My Fresh Hell
Life in Scribbletown.

I Am Parent, Hear Me Sigh

2006-05-18
On Tuesday, I took Dusty to her elementary school for what is called ďKindergarten Testing.Ē Iím not sure what I was expecting but I must say I was slightly disappointed. Perhaps my mistake was confusing private school ďtestingĒ with public schools. I have a friend who was considering putting her daughter in one of the cityís most provincial snooty private schools for girls because she had applied for a teaching job there and had hoped that, if hired, her daughter could get a good education for free. The testing, as she described it, was a long process and involved a lot of reading readiness questions, numbers comprehension, personality testing of some sort, etc.

What Dusty and her group got was a chance to meet the teachers, sit in a real classroom and point to numbers and shapes on a piece of paper to show they knew what a square was, what a 3 was. They got to turn a square into a house, a triangle into a hat (Dusty told the teacher hers was a witchís hat), and a circle into a flower (Dusty chose pansy and made it purple). Most of the ďtestingĒ was for directions-following ability and shape/number recognition.

Snore.

Then the kids went outside and played on the playground Ė one weíve been to numerous times before. I had hoped for refreshments at least but it was not to be.

The teachers were mostly young and energetic and seemed well-educated and intelligent. Meaning, they werenít from here. ďHereĒ being the little backwoods Podunk rural splendor in which we reside. Not that itís bad, really. Itís just that many of the residents are tres rural and live very insular lives surrounded by shotguns and hunting dogs.

There was a glimmer of hope. One of the other mothers had a semi-ďcrunchy granolaĒ look about her. She also looked slightly city, slightly non-Christian, maybe Jewish. But I didnít approach her. If I see her at the open house in August, I might. Two of Dustyís preschool pals were there as well but they had come to the first session and we arrived for the session so Dusty could only hug Savannah and Phoebe (who is simply an adorable little girl and I hope they stay friends) before waving goodbye to them. It wasnít like we wouldnít see them tomorrow so the parting wasnít too awful for them.

We all started off in the library and then the teachers called the childrenís names and led them down the hall to a classroom. All of the children were clingy. All of them. It was like they sensed something in the air and reverted to their toddler selves to some degree. But, the ones who were the most clingy, including this little boy named Anthony with a big sad moony face, were the stay-at-home kids. You can spot them a mile away. Anthony refused to leave his seat and his mom had to escort him to the hallway. She told me he used to go to daycare but she decided to keep him home the last year.

Now, let me be clear. I am not going to be a Mommy War fire stoker here, but as I sat there for an hour and listened to the guidance counselor and school nurse tell us parents to be sure to read, read, read to our children this summer (is this really news to anyone?) and to make sure our children are self-sufficient (ie, are able to complete a bathroom transaction without help, can tie their shoes and snap their snaps), I wondered whether I wasnít in the wrong place. Was this PRESCHOOL registration? The nurse said sheíd had a few children over the years who still needed help in the bathroom.

Okay. We all make decisions about how we raise our children, whether we stay at home or work outside the home, and those decisions are Ė by and large Ė based on our particular situations involving money and values, etc. Which is fine. Thatís how it should be. But, I will say that Iím a strong believer in the preschool experience (which is a different thing than just ďdaycare,Ē though a good daycare setting for children 2 Ĺ to 5 should be a preschool atmosphere). I think children learn very important skills like how to make friends, how to get along with others, sharing, following rules for safety and politeness (weíre living in a society as George Costanza says), having a routine, structured day, trying new things, exploring their world, going on field trips, being exposed to books and art and music and danceÖ..all things that make the world worth living in and being a part of. While I provide as much of this for my child as I can (my husband and I are reasonably smart people with multiple degrees, talents and creativity), I canít do it all. Nobody can and thatís my point. I canít create a social network for her like a school setting can, I canít give her friends (or a large group in which to pick or choose them) or give her the kind of relationships she has had with adults that are not her relatives Ė these are very different kinds of interactions that are crucial to growing up. These are the things that help children make connections between all the interconnectedness in our world Ė science merges into music into art into reading into history into natural history and their place in it all throughout time.

I am fully aware (Iíve taught briefly in a public school setting and I live amongst rednecks) that many parents are not like me. In fact, most of them are not like me. They are not like you. They cannot read well themselves and do not have books in the home. They do not care that their child is watching inappropriate television during the day (never mind television at all, but thatís a whole other rant). Or, itís not so much that they donít care, but they arenít capable of change to that degree. They donít see it as a problem because it puts a negative light on themselves, who they are or arenít, who they should or shouldnít be. And, I donít want to come across as some check-book elitist liberal either because Iím not one of those. Iím not even in a social class. Iím not upper, middle or lower. Iím nothing. Iím just sort of smart. Iíve got two college degrees, one in elementary education, so itís not like I donít know whatís possible and what isnít in a school setting. I know that teachers canít do it all Ė a child is the sum total of their experiences (leaning heavily on the family end of things).

Which is why preschool and Head Start programs are worth their weight in gold. But, (big sigh here) thereís not much we can do apart from radically changing the universe so that every kid is able to go to a fabulous, well-funded and free preschool in his or her neighborhood.

And, so Dusty, who will not be attending something like Montesorri or Waldorf (both of which have good philosophies but Iím not entirely sold on either) because her parents donít make that kind of money and the schools are too far away, will be going to a school that is THE BEST IN THE ENTIRE COUNTY. The best in all the surrounding counties and the general metropolitan area. It is a Blue Ribbon School, whatever that means. Itís probably tied to SOL scores which I have a separate beef about. So, I guess my hope is that this place will take these children who are barely able to recognize the letters of the alphabet, who cannot tie their own shoes (because someone does it for them?), who cannot wipe their own butts properly (???), will be raised up to a level of competence and in the meantime, Dusty wonít be bored to tears, wonít be Left Behind. Because Dustyís smart and sometimes thatís a liability. Iíve been there before and itís not a pretty sight.

Iíve got more to say but this has made me tired. Itís not everything I have to say on the subject and Iím not even sure Iím right about any of it but I had to write it. Right or wrong. I had to write it.

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4:13 p.m. ::
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