School: A Child’s First Battlefield

Many  years before I had children, before I was married, before I’d even finished high school, I made the decision to be a homeschool mom.  My severity and absolutism with the decision went one of two ways with people; a knowing nod of approval and a “that figures”, or a shocked disapproving “well that’s just ridiculous”.  The reactions were rarely anything in between.  Most people didn’t understand why I was so sure about this choice, but some, the people I knew well, or who knew ME well, understood.  Maybe even better than I did, because it’s only been recently that I’ve taken a step back and truly analyzed this decision.

Recently, the choice to homeschool or not to homeschool has come up and I’ve found myself for the first time, questioning what had always been such a solid choice in my mind.

See, my oldest is approaching school age.  We’ve been working on letters, colors, numbers, directions, days of the week, months of the year, seasons, his full name, street name and many other basics for the last year.  The progress has been slow due to his delay, but it’s consistent and that is all that matters.  In fact, because of that delay, I was concerned that schooling him at home might not be a great idea.  That maybe he would need more professional education than I knew how to provide. Alongside those fears, was this reality;

This child is incredibly social.  Like, more social than I have ever seen in a child his age.  It’s almost tragic.  Okay, that doesn’t make sense.  Let me explain…

Driving down the street, he sees a child walking with a parent and starts yelling “HELLO!!” at them and waving from inside the car.  When we pass a school yard he screams and squeals with excitement at the top of his lungs; “KIDS! THERE’S KIDS, MOM!! Check it out!! Can we go there?!”  This happens each time.
At a park, he is more excited about the children than the equipment and most children are so reclusive, so guarded, already stuck in some sort of indoctrinated system that taught them not to touch, not to hug, not to give eye contact and that new was dangerous, it prevents them from stepping out and smiling at other kids who gleefully, innocently and passionately call out to them in joy.

This is my child.  The gleeful, passionate, innocently loving and excited to see you no matter who you are child.  He’s the one that runs onto a playground begging the other kids, no matter who they are, how old they are or what they look like, to play with him.  Most times, they look at him like he’s crazy.  Like there’s something wrong with him.  They back away and look at one another like, “um… what is this?” Confused at his (perhaps) overzealous and near-obsessive excitement to see them, they back away, ignore him or straight out tell him they don’t want to play.

It hurts my heart and makes me worry that maybe, his obsessive need to have friends would cripple him, hurt him, damage him somehow if I did not allow him to go to school.  He doesn’t really have friends now.  We don’t attend church and because we only have one car, the kids and I are bound to home during the weekdays, the days when most mom groups and homeschool groups meet.  He NEEDS people.  He NEEDS kids.  Going home after visiting with the neighbor kids becomes meltdown city because he doesn’t want to leave them and it’s just the same after birthday parties, park visits, any place where other kids are.

Now, I’ve worked hard to explain this away to myself and others, saying – well, by that time, we’ll have more money again and I will be able to enroll him in classes like dance, sports, maybe an art class or music of some kind and as soon as he’s old enough, I’ll put him in theatre, too.  The kid will get exposure to other kids.  We’ll be able to attend park days and homeschool field trips and maybe gymnastics or something, too  Who knows, right?  It all sounds great, I’m sure it’ll work out fine.

But, that nagging need for connection to other children coupled with our financial/transportation situation has led me down a different path.  I enrolled him in a “Transitions Kindergarten” program through our district, at a school less than a mile away from our house.  The program is specifically for children the year prior to their Kindergarten year to prep them, provide socialization, an introduction to circle-time games, songs and artistic activities, they’ll go over academic basics and prepare them for the, now incredibly intense first year of school that kindergarten has become.  I was excited, but apprehensive and I’m still not 100% sure I’m going to go through with it and send him.  On the surface, it seems fine and I’m sure it is for lots of other children, but … I’m not positive it will be for him.

The thing is, as he’s gotten more developed, I realize he is an awful lot like me.  I know, yeah- most parents love it when their kids are like them.  The whole “mini-me” thing.  It’s cute, right?  Sure.. unless you were the kid who couldn’t sit still, who got in trouble every day, who wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone or sit next to anyone in class or wear jewelry or have anything at her desk except the book you were supposed to be reading out of and a blank piece of paper and a pencil- but only if it was necessary.  It’s nice, unless you were the kid who had to sit with her desk pushed up next to the teacher facing away from the rest of class because you couldn’t pay attention otherwise.  It’s fun to have a mini-me unless you see that they are exactly like you and you had a miserable time in school for the exact traits you see in your child.

