On Friday Morning, I was sitting on a bench outside of the local Starbucks, putting on my skates in preparation for the commute to work, when the guy sitting next to me asked me to sign a petition. It was a petition against the local school district adhering to the “No Child Left Behind Act.” I didn’t sign it because while I think it probably is a load of bullshit, not having any accountability is a load of bullshit too. Either way, it’s a load of bullshit. It’s just easier not to sign up for bullshit than to specifically sign up for it.
The thing that was odd about it was that just the night before, I had attended Curriculum night at the elementary school in this very same school district where my son is now attending first grade. Looking back at Curriculum night, my conversation with the guy on the bench, and coversations with my son, I’m starting to feel genuine sorrow. At such an early age, these kids are being administered a strict regimen of reading and math, with lip service to phys ed, arts, and barely more than that to science and social studies. It’s not that the curriculum was that bad. Just that it seemed like a harsh slap in the face that at age six these kids basically have no choice in what they learn. It doesn’t matter at all what they are interested in, or what they are good at. They have to just pass some test that shows that they have (supposedly) learned what the powers that be have decided they should learn.
And I am curious. What is it that they are supposed to learn — and why? It occurred to me that the system thinks it’s giving them the tools to be successful. And what is being successful? Contributing to society! And what is contributing to society? Being good little capitalists, so that our country can compete in the global economy. Or, being good little consumers, so that they will keep our economy strong by continuing our grand tradition of buying lots of crap. Or something else similarly mundane and materialistic. But whatever the answer is, it’s definitely not good.
The guy on the bench turned out to be a teacher. Taught for 40 years. And at one point in our conversation he kind of threw up his hands and said he wished he knew what would motivate kids. Knowing everything, it was natural that I came to the conclusion that if we just allowed children to have some control over their education, some investment in it, they’d have more interest in the return on that investment. See? Now I’m talking about education in terms that even Republicans can understand!
One of the things I love most about my six-year-old is his insatiable love of learning. He loves to read, build things, figure things out, solve problems. And then I think of his day at school, where he they ram a bunch of stuff down their throats. They’re going to make him read, write and arithmatic until he hates it. I ask him how school was, and I can see that what could have been an awesome day learning, was a day of boredom and oppression. Why, at such a young age, when they want nothing but to learn do we specifically kill that love?
Sometimes the little guy gets frustrated with us (his parents) because we don’t let him do what he wants all the time. He wants control. He wants to be a grownup so he can do what he wants. “You think us grownups get to do what we want, son? If you learn one thing from First Grade, learn that you are not free and never will be.” Is this the lesson I want him to get from First Grade, that I want him to get from me? And yet, this is what I’m providing for him.
Do we really ask ourselves what education is? What we want it to be? Do we even ask the question of whether our children should have a say in what they learn? Well, I can see that the public school system, with or without the latest bullshit act, doesn’t.
And having asked myself these questions, how the fuck can I keep my kids in public school?