Saturday, April 06, 2013

being human isn't a one-size-fits-all endeavor, even when you're 5

Sometimes I look at my son as he sits preoccupied with his thoughts, completely oblivious to the fact that I've asked him what he'd like to drink three times, and I see myself. Sometimes I'm a little jealous: childhood provides far more time for getting lost in thought than being the mother of two small children does. I love going there—curled up in my chair by the window, with a cup of coffee, the weather and trees for company, maybe some knitting or embroidery sitting near. For hours and hours.

Frankly, I'm a little worried about my son going off to school next year. Six hours in school a day, with 25+ other five-year-olds sounds exhausting. I don't imagine there will be a lot of down time for people like my son—who works and learns better alone. With time to think up the good questions, and with enough quiet to know why we want to know those specific answers and what we plan to do with them. I've subbed for my son's preschool class and I've watched him. He loves building "nests" outside or digging in the dirt with one or two friends. But when the rest of the kids come over to join, he slinks away. Or gets really angry with them for invading his space. When a group of kids invite him to play Duck Duck Goose, or sled down the snowy slope, he yells, "No!" and continues digging. He loves his friends, he just prefers to love them in groups of one or two. Preferably a group of one.

I'm not worried about my son's nature, any more than I'm worried about myself. Of course he'll have to come to grips with his own peculiar way of being. But there are so many benefits of this temperament we share—I plan to give him lots of reasons to be proud of it—I think he'll do just fine. But what I don't want is for the love of learning I see in him now to be eclipsed by the demands of fitting-in and socialization that school demands. There are schools he could attend—if money were no object—where they incorporate diverse learning styles into the rhythm of class. I just have doubts that our local NYC public schools are going to be able to handle the matter with largess.

Elementary school: I didn't completely hate it, but I don't remember learning much. What I remember is the big ugly rooms with dusty shelves and a moldy smell. I remember the chaos of all the students, the pressure to be friends with the cool girls, to wear the right kinds of jeans, to not act completely awkward during recess even though I hated playing kick ball and wall ball and hand ball and all manner of other sports. I dreaded the big flat black-top playground. I felt antipathy toward the burnt-orange tiles that covered the bottom half of the hallways between classes, the food in the cafeteria all seemed to be some version of tater tots. I didn't like tater tots. I was suspicious of the electric blue plastic on which we were served our food. I didn't like elementary colors in general, and it seemed if you were a kid everything was done in elementary colors. Plastic elementary colors. I didn't like standing in lines. I feared the bathrooms without windows—I was particularly anxious that someone might turn out the light while I was using the toilet and I'd be stuck in that pitch-black stall all by myself. I stopped going to the bathroom altogether at school. I hated gym class. I dreaded the fact the every seating arrangement involved me sitting next to one of the two worst-behaved boys in class. Everything at my school seemed to be uncomfortable, ugly, one-size-fits-all. There was nothing warm and soft and reassuring, no inspiring art or cozy corners. There were no cool interesting maps on the walls, just huge block-colored letters covered over with posters or math charts. No one ever really seemed to even notice what was on the walls, or made any reference to them. I remember wondering what I had in common with my classmates, and the environment itself seemed foreign to me. I didn't feel like the one-size-fits-all was working too well for me, but I was quiet and well-behaved and didn't want any attention. I just noticed all these things, cataloging all the ways in which the school repulsed me. I wanted to go home and read a book. Or play outside in the grass, someplace with trees and vegetation. I wanted a little beauty, please. A little humanity.

So here I am with my son. Wondering if six hours a day next year of this sort of thing will work for him, will work for me.


Manuela said...

I can so very much relate to this post. First of all, I had a very similar school experience in elementary school.
Everything was uncomfortable.
Later I hated school with a passion. I loved Friday afternoons, and hated Sunday evenings to the point that I had an upset stomach.
My son Lukas has been in Kindergarten this year, and luckily we are very happy with the school and the teacher, who really sees these children as individuals and gives them different things to do in the morning according to their strengths and weaknesses. I love that.
Also, Lukas has a different personality than I had when I was young. He is fairly outgoing. Nonetheless I think all day Kindergarten is a lot for them, and I can tell how exhausted he often is and how often he just wants to stay at home and play and do his own thing. I feel conflicted about school all the time.
But so far he likes it and he definitely has a very different experience than I had.
I hope that Isaiah will also have a good experience and actually feel comfortable, experience warmth and beauty and learn things that matter.

Julia said...

I'm not sure how I missed this post. Having just written my swan song blog post on homeschooling, of course I resonate.

I just finished reading another John O'Donohue book, Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong. It's amazingly profound, but toward the end there was one passage in particular that made me think of myself in third grade, when my teacher was always telling me, "To come down from cloud 9," because I so often was staring off into space. The quote:

"The eye has great affection for things. Only infants or adults lost in thought gaze lingeringly into the middle distance. These are moments when we literally look at nothing. This perennially neglected nothing is precious space, because it provides the medium and the trail of connection between all the separate, different things and persons.", public elementary school definitely does not specialize in nurturing the mystical side of things, but it was nice for me to be vindicated by John O'Donohue all these years later. And I still stare off into space whenever I get the chance, which isn't often.

Ike is lucky to have you as a mom and to have inherited your unique, artistic qualities, and I agree: he is going to do fine. I hope you will start blogging often again- I am missing it so much!