Like most people on this planet, we’ve been undergoing huge shifts and transitions over the past year.
Our son, now in 8th grade, who has been in either Waldorf School or Homeschooled his whole life, began attending public Jr. High, in a huge city. The days are crammed, classes are 40 min. long, material is rushed, there are 8 periods, and 33 kids in his class, and for the first time in his life he’s being rushed, pressured, stretched, and overall being asked to “deal”, stay up late, get up early, and produce work. His teachers are overall, and all things considering, quite good, and some even create interesting assignments, but the result of all of the above is a kid who prefers to “check out” and watch The Walking Dead (??) or video games when there is not something he is being made to do. “ I just want to escape the nightmare mom, for a little longer.” “Mom, the whole thing is so pointless, I’m not even learning anything, I forget it as soon as I don’t even need to know it any longer.” Socially he is fine, unlike my own experiences at that age, the kids are all quite pleasant to each-other. However, he missed 5 days since September due to illness and he got behind, and since there is a somewhat factory-like system to it all, he can’t catch his breath nor catch up. From 5 isolated days. There are 4 minutes in between periods, so there is precious little time to talk with a teacher after class. I suspect those of us who are used to asserting ourselves and know how to be proactive would find this difficult to navigate. Yes, he is learning how to deal with these things, but in the meantime the freight train speeds ahead. There is no time for mistakes, and less time than none to correct them. And I don’t remember kids being strung out because they did not have the math gene. Maybe they were, and I was not aware? Woe is the child who is not brilliant in math these days.
Yet, on the other hand the pushing has shown him he can write, something he was loathe to do before, he is learning how to organize himself, and that it matters. He is also learning to see areas where he has abilities that he’d taken for granted. All this is wonderful, and things we’d hoped he’d discover in school. Things we could not provide the right inspiration and motivation to discover at home. Ha! He’s also learning to appreciate his life before school.
I find myself torn, constantly, between warring questions about what is the best thing to do. One the one hand, we all need to learn how to “deal”. We all need to learn how to navigate the reality that life is not always pleasant, and that people will demand we do things that we neither like, nor agree with, nor even believe in, and that in some cases we must. Yet, I spend much time trying to craft my own life into one where the pace is human. Don’t we all read memes like this every day on facebook? I find that health and wholeness is more available when surrounded by beauty and up until this point, this was the parameter for our family. (Aside form my husband who works his butt off everyday and an hour long commute into the city.)
With all this weighing heavily in my mind, I watched a kid speak the other day of the irony of schools never teaching us what we as adults struggle to do our entire adult lives, which is live a fulfilling, satisfying, life full of joy and richness and meaning. And I wonder, is this challenge we are putting our son through, really the right thing to do? Is it going to make things better for him, or worse? What happens to children when they are rushed beyond their natural inner rhythms? Is this where those deep health issues begin? Must it be a choice between character growth and physical health?
Initially, we realized that homeschooling was not working because there was nobody or nothing to motivate our then 13 year old to test himself, to try new things. He is reflective, and creative by nature, but also one who naturally takes the easiest road possible. Less is more, is his motto for living. He was wanting to spend more and more time on his iPad. I have been told this is a natural state for young teens, but still it was very difficult to watch, and hold back the rushing river was even harder. I am not a scheduler, by nature, and as an artist and herb crafter my work is one that requires some degree of quiet mental space and reflection time. At first this worked well and beautifully. He’d be home at times, and out at times taking some classes or playing in the park in the afternoons each day. In between we’d spend a few concentrated hours at home learning meaningful things. But, there came a point when he needed to be out and about more, to be challenged more and by other people, than I could provide. As I mentioned earlier, he is not a natural out-and about-er, so it would take much effort on my part to make things happen. With a 7 year old, or a 10 year old, this is all fine an dandy, but with a teen who is starting to declare their independence? Battles and strife. The end result after a year of much discussion was a unanimous decision that school was the next best step. He was excited for it. Private tuition was out of the question so the local public school it would be.
Sadly, school, especially here, and especially public school is not what it was 30 years ago. Class periods are bizarrely short, and teachers are pushed to race through material to be ready for the statewide testing, and now with the new Core Curriculum, the testing stakes are even higher and the material even more convoluted. Even Art class is contrived to meet “Educational Standards.” (I have the deepest admiration for his art teacher who seems to really strive to find a creative solution to the the DoE shackles.) The kids are part of a machine that is running for someone else’s benefit, no their own.
So here we are perched waiting to see what each day brings and hoping for answers. The questions circle my mind and tangle up from time to time. I completely disagree with the whole system, yet, I wonder if my own vision of life and aesthetic and philosophy is what has gotten us into this mess in the first place. Was life too good, too beautiful, to relaxed for his development and growth of character? I wonder. Like I said, I have no answers and way too many questions.