a working mom’s school woes

I have drastically changed my opinions about schooling since M has become older. I’ve discovered that she is so very different from how I was as a child, and very different from most of the other children her age that I know. “Different” in the sense that her discipline needs, her learning needs, and her parenting needs are non-conventional. I now see that for her to be successful at being happy and secure in life, she needs more than what our current school system has to offer.

The article Can You Imagine Them At School at AThoughtfulLife.com really drives this home for me. This mom, who unschools her children, pictures them in traditional school system where they are taught the following:
1) to ignore their body’s signs, and their own instincts to sleep, eat, move around, or use the bathroom, in order to accommodate the school’s rules and schedule
2) to absorb the message that their own goals and aspirations are not as important as the goals and aspirations that others have for them by being forced to participate in activities they don’t choose and give up or limit time with the activities that do interest them
3) to be forced to sit “silently” and stop talking, which sends the message that their words and ideas are a bother to others and their thoughts are not important
4) that being “good” is more important than being true to your ideas, your feelings, and your self
5) that reading is unenjoyable and a chore by being forced to read or read material that is unappealing
6) that it’s safer to be silent rather than risk ridicule, or that if you are too eager to respond or volunteer you will be exploited
7) to second-guess your own choices in case you might be teased, ridiculed, or silenced, and being sent this message by constantly being directed toward learning activities that were pre-selected and did not take into account your own interests and motivation
8) that the only people you can feel comfortable around are those who are like you, by separating children by age and ability and keeping them that way throughout their childhood

I mean really, is there a more unnatural way to learn than this? A more soul-killing way? No wonder the vast majority of us just want to veg out in front of a TV most of the time. Our own interests and ideas were squashed throughout our childhood in a systematic way. A lot of us still pursue our dreams and interests, but I get the feeling that it’s in spite of, rather than because of, the time we spent in the traditional school system. I loved world travel as a teen, and spent hours in the evenings, at home, studying maps. Nowhere was this interest fostered or supported “at school”. I cared little for many of the subjects in school and remember little about them now. I got an A in chemistry and to this day don’t know anything about chemistry. I’d have to google the simplest fact. I love history, however, but even so, I’ve learned way more about history by traveling, reading for fun, and looking things up on my own at the moment I was thinking about it, than I ever took away from the handful of history classes that were forced upon me.

I want my child to love learning and to know where and how to tap into resources that can lead to knowledge and exploration in whatever is interesting her in the moment. Do I think that it’s important to have a basic understanding of science, math, literature, history, politics, and such? Yes, of course I do. I think a basic education is essential and should be a right for all children. I desperately wish our school system could be fundamentally changed to inspire and allow for independent learning, but right now it doesn’t. And my child only has one childhood, which is right now. And I therefore wish so hard that we had a learning community here that “unschooled” while I worked.

I’m a single working mom who doesn’t have the option of worldschooling or unschooling, even though I feel so strongly that it’s in M’s best interest. It is crushing me that because I have one income to rely on (mine), I can’t provide my daughter with the childhood and the education she deserves, the one that would result in a self-motivated and resourceful learner, as well as a happy and confident child. I’d be willing to “unschool” as part of a group of parents who take turns, but so far I don’t have that type of community around me. I’d love to win the lottery and just travel the world with M, learning whatever strikes our fancy as we go along, but I don’t play the lottery.

I hope that her current Montessori school is at least an improvement over regular school, but I’m still not sure. I’m not sure if full day is right for her, or a full week. I’m not convinced that much of her spirit isn’t being crushed in some way by constantly being forced to “conform” to the expectations of a classroom. I hope that the teacher is encouraging the children to choose an activity that interests them, while reinforcing the social rules of politeness and compassion that allow us to build relationships with others. I hope that she is not standardizing a curriculum for 12 very different children. I hope that M’s decisions about when to toilet, eat, and sleep are being respected… although with all the struggles over “nap time” I get the feeling that this isn’t the case.

As single moms we often have to sacrifice some or even much of our aspirations for our child’s life and education. I just hope M’s happiness and potential is not being sacrificed in the process.