September 18, 2010
My kids encounter three serious frustrations when they play with kids who go to school. Not reflecting any one child, these are three qualities they encounter repeatedly. In their own words: kids won't listen, kids don't know how to do anything, kids can't think for themselves.
Haunting, no? Reading that list, what parent can't sympathize? These are the frustrations everyone has with most children. We've begun talking about the different cultures of homeschool and institutional school. Its in no way fixed or absolute, but in general you know when you are dealing with an institutionalized child. The children know it, for sure. So we talk almost as if they are different nations of people. Each with a need for respect and understanding. The metaphor breaks down though, because a nation never outgrows itself culturally at a certain age. Childhood, it seems, may have become something we inflict on young people by robbing them of their autonomy. We might call it: Crying Alone In Your Crib For The Next Eighteen Years.
All of these kids will grow up one day. By adulthood they should all be the same age literally, mentally, and emotionally. We have to have compassion, I tell my children, because its really very difficult to learn how to do anything when all of your learning must happen inside one room, and mostly on an eight by ten sheet of paper. When you aren't allowed your own opinions, choices, or freedom of basic movement. When you must learn what you are forced to learn and nothing more.
And when I said that thing about the room and the piece of paper my world tipped. Most of the time I spend thinking about my children's education is defensive and worried. Are they good enough in enough ways? How might they lack or exist in some mysterious place called "behind"? In making a stand for compassion, the flip almost made me nauseous. It is hard to learn when you are trapped in a box in a box looking at a rectangle all day, every day, day after day. The structure of my worry melted and I saw the elephant in the room, a cruel and dogged trap.
My kids are so completely not perfect. Its not that I'm bragging about their perfection. I'm trying to look deeply for what's right and what's true. In helping my kids navigate our world, last night, I suddenly saw a glimpse of the truth for a quick instant. How odd that I could not have been more shocked by its stark simplicity when its a thing I've claimed to have already known. I suppose learning is a layered phenomenon and unending.
Classrooms can be dynamic, in a way. And you do get a new one every year. And I have said before that school will offer children lessons they can't get at home. And no child is perfect. But I'm not writing about any specific child. I'm looking at children, who they are really, what we inflict on them, and how all of this affects the social culture of our people.
We drove by an elementary school jungle gym. Riley said, "Oh that is soooooo coool." And it is cool. Its a lovely jungle gym. Its coolness very much calculated to advertise coolness to parents in search of just the right way to socialize and educate their children. Looking at it I felt a forty year old ache. I said, well yes it is very cool but kids aren't allowed to play on it whenever they want, (or if the truth be told, hardly at all, but I didn't say that.) Riley replied, "You mean they control your PLAY?!" Oh, honey, you just have no idea. The things these kids don't know might fill a book, eh?
Its starts before school, of course. The culture of institutionalization begins where? In a mother's arms. And the fruition of that culture begins the day the children leave home. Lets hope they all walk out the door confident, full of rich experience, autonomous, happy, and looking for a life as full of love, truth, and creativity as they've been taught to expect.