“The child becomes largely what he is taught; hence we must watch what we teach, and how we live.”

28 Feb

I’m holding a bad cup of coffee, too much cream, not enough sweetener, talking to my neighbour about our kids, our street, her new house. Sitting sedately in a semi circle, making small talk with people you don’t really know, people whose kids will soon possibly become VERY known at your house. Vivian is in the gym, doing whatever it is that we came here to do. The letter just said “activities”-we could have been sorting counterfeit for all I knew.

Vivian told me to leave, so leave I did.

I hear a snuffling sad sound, and realize that Vivian has lost her shit.

“I wawaswas scared without you mommy.”

She’s red with crying, with holding it in, trying to be strong like I ask.

“I’m scared sometimes too Vivian.”


This school thing, this leaving my kid in the hands of strangers, especially the bitchy looking one-I’m not comfortable with this. Visions of homeschooling dance in my head instead I realize that we rely mainly on my income, and Mogo has made it quite clear that he wants no part in any nutso homeschooling ideas. But I feel so…turned inside out, reversed, record played backwards about the whole thing. I don’t know if I’m ok with it, with leaving her with people to learn by rote, to learn not to question answers.

I watched her doing her own thing tonight, drawing the ladybug big, not little, and be corrected. And that hurt.

It’s not like I’m raising Che Guevara or anything-I’m not looking for a counter culture overlord. But I want a child who questions everything, and questions it well. I want a child who explores her boundaries, who isn’t satisfied with stopping at the lines, or mimicking perfectly what someone else has already done.

Why all this interest in mimicry? Why is there never the same interest in newness?

I am concerned about the tomorrows. The 10 years from now. I am worried that like me, she’ll need to fight her way back to learning how to stop listening to that voice in her head that tells her she’s wrong, that there’s a “right” way to do things. The smartest people I’ve ever known knew that there was rarely a single “right” way to do anything-but many, many possibilities.

And perhaps this is what it’s really about. Potential. Possibility. People feel no compunction about arguing against abortion, claiming we’re limiting potential. But the same argument isn’t always used about schools, and their ability to suck the love for learning and curiosity out of all but the rarest of children. She has such sparkling potential, such a rare spark and gift for oration and relation. She wants to know-constantly-in that way that I truly believe most kids want to know yet have it smothered out of them.

The chubby, slow disinterested children scared me the most, their potential almost completely buried under 4 years of something that wasn’t even close to being ideal. Watching Vivian get less attention for knowing the answer-this I remember from my childhood, and still resent. The message I always got was “You aren’t worthy of anything more than you already are.”

Imagining anyone thinking that about my daughters, or your sons, makes me want to curl up and cry.

I’d like to think it would be different if they weren’t attending public school. (And yes, that IS catholic school kid snobbery-I confronted it earlier tonight) But I don’t think it would be. There’s something terribly wrong with a system that creates so few true scholars and learners, a system that makes the mechanically inclined feel stupid (when we all know that the plumbers and the mechanics will make more than I would even WITH my english degree). There is something so wrong about a system that makes me question whether or not I even want my children in it so much.

Receiving letters reminding me to read to my children really depress me. The fact that people need to be told these things-doesn’t that maybe tell you that something has been broken for a very long time?


“I want to put my sparkly shoes on.” I had carried a pair of “inside shoes” with me just in case we needed them.

“Sure baby. Sparkles always make me less afraid.”

We put them on, her little body still trembling in that sheer terror you only fear as a little girl. The younger teacher, the one I want her to have who is pregnant and likely to pop over the summer leads her to the water fountain, holds her hair gently as Vivian figures it out for the first time, the first of many drinks.

My heart flops. I remember the kindness of many soft blonde teachers. I remember many trips to the fountain, the joy of something finally your size.

We walk back to the gym.

“You need to stay with me Mommy.”

I hover behind her the rest of the night, comforted by another mother doing the same. The only downfall of never using daycare.

Vivian regains her confidence, starts blurting the answers before remembering herself and her manners. She tries to follow the instructions, she really does. Mostly she succeeds. She turns now and then, looking for me. If she doesn’t immediately see me, her hair flips from side to side to side, her eyes fill, her lip quivers. Then she sees me.

“I’m right here honey. I’m not going anywhere.”


12 Responses to ““The child becomes largely what he is taught; hence we must watch what we teach, and how we live.””

  1. Judy February 28, 2008 at 10:25 pm #

    We are planning on homeschooling. And you hit on a lot of the reasons why here.

