There was a time I felt that the biggest problem with public (and much private) education was that it was a “one-size-fits-all” approach to teaching children. I’ve learned over the years that that is a distant third, of course, but we’ll get to that.
Still, the fact that the goal of public (and most private) education is to jam all the pegs, whether round, triangular, star-shaped or square, into round holes has been a huge problem to my kids and I; realizing it was one of my way points on the journey from public school supporter to implacable enemy.
It goes without saying that divorce is among the most traumatic things that can happen to a child. Mine were no exception. Far from it. I won’t go into details of my divorce – what, indeed, would be the point?
Suffice to say that for the kids, it was another story.
My son – well, I’ll save his story for another day.
My daughter, Bun, started school with a bang. Blazingly smart, with all the advantages of both being a girl (she had highly advanced verbal and reading skills) and being her (she was brash, unflappable and had an out-front personality that was both engaging and, like her dad, sometimes overbearing, but in a cute five-year-old way.
And then came first grade. Things started very well; the school reacted to her obvious talent by putting her in all the “enrichment” classes; she was reading, speaking, and doing most things way ahead of everyone else, so it sort of made sense. Best of all, she was in an advanced art class – one of the programs that had drawn Bun’s mom and I to the school in the first place.
But this was about the time that the stresses in the marriage started coming to a head. That’s a crappy thing for any kid to have to deal with.
To add an extra wrinkle to things, though – her school’s “model” involved an awful lot of “sharing feelings” with the rest of the class. As a parent new to the world of elementary school, that part had blown by me in the orientation – it sounded like just more PC education-speak to me at the time. And it was – but it was PC education-speak with teeth.
How, indeed, does a kid “share” feelings she doesn’t even understand, with a bunch of kids she barely knows?
Never mind. The “model” called for “sharing feelings”. My daughter didn’t share to the satisfaction of the teacher (a bovine, puffy woman in her late twenties who’d been teaching for five years and already showed signs of serious burn-out – in fact, I believe she left the field fairly soon). The “model” didn’t allow for feelings not to be shared.
So, because she didn’t conform to “the model”, they pulled her out of the challenge classes – the reading and art classes that were the highlights of her day, the times when she actually got to be herself.
Let me sum this up for you: Because she didn’t share some of the darkest, scariest feelings a little kid can feel – her parents’ problems – with her snot-nosed classmates and her by-the-numbers cold fish of a teacher, she was punished. Because “the model” said so.
I’m not making it up. There was a parent-teacher conference. Because Bun’s mom and I were making such a stink about this treatment (one of the few things we agreed about at the time), the principal – a crow-like, leather-faced woman I’ll call “Doctor Smith” (because she insisted everyone call her “Doctor”, because she had a PhD in Education, dammit!) joined us.
Bun’s mom and I sat across the table from the teacher and Doctor Smith. Mrs. Smith started talking as if she were in a grad-school Educational Psychology seminar – six-syllable words about educational theorists, justifications for “the model”, the whole nine yards – as if she were talking to a fellow PhD. She scowled during the entire spiel, speaking in an unctuous, scolding tone that dripped “I am the authority”.
I sat for a moment. I can’t remember exactly how I responded. I’d like to think it went something like this:
“Doctor Smith, my father was a teacher. He even occasionally teaches education at a college. Now, that thing you just said? I understood every word of it, because I grew up around it. Of course, my Dad makes fun of people who talk like that, but whatever. Anyway – I understood it. But I have to ask you – is this the way you talk around H’mong or Latino parents who barely speak any English? Do they have a lot of trouble following you when you talk like that?”
I probably did say parts of that. At any rate, Doctor Smith didn’t like me – us – one bit. Her scowl hardened into a glare. We wound up switching Bun’s school over the summer.
But the damage was done. The lesson was learned; do what the school tells you to, no matter how painful and ugly, or indeed how stupid the demand is in context – or you’re going to be in biiiig trouble.
If you’re a square peg – even if it’s due to circumstances beyond your control – you’d better be a round hole, now, or it’s going to cost you.