As time came to decide if I’d enroll him in this public school program, I had to come to terms with my hatred for public school and figure out what it was all about.  As I dove into my reasons, many things came up that were knee-jerk answers, common responses and typical of a homeschool parent.  I don’t agree with the curriculum.  I don’t want my child to be a number in a classroom with a teacher who hates their job and is only there because she’s been there 35 years and they can’t fire her.  I don’t want the risk of physical danger; molestation, school lock-downs/shootings and campus violence.  I don’t want my child to be subjected to the hatred and anger of other children, bullies and those who suffer their own pain at home so they take it out on smaller kids at school, kids who would tell them Santa wasn’t real just to watch them cry.  Those were the “typical answers” that rolled off my tongue and all of them were true.

However, there was more and when I got to those, after the prompting of a friend who wanted me to really dig deep and think about it, and, while on the phone with her, I realized I was sobbing and I’d realized I’d finally gotten to the heart of why I hated public school and why I didn’t want to make my children go there.

I don’t want my children to suffer the loss of their imagination at the hands of a system that will tell them it’s inappropriate to have one outside the designated hour specifically designed for that activity.  I don’t want them to be told they will NEVER be good at something because they can’t do it the teacher’s way.  I don’t want their spirit crushed when they are apathetically reprimanded for reacting logically and humanly to bullying, teasing or any random meanness.  I don’t want them to be taught not to care about the animals living in the bushes in front of the office because they were “just wild” and no one cared about them and animal control would take them away.  I don’t want them to be taught that their holidays don’t matter because no one else celebrates them or that their hobbies don’t matter because they are weird, or that THEY don’t matter because they are weird.

My kid… Yeah, he’s a little weird. He likes to dress up and play pirate, Jedi, spaceship, dinosaur games and runs up to kids he doesn’t know to play and forgets to tell them he’s playing a game. He can’t focus, he doesn’t sit still, he won’t look you in the eye and he rarely answers any question you ask directly.  He’s loud, he’s silly, he’s creative and everything in life is a wonder to him.  I don’t want to take that away.  But, why is it I’m so fearful of this?  Why be so concerned?  Plenty of school children are beautifully creative and do just fine maintaining that through school… so what am I so worried about?

Here’s the reality and why I worry- I was that kid who got in trouble daily.  I was the kid who got “benched” and had to miss recess after recess because I acted out, spaced out, drew all over my books and papers instead of listening, acted violently- even hurt people, hit people, raged at people when they pushed me too far and ran away from yard duties to get away long enough to try and figure out why I was even in trouble in the first place.  I had uncontrollable anger at times, crazy amounts of it, and I hid most of it from everyone really well, but sometimes things came to a boiling point and I acted out- I reacted out- toward whomever it was who triggered the last straw before the gunpowder exploded.  Sometimes it was mom, sometimes it was random kid at school, sometimes it was a teacher, or an older kid who teased me or condescended to me, if people treated me differently because my leg looked different or if they patronized me, patted me on the head when I tried to be on “their level” and they knocked me down to the bottom again.

I had a lot of triggers, but most of the time I could put the fire out before anyone else saw them.  I had a big problem with justice and fairness, what was *right* and good and when people crossed the line and got away with things because they were good at being mean and manipulative, I often couldn’t handle it.  I got angry when other kids got more stars on the chalkboard than I did just because they were louder than me.  I was angry when a snobby rich girl had toys that were fancy and I wasn’t allowed to have because they were expensive.  I was angry when bad kids got away with teasing me and bullying me because they didn’t actually hurt me.  I was big on vengeance and I was big on justice and I was big on biding my time to repay them for their bad deeds.  If someone hurt my friend, I’d go hurt that person.  If someone was mean to me, I’d kick them.  In retrospect, this was NEVER handled properly because I was never taught to control it.  All I was told was that I wasn’t allowed to be angry.  I was taught it wasn’t right, it wasn’t fair, that my emotions were bad if they weren’t happy and pleasing others.  That if I was angry, that meant I was selfish and wrong and didn’t appreciate how much people loved me.  I carried around guilt for my emotions that I couldn’t control like a sandbag on my back every day and no one cared because those feelings- the anger the guilt the rage… none of that mattered and it was all bad and I couldn’t tell anyone or else I was being a bad girl.  I cannot tell you how many times I was told “you’re not allowed to be angry”.

I see the same uncontrollable anger wash over my four year old at times… it grips him like a seizure- his hands clench, his face tightens, his body shakes and he begins a low, guttural scream with his eyes lined in tears of frustration and all I can do is stop- take a step back- tell him it’s okay, I soften his hands and tell him it’s going to be alright and we try to talk about it so he can work out those feelings without having to feel so engulfed in fury.

