on her own and come up with a better plan to present to her parents. How about one week of intensive math and an independent practice workbook that she does on her own schedule over the rest of the summer? What about playing the piano for fun most days, given that playing music is supposedly very good for developing math and language abilities? What about starting her own business, complete with advertising and an accounting system? Her parents might be so impressed with her initiative and creativity that they will realize she is far from needing remediation.

    Full disclosure: my kids are doing a mix of outdoorsy, artsy, and academic camps this year. In addition, they are doing some schoolwork at home. On top of that, we will be traveling internationally for half a month. Not like my summers as a kid, I freely admit. But they also have free time both indoors and outdoors. It may not be the perfect balance, but perfect is an unattainable goal.

  16. Dee June 20, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

    This almost makes me angry! The poor kid – a summer of summer school for an A-! That’s ridiculous!

    My son does struggle in school. Last year he missed a camping trip for a 2-week summer school. He needed it because he had had Ds and Fs the year before. I felt bad, but he needed more intensive help. This year he got one D but did well the rest of the year. So this year he’s on the camping trip! Kids need more than academics!

  17. Alison June 20, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

    I stopped reading after she blasted Detroit.

  18. no rest for the weary June 20, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

    I weep not only for this 13-year-old who wrote a letter requesting advocacy, but for all kids everywhere who receive grades (or “marks,” as the British say).

    Alfie Kohn and Peter Gray have really substantiated, through research, what my gut has told me all my life: that externalizing rewards and punishments as motivation for kids to learn ANYTHING is a tragically inefficient and harmful strategy, if learning is the goal.

    And grades qualify as both rewards and punishments. Feedback is different from grades. Kids can receive feedback from someone who knows how to work that math equation and can double-check they are getting the answer correct… if the kid requests that. Feedback can be useful, a communication between two people to see if what I know is what you know.

    But grades? Both celebrating and worrying about grades just leaves me cold. That a young woman who can articulate herself this way is being led to believe she needs to work harder in order to be a “success” is grotesque to me. I don’t know how human beings have become so misguided about what is necessary for a joyful and productive life, but we have.

    The way our society and culture is set up, it might seem that merciless demands and drilling are the only way to prepare oneself for adulthood, but even in our ridiculously materialistic and self-destructive way of life, one can find peace and purpose.

    I don’t think Kumon fits into that, though.

  19. Jenny Islander June 20, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

    C is average.

    C is average.


    B is ABOVE average.

    A is VERY FAR ABOVE average.

    But C is average! And average means that you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing when you’re supposed to be doing it.

    Also: If your parents think that driving you to be the top, top, top every single day is going to get you into a good college on lots of scholarships, do they really think that when you turn 18 and are legally allowed to do what you want with your time, you’ll voluntarily sign up for 4 more years of what they put you through?! You are on the track to burnout. At 13. Holy heck!

  20. SKL June 20, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

    It’s true, theoretically C is supposed to mean average, but it really varies from school to school. In my kids’ school, C is definitely not average.

    Of course an A- is a far cry from a C. I think an A- is a good grade, but there might be something else going on. For example, if the girl had to work very hard to pull off that A-, then some work over the summer could make things easier for next year.

  21. K June 20, 2014 at 1:47 pm #

    Some teachers also have the attitude that none of us are actually perfect and do not give out entirely perfect scores. She may have the best grades possible for that teacher. If I were the parent, I would be proud and would only enroll her in 1 supplemental class that is not designed to be overly rigorous – financial literacy. I had and was managing a 401K before I knew what one was. I happen to think the schools and parents should do better in this area to accomplish a stronger sense of confidence during those early adult years. That might be a bit more interesting and show her how all those other math classes can apply to real life too.

  22. TRS June 20, 2014 at 2:00 pm #

    Did you not know that an A- is a Chinese F. I feel for you. My daughters go to school with kids that cry over A- because they say their parents are going to punish them. My kids are attending Mathnasium this Summer but that is it. Doing a Geometry Prep for Geometry Honors this fall. Mainly because they need it and are not A math students. They want the prep and if they did not – then I would not push them to do it. The prep keeps the Summer Brain Drain for them. It sounds like you are a little overloaded and I hope you can find some relaxation this summer.

    Let me guess your parents are wanting you to test well so you can get into the top Math and Science Gifted HS in your area. If you don’t want to just tell them NO! Several of my daughter’s friends did that. They did not want to go to Thomas Jefferson – the number one High School in the Country. I agree. Who needs to go to a HS that is harder than College. You need to have time to discover yourself at this time and pursue things YOU are passionate about. That will make you a successful person.

  23. TRS June 20, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

    C’s are not average. Matter of fact they signify the child has not mastered the course and sometimes remedial summer classes are required for the student to advance to the next level. I am fine with B’s but C’s I get concerned over and signifies the student needs extra help with tutors…….. Straight Cs is a 2.0 average and a ticket to Community College in our Area. Go to College admission sites. They will post the average High School Students GPA they admit and the SAT score they should have to be considered.

    If a Student does not want to go to College it is fine. Mine do. One wants to be a Chem Major and thus – C’s are not going to get her there. Only B’s and A’s and I tell her it is up to her. I will get her all the help she needs if she does not understand things in class. Never do her work but just tutoring.

  24. E June 20, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

    I agree that Cs are not average. And if you are a parent of kid entering middle school you should do a little homework ad to what the grading systems and coursework are at the HS level. But that’s not relevant to this child’s situation.

    I would hesitate to say “just tell them No”. You have no inkling of the family dynamic, history, culture, expectations, goals, and a million other things.

    The advice to propose an alternative plan for the summer is the best advice. Let the kid figure out what makes the most sense for them and their situation.

  25. Ann in L.A. June 20, 2014 at 2:32 pm #


    There’s not much outside to go to, and the neighborhood does not have kids to play with. No one around here would hire a 12 year old, particularly a boy, for babysitting, and everyone has gardeners (and nannies). I’ve thought about ways he could earn money, but none really work around here.

