School’s Out For – Ever?

I think I’m not going to re-register the boys at their preschool for next year — essentially unschooling, ahead of schedule.

I’d previously secured a promise from the other parent that we’d “look at all the options” come kindergarten-age. “All the options” would include the regular public school down the street, whatever charter or magnet options are available, and truly alternative options like unschooling and the state’s K-12 online curriculum (technically a charter, but logistically very homeschooly).

When we agreed-to-agree-later, the expectation that the boys would just happily bop along in preschool until the final lightning round. But it’s just not going well enough to justify the time and effort and expense. And because of their late birthday, they will be nearly 6 before starting kindy — kind of unthinkable to a May-baby like me.

I was ardently supportive of unschooling years before we thought we’d have a kid. I read The Teenage Liberation Handbook in college — alas, a couple years too late to apply it to my own life — but the attitude and openness to unschooling was exactly what I’d wanted, and what I’d eked out a little of, in spite of compulsory public schooling, without ever having a word or a model for it.

I was so underserved in school because I was a smart, good, girl.

I didn’t demand anything from my teachers. I didn’t even ask sweetly for anything. I didn’t know I could.

I finished every assignment early and pulled out a book or needlepoint project.

When I broke my ankle in 3rd and 6th grade, I stayed inside and graded the others students’ worksheets while they went out to PE, because I was accurate and trustworthy.

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Christmas, age 7. My favorite gift? A book called The Human Body. #ThisIsNotNormal

Because my home life was, um, “hectic,” I did all my homework on the bus on the way to school, or during homeroom, or in the class immediately prior.

My teachers asked to keep my posters and projects and papers to show as models to next year’s students. Except for a diorama I made in 2nd grade of The Snowy Day – that one we donated to the big public library downtown, and they displayed it each winter for several years.

I won scholarships to summer arts camps at the local college.

I scored 99%ile on every CRCT and ITBS and any other standardized test we took. A perfect score on the 8th grade state writing exam.

I got straight A’s until 8th grade, when I got super depressed (again) and revolted (finally).

I wanted to DIE.

And I was one of the lucky ones.

I mostly had good teachers, caring and bright.

At the end of kindergarten, my teacher recommended I be tested for the gifted program, which I easily passed. Taking that test is one of my few early memories because it was so FUN – solving puzzles, one-on-one, for a nice lady who smiled at me!

Once a week for the rest of elementary school, I spent a day in a gifted class, with more interesting projects and a chance to stretch my thinking a little. In middle school, it changed to a class period a day. Better than nothing?

“Slow down and let the other kids catch up,” my parent’s joked when I came home complaining.

“You think it’s easy now? Just wait til you get to middle school,” they said.

“You think it’s easy now? Just wait til you get to high school,” they said.

“You think it’s easy now? Just wait til you get to college,” they said.

So I went to college, as I’d been begging to do since at least 8th grade. (“This standardized test says I’m reading at a 16th grade level! I wasn’t even trying! Why can’t I just skip to it?” I was insufferable because I was suffering.)

I’d like to say college was the sea change I’d been seeking. And when I got there, there were other smart women, and super professors, and fun books to read, and new ways to stretch my brain. But there was still so much awareness that I had to slow down to let others catch up with a class discussion, or not be too participatory in a group project. Just save it for office hours, just work it out in the essay you’ll be getting an A on no matter what.

I couldn’t take a math class because I probably wouldn’t get an A in it, and that would threaten my scholarships. Even though I had questions that my high school math teachers hadn’t been able to answer.

I couldn’t take an econ class because  I wasn’t an econ major or minor, and I might not have gotten an A in it.

I couldn’t sleep at night because I was manic.

I couldn’t wake up in the morning because I was depressed.

I couldn’t…I couldn’t…until I couldn’t any longer: I spite-failed my senior seminar (required for my major) and had to take 21 hours in my last semester to graduate on time/get on with my life. If it weren’t for STUNT, I don’t think I’d be here today.

As a kid, I could never make my parents happy, because their unhappiness had deep roots reaching back well before I made the scene. My teachers, on the other hand, were too easy to please: I didn’t struggle academically or socially, and god knows there were plenty of others who did, enough to fill all the teacher’s available time and attention and then some.

Bosses, it turned out, were like my teachers (and occasionally like my parents). In either case, my effect was muted, and I would quit after 9 or 10 interminable months. Over and over, for years. (Also, being a secretary is really. fucking. boring.) Only once I landed in libraries did I slow the rapid-failure pace and find a sweet spot for fulfilling my needs for curiosity and autonomy and service.

One of the hardest works of my adult life has been recognizing that I am not normal, not average, and never have been, and that it’s okay to be that way.

A few years after college, I tried in vain to get my mom to tell me what my IQ score(s) had been from my gifted test in kindergarten, but of course she’d willfully forgotten and saved not a scrap of evidence, like it was some kind of the dirty family secret.

So I took the MENSA entrance exam one sunny afternoon, thinking that’d be an easy way to rule out that I fell in the top 2%. I didn’t expect to get the acceptance letter a few weeks later.

Well, THAT’S interesting, I thought.

