The end of the school year is almost here. It’s ahhhl…mooooost…heeeere. Our children’s 2012-2013 school year began August 20, 2012. They go to school from 8:00am-3:30pm and the school year goes on and on and on until we are pretty sure we might pull our own hair out. (June 11, to be exact.) Throw in the hour or TWO (sometimes more) of homework per night, and if you were to add up the hours spent acquiring a superior education…well, I am too tired to do any more math right now but it’s a lot of hours.
So why do we choose Parnassus? We choose it because our children love to learn. We choose it because we value education and feel like education has become watered down in the public schools. We chose it because it seemed like it fit us when we read the stated goals and missions that were on the website when we chose it. Our family appreciates the arts. We don’t watch a lot of TV. We value a strong work ethic. We value beauty and truth and history and all of the printed values stated on the website. We love to read and read aloud to our children. We love the classics. Love! We loved so many things that we read about the school. It seemed so lovely. It seemed so lovely.
Only the truth is (speaking of lovely things) not a lot of love flies around the halls there. Maybe it’s just a different kind of love than what I know to be love. We could argue all day long about what love is and whether or not it has a place in the discussion of public education; I would enjoy that discussion immensely because I love thinking, critical thinking, logic and learning discussions. (See! What a good fit am I for this school?!?) If we did that, though, I wouldn’t ever get my laundry done…which could lead to another discussion on whether or not we should solely foster love of academia to the exclusion of actual life skills like helping out in your household, but that again would be another blog post for another day.
So let’s just say this: using C.S. Lewis’s definition of love, which states, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained,” I would argue that love absolutely belongs in a community of people who are learning together. Children, though they may need leadership and teaching, are people. Adults, though they may be sages and experts, are humans who are still learning. Humans, by definition, aren’t perfect. Things which aren’t perfect need love and grace. Only love and grace can teach virtues like citizenship, cooperation, courage, honesty, integrity, perseverance, respect and responsibility. I would argue that all real learning is based on love and grace.
How can I back up this premise? Well, true learning occurs based on intrinsic motivation. The kind of learning that we do based on behaviorism- the good old “carrot dangled in front of your nose” approach, is pure performance. It’s not the kind of wisdom that grows when your fire is lit and you long for more. You produce what you are asked to produce because if you don’t do as you’re told, something bad will happen to you.
Point in case: our kids love to read. I love to read. We love to read together. We loved it before we came to our school. We are instrinsically motivated to read. The fire is lit; we long for more. Throw a spreadsheet with the world’s teeniest lines at us and demand that we write down the name of each book, author, page numbers and minutes of each thing we read and you are throwing water at our fire. Now we have a choice: we can read less so we have time to carefully document all of our reading, we can make it up or we can say we’re not going to do it. I’ve spoken with many parents who go with option B, but lying wasn’t one of the virtues listed in the school’s supporting documents and it’s not something we want to teach our children to do. We value reading so we’re not going to read less, and the thought that a school’s assignment would lower our desire to read seems ludicrous, so we choose C. Civil disobedience. Luckily, civil disobedience is supported by Thoreau so we have The Classics on our side.
What a struggle. It’s stressful. Extremely stressful. Pathologically stressful. This is where “rigor” comes achingly close to rigor mortis.
The other day my daughter asked me for a watch because, “If I turn my head to look at the clock I will get a card flip.” Somehow this does not seem in keeping with, “Parnassus students are prepared to think for themselves.” Learning time management certainly entails the ability to look at a clock without the fear of unsavory things happening to you.
Recently I read a classic called Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, an educator who recognized that in certain forms education can be likened to oppression. It wasn’t an easy read; this book was dense with thought. Each sentence had to be read about three times to draw the meaning out, but I value perseverence, critical thinking and hard work so I kept going. To my own surprise, Freire’s thoughts about how oppression occurs began to align into a constellation that looked hauntingly like things we’ve seen take place in our own school. To put it into less dense and more palatable language, Freire identifies how a ruling group takes power, then creates an atmosphere in which the ruled people do not like each other and can not talk to each other, which effectively keeps that group in the position of having total power. Once in a while populist leaders will rise up (someone who supports the ruling group and is also liked by the ruled people) but if that person identifies too much with the ruled people, he or she will be removed from power. The ruling group will establish “organizations” to help the ruled people feel as if they have input but, as it turns out, this is only “false generosity” and meant to quell the growing discomfort the people who are ruled and effectively powerless. Those in power then “invade the culture” and attempt to make Their Way the only good way, and the ruled people who don’t conform to The Way are made out to be outliers, rebels, “bad” people. This pattern repeats time and time again throughout history and our children learn about it at school. And this, my friends, effectively demonstrates why learning needs to be supported by love and grace.
If we learn only facts but fail to pull the lessons out, learning history does humanity very little good. Only in an atmosphere of love, grace and humility can we look at the patterns of the human race, see where we have fallen flat on our own faces, own our failures and strive to grow beyond beyond them.
Wow. I have a lot of new enemies now. Do I want to make enemies? No. I love people. Even if you hate me because I have different ideas than you do, I still love you. I have a steady wish for your ultimate good as far as it can be obtained. Ultimately, the truth is good. Nothing stated here is a lie. Thinking is good. Growing and learning is good. Perseverance is good. Walking through hard things together is good. Oppression is not good.
Now it must be said that many good things happen at our school. Our children have fabulous homeroom teachers. The families in our community are marvelous. The curriculum is awesome. Each and every person who contributes to the community has the best interest of someone in mind, and that’s good. The experiences that support the learning are rich. We love History Day and other special events that are designed to support the curriculum.
Some families thrive at our school. If you have: a child in the lower academic track, one child (or maybe two children), a naturally well-behaved and compliant child, a child in the lower grades, one parent who is able to stay at home and one who is the main bread-winner, enough money to pay for other people to manage your child’s homework time, a really strong marriage, a good support network, a child who naturally excels in academics, children who don’t participate in many extra-curriculars, no problem with doing your child’s homework for him or her, no problem with fibbing reading logs, no problem with blowing off what you are asked to do, children who already speak several languages…you are likely to NOT suffer from PPSD. You are likely to feel the love.
For our family, when we put the goodness that happens on the balance, we aren’t sure whether or not the good, no matter how beautiful, outweighs subjecting our kids to the symptoms of Post Parnassus Stress Disorder, the rigor to the point of mortis or the underlying values that are unintentionally being taught (our children seem to classify their classmates by those who get their cards flipped and those who don’t rather than their unique talents and individuality). We aren’t sure whether it outweighs supporting what can be an oppressive environment where teachers don’t have the freedom exercise their own critical thinking skills as applied to adjusting curriculum as necessary for the good of their students.
Here comes summer break! We will delve into the summer learning packets with vigor rather than mortis. We will persevere, hope, learn, read, travel, stretch our limbs, laugh, enjoy life and relationship and family and all of God’s wonders and all of this will reduce our PPSD. And, because we value hard work and perseverence, we will persevere for one more year. We just wish it didn’t feel quite so much like putting childhood on a sacrificial altar.