|First day of kindergarten.|
(Photo by Anoosh Jorjorian)
I didn’t think I would announce it, but then I realized, hey, I write about parenting and politics, and I have just committed a huge political act.
We live in an excellent school district, and our home school is one of the most desirable in our district. We were looking forward to our daughter receiving a solid education while also enjoying a truly diverse peer group.
My daughter, I should say, adored her preschool. She came home covered in paint and mud every day. The love between Silver and her teachers was plainly mutual. At school, she would pet animals, make rivers in the yard, create stories with her friends, pick and eat vegetables from the garden, and pretend to be a kitty, or a mama, or an astronaut, or an excavator. On the way, she learned to write and gained the fundamentals of reading, math, and science.
In the first few days of kindergarten, my family experienced the shock of transitioning from preschool to the regular school system. My daughter seemed oddly unenthusiastic, and one day as she settled into her car seat, she asked, “What does it look like inside your body when you cry?” My husband and I tried to take statements like these with a grain of salt, unsure of how much weight to give them during this time of flux.
The afternoon before Back to School night, I asked her what problems she had that she wanted me to talk about. In order of importance, she listed:
- Sometimes my teacher yells really loud and it hurts my ears.
- Leila gets lunch at the cafeteria and sits with all of those kids, but I want her to sit next to me, but she never can.
- Sometimes we have to sit on the rug, and it’s boring.
|Silver expresses her displeasure with me. |
(Photo by Anoosh Jorjorian)
With only 10 minutes until 8 p.m., the scheduled end of the evening and my children’s bedtime, he asked for questions. On my turn, I asked, “Can you talk about your philosophy and some of your methods of discipline?” The teacher walked over to a small rectangular table with three chairs ranged around it: green, yellow, and red.
The red chair was the last straw. My daughter had, in preschool, participated in a democratic classroom. As she has told me many times after I apologize for yelling at her, “The teachers at school don’t yell.” It’s true: they don’t. Of course, at preschool there are five teachers for 25 kids. In kindergarten, there are two. But my daughter is accustomed to being part of the classroom process where limits are agreed upon collectively and enforced gently, and I’m not ready for her to grapple with an authoritarian system yet.
The charter school I am moving her to practices project-based education, which to my mind, is what every school in the U.S. should practice. Diversity and social justice explicitly make up part of their mission. They emphasize experiential learning tailored to each child’s particular style. Collaboration forms the foundation of their structure.
I am, in theory, committed to public education. And yet, as every parent realizes when her or his child begins school, I want my daughter to have an excellent education right now. Public education in this country is a large, unwieldy vehicle, constructed rigidly, and difficult to turn in a different direction.
If our education system is supposed to prepare our children for life as adults, what are we teaching them? To respect authority. To tolerate repetitive, boring tasks. To understand that the system is unresponsive to their desires, needs, and emotions. And, above all, that the pleasures of education—personal attention from a teacher, play- and project-based methodologies, richness of materials, opportunities to go outside in a beautiful environment or take exciting field trips—are limited by economics. That we live in a two-tiered society, between those who find school a trial and those who find school rewarding, becomes obvious to our children from an early age.
People always scoff that we can’t buy our way to a better education system. (But maybe we can.) And yet, what would it be like if we abolished private schools and channeled all those funds to public education? What if we did only this: reduced class sizes, paid teachers wages respectable for trained professionals, and improved facilities so that schools could be open, airy, green, and pleasant places to be? What if we could make arts available to every child, every single day? You can’t convince me that education wouldn’t improve.
And what if we went further and made the goal of education to instill a love of learning in every child?
I know, it sounds like I am asking for the moon. And yet, like every parent, I want my child to be happy and smart; I want her to have ambitious goals and feel capable of reaching them. I want her to delight in learning rather than approach school with dread. It doesn’t seem like so much to ask.