    I didn’t have a *bad* school experience, exactly. But I want something more, and better, for my kids. And I’ve seen what the system has done (or tried to do) to my daughter, and it’s been hard. Limiting expression because the teachers are uncomfortable with a 4th grader talking about her mom breastfeeding, counting things wrong because she got a *different* right answer than the one that was in the book (on an English assignment, as if the way we communicate was black and white and had only one answer), encouraging mediocrity.

    I think most kids whose parents care and want their kids to succeed WILL, regardless of where the kids go to school. I’m sure Vivian will be fine, and do very well.

    One of my biggest problems, homeschooling where we live (population 90+ percent Hispanic) is that we will be thought to be racist. The funny thing is that we made the decision when we lived in Missouri, with a mostly white redneck population.

  2. marcelarhodus February 29, 2008 at 6:38 am #

    This is such a moving post. I can totally see the scene playing in my mind and my heart ached for Vivian as I read your words, and I felt the comfort in her little body knowing you were there for her.
    We can not protect them from everything, but we can sure be there for them when they need us.
    reading your post was like looking into the future, although Morgan goes to school 4 days a week now, somehow I know that kindergarden will be a different deal.
    I love your posts… all of them, been too sick to reply lately, but I read you each and every single day. Thank you for food for thought and food for my soul. sometimes I just want to give you a hug.

  3. thordora February 29, 2008 at 9:02 am #

    Honey…I wish we were there to make it better. My troubles breathing lately have given me insight into your sickness….it’s scary.

  4. radical mama February 29, 2008 at 9:43 am #

    I had the same thoughts when A was off to school. But her experience has been so positive thus far that I have lost most of my concern, for now. Of course, we take it one year at a time. I think most teachers now are willing to look at a variety of answers and are less concerned with rote learning. (The pendulum may have swung a bit too far in that direction, actually.) And of course, we can’t underestimate the influence that we, as parents, can have on their education. We can explain that yes, there are many ways to answer things and you can continually ask her questions to keep her curiosity peeked, take her to places where she can learn new things, etc. You guys are involved parents who put a lot of thought into your parenting… your girls will be find no matter what you decide. And not all homeschooled kids turn out to be angelic spelling bee champions. Kids are who they are, to a certain extent, regardless of schooling.

  5. Hannah February 29, 2008 at 10:09 am #

    I used to worry about this before I even had kids, because my elementary school years were so uniformly heinous. Having Isaac in daycare has actually helped me see that maybe there’s hope… the kids are encouraged to experiment, to learn through play, to change the words to songs and be silly. And I know they are following a provincial “curriculum” of sorts. I think things are changing – maybe as radical mama said they may be going too far in the other direction – and as long as Viv continues to feel encouraged and valued at home she will weather the storm that is schooling pretty well, I think.

  6. thordora February 29, 2008 at 10:22 am #

    as long as she doesn’t get the bitchy one….WHY teach kindergarten if you’re foul.

  7. radical mama February 29, 2008 at 10:52 am #

    Teaching kindergarten would MAKE me foul. 😉

  8. thordora February 29, 2008 at 10:56 am #

    that is a good point…..I can’t imagine doing it PREGNANT….that poor sweet teacher…

  9. Marcy February 29, 2008 at 2:51 pm #

    I’d do a Montessori school if I could afford it and if there was one nearby. After working in one, to me it seemed such a more supportive and comfortable environment and approach.

    (On the other hand, the two I’ve worked at were both rather pagan in their leanings — I don’t have a problem with talking about all sorts of religions and traditions in schools, but when the winter holiday stuff comes around, I get really irritated when all the other faiths’ holidays are treated with respect as real faiths, while the Christian stuff gets buried and ignored and glossed over with Santa, a story about Joseph and Mary without even mentioning Jesus, and so on. I understand that Christians and their traditions still bear the residue of a long monopoly, but that doesn’t justify reverse discrimination.)

  10. thordora February 29, 2008 at 4:35 pm #

    We’d do Montessori, but we can’t afford it. And for all my kvetching, I’d send them to catholic school in a heartbeat because I find that my experience with the catholic system were MUCH better than in the public. My value system is a direct result of being raised catholic, to some degree.

    And I agree. Celebrating “Christmas” without the full story is a bit odd for me-especially since I miss the rituals, and latin mass.

  11. Judy February 29, 2008 at 5:37 pm #

    Oh, we would consider Montessori if we could afford it. As it is now though, I would have to go back to work just to be able to pay for their private school, which seems kind of silly to me, when homeschooling will work out for us (I think!!!). Unless I magically get a college degree in the next year and a half, and/or learn fluent Spanish (even most entry-level positions here require you to be bilingual, which makes me nervous if I ever *need* to get a job), I don’t have much earning potential.

  12. nursemyra March 1, 2008 at 8:09 am #

    what a beautiful photo

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