    Kids used to be able to do deliveries or bagging at the grocery store, but those have all disappeared or are now jobs held by adults. And nobody gets the newspaper anymore, so no paper route.

  26. nina June 20, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    I’m curious what would this girl rather do all summer, because doing nothing is fun for about 2 hrs, but than it gets old really fast. If most of her friends are involved in something during summer she is going to drive her parents crazy with her boredom. As far as I know 13 year olds do not play tag outside anymore. I don’t think I did it as a 13 year old either. And it looks like she’s already using her debate skills to compose this letter. If the true reason she’s upset is because her parents didn’t discuss summer plans with her, she should have a heart to heart conversation with them.

  27. J- June 20, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

    My parents did this to me one summer. They used to send me to the Miami Museum of Science Camp. I loved it.

    Then one year (I think I was 12) my teacher decided to have a sit down with my parents over some BS or another. That summer I got sent to summer school. Mind you, I never had bad grades, I was always in the top 10% of my school and graduated 4th in my class. I had “attention and concentration problems.”

    What I remember most about that summer was coming home and crying every night. Summer school was a thousand times worse than school. Instead of a variety of classes, you get drilled for 4 to 8 hours on one subject, none of your friends are there, and the homework is more intense, because they have 6 weeks to cram into you what you’d normally learn in a semester. Summer school is adolescent Abu Ghraib.

    What’s more, I was even more miserable when school started. Without a break, summer school and real school blurred into academic hell. The following four summers, my parents sent me to summer camp and I learned to sail.

    This poor girl sounds like she knows she is careening towards academic burnout. It seems like her parents have defied all logic and reason sentencing her to summer school for an A-. Hopefully they will at least be compassionate enough to see that she is miserable and do something to relieve her suffering.

  28. lollipoplover June 20, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

    Ann in LA-
    My 13 year-old has various jobs he does all year but summer is his busiest with selling used golf balls and food and drink at his golf stand. He also does woodworking ((wildlife woidburning, birdhouses, signs) that he sells on etsy. He is a pet sitter and a babysitter too.
    He has a long list of activities he wants to do this summer with friends- several golf courses they hope to play, paintball skirmishes, baseball games and has the money now to spend on having fun.

    Kumon and En

  29. SOA June 20, 2014 at 3:18 pm #

    Tiger Moms. My school is full of a bunch of competitive parents as well. I can’t be like that. They go above and beyond doing their kids projects for them and you know what? we did way less than that and got full credit just like you did. So what was the purpose of doing all that extra work? To show them you are the best family around? Nobody cares.

    It is a race to nowhere and I won’t play.

  30. SOA June 20, 2014 at 3:23 pm #

    I am not against a little academics over the summer but be reasonable. My son with autism is a bit behind in reading. So for his sake mostly (but I make my way advanced son do it too) we read for about 15 minutes a day at least and then alternate between writing a journal entry and doing a math worksheet. Mainly just to limit summer brain drain. But that is all I am making them do. They should get to have fun and play in the Summer. Our Summers get shorter and shorter as they move the school year to start earlier and earlier anyway. Let them enjoy it!

  31. ariel June 20, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

    ya know, the ironic thing is, adults are trying to get LESS work hours per week, but they want to INCREASE their childrens’. You know those rumors about places in the US that want to have school 365 days a year? I’m willing to bet, that if congress (or whoever would be in charge of creating such a rule) made it mandatory for adults to have to go to work with absolutely no vacation days or off days and if you missed a day you get fired, there’d be rioting. “how DARE you try to work us like that!”

    and yet this is what’s happening to kids. But when they protest, it’s “kids are so lazy these days”.

  32. gap.runner June 20, 2014 at 4:19 pm #

    First of all, she writes better than most adults I know. She really expressed herself very well.

    Secondly, C is not an average grade anymore because of all the grade inflation now. About 40-45% of the grades are As, 40-45% are Bs and the rest are C, D, and F. It seems that you can get a B for showing up to class with a pulse and an A for showing up with a pulse and breathing.

    When I was 13 I went to summer school but took fun classes. Just about all of my friends went to summer school and did the same thing. But we also had plenty of time to hang out, go to the mall, and just be kids. I was a good student but back in the early ’70s there was no pressure to be the best or get into an Ivy League school. My parents accepted both my academic strengths and weaknesses. It’s a shame that the acheivement culture has really taken over in the States. In Germany kids have a lot of schoolwork, but there is still time to be a kid. Everything that I read about the States and kids makes me glad that I don’t live there anymore.

  33. Asya June 20, 2014 at 4:23 pm #

    Holy crap that’s awful. The person above made a good point about increased work for children while the parents whine about their own. I absolutely detest this modern adult hypocrisy: binge-watching Netflix for the parent, “education” only crap for children. People’s right to privacy from government spying, creepy GPS-tracking and spying software for children. It’s like children and young adults are not even considered people.

    To the 13 year old: I think if you try to keep this up, you’ll snap soon! If this is making you super stressed, maybe that should be of greater concern to your parents than an A-.

  34. Brian June 20, 2014 at 4:25 pm #

    My advice: There’s nothing wrong with academic summer programs, but a kid should want to do them, not be forced into them!

    A summer debate camp can be a lot of fun, and is often necessary to be competitive in high school debate (especially policy debate). But if you don’t like it, you shouldn’t be forced into it!

    Kumon is a terrible choice for a gifted math student, and if your math grades are straight As with one A-, that includes you. There are much stronger math enrichment programs to go to if you actually like math and want to pursue it. At 13, you’re probably still young for it, but the Hampshire College Summer Studies in Mathematics program (http://www.hcssim.org) is fantastic–if you can convince overbearing parents to send you to a sleepaway camp as a teenager!

    Programs like Kumon exist to milk parents scared of their kids’ failing; a good summer academic program should encourage kids to excel!

