Wednesday, January 17, 2007

School Daze

My kindergarten sat on a large landscaped lot about 10 blocks from my stucco house in Milpitas, CA. I went there because it was free. I crossed a four-lane street with traffic lights by myself to get there, then found my way to a painted green line on the expansive playground blacktop, where I waited for the bell to ring.

My son gets lost going to the bathroom in our house. This is one reason why, despite the fact that there are other options, I am lobbying for him to attend his default neighborhood public school for kindergarten next year. It's two blocks away. I can stand at the end of my yard and watch him make it to the crossing guard.

Another reason is that I just can't bring myself to get into the kindergarten hysteria that descends upon a certain Seattle demographic this time of year. There's this attitude that if you don't get accepted into one of the "good" public schools, you must do dire things to afford a private school or your kid will never learn how to read.

"OMIGOD did you get your app in for [blank]????" In the Little Gym class lobby, the preschool parking lot, and the book group, it is THE topic of conversation right now. I hear many expressions of fear, angst, disgust at the application fees. There is much eye-rolling at the non-aligned deadlines of Seattle Public School applications and those of virtually every private grade school in town. Parents swap test score data and free-and-reduced-lunch numbers when they run into each other with their dogs and kids and paper cups of coffee.

Some of these parents are friends, good people that I respect and like. Yet the whole thing gets my Irish up. I hate the notion that where you go to school makes you who you are. I hate the attitude of many parents that their kid will be, by default, elite or advanced or gifted. (I really hated this when I was a teacher. Those parents were a pain in my ass.)

This feeling took hold for me when Jonah was going to a little co-op down in a fancy zip code. The kids were 1-2 years old. It was a play class. The kids wandered around like cats, exploring objects, bumping against one another, climbing on pillows. The teacher sang songs with hand motions and made each kid feel special. It was lovely and developmentally appropriate. But some parents were pissed because the teacher wasn't using flash cards.

It's not all about the fucking flash cards.

Anyway, what makes some kids so special that they get to go to exclusive schools, and other kids not so special? I mean, who do these parents think they are?

This came up in a conversation yesterday with my husband. He blinked at me as if I had just told him I wanted Jonah to go to an elementary school that does weapons pat-downs at the door.

"I don't understand this," he said, shaking his head. "You complain about the crappy schools you went to and how your parents weren't involved, and now when you have some options..."

I know, I know. But look - I come from a place where to ask for something better is to invite a swift kick in the ass. Who do you think you are? Once I brought up the idea that I might change to a different high school, and my mother threw a screechy tantrum.

Maybe if I had my druthers Jonah would be learning to read while taking backpacking trips with Outward Bound. For the next ten years. (Of course, he'd have to be strapped with a GPS unit.)He would be completely out of the normal school loop until it came time to apply to college.

Because for me, the normal loop sucks. In the normal loop, life becomes all about the flash cards, the tests, and where you are in the pecking order of the lunchroom. I have never flourished in this kind of environment.

My husband, however, has and does. He was the kind of kid for whom public schools are made. He blossoms in regimented environments. He enjoys competition. And if it weren't for those traits, and quite possibly the great schools he attended that helped him develop his large brain, we'd be fuckin' broke.

So I guess we just start trying stuff and see what happens. In the meantime, I need to relax my judgment. Stop thinking about what's best for Society and think about what's best for Jonah. It is okay to do that. It's good to do that. It makes me less angry to do that. I don't need to be fighting these old ghosts.


Caffienated Mama said...

Ugh, I am/was right there with you sista!! Why do you think I moved?? I could not deal with filling out applications and stressing out about where my kids were going to go to school the 4 kids on our block at the old house when to 4 different schools not counting private..I couldn't handle it anymore! I too walked to first grade by myself and it was no kidding about 1/2 a mile from our did I not get abducted? i know my irish would be rising up too had we chosen to stay in the city, now my main worry is will she get into all day K or 1/2 day? Or do I even send her next year because she has only grown an inch in the last 18 months?? She is soooo shrimpy I am afraid the bigger kids will think it is fun to pick her up like a baby...I can say that Jonah is so lucky to have parents who are concerned and care about what he will be doing and where he will be going next year. I actually got nauseated because i remember that feeling I got when other moms started talking about it last year...good luck let me know how it works out, let me know if you need a letter of recommendation or something:)

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness, Susie. Isn't it crazy making right now? My head is spinning with the options. Right now I am trying to sit with the idea of, "What if we chose the path that was easiest for our family?" Ie: the school across the street or the one a five minute drive away. K might not even go to kindergarten next year. Why oh why did I not plan better and have a child earlier in the year? A late summer birthday and a boy...two strikes. -V

Anonymous said...

It is nerve-wracking but in the end it all works out. Turn in your application to the public school. Look at public & private schools from Jonah's eyes - you know your child better than anyone. You know what he can & cannot handle. As you know as a teacher, the first years of school set the foundation for their future learning. Find the place where you, your husband & Jonah fit in. Not what "everyone else" is doing (whoever "they" are...). Believe me, you become a part of the school & the community not just Jonah.