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.

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9 Comments »

  1. I feel the same way about public/conventional school. But like you, what choice do I have? I have one income – mine – and we NEED it in order to survive. I can’t very well work my full-time job and do worldschooling. It sucks. And that is why we need sugar mamas. 😉

  2. Gonna check out that article for sure. Some of that I have thought myself, but most of it I haven’t quite put into words. I feel like I never learned about much history beyond American settlers through the civil war. I think of Wallace at school and see him getting run over by bigger personalities and kids and his sweetness being replaced by things picked up from other kids. I feel lucky that I made it out of school with my love of reading intact and can apply myself to my current classes knowing that I can enjoy the readings and learn from them. L had a parting shot at me this weekend that included criticism of the fact that I don’t want to put Wallace in school because I won’t be the one raising him. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in this.

    • As a single mom, I have to hand my kid over for much of the week, whether that be to a school or just to someone I trust. All we can do is put them in a place that we believe will facilitate their learning, and nurture their spirits, in the best way possible.

      Happiness Is Here and A Thoughtful Life both have great unschooling resources!

      • If I had a job that I could make enough to put him in a good daycare or preschool, I would. If I write it all out, it wouldn’t be worth it to have a 30-40 hour a week minimum wage job. Working a few afternoons a week where I can bring him with me is the best I can do right now. Once I have the education and certification to be an IBCLC, that will change and I will have to look at what options are best for him. I had already looked at preschools in Portland and found on that was a co-op and very nature and and natural learning oriented.

  3. I read all of this and kept thinking “Montessori, Montessori!” before I saw that she is in Montessori. My son just started this year and it’s fantastic–and part of the public school system! They are very focused on developing autonomy and independence, so the children decide what they wish to work on, what they wish to eat (WHEN they wish to eat, even), and this carries throughout their entire day. Can’t recommend it enough!

  4. Having two drasastically different kids I will say that Carter THRIVES in school. He loves a schedule, he loves order and organization. He likes quiet and independence but also really likes circle time and “lessons”. Montessori was pretty awesome for him as a toddler but he went to a very organized school (eating times and nap time were scheduled for them), there were uniforms (which he thought was the greatest) and everything had a place.
    When we realized it would make sense for both kids to go to the same school I started to worry whether this would be the right environment for Dylan (even though she wasn’t even a year!). She is a free spirit. She is furiously opinionated and determined. She doesn’t want guidance or help, she wants to try and try again by herself. Her schedule fluctuates from day to day, she wants to eat approximately every 10mins and if she doesn’t like a book 2 pages in, she doesn’t want to finish it. I think all kids are so very different. What one child feels stifling another child feels as support and comfort.
    This is the same as being an introvert vs. an extrovert or social vs. anti-social. The environments we thrive in are drastically different.

    All this to say that while it’s so very sad to see that M is struggling, and will likely continue to struggle in the “standard” school set-up, some kids will do beautifully.
    I was lucky enough to be put in a charter school/alternative school when I was in elementary. The option to do so is what made me who I am today I think. Keep exploring her options, participate in PTA/education system debates and push the system to consider other options. Continue to advocate for her and remind her to advocate for herself.
    You are doing such an awesome job! You will find something that works for you guys, i’m confident!

    • You are absolutely right! Every kid is very different. Personally, I loved school all the way through. I fit into the schedule wonderfully and had no trouble whatsoever there. While that doesn’t necessarily mean that I wouldn’t have done better in an alternative or unschooling situation, it didn’t damage me (too much, I think).

      In no way do I blog in order to try to tell people where or how they should school their children. As strongly as I feel about our education system in the US, others may see it as a great fit for one or all of their children. The point is that we have options, and we should be educated about all of them.

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