    In the meantime, tell your parents who I’m sure are overly focused on Ivy League college admissions that the top schools don’t want boring kids who spent their summers at Kumon. Having done a few alumni interviews for Princeton admissions, I can tell you that we’re looking for kids that seem interesting. A prospective mechanical engineering student with a passion for Latin dance, maybe. If you do nothing outside of academics, your straight As and 36 ACT score still won’t get you into Harvard.

  35. Uly June 20, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

    Might I suggest a little passive resistance for our guest writer? Her mother can make her go to school and Kumon, but nobody, and I mean nobody, can make her work there or at home. I wouldn’t normally outright tell kids “don’t do your work”, but desperate times….

  36. Mike June 20, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

    A kid who can write that clearly and succinctly does not belong in summer school.

  37. Steve June 20, 2014 at 5:04 pm #

    Reziac said:

    “Now, if our young writer wants to take an advanced class on her own, go for it!”

    Our son – back when he was in high school – decided he was deficient in math for the kind of physics projects he was working on. So, on his own he went to a math dept at a nearby college and found a teacher willing to tutor him occasionally – for free. And they became friends.

    Our son’s grades put him near the top of his senior class in a large high school. He never went to summer school.

    An admissions rep from an ivy league college told a group we attended that his college had “rejected” 109 applicants with “perfect” SAT scores the past year. This was good for our son to hear, because he had taken the SAT test several times to better his score, and I had been telling him that score was not the only thing that mattered.

    Top colleges want “self-motivated” students who pursue “their own interests” and shine because of their early achievements revolving around their own interests. (not the interests of Mom and Dad)

    Sure, good grades matter … to some extent. But our son graduated from this ivy league college where those perfect SAT scores had been rejected. I’m sure his personal pursuits outside school were what got him into that college.

    To gain a new perspective, you and your parents might want to read:

    “The Secret of Success is Not a Secret: Stories of Famous People Who Persevered” by Darcy Andries

    …and also a old classic that is still in print:

    “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie

    There is also an updated version for teen girls.

    Here’s a surprising TED talk by a passionate, financially successful young woman you and your parent’s won’t forget. Her parents “weren’t afraid to see her fail,” and valued curiosity and creativity.


    The title on the video is misleading. Watch it to the end. You won’t be disappointed.

  38. Stacy June 20, 2014 at 5:04 pm #

    I was a straight A student who never once took a single academic program over the summer. I would have burned out and hated school, which is the path this girl’s parents are sending her on. I spent my summers reading endless books, writing stories, making up games, and working for extra money, all of which taught me more than sitting in a classroom hating it. My brain needed that “free” time. Academic summer programs are beneficial for kids who are struggling and kids who need some structure, but hopefully they have sufficient down time. And yes, from what I’ve seen, college admissions and scholarships look at whether someone is well-rounded and interesting, not a perfect student.
    I don’t think C’s are okay for my kids (it would mean they didn’t do their homework or didn’t even try on tests), I do believe in giving grades based on effort and achievement, and I want my kids to do their best, but I would never be upset with an A-. It’s hard when your parents know you’re smart and have high expectations, but it’s important to remember that perfection isn’t a healthy goal.

  39. Stacy June 20, 2014 at 5:10 pm #

    One other thought — Is there a school counselor or academic advisor who could give the parents advice on how to protect their kids from burn out and make sure they’re well-rounded, not cooped up in a classroom all summer?

  40. Maribel June 20, 2014 at 5:50 pm #

    Ann, are they any community programs with art classes or something like that for your son? It sounds like he just needs a hobby and while I am all for bored kids finding something to do, sometimes they need our encouragement and ideas.

  41. Jill June 20, 2014 at 6:06 pm #

    What? You’re 13 and you’re not in medical school yet? Slacker.

  42. Andy June 20, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

    @nina Most kids in our generation were bored few days and then found something, I’m sure she will find something too. You do not need to make elaborate summer plan nor organized program in order to spend the time.

    Maybe she will read all the time. Maybe she will draw pictures or make music. Maybe she will do something technical. Maybe she will start a blog or make a game. Everyone needs someone to talk to, but there are plenty of things that are possible only at those moments when you are alone.

    That is the thing I remember about free summer time. You are bored and then you start doing things. It just happens by itself. The problem is only if that boredom leads to destructive actions(too much drinking, criminality, etc) and she does not sounds like that type.

  43. SOA June 20, 2014 at 7:07 pm #

    My son with autism techincally makes Cs or lower on his “grades”. In first grade they give 4 to 1 for a grade. I guess 4 being an A, 3 a B and 2 a C and 1 a D. But they mean more like always mastering, mostly mastering, sometimes mastering or rarely or not mastering the particular skill/subject. He made a 1 in writing every nine weeks except that last 9 weeks. He got a 2. And I was PROUD of that 2. I am not one of those moms that freak out over non perfection. Perfection does not live in this household. I was glad he made improvement.

    And it is not because he does not do his work. We turn in every homework assignment completed and turn in every project completed on time. At school he does his work too unless he is having an emotionally bad day. So no, a C does not mean you are not doing your work. It means you just did not show mastery of something. Simple as that. Means you need to work on it. Not every kid is genius smart or they may be smart but it comes across in a different way that is not related to schoolwork or testing or that particular subject.

  44. SOA June 20, 2014 at 7:14 pm #

    I also think that a well rounded individual means more than just grades. We have three valedictorians in our high school senior class. One was captain of the football team and in wresting and FCA and student government and Mr. H High School. The other one did Junior Miss and Karate and some other activities. The third one did nothing. She was not in any kind of extracurricular activity. No other talents but schoolwork. To me, she paled in comparison to the other two. They did more than just study. They tried to do something else.

    I would rather my kids have other talents and experiences and skills than just making good grades. I think well rounded individuals turn out to better all around people. If I gave up my after school activity and spent all that time studying. I could have been valedictorian too or at least have a better GPA (I still had a good one). But I would also be pretty boring.