I understand how he feels and I know how to recognize it because I was the kid on ADHD meds who was weird and outgoing, vocal about everything, angry for no reason and frustrated inside my skin at times.  I was not afraid to speak my mind to anyone who would listen and I did things I wanted to do even if I had been told not to if the reason seemed stupid.  That is, until it was beaten into me that whatever I was thinking about didn’t matter unless it was “time” for that and convenient and *nice* for everyone involved.

Now, I know, “beaten” is a strong word.  It was more like, I was told over and over again, publicly shamed in front of my class in for years over the same issues; Janelle, pay attention.  Janelle, focus on the chalkboard.  Janelle, stop messing with your fingernails.  Janelle get your hands out of your desk.  Janelle, stop fidgeting with your hair.  Janelle you’d know the answer if you’d been paying attention.  Janelle, stop looking outside.  This was my life every day in school, laughed at by students, frustrating the most patient of teachers until, finally, they were so irritated they just moved my desk away from the windows, away from friends, facing the wall or making sure I had nothing on me or with me that might distract me from the task at hand.  One even made me surrender any accessories like bracelets, rubber bands, rings, anything at all that might cause a “distraction problem” and I would have to wait until the end of the day to get them back.  Even a rubber band or a paperclip was off limits and if I turned up with one, it was a checkmark on the chalkboard for all to see that I’d been bad.  Then, by the time I got outside to relax and run and play, I had so much anger, I was just waiting for someone to push me the wrong way, to taunt me in just the right tone, to stand too close and to argue with me even just ONCE… so I could unload the monumental amounts of stress and anger I felt building up like a volcano.  My justification was, they are bad kids.  They hit me first.  They were mean.  They started it.  All of those things were always true and all I did was take advantage of it to react and get ONE MOMENT of control over my life.  Or, so it felt to me, anyway.  Because I felt so caged and broken and controlled, I reacted in ways that were like a violent, starving animal who had never seen another living being every time I was let out.

I can’t do that to them.  I can’t look into my son’s unfocused, bouncing off the walls face and willingly put him in a building that will work it’s hardest to control his personality, modify his behavior to fit their ideal of what “normal” should look like, tie down his imagination and break his spirit so it fits nicely into their boxes.  I could care less about their boxes.  No one in the real world uses those boxes anymore and most successful people were the ones who broke out of them at an early age, anyway.  I HATED those boxes and I can’t think of a single reason why I would willingly subject my children to the same confining spaces that limit their hearts from feeling, their legs from running and their wings from flying.  Their system is flawed.  If anyone steps outside their box of “normal” they find a smaller box to stuff you in when they should open the door and let you fly.  It’s not convenient and an organized structure that values compliance more than creativity chokes on the feathers of those who cannot be caged.

Yes, I’ve enrolled my 4 year old in this TK program in the hopes that his need for friends is met and he has fun doing things he can’t do at home like play games in circle time or play on a playground every day with kids he could one day call friends.  I am enrolling him hoping it gives him an exciting experience where he can grow and be excited to learn things and have things we’ve learned at home reenforced where he can build friendships and feed his need to have people close to him.  I am enrolling him with the hope that his educator will foster his development, understand his needs and choose to work with those needs rather than cram him into a box and surrender up his spirit as sacrifice for the silence of compliance.

Does that mean I will keep him in school after TK?  Well, at this moment, the answer is still an emphatic NO for all those other more “normal” reasons and also because I REALLY WANT TO DO IT.  I am SO excited to teach my children, I can barely stand it.  I’ve been buying teaching tools and materials since Liam was a year old in preparation for the day we get to have CLASS. Oh I am SO excited!  But… I’m open to seeing what happens because I realize now that my immediate revulsion of the system isn’t entirely academic, it’s personal.  It’s a grudge and I cannot define his school experience based on my experiences before he even has them.  To keep him from something that *might* be good for him simply because it was bad for me, is the exact wrong reason to do it and a decision like this needs to be made for all the right reasons, none of the wrong ones.

That doesn’t mean I will blindly turn away and hope for the best.  That doesn’t mean I’ll just let the system do what it wants to with his mind and body and spirit… oh no, you can better believe I will be there every step of the way, sticking my nose in where it probably won’t be wanted because I will NOT allow him to have those experiences.

Some battles must be fought alone.  Some battles in life are necessary.  A child must experience heartbreak for themselves, they must fall off the swing set themselves, they must deal with bullies and disappointment themselves, too.  But one battle I won’t allow them to fight is the one battle that should never exist in the first place and that is the battle for their spirit, their drive, their passion and their joy.

If any institution threatens any of these things, I will pull my kid in 2 seconds without a second thought.  Some battles, a parent lives through to help their children as they go through it.  And some battles, a parent lives through so their child never has to.

There is no box to tame this pirate.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s