"your mother doesn’t work here" – oh wait, she does

I’ve been reluctant to write much about my hours spent in my children’s schools, but the fact is I spend a lot of time with my children in their educational environments and I think about those environments a great deal. Today I performed my Monday morning shift in Suse’s kindergarten class along with a substitute teacher. I was surprised to find the typically well-behaved twenty plus children suddenly turn into rowdy, loud, inconsiderate pupils. And like some kind of virus, the misbehavior was not able to be contained by the substitute nor even a little speech of my own (listened to respectfully at least).

Sophie’s teacher impresses me because she has established control of the classroom. Her first few weeks of class were spent almost solely on behavioral issues, the benefit of which is that almost two dozen small children typically experience a safe and ordered environment. But as I herded them into their lunch line today it occurred to me that staying in the public school system meant – besides the occasional luck of a great teacher – my kids would probably have many, many days like this one – an atmosphere of chaos above order, busywork above engagement, admonishment from adults rather than curiosity, expecations, and mutual respect.

My Monday work is typically in helping children with an art project. The time and energy that goes into each project is incredible, yet I notice in the classroom setting each child typically doesn’t have enough time to carry out the project in a way that informs him or her in their own interest and skills (or lack thereof). Because of this time constraint my favorite art project this year was an uber-simple project of picking out clippings for magazines (high school assistant J. and I pre-cut animals from National Geographics) and gluing three of them to a piece of paper divided into sections. In this case the project was simple enough I got to talk to each child about their choice of animal and layout; an artistic and relational growing process in my mind far superior to the sometimes more elaborate products we produce by giving curt directions and doing half the work for the child.

Any discussion about my children’s school environments isn’t nearly so much a criticism of the system or a worry about my children’s experiences as it is a learning experience for me. I think it’s a sign of my deferment to authority I’ve always believed school is a given establishment that is for The Good and therefore is itself Good – that is, sometimes children misbehave or have a horrid time there but, all in all, The System Knows Best (P.S. I know exactly which parent I co-opted this concept from). It is so odd I find myself realizing the system is, well, relatively arbitrary. Do I have the courage to think for myself what I want for my family and myself when society around me has been encouraging me to take advantage of the free babysitting provided by the state?

It’s lighter in the early morning hours. I have learned Spring weather in Grays Harbor is capricious, at turns sunny and brilliant, ominous, or dismally wet. The thrilling rains of Fall have given way to the saturating showers of spring, keeping our backyard wet, wet, wet in the interim before the sky opens up again.

If You Build It, They Will Sleep

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