  45. anonymous mom June 20, 2014 at 7:24 pm #

    Whether or not C is average depends on the class and the teacher. For many classes, as others have said, C is not average; C is doing poorly. However, while that’s the general trend, there are individual schools, classes, and teachers who will keep to a more traditional grading scale and in those circumstances C might actually be average.

    I think a 12-hour-per-week debate/English class seems like it could be a good enrichment activity, and perhaps also fun and social, and it’s the homework that’s the issue. I’d consider approaching the teacher about the homework expectations. Most teachers are not monsters, and it can be really hard for a teacher to gauge how long the homework is going to take. If it’s taking hours every day, that might not be what the teacher intended, and they should be made aware.

    As to Kumon, I agree with those who have said that, for a student who is not struggling (and an A- one trimester is not struggling), it is going to be at best a waste of time and money. I would definitely bring up some alternative means of math enrichment, that would be more appropriate to the level she’s working at (and probably a lot cheaper). But Kumon, AFAIK, is a remedial program, and that doesn’t seem like a good fit.

  46. JaneW June 20, 2014 at 7:49 pm #

    Speaking as a math teacher here, why exactly would any parent feel compelled to take a bright student who’s doing well and punish her with unwanted extra work until she hates and dreads school and studying? That’s going to do a lot more damage in the long run than an A-.

  47. Betsy in Michigan June 20, 2014 at 8:39 pm #

    To the OP: I’m so sorry you have a Tiger mom who isn’t recognizing your gifts and hard work. Let me tell a story about my husband, who was the 3rd boy of 4 (the older 2 subsequently went to Harvard & Dartmouth). In about 7th grade, “slacker child” got a C in math one marking period. His mother hauled him off to a psychologist, because obviously something was wrong. He and the shrink spent a couple sessions talking about baseball and such. Professional tells mom her son is just fine, but maybe SHE’D like to come in for a few sessions. After that, psychologists were QUACKS! I dated husband for some months frosh year of college before he told me this; I really think it had a psyche-shaking affect on him. I immediately started telling this story at parties for its comic value, and after he heard the first few people laugh about it, became much more relaxed about it. We love Mom (now Grandma), but she’s had anxiety and self-esteem issues her whole life. Hubby graduated with an engineering degree from U of Michigan in 3 1/2 years. Our two kids are smart high achievers who are NOT over scheduled (as a matter of fact, we have been quite okay with our oldest’s B average in Geometry this year, because she is taking it with HIGH SCHOOl kids). If your mom is concerned about your college application “resume”, look into something to round out your academics that would be WAY more fun and emotionally balanced, like volunteering as jr. counselor at a day camp or horse ranch or whatever. Good luck.

  48. SKL June 21, 2014 at 12:14 am #

    So I’m curious. What did the FRK posters do in the summer when they were 13? I agree with an earlier comment: it’s not like they are going to run around and play tag all summer at that age.

    The summer when I was 13, I was between 8th and 9th grade. I had a daily paper route and was a regular babysitter. I had a lot of household chores and responsibilities for my wee siblings. I loved to sit in the house and read, write prose and poetry, draw, and play the piano. I also liked to go for long walks or bike rides, and hang out with friends and siblings. I also developed the bad habit of eating too much junk food around that age – a side effect of free ranging. 😉

    That spring I’d been selected for a new “gifted program” at my school, and that program offered – believe it or not – summer school. It was a mix of speakers, optional courses, and non-optional courses. I recall doing electronics, computer programing (this was 1980), keyboarding, speed-reading (sucked at that), and film-making, and there were probably other things I’m not recalling. Most of it was fun and felt worthwhile. However, it was always presented as optional, and I think if I’d said “no thanks,” my parents would not have forced it.

  49. Andy June 21, 2014 at 1:37 am #

    @SKL “What did the FRK posters do in the summer when they were 13? I agree with an earlier comment: it’s not like they are going to run around and play tag all summer at that age.”

    More or less two weeks in camps, More or less two weeks on holidays with parents. Remaining four weeks were bicycling mostly to/from library and reading. A lot of model crafting. Some tv watching.

    Occasionally going to swim with friends and going on biking trips with them. Just being together, talking and playing volleyball/football when the mood strikes us.

    No summer school and no enriching activity organized by somebody else. They never assigned homework for summer holidays. Nobody was too scared about us not doing school work, they assumed we will get on speed within a week and half of school. Which we did, because school expected us to and we had no choice.

    I was a good student and ended up on highly selective high school.

    High school summers were pretty much the same thing, except that we were already old enough to go camping without adults and organized smaller few days long trips/hikes for ourselves. The older I was the more I went on those trips and spend less and less time at home.

  50. Andy June 21, 2014 at 1:45 am #

    @SKL “I agree with an earlier comment: it’s not like they are going to run around and play tag all summer at that age.”

    Running around and playing tag does not just disappear and leaves an empty void. It disappears because kids grow and replace it with other more mature activities.

    13 years old will not play tag at all, but may happily spend whole afternoon playing basketball.

  51. Peter Brülls June 21, 2014 at 5:03 am #

    Is “C” really “average”? When I look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grading_systems_by_country#Germany, it gets compared to “4/ausreichend/sufficient” in the Germany system, which would be a lowest passing grade.

  52. SKL June 21, 2014 at 8:05 am #

    Peter, it varies, but in my kids’ school and in the ones I attended, the grading scale is like this for grades 1-12:

    100% A+
    94-99 A
    93 A-
    92 B+
    83 B-
    82 C+
    73 C-

  53. CrazyCatLady June 21, 2014 at 10:52 am #

    “Cs lead to community college.” Really? That is a “bad” thing? My husband took a few years off from school after high school, then went to a community college. Where he had a great professor who inspired him to love chemistry. He now has a Ph.D., and works at one of the best labs in the country. If it hadn’t been for the community college, I don’t think he would have gone to college.

