Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Some Hope In The Debris

Our presence was required last evening at Junior High School.

I live in a town that many others covet for the school system. I don't get that bit.

The school buildings are mostly new and not in disrepair that I could see. The administration seems fairly organized. Everyone was most pleasant.

But I can't help noticing things. And I noticed that the school is set up to amuse the faculty.

We parents were shuffled all over the place, and were lectured at by a series of teachers about what they were doing. There was no idea that the wishes and ideals of the parents of the children had any place in this setting. There was an undercurrent of like it or lump it in all of it. I fall mostly into the lump it category. Always have.

Like most all modern school buildings, the fabric of the place itself is grim and desolate. Concrete block, vinyl composition tile on the floors below, drop ceiling above. Anywhere the ceiling was exposed, it displayed all the guts of the services in the building in the postmodern way. I hate it.

The rooms are fussy without being neat. There are elaborate, almost kabuki-like rules for the behavior of everybody, but there is nothing like decorum. I went to every classroom my boy goes to, mostly ignored the teachers perorations about nothing, and instead used the time to look at my child's schoolbooks; and I marveled not only at what drivel was in them, but how little drivel they manage to fit on a page in a textbook these days.

I'm not young anymore. Since the amount of time between my experience in this setting and my re-acquaintance with it through my children has been so long, it was possible to get a kind of shock from it. It all came back to me in a moment.

I wanted to run screaming from that building. I wanted to stand up and tell them all I wasn't going to sit in this desolate rubbery landscape anymore and listen to people who had never been outdoors in the daytime drone on and on. I wanted to yell that I wanted information doled out with a ladle, not an eyedropper. I wanted to see fewer concrete blocks painted gray than your average deathrow inmate.

One teacher -- English teacher --who appeared about 14 years old and who is two inches shorter than my seventh grader already, messed up my reverie of discomfiture. She talked to us like we were short bus candidates, of course, but never mind that. She got all jazzed talking about how much fun it would be --for her, of course; made no bones about it--to teach out of a book called What is "Normal" Anyway?, with the word normal in scare quotes, of course. Let's not dwell on that, as I doubt she could have any idea just how normal and just how really scary people like me could be; real menace never touches such as her.

Then she ruined it all for me. She held up Tom Sawyer. The very edition I'm telling people to read over at the Borderline Sociopathic Blog for Boys. She said it was kind of a drag for the kids to read because it was so difficult, (she said about herself without knowing it) but they were going to slog through it.

On the car ride home, my wife asked me what I thought of my son's school.

"It'll be fine."


Anwyn said...

My son is turning four this weekend. You're giving me the shivers. Pardon me if I observe that even Tom Sawyer is an awfully slender thread of hope if it's the only one there is.

Harry said...

Sorry, but I don't think Tom Sawyer is a slender thread.

Given that much of the required reading is as watered-down as the textbooks, Mark Twain will stand out brilliantly.

Read them other children's classics yourselves as well, like Treasure Island. Real good guys. Real bad guys. Real lying. Real violence. Real greed. No wonder kids love it.

When I read it to my little boys they were once so excited that they insisted we must act out the chapter...5 or 6 times, until they could envision the whole sequence.

Anwyn said...

I said "if it's the only one there is," and to me, I can read them (and do) everything at home and still have that six hours at school ... wasted? Not sure Tom Sawyer alone is enough to counteract that for me.

Anwyn said...

At the same time I share Sippican's opinion that homeschooling is a bit too insular--and when I say that I mean too insular *for us,* given that I'm already a rather stay-at-home asocial (NOT antisocial) type and my son bids fair to be more like me in that respect than I could wish.

I see the good and bad in both, is all. Which makes for frustrating decision making.

MacPhisto said...

Homeschooling doesn't have to be insular. Its practitioners don't have to be insular. Perhaps the thing that makes homeschooling so potentially liberating is that nobody does it quite the same way. I know because I'm a product of it, as are many of my friends.

My parents did a few things right, and a lot of things wrong. I took notes. When my new daugher is old enough, I'll teach her, building on what my parents started, and improving on what they could have done better. The State would be cheaper for me, but the cost would be high for my little girl, eventually.

I do not claim that homeschooling is the right choice for everyone, but only that if you choose to do it, your child's education can be whatever you want it to be. Hopefully with a healthy mix of what he or she wants it to be.

Case in point: by the third grade, I was typing eighty words per minute. By the time I was eleven, I was developing software applications. By the time I was fifteen, I was traveling to America's major cities to provide IT consulting. And I'm nobody special. It's just that I had interests, and my parents' method of education allowed me to explore where those interests might lead.

