Educating the Littles

We are now one week into the public school system. Ruthie started kindergarten this year, and Miles is back, and in 2nd grade. Dear Husband is still adjusting to the life of a farmer and fills in little pockets of his free time (which is limited) working on the penultimate treehouse. (In full disclosure, we could probably call it a deer stand, but there’ll be nothing camo about it – pics WILL follow when it’s done). However, it’s 9:40 now, on a Thursday, and my house is completely silent. Completely silent.

It’s a productive time for me. I get more completed in these 7 hours than I used to in a full 12-hour work day. It’s nice to have time to cook again for the family, simply because I don’t have all the interruptions to the work. It’s lovely having some one-on-one lunchtime with the DH and being able to actually talk (and listen) without the interruptions of little voices. But I miss them, those little voices. I miss them desperately.

There have also been kinks to work out in the school routine. The local system switched to 4-day weeks, and we did try the 5:30 wake-up to be on the bus at 6, but when the kids don’t actually get off the bus until 4:30, I just thought that was too long a day. So now DH and I will take them in (mostly me, but I’ll foist off the duty during bad weather). We pull up alongside the other vehicles and the kids run out, and into the school, eager to see their friends and have a few minutes to play in the gym. When we take them in, they get another full hour and 10 minutes to sleep, and little brains need that time to develop. I don’t fault the school system – they’re just trying to make ends meet in a culture that doesn’t value public education enough to properly fund it.

We’re also fortunate to have *amazing* teachers. Ruthie’s kindergarten teacher is kind but firm, patient, and has no problem managing a class filled with unruly fidgeters. That merits sainthood in my book. Miles’ teacher is funny, lively, engaging and he said, “She’s not going to put up with our stuff,” right off the bat, which I thought was fantastic (mostly because he will be the first to push the buttons). The 2nd grade is also using the more tactile seating options (rocker chairs, balls in baskets, regular chairs, floor seating, etc). To me, this shows a strong desire to respond to the needs of children for movement in a longer day, and that’s encouraging to see, pedagogically in particular. The staff are great, the students are (for the most part) kind and inclusive, and the community works hard to support the local system.

Right now we’re in a place where they need to be in school. Although DH was a supporter of homeschooling when we first got together, and I was homeschooling the olders, I think his support waned over the years as he saw how hard I worked to both educate them, and ensure they had peer support systems in place. Is homeschooling easier? In some ways, perhaps. I liked staying in my pajamas all day and sleeping in another 2 hours. As I’m writing on my dissertation (on homeschooling and technology use), I think that it’s harder than many outside the homeschooling community perceive. I’d also argue, though, that public educating is harder than many outside the community (the public schooling community) perceive. Educating kids is just hard. It’s hard in a system that hypocritically says we should be doing more but then refuses to back up those ideas with policy or practice (or money!). This is the real reason behind school choice antipathy.

One of the consistent, reoccurring themes in my doctoral research is the dualism between homeschooling and public schooling, and I confess I know many families who homeschool in response to poor caliber local schools. I don’t have that issue. I’m fortunate that while we need the kids in school, for now, I trust they’re in a good place. I’m fortunate that I can drive them into school each morning so they get a bit more sleep. I’m fortunate that they can take nutritious school lunches if they don’t like the school lunch. (Although I argued with Miles on just why he wouldn’t eat the chicken patty, which was one of my favorite things about school lunches, hands down). I’m fortunate I can volunteer in the class, or send treats, or work at parties, or help with PTO. I can be our teachers’ biggest cheerleader, and I can show my children how important education is for their lives, for their development. I’m fortunate that at some point (if I keep pushing DH), I will hopefully be homeschooling again – not out of inadequacies of the system but because I just enjoy having my children about and watching them grow and learn.

Despite my blessings, it makes me sad that other families don’t have the same options, the same opportunities, or are hampered economically and can’t help drive that process more for their children. However your children are educated, make the most of it with the resources that you have, and hopefully, in another generation or two, we’ll return to a culture where school choice doesn’t determine life outcomes. Because it shouldn’t. All children deserve a quality education, supported by teachers who genuinely seek their best interest, in a safe environment, where they can be fed when they are hungry. It’s just yet another issue of society I’m disgruntled with right now, but I hope it is one that can change. And please, dear parents, don’t judge the school choices of others. I think most of us are just doing the best that we can.

I’m off to eat a chicken patty sandwich in the school cafeteria with Ruth.

 

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