  54. CrazyCatLady June 21, 2014 at 11:16 am #

    For the original poster…if your summer school is like ours, you will be done with it in a couple of weeks. Then, you really do have a good bit of time off. Yes, this sucks, but it could prove to be fun with the debate part. Pick the most outrageous views that you can, and try to defend them.

    For the math, I suggest that you look at Khan Academy (www.khanacademy.org) Make yourself an account, then, every day, work at mastery. You can work at grade level, a specific course (say, algebra,) or just master everything (this will start you at addition and number lines and eventually work your way through college level math.) If you want, sign your parents up to be a “coach,” and keep them in the loop of what you are learning. Ask if you can do this in place of the Kumon.

    While this doesn’t seem like a great option, replacing one with the other, the advantage is that you can do this on your own time in much less time than Kumon (when you count in travel time and homework.) You can do your work before breakfast, after lunch or before bed. When you feel like it and you don’t have other plans with friends. You could work at home, at the library, and if you have a smart phone, in the car while your mother is shopping. It is a better use of time, involves less gas (which is very green!) and if you show them that you are a self starter, can earn you brownie points. And it is free – your parents can save that money for your college!

    And, some additional facts to sway the parents: Khan has videos that explain the topics, then practice to go with them. He is like your own personal tutor, and you can ask questions on a forum and get them answered. (He made this program to help tutor his niece.) And, it goes from very basic math to graduate level. When my husband was a Post Doc, (he got a preliminary job before going on to the “real” job after he got his Ph.D.,) he had to supervise graduate students. They often came to him with math questions. He sent them to Khan Academy, then told him to come back and see him if they still had questions. They usually didn’t.

    So, if you can sway your parents. Khan can allow you to get past the basics pretty quickly, and to do more work when you are stuck until you get it. You can also pick topics that interest YOU, not some employee that really doesn’t know you. A half hour a day…you can learn what will be taught to you next year, and be a step ahead of your classmates if that is what you choose. Depending on your parents, you may want to try this out on your own, then show them the results after a few weeks. And, really, they try very hard to make it fun – sometimes that is hard, but they do try.

  55. lollipoplover June 21, 2014 at 11:47 am #

    To the Distressed teen writer of this letter-

    I suggest you write a persuasive essay to both your parents on how you wish to spend your summer. If you are already feeling distressed and unhappy, you should speak up and change course. While academics are important, having free time to pursue other activities and enjoy summer have a vital role in proper development. Not to mention going outside and developing social relationships and skills.

    Use your writing abilities to influence your parents and let them know how you will keep your grades up (crazycatlady’s recommendation of the Khan Academy is spot on). Good luck!

  56. SOA June 21, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

    At 13 I still did play a lot of kid games because I was immature. I still liked watching Disney movies, walking my dog on long walks around the neighborhood, I did some babysitting, I attended summer dance camp, swam in the pool, if I had friends we would have sleepovers or go to the mall or the movies, read books. All good things. I was always able to entertain myself.

    I had an A/B average in high school and still went to community college. I got a full scholarship to a comm college for my dance choreography. It was a heck of a lot cheaper than the 4 year university. Then I transferred over and finished at the 4 year university and graduated with honors. That is what most people do around here to save money and avoid the freshmen have to live on campus rule our 4 year uni has. I lived with my parents through college.

  57. Jennifer June 21, 2014 at 8:22 pm #

    I don’t have a problem with parents encouraging their kids to get good grades, or with the idea of grades and evaluation in general – evaluation is a normal and necessary part of life, and poor grades do seriously restrict the choices the kid will have in their future life. Going to university is becoming more and more of a necessary pre-requisite for a middle class life. A generation or two ago, a C was an average grade. But you could make a decent life for yourself with a high school diploma. Now, not so much.

    But people, whether they are 13 or 30, do need breaks. And perfection is not a necessary pre-requisite for a decent life. The difference between university and no university is much bigger than the difference between going to a decent university, and going to a top university. And burning out will take its toll, too.

    For the girl here – I don’t think she’s going to sell her parents on a free range summer. But maybe she can convince them that she needs other activities to round out her university applications, and get them to switch from constant summer school to some recreational activities or volunteer work.

    If this is an “Asian F” problem and her parents are first generation immigrants – in East Asia, the *only* thing that matters for university tends to be your performance on the entrance exams. Extracurriculars are irrelevant, and adolescents and teens spend their evenings and weekends in cram schools to get the highest mark. My Taiwanese and Japanese friends are amazed that things like work experience, sports, music, student societies and volunteer activities make a difference in university applications.

  58. Jenny Islander June 21, 2014 at 8:44 pm #

    OP, if you’re reading here, please pass this link on to your parents:


    It’s a review of Kumon by someone who used to run a Kumon center.

    And, whether or not a C is average anymore, reacting to an A- by piling an additional math program on top of the one you are already taking at school (with a debate program as well, good grief!) is not going to help you in the long run. Colleges, by and large, do not care whether you are the top of the high school academic pyramid because as soon as you hit freshman year in a high-powered school it’s a whole new ball game. Can you get above average grades, demonstrate an interest in a topic that was not pre-assigned, and also manage to have a life outside academics? That’s what most of the good schools look for.

  59. anonymous mom June 21, 2014 at 10:51 pm #

    The summer I was 13 was the last summer before I started working regularly (at 14 in my state you were able to work seasonable jobs, and I worked for a year at our community pool and then for years after that at a town-run day camp, each for about 30 hours/week). The summers I was maybe 10-13 I did a community summer drama program, which ran for a couple of months, and other than that I hung out with friends, rode my bike around town, babysat, etc. I don’t think I ever did anything academic in the summer.

    I have no problem with summer academics–as a homeschooling parent, I don’t follow a traditional academic year schedule, and we usually end up doing some kind of school for at least part of the summer. But, I also don’t think that topping a traditional academic year with a summer that leaves little time for anything other than more academics is the best way to go.

