Jeremy Goes to Kindergarten
by Sue Scharff,
From those weeks in February when I ran around visiting schools until now, I went out of my way to have conversations with a lot of people about schools. How do you evaluate one? What happens to children at them? Why even send them? I wasn't-and am still not-sold on the whole idea of participating in this Great Social Phenomenon of public schooling. I kept hoping I would finally talk to someone, somewhere who would make it all seem all right, this idea of sending my tiny precious child into the grinning maw of a System that I did not, do not, may not ever trust.
I mean, really: why do we send our children to school? I asked everybody. Many said that children need to go to school to get prepared for the real world, and to be socialized. These arguments are meaningless to me. Come on: prepared for the real world? As in forced to get up at x hour and go to bed at y hour? Enslaved to some boss who exerts more and more control over more and more aspects of our lives (mandatory random drug tests; email monitoring; direct deposit)? That's not my "real world:" I am self-employed (and not in any glamorous job either-I clean houses.) Until September 7, Jeremy and I could stay up late if we wanted to wait for the stars to come out, and get up late if we were tired from barbecuing with our upstairs neighbor. Now he gets home at 4:00, and needs to be in bed by 8:00, so he can get up at 7:30. We are basically running all the time.
Before school started, Jeremy would spend about 12 hours per week in daycare. This was the choice I made over the last two years: the choice not to do the 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. work/daycare lifestyle. The trade off is living in a very small one bedroom basement apartment, driving a 20-year-old car that needs work that can't be done because it's too expensive, and keeping strict limits at shopping time as to what is "needed" and what is "wanted." (We rarely get things in the latter category.) What we got in return was flexibility in our schedule and plenty of time to hang out together doing whatever we wanted to do.
So I don't see the value in having Jeremy learn how to live the 7-to-6 schedule. Nor does he need to be groomed for taking a place in that "real world." There are alternatives-alternative schedules, alternative worlds, alternative ways to live. Why shouldn't we raise our children to take their places in one of them instead-indeed, even to dream into reality new, free, joyful ways to live? Why do we insist that it's necessary to join the mainstream? It looks a lot like slavery to me, people. I want something better for my child.
As for socialization-would that be "socialized" a la Columbine High? Socialized to compete, to tease, to judge others by appearance, to absorb stereotypes he can apply to everyone he meets? To be aggressive, callous, violent? Do I really want him to be socialized to recite the pledge of allegiance, and to submit to authority (teacher's, principal's, school district's, government's)? To follow fads, take up trends? To care about name brands and Pokemon cards? To be a good little consumer, a good little worker? Worst of all, do I really want him to ingest that ultimate scourge of socialization: the "that's for girls; this is for boys" bullshit?
This is an especially big issue for me because I have a belief, which grows deeper and firmer every day, that the only way to solve the problems that grow out of our world's deep, endemic, and persisting sexism is to eliminate our addiction to the notion that men and women are fundamentally different.
In a society that treats infants differently based on their gender from the moment they exit the womb (and sometimes before), we don't have any way of really knowing which traits are innate and which are acquired. Yet many people within the school system believe gender differences are innate, and they often allow these beliefs to inform the activities in a classroom. Thus I fear that, by sending my son to school, he will learn these false divisions. Come to believe them. Grow to perpetuate them.
I tell myself, without knowing first hand what the parent of a daughter experiences, that if I had a daughter, I would have to raise her to believe in herself, to be strong, to never let anyone hold her back because of her gender, and to advocate for her and protect her until she is able to look out for herself. With my son, I feel an obligation not only to nurture and educate and protect him, but also, to protect others from him.
The Seattle Public Schools insist over and over that they are the partners of parents in the education of our children. Yet I have yet to see any concerted attempt to dismantle-or even address-the evils of patriarchy. Is it too much to expect them to be willing or able to work at rooting out sexism, destroying it before it has a chance to dig in and flourish? Should I put the question to them, or is it ridiculous even to ask?
So far, Jeremy is happy in school. He likes his teachers and enjoys his classroom lessons. I am less happy about it than he is, because now I hear those boy/girl comments from him occasionally. I know all to well what little control I have over the propaganda he is exposed to for so many hours each day. I only hope that what many other parents have told me is true: that what he learns at home will still have a deeper effect on him than what he learns at school, at least at this age.
Yet I see the storm gathering large on the horizon. I try to fortify myself with the teachings of those I feel are wise on the matter, but the ocean is very, very large, and my boat is very, very small.
Copyright © 2000 Sue Scharff - All rights reserved by author