A "good enough" mom muses about alpha moms, adoption, computers, the State Of The World, Internet quirkiness, and the Kosmik All
Being different - schools

The OmegaFamily is--in a slacker kind of way--investigating schools for kindergarten next year.  (OMG.  How on earth did my child become old enough for me to be writing these words??)

There's the issue of what the school atmosphere is like.  Do they make learning fun, or is it going to be a case where school extinguishes the desire to learn?  This is one of OmegaDad's bugbears; one of his favorite phrases is "children are born knowing everything; we teach it out of them."  He doesn't mean it in a sardonic way (as in, "those darned kids think they know everything!"), but means that children are born with that innate desire to learn. 

He tells tales of his childhood that indicate that, except for a very few teachers, the majority of his time spent in public school was mainly...marking time.  He was...different.  In high school he spent a year wearing a serape and sombrero to school every day, to make a statement.  He remembers his high school English teacher to this day, because she nourished his love of poetry and writing and literature, so much so that he entered college determined to get a major in American literature.

(Then he discovered that college lit majors are litarary snobs.  He dropped out.  When he returned to college many years later, he got himself an ag degree, then a master's in soil science.)

I was sent to private schools.  I don't know whether that made much of a difference, but we did have some outstanding teachers who didn't fit the "teacher mold".  Even so, I found myself marching to a different drummer; in history classes, I wrote mini-romance novels, and in English I experimented a lot.

I was "different"--different parents (Bohemians, quasi-hippies), not stylish, interested in learning and playing with words, and intelligent.  The years of seventh grade through junior in high school weren't really fun; I didn't fit in, I didn't have many friends, I wasn't popular.

I learned, looking back, somewhat "in spite of" being taught.

So that's one consideration.

The other consideration, of course, is the diversity factor.

The problem is that the two don't necessarily mesh.  The school that sounds most interesting is one of the less diverse schools; the public school that we'd be assigned to is one of the most diverse, but has the worst academic reputation.

What to do, what to do...

(There's also the newly added factor that OmegaDotter's very most favorite teacher in the whole wide world, who is leaving next Friday to start student teaching, will be student teaching kindergarten at--the public school she'd be assigned to.)

In an interesting convergence, schools and teaching have been subjects on one of the boards where I hang out; they have also come up in some other areas (notably, Clicked, a kind of round-up of what's popping up in the blogosphere, which I read religiously).

There's the story of the mother who found out, from one of her older sons (who discovered it by accident), that her youngest, in kindergarten, was being forced to sit at a desk all alone, right next to the teacher, for a month.  She hadn't been informed.  Her youngest thought it was because he was "bad".  His schoolmates thought so, too, and were ostracizing him at recess and lunch.  An urgent conference with the vice principal and the teacher in question revealed that the teacher had done it because it "helped him focus".

There's Paul Graham's essay, "Why nerds are unpopular", which rings a big bell with me.  One of the points he makes is that kids make choices about what's important to them, though they may do it unconsciously.  Nerds aren't interested enough in being popular to put in the work that being popular requires.  They're more interested in reading, playing with computers, doing experiments, taking apart machines, that kind of stuff.  Another of his theses is that school is mostly about keeping kids away from the real world, in comparison to earlier years, when apprenticeships made kids part of the real world.

There's Steve Olsen's "How the public school system crushes souls".  His wife spent a year during high school sitting in a bathroom stall during every lunch hour, because she couldn't handle the way she was mocked and made fun of for not having friends to sit with at lunch hour.

There's Josh Shaine talking about "Underachievement from the inside out", where he describes a constant litany of "if you only applied yourself/if you only did your homework/if you only..." to the point where he assumed something was very wrong with him.

There's a blogger who is close to graduating from college (she's waiting on her very most final grades), who cried upon her father's shoulder when returning to college, because she was so afraid she wasn't "intelligent enough" to do it.