  60. Beth June 21, 2014 at 11:33 pm #


    I read all the time when I was 13. Actually when I was 6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,etc. etc. Like I nearly got run over a few times on the way to and from school because I had my nose in a book when I was crossing the street. Summers were heaven because of the time I had free to lose myself in book after book.

    I also had one summer – after ninth grade, I remember it well, when I watched TV literally every day – 60’s sitcoms and soap operas, with my best friend on the phone the whole time. So what? Next summer after that I had a job, and then the rest of my life happened.

    And I actually did do other stuff – there was a two-week camp (not academic) and sometimes maybe sports. I had friends and we hung out. When we were young we rode our bikes to the ice cream store, when we got a little older we rode our bikes to the drug store to buy makeup. A little older than that we bought Manic Panic and freaked our parents out with neon hair.

    What else? Kids that age can write, start a band, put on a play, train a dog, build nearly anything. Read everything. Fall in love, follow that trail behind the shopping mall, paint their room like a sunset, discover thrift stores, grow something in a garden, take up parkour. (I had a few friends who got way into mime at that age. Wouldn’t encourage it.)

    And actually, at camp, even at the mature age of 13, we did enjoy some pretty awesome capture-the-flag, dodgeball, and something called kiss-tag.

    The idea that the three options are 1) tag, 2) intensive, expensive and clearly unnecessary school, and 3) moping is ludicrous.

    And I have to say, a lot of moping time is just processing time. I think for some teenagers it may be essential to just shut down a little, shut out everyone else’s voice for a while so you can hear your own.

    Rant over.

  61. gap.runner June 22, 2014 at 1:12 am #

    Is “C” really “average”? When I look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grading_systems_by_country#Germany, it gets compared to “4/ausreichend/sufficient” in the Germany system, which would be a lowest passing grade.

    What Peter did not mention in his post about the German grading system is that very few kids get the top marks of 1 or 2, especially at the Gymnasium level. Grading is very strict. My son is in 9th grade in a Gymnasium and he has had exams where the highest mark was a 3-. He has also had exams where the class average was close to 5, which is the higher of the two failing grades. A lot of kids in Germany, especially at the Gymnasium level, end up repeating a grade. German kids are not stupider than US kids, who all seem to get straight As and are all performing above their grade level. The grading system is a lot more rigorous. Another difference between Germany and the US is there are no helicopter parents demanding that the teacher give little Hans or Johanna a higher grade. If a kid gets a 5 in a class, the parents may hire a tutor or otherwise help their child to improve, or they may have him or her repeat the grade. About half of the kids who take the Abitur (university entrance exam) in Bavaria have repeated a grade.

    As I mentioned above, when I was 13 I had a free range summer. I did go to summer school, but I took fun classes that I chose instead of hard core academic ones. Summer school only lasted 6 weeks. I also babysat, went to the movies with friends, went ice skating at the mall with friends, went swimming, and sometimes just hung out with my friends. I remember the summer when I was 13 as being one of my more fun and memorable ones.

  62. SKL June 22, 2014 at 1:20 am #

    “The idea that the three options are 1) tag, 2) intensive, expensive and clearly unnecessary school, and 3) moping is ludicrous.”

    I’m pretty sure nobody is saying that there are those three exclusive options.

    The point is that for a 13yo it makes sense to have a balance, which can include some cerebral activity as well as physical and social activity and rest and relaxation.

    I can’t tell from the OP how much time the girl actually spends on academic work in the summer. Maybe it is too much, but that really depends on individual circumstances to which we are not privy. When I was 13 I had many beefs with my parents, most of which were more about my immaturity than their unreasonableness. In my case I thought I had too much housework. Eventually as an adult, I realized I was very lucky my parents gave me so much experience in that area.

  63. Jenny Islander June 22, 2014 at 2:18 am #

    The thing that really gets me is that the parents panicked at the 13-year-old having an A- grade in math for the year and decided to make her take Kumon Math, which is not a tutoring program; it’s an entire math curriculum, K through calculus, and the student is supposed to keep on it seven days a week, after school as well as on weekends, with logs and timers and so forth. The OP talked about 5 years of Kumon Math, which means that her parents told her that due to her “slipping” grade she would have to do Kumon Math concurrently with her regular studies all the way through senior year!

    If her school is experiencing such terrible grade inflation that an A- really is bad, then the solution isn’t to make the student take math twice simultaneously. It’s time to talk to the PTA about fixing the problem.

  64. SOA June 22, 2014 at 8:46 am #

    At 13 I was reading adult books. I think that was about when I started reading the Anne Rice Vampire Chronicles. Those are pretty advanced for a 13 year old to read and understand. I wanted to read them and enjoyed it. I believe at least with some kids if you leave them alone and let them make their own choices they will do things by their own choice to stimulate their mind. I am sure I was increasing my vocabulary and reading skills doing something I chose to do.

    But anytime I was forced to read a book, I hated it.

  65. SKL June 22, 2014 at 10:41 am #

    Jenny Islander, I am not that familiar with Kumon, but I can understand why parents would want their kids to do a separate math curriculum outside of school. Some schools are not really teaching math the way it needs to be taught for kids with future aspirations in certain fields. Just getting good grades in math at school isn’t going to fix that problem.

    When my kid brother was in 8th or 9th grade, he was completely lost in math and, despite being bright, could not “get” it. I decided to tutor him, and I was shocked at the things he did not know, that he should have learned in much earlier grades. Whether it was because of poor curriculum or poor teachers, I don’t know, but with a little time using a different approach, it clicked and he was on his way, proud that he was not in fact an idiot in math.

    Math programs vary considerably, and different curricula work better with different kids.

    I don’t know why this girl’s parents chose Kumon. Whether they did a lot of research and thoughtfully decided this was best for her, or whether their friends’ kids go and they do not know of better options, or what. Without seeing their side of the story, all we can do is advise the girl to research and present alternatives in a respectful way.

