Wednesday, June 17

Resistance is Futile

Look at me, quoting Star Trek.  Who knew?  (hint:  not me)

My daughter's art teacher ripped up one of her works.

So, I'm struggling.  Again.  You know what they say:  same shit, different day. 

I'm struggling--as ever--with school, with schooling, with everything that comes along with it. Again.

I'm struggling with the state of public education, in which standardized tests are central, worksheets are rampant, and innovative and creative attempts at promoting social development, including reducing bullying and interpersonal conflict are but gestures.

I'm struggling mightily with the idea of "art class" existing within such a system.  I am struggling with the bastardization of the word "art" that is the natural consequence. Art is not "making things".  Art is Art.

I'm struggling with my own internal conflict about teachers, teacher competence, teacher training, certification, merit-based pay, and teacher unions, and finding myself, much to my chagrin, a cynical critic of a system that vigorously supports mediocrity and strategizes about how teachers can keep their jobs (at any cost) rather than strategizing about how to reach kids. 

I'm struggling with the juxtaposition of books like A New Mind, which is all the rage in education and cultural circles, and the parallel universe of schools, teachers, and pedagogy.  I'm struggling with understanding how important ideas and innovations fail to trickle down to those in the trenches.

I'm struggling with the decision, made last November, to move my daughter from a small private school that addresses many of these concerns, to a public school.  I'm struggling with the knowledge that, despite the fact that many of the concerns were met in that private school, there was still something in the "school-ness" and hierarchy of it that didn't work.

I'm struggling with the awareness that for most kids, it works okay (I would dispute the idea that it's terrific for anyone).  And I'm struggling with what that says about me, about my child, about the system, about those other kids. I'm struggling with the evil little voices in my head that dwell on what you are thinking about me and about my child when you read this.  I am swirling in the talk about how it seems fine to you despite its weaknesses, about how your kids love it and are thriving, and what must be wrong with my kid that it doesn't work.

There's nothing wrong with my kid.  

Read this--its conclusion is unschooling, which may not be feasible for us, but read it anyway, if only for the description of her child.  This is my daughter.

You know it, and I know it.  You can't put a square peg in a round hole.  At least not without destroying its integrity, that is.

I'm struggling--perhaps most of all--with the ruthlessness of childhood and peer relations.  I am wondering why that is so, why we accept it as "normal", and what can be done about it.  "Yeah, kids are mean." Or it's more apt variation "Girls are mean".  I've said it.  You've said.  Probably even your kids have said it.  Mine certainly has. We say it like it's fact, not like it's something we can change as parents, as teachers, as adults.  This disgusts me, infuriates me, and smacks of abandoning responsibility.  This is not to say that my child does not engage in some of those behaviors.  It is only to say that they are never allowed to slide in the guise of "that's how kids are". No.

There is one thing I know for sure.  Like any parent, I want the best education and the best social relationships and the best self-esteem and the best outcomes for my child, who is very bright, kind, generous, sensitive, argumentative, and definitely out-of-the box.  Different.  

And the other thing that I know for sure is that, in standing for her, I don't have very many people around me.  And even fewer systems or institutions.

When I feel like this, I look around. It's not a misery-loves-company thing, like you might expect. It's more like a rebel-loves-company thing. It's different. Have you ever been the odd one out? The "different" one? And yet one that somehow knows that things could be different, that this is not your "lot in life" or an inevitable outcome of your peculiarity? In that state--believe me--you're looking not for someone to moan with you, but someone who will mirror back the absurdities that prevent a company, a bureaucracy, a school system, a culture, from adapting or even considering anything new, anything "different". You know. Peers.

Anyway, I looked around. And thanks to this big 'ol huge party called the internet, it's nearly always possible to find what you're looking for (confetti, cheering). When i saw the title of the piece in the google results, I had a feeling. "How The Public School System Crushes Souls" Yup. And yup.

I know, it worked fine for you. It even worked fine for me, and I'm "different". 

Wait a minute. Did it?  

First of all, I was compliant (for a while, anyway).  So any conclusions that might be formed about the effectiveness of public school for me, or lack thereof, are pretty much tainted right from the start.  Schools--public schools, private schools--are predicated on compliance and conformity.  If you've got that, then they basically work.  That's not to say they give you a top-notch education, but if you've got as part of your anatomy the Tab A that goes into their Slot A, you've got a better chance of it.  

Secondly, I was pretty smart.  Not that smart is always a good thing in public school, but I was "Mom-can-I-please-please-please-get-that-math-workbook-it-looks-s0-fun" kinda smart.  When I was in elementary school, my best friend and I used to write research papers in our free time for fun.  You get the idea.  Anyway, that works well in public school.  

Although if it all worked so well, I do wonder why I emerged from high school with barely a B average, and why I got C's, D's (and one F!) in college, leading me to graduate late with barely a B average (again).  I do know one thing.  It pretty much ruled out graduate school.  It eliminated a whole group of professions that I had longed for, but which work better when you start young (that's all I'm gonna say on that--don't get me started).  And it left me in the work world, at 22, with the idea that I was not particularly bright at all.  More to the point, I thought I was dumb. 

It took me until I was 36 to get it that I wasn't dumb.  It took a year at Harvard Graduate School of Education with some kick-ass professors (never before, and never again, have I had as powerful a lesson about the importance of the teacher).  It took living and working for only nine months in a community of peers.  It took a few friends who "got me", and who reflected back.

After eight months in public school, my daughter thinks that she is stupid, and that no one wants to be friends with her.  And she loves her school and wants to stay there.

I can't watch this.  I can't support it.  


Anonymous said...

Unfortunatly, I think with anything anywhere it is all about conform and it shouldn't be. I get irritated with the school systems too. But they aren't anything like they were when we went to school and will probably change for our kid's kids when they get older. All I do is constantly keeping in touch with the teachers and asking why and what happened with every little thing. So far so good.

ConverseMomma said...

The students who think outside the box, who fight the system, and even me, those are the students I have the greatest hope for. I wish I could say that more teachers and administrators were like me, they are not. Do not stand idle. Fight tooth and nail for her.

Camlin said...

As an early childhood educator in my province, I am bound by a behaviour management policy which states, in part, that "harsh, humiliating, degrading language and/or gestures" are unacceptable in an early childhood environment. However, in the school system, teachers are bound by no such restrictions. Last time I checked, in Ontario, corporal punishment was still considered acceptable practice in the classroom. Why? With all the research that has gone into the first years of life, research that studies how children learn, we seem to be stuck with an obsolete system, a system that never really worked. This system is failing my kid as I write these words - a child who is brilliant in many ways, but who struggles with social acceptance.

Saying "kids are mean" is a cop-out. It makes bullying socially acceptable, because if that's the way things are, why bother changing them.

No teacher should be allowed to publicly or privately humiliate a child by ripping up their work. Your child suffered harm as a result of the teachers actions, and that should not be acceptable.

Pat said...

In the 50's, I went through 8 years of Catholic grade school. Contrary to popular folklore, I was never hit with a ruler (or anything else), I was not humiliated and NEVER was anyone's art work (or any other work) torn up-- in front of the class or otherwise-- and I was definitely a challenging youngster! I am appalled at this happening. I know I should be regardless of what the work was but I feel especially so because it was her artwork.
I am curious about what the teacher said when you asked her why she'd done that. What do you know about this teacher? What does the principal say?
I can understand why Phoebe (despite everything) would not want to experience a change in schools. She's had a lot of changes in the last year or two. The school year is almost over and next year there will be a different teacher. If there is a repeat of this next year, then you can consider changing schools. I know you know all of this (and a heck of a lot more)...