OmegaGranny was a nerd.  Uncle Grump (her husband) was an uber-nerd, if ever there was one.  OmegaBro was a nerd.  All of OmegaDotter's teachers tell me how strikingly smart she is...and I worry:  is she destined for "nerdship"?  Or will she become the girl who hides how smart she is, so that she can be popular?

posted by Kate @ 12/15/2006 05:07:00 PM  
  • At 12/15/2006 07:10:00 PM, Anonymous baggage said…

    What's even worse is I was always uber smart in school. Gifted program since the start. But when I ran into personal problems that interfered with my ability to study and concentrate, I made the leap to "not smart." For me, I had to be smart and when I had any problems academically, I felt crushed. So much of my identity was centered around grades and GPA. It's only now that I can see that being able to perform in school is not at all an indication of your intelligence. My brother almost didn't graduate from high school, but he is SOO smart. He just didn't do the work. I was ostracized through high school for being a goody-two-shoes, but then my whole identity was crushed when I had to leave college (which had nothing to do with my intelligence, by the way, and everything to do with the fact that I had developed extreme panic attacks.) Yet still, I cried because I was so scared of not measuring up.

  • At 12/15/2006 08:24:00 PM, Blogger RichardQuerin said…

    I ended up going the popular pseudo-nerd route. I had the opportunity to go into an more advanced private system around grade 7 on the recommendation of my school but I distinctly remember my mother asking me what I thought. I didn't want to. We discussed it and she agreed (I would have had to travel about 3 hrs back and forth each and every day away from our area to do it). I never regretted it.

    I always remember trying to strike a balance between indulging my nerdy side and worrying about being popular - it's something most teens can't avoid I think. I had a few good teachers along the way, none particularly outstanding. There were a few with stellar reputations, but I never had them. I still did well. I still stayed happy. And you know what, I think that was because of my parents. They instilled the importance of learning *and* being social. They were always involved in my life, not always in agreement with everything, but always involved and supportive.

    I remember being in Grade 10 espousing the benefits of socialism to my father over the dinner table. He would be in clear disagreement with me (on most but not all fronts of that argument), we would yell and shout, but he never diminished my right to my own view of things. Building two-way respect like that is absolutely invaluable in my opinion.

    To me they made all the difference. My wife's parents on the other hand weren't nearly as supportive of her (and consequently still don't get all the respect that *they think* they deserve from her). I think she relied on the teachers for support and encouragement a lot more than I did. People shouldn't underestimate (as I know you don't) the importance of parenting throughout your child's life.

    Very nice and thought provoking post Kate.

  • At 12/16/2006 07:50:00 PM, Blogger Vinegar Martini said…

    How to deal with Public Schools 101 - by Vinegar Martini.

    Rule #1 - be active. Volunteer in the class - meet the teacher and the kids - relish this time your dotter will WANT you around her friends (middle school is just around the corner).

    Rule #2 - Working parents can volunteer and be active in school activities too. IF the meetings and committees are at times you can't attend, ask that they be scheduled to accomodate the working parent. Facts are facts - more mothers than not do in fact work outside the home. The typical mentality that we women folk will handle all school activities is bogus. Dads can do it too.

    When in doubt - buddy up to school administrators. Funny thing is - they're working moms too.

    You don't have to be Room Mom and up at the school 24/7 - but take a day or two in the year to be in the class - get to know the kids - they're adorable and you'll be better able to relate to the stories your dotter tells.

    ON the day my DD started Kindergarden, my mom gave me that advice saying that I was not entering the phase where my DD would be introducing me to her friends rather than the other way around. Major turning point in our lives!

    But there is NO WAY your child is going to kindergarden. That would make ME older now, too! WAH!!!

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About Me
Name: OmegaMom
Home: Southwest
About Me: Middle-aged mom of a 4-year-old adopted from China. Love science, debate, good SF and fantasy, hiking, music of almost every style. Lousy housekeeper. "Good enough" mom.
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