Rigid coursework, cinder block classrooms and relentless peer pressure would have been stifling for me. I realize now that in the absence of those things, children become adults much faster, and their minds are more focused on what is interesting than what is cool.

I'm told by certain friends who are the product of public education that I really "missed out." But I'm not sure how, since none of them can ever speak very fondly of high school (except for the jocks, for whom those were the glory days).

Whatever method you choose for your child, I wish you the best of luck. Regardless, as long as they read Twain (and Tolkien, and Stephenson, and Verne), they might indeed be okay.

Anwyn said...

Homeschooling doesn't have to be insular.

I know. I'm saying that in my case it might well be, since that general *potential* weakness of homeschooling dovetails right into my actual, already established weakness. As in, I already find social efforts difficult, as in it will take me extra effort above my homeschooling neighbor to make sure it doesn't turn out that way, effort that I'm not sure I can guarantee myself will be successful for my child. That's all.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

The Christophers' motto is: it is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. Indeed, a little light casts away much darkness. I have hope for your boys because I know that you and Mrs. Sippican are beacons of great light for them.

Anonymous said...

"She talked to us like we were short bus candidates"


Seriously, I'm so thankful my kids are raised and turned out well. 12 years in Catholic schools. Then engineering and pharmacy at the U of I. No humanities for them. I got a great education (English Lit) 40 years ago at a small Catholic college. Couldn't happen today. So sad. Everything is so PC now.


SippicanCottage said...

Interesting comments today.

In many ways, I am not like most people. I am not sure that the education that I would applaud for the vast majority of people would have suited me personally. I offer my observations, not myself as any sort of template.

I'm pretty sure, however, that an education that is a wan cartoon of one that would suit a polymath is of much use to the average person. That is my impression of the average public school curriculum.

I sought some affirmation of the essential shared America I crave, and I found it.

People often desire mightily that their children be extraordinary. In a very real way, I prayed that mine would be allowed to be like everybody else.

Anonymous said...

The last line, "It'll be fine."

Could you expand on that, please?

Anonymous said...

It would appear from your closing remark that your initial horror at the solipsism of the "me" centered faculty was crushed or smothered by the onset of ennui.

SippicanCottage said...

Oh, no, they didn't wear me out.

I think that to participate fully in civic life, you have to be prepared for things to be not exactly as you would prefer them. I'm deathly sick of persons who, when in the slimmest of majorities feel they have a right to micromanage everyone's affairs, but refuse to cooperate in any way when they are in the minority. I am not a mindless oppositionist, nor a blind sheep.

I was searching for some indication that the education my son receives along with the rest of his peers was not entirely a waste of his time. I was searching for a hook to hang my hat on, as it were. I found it. I was not demanding that all the hooks be to my liking. Astute reader and commenter Ruth Anne forwarded the curriculum she uses to home-school last week,and I would prefer something like that was adopted in its entirety instead of what we have, for instance; but the curriculum at my son's school is not without merit.

XWL said...

I was searching for some indication that the education my son receives along with the rest of his peers was not entirely a waste of his time.

The process of having large swathes of your time wasted in public school is not entirely without some benefit.

The ability to occupy your mind while others try and waste your time is a good skill to develop, and I think can only be developed through experience.

My method was to listen with one ear (just in case the instructor wanted to catch me off guard with a question), while doing my homework for my other classes. Given how light the reading expectations were, and how obvious most of the problems they expect you to solve are, it wasn't that hard to rarely even have to take my books home (and that's in college prep/AP courses, even).

Anwyn said...

My method was to listen with one ear (just in case the instructor wanted to catch me off guard with a question), while doing my homework for my other classes.

Yes, but my method was to daydream and reread books I'd read before. When my time was being wasted, my grades tended to drop. I fully appreciate our host's comment about not expecting things to be 100% the way we want them (a timely reminder, thanks), but the impulse is tougher to disregard when it comes to my child, and I'm still disturbed by the idea that one good hook is enough when we're talking six hours per day of a life for 12 years or so.

It's just a matter of IDing what's going to disturb me most in a timely enough fashion that my son gets the largest possible benefit. Grr.

Anwyn said...

Let me restate My grades did not drop because my time was wasted. I misallocated my time in physics class on XWL's method: doing my English homework. That's when my physics grade took a dive. It probably would have dived even had I been concentrating on physics.

Nevermind. I don't know what point I'm trying to make any more. :)