Tuesday, March 6, 2012


My mom tells a story about my first day of school. I walked out of the red brick building at the end of the day and when she asked me: How was your first day? I replied: Well, I won't be going back THERE again. We laugh when she tells it, but I believe I was dead serious. I still remember my kindergarten teacher as one of the meanest people I've ever met. She brought her newborn baby to school one day in the middle of the year, and although I was a well-behaved and generally kind little kid, I vividly remember thinking: I'd like to hurt her baby. So she knows how she makes other people feel.

Another one my mom tells: Shortly after I started kindergarten we were driving through the city, and I was sitting in the passenger seat (back before the dawn of booster seats and airbags), gazing out the window at the passing scenery. Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" began to play on the radio, and I grew animated and emphatic, singing along with the lyrics: We don't need no education! We don't need no thought control!

In light of these stories, it's amusing that I became a teacher. Or it could be that I had strong opinions about education right from the start.

* * *

The first time I heard of the school where I've been planning to enroll my son, I gasped loudly in the middle of an Irish pub and then read aloud from the newspaper to my husband. Our city had just moved from an open enrollment plan to neighborhood schools, and kids were being moved from the schools they'd previously attended to whatever building they were assigned by a street-by-street district map.

We live in a middle-class neighborhood backed-up against poverty stricken pockets; our whole city looks like this. We didn't live here back then, but I was familiar with the name of the neighborhood. And parents from this neighborhood were being asked to pull their kids from a school with a decent reputation to send them to one that ended up being closed down a few years later by the federal government under No Child Left Behind (Remember how the government could come in and close down failing schools if they didn't make adequate yearly progress? That's what happened here.).

A group of parents banded together to sue the district. Their lawyer was quoted in the newspaper, commenting on the fact that these kids had to leave their school of choice to attend the newly-assigned school with the bad reputation: This school isn't suitable for middle-class children.

I gasped aloud over my entree, because I couldn't believe he'd say that out loud, to a reporter. But it's suitable for poor kids!? I said to my husband.

Of course, once we moved into the neighborhood, and I did my research, which school do you suppose I wanted my son to attend?

* * *

No Child Left Behind expired in January, along with parental rights to school choice. The transfer request form disappeared from the district website; the woman who answered my call in the district office chuckled when I asked about my chances at getting my son into the decent school.

She chuckled.

I'm guessing that means my chances don't look very good?

* * *

Because I'm at home, teaching these babies, and I have no colleagues to talk to, I've been reading voraciously: everything I can find on early childhood brain development, activities for learning in the home, self-directed learning, promoting literacy in young learners. I'm bursting with excitement every day for all the amazing potential that education contains!

I look at my boy, who never runs out of questions and ideas. He's full of stories and theories; he overflows with energy and joy. His mind races like his heartbeat, only faster, and I imagine I can see the neurons pulsing, the dendrites reaching out in every direction. They only grow when you feed them, you know. Some of them grow like weeds, and others shrivel and die, and this is just how the brain works, you know? But you have to feed the ones you want to grow.

* * *

All this is to say: I'm thinking about homeschooling. It's never anything I thought I'd do. But things change, and here we are.


  1. Oh, I would. I mean, I wouldn't want to. I want my kids to go to school, but if we couldn't get into the good school and I knew I was a well-qualified, enthusiastic teacher there's just no way I'd send them to a failing school. I think it's terrible that the two schools are of such wildly different quality (and I think it's even worse that educated people feel like the bad schools are acceptable for poor children) (and I'd LOVE to hear more of your thoughts on all that), but I wouldn't want to take a chance with my own children. I couldn't stand watching their curiosity (or their enthusiasm) dwindle. I just couldn't stand it.

    And: homeschooling might be really fun! I have a few friends who do it, and do it well, and I love the way they're able to tailor their lesson plans so specifically to their children. If you know what you're doing, it's kind of the ideal education. (Plus, then I'd get to read your homeschooling blog, which, inevitably, would be inspiring.)

  2. I've always known our schools were considered bad. I mean, even the one I'm calling the good school has terrible test scores. But that correlates with poverty, and I don't think it's a final measure of a good school. If the parents are involved and everyone loves the teachers and principal, that speaks volumes to me. The one I'm calling bad has very, very, very bad test scores, and I've heard mixed reviews about the teachers and nothing at all about the principal. I'm still going to visit and observe the preschool classroom, but I'm torn.

    I do think homeschooling would be a lot of fun. It's not that different from what I do now! I have individual lessons planned for all 4 kids, up on my chalkboard! It would probably get more interesting as my kids age, and we get to learn new things. And I'm certified in Early Childhood Ed, Elementary Ed, and Special Ed K-12, so it's not as if they'll be missing any of the academics! I'm even certified Phys Ed (expired though), so if we just get Art (my husband's an art teacher!) and Music covered (private lessons if they're interested, I guess. We never had music at my Catholic elementary school either, and I chose art in high school instead), we're good to go!