“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” -Margaret Mead
Margaret Mead’s wise words have come up again and again in my life. They define the way I try to parent. I am told pretty regularly that I am a good mother, even a great one. Sometimes the words are delivered in bemused or surprised tones since I was 18 when I had my first. It will come as no surprise to any parent that I do not often feel like a great mom. Average, sure. Good, sometimes. Crappy, a lot. I do my best in the moment. I try and I have improved. There is one thing that has haunted me since I had my daughter, Boots (as she’s known here).
The decision that has drifted ghost-like in my mind for nearly eight years is school. If you asked me on a day when I wasn’t thinking about it, I’d tell you that I loved school. I got great grades, was self-motivated, teachers adored me, and I had friends. But as I reflect on my time in public school, I realize that doing well in school does not equal loving school.
In elementary, I spent a few years in a magnet school. I came home exhausted and weary. My mom put on Mozart and let me unwind on our couch. After 2nd grade, she decided the pressure was too much and put me in the regular elementary school around the corner. Third grade was spent with an overbearing teacher. 4th brought me a lovely teacher that read me Shiloh and restored my confidence. Then she moved. It broke me a bit. My mom took me out, ordered the Jehovah’s Witness-approved homeschool curriculum and gave it a go. I think I stopped altogether after a few months. 5th grade I was back in school with another wonderful teacher. But her husband was sick and she left after only a few months, leaving my class in the hands of the sub everyone hated.
My last year of 6th grade I was friends with the popular girls. For about a minute. When I rejected their friendship, the bullying began. General rudeness and name calling. Bra popping. Gum in hair. But the end of the year was in sight. I could deal with it, right? A bra strap snap during the last week of school broke me a little more. I turned around and scratched my jagged, tooth-chewed nails down the arm of the blond minion at fault and walked out to the playground. Later that day, the science teacher who adored me took me aside and said I needed to visit the principal with the minion. I was so done with it, I didn’t even care. The two of us sat silently in front of the old white man with white hair. He said I was a good kid. He suggested that I was jealous of the popular girls. He said not to let it happen again. Pat on the head, on your way now, girls. I was fuming at the injustice of his assumptions, but I wasn’t in trouble, so whatever. Middle school took the minion away from the main Mean Girl. I saw her one day. She showed me the scar my nails had left. I felt only a little remorse.
7th grade brought on the acne I still have and uniforms that made me frumpy. 8th grade brought a divorce, a move, and family drama I still haven’t fully worked through. 9th grade brought me friends and comfort and the man I would marry. 10th grade took him away for a while. My junior year was another move, an extended period of Awkward-New-Kid Syndrome, and no friends. I decided to graduate early. I did, with honors. I had friends by then, but I was done with school. I had made my way back to Irish. I was contemplating a fully bank funded college experience grimly. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go.
I got birth control for my acne. Before I took the first dose, a pregnancy test told me another life was growing inside.
I realize that this is all probably TMI. So, here’s my point.
I took my daughter out of school this week. She has come home exhausted and irritable and unhappy since Kindergarten. The severity of it increased so slowly, our family was frogs on the stovetop. Holiday breaks were the only times we really noticed the temperature change. A few days in, Boots would be less stressed and smiling more. First day back – grumpy and angry and sad.
I liked the idea of homeschool. I considered it whimsically before she was even two. But it always seemed like an impossible utopia that little me couldn’t reach successfully. But seeing the severe snap of my daughter’s personality after Spring Break this year was too much. She was breaking. All four of us were breaking with her. Irish and I basically just looked at each other and knew. We have to try. We have to give it a shot.
So, I did what I do. I hit the books my own way. I researched. I made a plan. I wrote a letter. We start on Monday. Boots is thrilled and enthusiastic.
I’ve worried about standardized testing and bullying and Texas-sized alterations of history and science. I’ve worried about underpaid teachers and too much homework and not enough playing and almost no art or music. I’ve worried a lot. I told myself that I could fill in the gaps and correct the misinformation. I told myself I loved school. When everyone praises you for something, it is easy to think you love it. But now I wonder if I ever really did.
I loved learning. I still do. I want my children to love learning, too. Teaching them how to think is more than my philosophy now, it’s my full-time job. And I haven’t felt this relieved or excited in a long time.
This is brand new. I don’t know for sure what my every day will look like. I don’t know exactly where blogging will fit in. I’ve already missed a ton of posts from my favorite people because of all the researching and planning. I’m still here, but I need to concentrate on this for a while. I’ll lurk and post as often as I can.
Any words of advice or encouragement? Any ideas for a name for our little school?