  66. JP Merzetti June 22, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

    Dear Distressed,

    Much impressed with your literary skills. Commendable (and valuable for your future.)
    I’m sure your parents want only the best for you, and that’s just fine. Unfortunately, academics are not the ‘religion’ of life (nor should they be.)
    This single way of measuring human value can be a very narrow viewpoint – understandably, considering our current world economy – the stress of it hits people rather young in life, now.

    My question to you would be….what would you rather do with a summer break?
    If you were granted the freedom of choice (as I had at your age) what would you do with your time?
    I don’t suppose you are too young at all, to make some wise decisions.

    I can tell you what I did with my time, at your age.
    I explored my town (small city.)
    I spent enormous amounts of time out in wilderness, often on my own. (There, I learned many things.)
    I read like the dickens.
    I listened to a lot of music.
    I played a lot of sports.
    and the biking…the swimming…..the exploring…..

    But most of all: that summer between grade school and high school….
    I sort of grew up, socially. There was a lot of magic in the air, at that time – and I had the time to go and find it.
    Endless conversations….with some friends who would go on to become life-long. But also with other people all over my town – people who did things, ran businesses, had philosophies of life….farmed the land, raised chickens, trained dogs….played instruments…DID things.

    It took a whole summer to find the time to do all that.
    Once school started, a lot of it faded away – no time…..
    But, not ALL of it.

    Was this also part of my education?
    Of course.

    You’re not the measurement of an IQ, EQ or any other kind of Q, kiddo.
    There’s so much more that your intelligence was designed for.

    I wish you well. You are stuck with parental wishes for awhile, but not forever.
    Do your best.
    Good luck to you!

  67. SKL June 22, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

    Here’s an idea. In the debating camp, debate the pros and cons of summer math enrichment. 😉

  68. Andy June 22, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

    @SKL I always loved math. I even went to some math focused camps in high school and loved that. I think I would hate Kumon. It seems to be a program that removed everything great and interesting about it and replaced it with mindless repetition. It might be good if you are so bad at math that you are unable to learn the logic behind it, but I doubt it leads to the kind of understanding you need in order to pursue math heavy fields.

    If the kid plans to go to math heavy field, the kid needs to learn the kind of things they do at math competitions – which is exact opposite of what Kumon seems to do. That is only from short look at it, of course, so I may be wrong.

  69. Jenny Islander June 22, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

    @SKL: But she isn’t slipping or lost. She has an A minus. She’s “only” in the 99th percentile!

    Better plan: If the parents are bound and determined to keep her getting straight As, first they need to talk to her teacher and find out whether there’s an exact topic that she’s not understanding perfectly. Then, hire a tutor for the few weeks of concentrated attention it should take to correct that issue. Kumon costs $125 per month plus and they are talking about keeping her in it for 5 years. Because she’s “only” in the 99th percentile.

    Do they even know where she’s not perfect? When I was in school, you could lose points for not putting your name in the right place on your test papers, not being perfectly neat (smeared erasure marks, etc.), or blowing your nose too much in class. Is it even math comprehension that’s the issue here?

  70. SKL June 22, 2014 at 6:59 pm #

    Jenny Islander, the thing is that we only have one side of the story. We don’t know what is behind the parents’ decision. I think it’s wrong to assume they don’t know what their own child needs, although that is possible. I would rather assume they know better than I do about a child I have never met. I would also hope that other people give me the benefit of the doubt when it comes to making choices for my kids.

    My eldest is an honor roll student with a 3.7 GPA. However, that’s because she works her butt off and I give her extra work to do at home almost every day of the year. Plus she got some extra help at school. The grade is the result of a lot more than her native ability. She also scored at the 4th grade reading level on the 2nd grade standardized test, but that is because she did some practice tests beforehand, because her mother knew that she would misunderstand the questions otherwise. If all you knew was her 3.7 GPA and her well-above-average reading level, then you might think she doesn’t need to do academics over the summer to keep up. And you would be wrong.

  71. hineata June 22, 2014 at 7:21 pm #

    Sorry, dear OP, I have to ask, are you Asian? Because your parents, bless them, sound just like my extended family. Yes, an A- is an Asian F!

    Hang in there. My daughter did Kumon for a while because she actually was behind (by a long way!) and it wasn’t onerous, about 15 minutes a day. The summer school sounds like a bummer, but it will be over soon….

    And if you happen to be Asian, there are wonderful clips on YouTube to remind you to have a sense of humour over the whole A- business. NigaHiga is great, but just search Singapore Mums, Tiger Moms or some such. Actually, regardless of ethnicity, they’ll help you get a laugh out of your situation. Your parents love you….they might possibly just be a little OTT about the way they show it, academics-wise 🙂

  72. hineata June 22, 2014 at 7:35 pm #

    @SKL – the summer I was 13, I worked at the local dairy, read, biked around a lot with my mates, blackberried up in the bush, swam and ate heaps of chocolate cake that I made myself. And probably had an unrequited crush on a boy or two, this far out I forget who, but I was a serial ‘crusher’ from about age 12 – a dreadful romantic!

    Generally just hung out in town and the local countryside, went to the pictures and rolled or threw Jaffas at the kids in front of us. If I really sucked up to my mum, who worked full time, I could go with my friends by train to the city, but that was a once a holidays treat that depended on us pleading with all the various parents. Except for my Chinese friend, all the parents were free range (by default) as far as our local town and countryside went, but the city was the source of all evil, LOL, and besides they were legitimately worried that we might get run over – we had no traffic and therefore little in the way of traffic sense :-).

    All in all two weeks of summer school probably trumps the nonsense we got up to, though I do remember having a lot of fun :-).

  73. Red June 22, 2014 at 10:52 pm #

    The summer I was 13, I spent swimming, reading, biking and babysitting. It was a great summer, because it was the summer when my mom told me “be home for dinner unless you have a babysitting gig” and she didn’t care what I was doing or where I was the rest of the day.

    I also started riding the train downtown that summer.