I read books and blogs on unschooling and laid their frames over my story, imaging different experiences and outcomes. Verdict: Yes, I probably could have been a contender. I taught the word “autodidact” to a physician I worked with/for. I read whenever there’s a spare moment and play pub trivia for its louche appeal.

More recently, I’ve read about Asperger’s/ASD (especially in women, it’s different, yo), and about Dabrowski (he GOT it), and blogs like Your Rainforest Mind. And it’s bittersweet – to finally be seen, not just a malcontent and nerd but as someone with high potential and deep sensitivities.

As someone not congenitally broken.

As someone who deserved more than she got.

I can’t make education decisions for my children without weighing these experiences.

At 3, the boys are too young to test for giftedness, but according to the research consensus, their IQs likely fall within 5-10 points of my own. (Which I still don’t know exactly, argh.) Their donor is an unknown variable, but most of the heritability of IQ comes from the mother anyway.

As environment goes, they’ve got nearly every advantage we can give them, that I wish we could ensure for every child everywhere: food, shelter, loving adults, relative stability, books and music, art supplies and blocks, time for doing and time for reflecting, chances to make mistakes and get hurt and make new mistakes and get better. They were born full-term and healthy #blessed. They’re bilingual. They are curious and motivated and tenacious and intense.

Plus in the fall, they’ll start weekly German school, and maybe an extracurricular, and we’ll keep going to libraries and museums and performances and cultural festivals and playgrounds, and I’ll keep thrifting way too many great books and toys. We’ll visit family and friends, spend time in the woods, make art, eat good food. Within the year, I expect they’ll start reading independently, asking more questions, testing even more limits.

In other words, I have no reason to think they are NOT gifted, and I want them to be treated as such.

Preschool’s greatest strength and ultimate betrayal is its die-hard determination that all students are equal.

Public school’s greatest strength and ultimate betrayal is its insistence that all students better be equal (but the white male ones should be a bit more so, that’s just how it’s always been done, hup hup, barf).

In both cases, all student deserve the same opportunity for high-quality education to grow up to be the best contributors they can be, with the most fully-realized selves. Society depends on it. Our collective future depends on it.

And for now, my children depend on me to make the best choices for them, given the options and information available at the time. It’s not a decision I take lightly or wish to abdicate to anyone else. Their futures depend on it. Their selves, now and later, depend on it.

The world has the right to expect great things from them, and they have the right to know it.

 

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7 thoughts on “School’s Out For – Ever?

  1. Caitlin says:

    Man, do I ever understand that frustration with wasting your youth and potential in the “equality” of *good* public schools. My brother and I both suffered from learning just how much (or how little) we needed to do to get by (get A’s), because it was just simply so easy. While public education in a wealthy district gave us some good things, it robbed us of the early challenge to reach our full potential and really find out what we were capable of. It’s taken him a LOT longer to recover (36 years), and while I fared better in college and grad school, I know that had I really been pushed and stretched early on, I would feel a lot more fulfilled, at least in the realm of education.

    Like

    • EJ says:

      I’m sorry you’re familiar with the frustration. While I’m an idealist at heart (hellooo, INTP!) I’m also pragmatic enough to realize there’s no such thing as perfect (not in education, nor anything else). But given there are plenty of “better” and probably even some “best” options/practices/structures/etc, why can’t we have those? Having kids has really reactivated my advocacy sense in a big way!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Fox says:

    This is all of why I leaned towards unschooling, only I was tested for special education because I had a hard time spelling and found it easier to not do my homework (and still pass the tests). Now I’ve had ASD thrown around, now that I’m too old for the testing to be helpful. Don’t get me wrong, I had problems when I was a kid, but learning wasn’t one of them. Actually, most of my learning came from family at home. That’s what brought us to unschooling. So good that you’ve figured it out for your kids already!

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    • EJ says:

      Exactly this. Nearly everything I learned in life are things I taught myself (walking, talking, toilet learning, reading, cooking, all my hobbies…) through observation, practice, books, and/or teachers (mostly my parents). Formal schooling polished some of that, certainly, but it didn’t lay any of the foundations, and certainly didn’t provide any of the real-world skills EVERY adult needs, such as personal finance, child care and development, domestic engineering (ha!), conflict management, interpersonal relationships, basic legal structures and processes, driving a car, getting jobs, entrepreneurship, traveling, and on and ON and on. I want the boys to know how to find out how much they don’t know; how to learn; how to be as independent as possible now and later; and how to share the wealth by teaching others. I just can’t picture a school where that can happen.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Fox says:

        I totally agree. I don’t see a school where all of that can happen either. We tend to be a little more structured than I would like, but we’re working on that. The general gist of still following what my kids need is still there underneath it all.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Megan Beene says:

    Good for you–and good for them. Our education system is so incredibly broken, and I hate that any kid has to suffer through it. I definitely hate that you had to suffer through it.

    Also this post made me miss you extra hard. I wish I still got to hear your thoughts and perspectives daily. ❤

    Like

    • EJ says:

      I miss you to pieces. You’re one the people I can count on one hand that made college worth it. I wish we got to see you more often – I miss your zest and your art and your big, big heart.

      Like

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