  74. J- June 23, 2014 at 12:57 am #


    That TEDx talk was horrible. I truly do not understand people like her (the speaker). I watch Shark Tank and I just don’t understand the Sharks, people who go into business with the goal of making money, with the business that they get into being little more than the means to the end of making money.

    I remember the day I chose to go into engineering. My dad took me to see Apollo 13 in theaters, I was 12. There is that great scene where one of the Mission Directors take a bunch of engineers and says “we need to make this, fit into the hole for this, using nothing but that” regarding the CO2 scrubbers. BAM! That was is, I wanted to help people by solving technical problems.

    Coming out of an expensive college prep school, engineering was sort of looked down upon. The honorable careers were business, banking, law, and medicine. I thought about law school for a while, I clerked for my dad (he’s a lawyer) and decided very quickly I wasn’t going to do that.

    I did petroleum refining for a bit which is lucrative, before getting seduced by the world of investment banking with a focus on tech companies. I have never been so miserable in my life. I am not a money fondler, I can’t be a money fondler, I can see why Jesus threw those people out of the city. It is a heartless, horrible, existence.

    I took a massive pay cut to go to graduate school to do what my passion turned out to be, medical device work. I did 6 years of research on medical device design, made barely above minimum wage, and loved every damn second of it. Now I do medical device failure analysis. I do other failure analyses as well, but my specialty is medical devices. I figure out why implants broke so the designs can be improved.

    My buddy who recruited me into finance made 4 times what I did last year. Good for him. There is no amount of zeroes on an end of year bonus that would make me sit through a year of financial analysis. I have taken more pay cuts than raises in my life, and have been more soul satisfied by the cuts than the raises.

    One day I hope to start my own medical device company. I could care less about doing it to make money. I only want my own company so I can direct my own research. Too much is invested in the “safe” area of geriatric arthroplasty (artificial hips for retirees). I want to specialized in limb trauma reconstruction, keeping young people from suffering amputations after injury. Less lucrative, much more meaningful.

    I have been told by friends and family who make a lot more than I, that I squandered my educational potential. I could have been a very wealthy businessman. Piss on that. I reduce pain and suffering, heal the injured, and improve quality of life.

    I used to watch TED talks to get inspired. This talk was barely above a self-help seminar.

    You want some good ted talks for kids to watch, here are my three favorite:


  75. E June 23, 2014 at 8:43 am #

    @hineata, as you mentioned, the student said that debate program is over in 4 weeks. That does leave a chunk of summer left.

    It’s really hard to know or judge someone else’s home. Does the student have a specific goal for post HS? A specific academic program/career path? Perhaps the parents are trying to support that goal and putting the student on the path to achieve it.

    I know we have one that could have done more academically that would have opened a few more opportunities post HS. They realized it too late (despite the advice we gave). They did fine, had plenty of options and learned a lesson (hopefully).

    Good luck to the student!

  76. Angela June 23, 2014 at 11:29 am #

    “What did the FRK posters do in the summer when they were 13?”

    At 13, my parents had been divorced about three years. My mother, after the divorce, decided she had lost herself and went a little crazy trying to find herself again. In those three years she experienced a cocaine addiction, began drinking more and spent some time in jail.

    Being a ‘good girl’ with a sister and two brothers that had regular academic, behavioral and legal issues, I was left pretty much to my own devices. I woke in the morning and got on a city bus to a friend’s house, or a friend would travel to my house, or we would spend days in a row at one house or the other. Then we were outside. Walking to the mall or the movies (five miles one way at least), walking the woods, following train tracks to see where they went, swimming in my friend’s apartment complex pool; if I spent any time indoors except to sleep I don’t remember it, and sleep usually came well after midnight.

    All this occurred without cell phones, calls home, or even letting anyone know we were leaving or when we’d be back. We never got in trouble (because we never got caught) so no one ever worried about us.

    Sure there were questionable situations – if there really had been a train coming, I’d likely not be alive today rather than showing off the scar I got running across the bridge because I thought one was coming. We were once given pornographic magazines, order forms for pepper spray (because ‘women shouldn’t be walking around unprotected at night’) and offered jobs as exotic dancers; I assume they didn’t realize we were only 14. We just laughed.

    My kids don’t have it nearly as free-range as I did. As teenagers I expect chores to be done, to know when they are leaving, where they’ll be, and I have a curfew. I expect calls if plans change and I have two basic cell phones in the house to be given to children when they leave on their own for an adventure. Besides that they are pretty much free to plan their days as they like.

  77. BMS June 23, 2014 at 12:50 pm #

    My older son could definitely use summer school in some ways. His grades were Cs and Ds, mostly due to laziness on his part, and part of me wants to wake his behind up.

    But on the other hand, putting him in summer school means that he misses:

    -A week in the Maine woods learning kung fu
    -A week in Boy Scout camp earning 3 merit badges and learning self reliance, independence, and getting along in a group.
    -A week of attending a glass blowing workshop at a local glass school
    -Endless days of sleeping in, doing model rocketry, playing Minecraft (which seriously has helped his keyboarding skills more than any teacher or typing software we ever tried), building with legos, swimming, biking, and just doing nothing.

    This kid HATES school like poison. Without a break from it he, and I, will go insane. He will spend the summer doing what he does best – learning what he wants to learn, at his own pace. If I could do it all year round, I would. But since I can’t, I’ll take what I can get.

  78. Erika June 26, 2014 at 5:32 pm #

    I don’t have a problem with summer enrichment, especially Math. Kids tend to forget a lot over 3 months off and it helps a lot to do a bit of review. My kids go to Mathnaseuim and love it. At first they were worried they’d loose their Summer vacation. Now they see it’s only 90 minutes out of their day. We swim almost every day, have play dates, attend fun camps(cooking, swim, scouts…). There has to be a balance though. Attending Kumon for a A- does sound insane but your Mom may have her reasons. There is no way Kumon can make you commit for 5 years. Not sure who’s telling you that but you only have to commit 3 months at a time. A bit of review is ok but this sounds like overkill.