Friday, May 15, 2009

One Thought Leads to Another

I've been struggling of late to write a post about how worked up so many people get in regard to their kids' education. I probably have at least one conversation every single day with someone who is worried, kvetching, complaining, bragging or something or other about their son or daughter's school. Frankly, I'm tired of it. I want to SCREAM:


I want to scream other things as well, but I don't. About entitlement and over-parenting and just what do you really remember about elementary school and how is that carried on into your life at present? I actually loved my fourth grade year. In fact, I loved it so much that "four" became my favorite number. I had Mrs. Delp (four letters); our class was Room 4. I tried out and won the role of Dorothy in The Wizard of OZ in the school play. And while I remember that I sort of had a crush on a kid named Billy Hall and I was in awe of a girl named Julie Devin, who lived with her hippie mother in an incense infused apartment, and another girl named Shawna Gidwani was a real live immigrant from India, I don't really remember much about what I was actually doing all day. And I doubt my mother does either. I doubt she thought about it much then, either.

My husband, who grew up in Switzerland and walked to school barefoot in the summer with about six other kids from his village, doesn't "get" anything about Americans of a certain socioeconomic class -- about their insatiable need to know everything about the school's educational philosophy. He only raises his eyebrows when either boy is stumped on something really, really basic.

"What do they teach in American schools, anyhow?" he'll say. And I won't go into his reaction when I tell him that we have traffic duty or some other inane volunteer responsibility. Suffice it to say that chefs, by nature, use very foul language.

I admit to worrying and complaining myself, sometimes in commiseration and other times because the pull is just so irresistible. Half the time I'm thinking, am I missing something or do I just not care? But I'm trying NOT to get sucked into it all. I really do think that "everything's going to be all right" with our kids. I guess I can only speak for myself, but down deep I just don't lose any sleep over it. Basically, I want them to learn and have fun, have time to relax when they get home or run wildly. Whichever, whatever.

Can't there be something in my life that isn't thought about ad nauseum?

Really, I wish everyone would just RELAX.

I suppose I need to take my own advice because this is what I'm thinking about (and maybe you think I should give it a rest?):

If you haven't noticed, you need to now. Epilepsy is getting more and more coverage and visibility. Thanks, mainly, to David Axelrod, one of President Obama's chief strategists. He and his wife Susan have a young adult daughter who has had epilepsy her entire life. Many years ago, Susan started CURE, a non-profit organization that raises money for medical research.

Recently, the two were featured in Newsweek and Parade magazines.

And today they appeared HERE:

I was struck, especially, with the discussion of the social loneliness of children with special needs. That has been my experience (or should I say Sophie's) in some part.

But, hey, don't think I'm telling or saying to you that the above thoughts are more important than whining and complaining about our kids' elementary school education.


If you're of like mind, join me and spread the word. Let me know what you think!

Update: On rereading this post, I'd like to clarify that my thoughts differ dramatically when it comes to high school and, perhaps, middle school, when I think some more serious consideration is due. I object, mainly, to schools for really young children that cost too much, have too many expectations and set children on a track too early.


  1. My first thought after watching the video is that Sophie is so lucky to have a home with two loving parents and two brothers who also love her. That's not to diminish her own condition--just that, from what I've just heard, a lot of marriages haven't held together with the added stress of a child with disabilities.

    I'm afraid I've been guilty of complaining about schools. Now that my children have made it through high school, I don't have the incentive to complain. Both of our daughters were unhappy in Elkhart middle school and high school. Sarah was so miserable we went deeply into debt to send her to Interlochen Arts Academy for her junior and senior years. Jim figued out high school. He joined the band and the track and cross country teams and still did well enough academically to get into a Hanover College with a good scholarship.

    Thanks for putting up the video. I hope Susan Axelrod will be able to increase funding for epilepsy research.

  2. I always worry the most about how they get along with other kids - who are the bullies etc. and how well equipped are my kids to just BE THEMSELF no matter what other kids say or do. As far as I'm concerned elementary school is basically one long recess with a few lessons thrown in there.

    And, yes, I have noticed more coverage of epilepsy - GOOD!

  3. I used to feel that same way you did about elementary school. I wish I still did. However, I do believe that the relationship children have with their parents is more important than whatever school experience they encounter, both good and bad, and a child who feels loved and connected to their parents will be able to get through anything and will ultimately live a happy life.

  4. i hear ya.

    i'm not sure if it's the track we started out on almost 5 years ago when most people were kvetching about the 'RIGHT' preschool that would set their child on the proper trajectory toward the best college while i'll was trying to simply get more than 3 hours of sleep at a stretch...but we have become very UNschooly over here, essentially 'working' on things like regulation and sensory meals and snacks and reading fun books and having time on the playground to practice a bit of the social. most people would 'balk' at my curriculum!!!!

  5. Elizabeth, I'm delighted to have found your blog through our mutual cyber-friend Beth of Switched at Birth, and look forward to following your journey.

  6. CURE is so important.

    For other people Elizabeth they don't want that to be their world so they don't want to talk about it.

    They just want to say 'how Johnny blew his nose.'

    It is so tough when you have real concerns. When Sophie has real concerns.

    Love Renee xoxo

  7. Thank you for more food for thought. I think there is a great deal of competitiveness among American parents, which gives rise to fear, which may have some bearing on what you are hearing among the grade-school crowd.

    I wish that kids learned more during school hours, and had less homework. I wish they were taught more about what to expect in life, about work ethic, creative problem-solving and giving back, but I think, in the end, that's our job as parents. Maybe that's why people kvetch so much about the public schools: perhaps less is being taught at home, fewer families have the old-fashioned two-parent, multi-generational support system, so that much more is (not necessarily rightly)expected from the schools.

    As I tried to write this comment (and deleted several attempts), I realized that I have strong feelings about education. I have LOVED learning, all through my life, and have two completely different children, academically. One has tested as "gifted," and the other was more interested in recess than academics - but she learned beautifully from observing life, and was very astute. We've had mixed experiences with public school, but overall, it has been more good than bad.
    A "good education" is part of preparing our children to have happy and productive lives, but I wonder what "a good education" really means in the school's view, vs. our view. If any of these kids had to leave school in the 8th grade, as one of my grandfathers had to do, how would they survive? Would they have been taught basic knowledge, wisdom and survival? How do we decide what this means, in such a huge, multicultural nation? I don't know, but I think "relax" is good advice with which to begin.
    I love the Buddha photo.

  8. I remember when one of my children was in preschool and the parents there wanted to start a PTO organization. I was like, "What?! What the f***!" Because I had two older kids in middle school by then and knew the parent participation that elementary school and middle school required. In the classroom and at events, even if nothing else.
    And these parents, like the ones you describe, were just so earnest about the whole thing. And the children were just three and four-year olds who played all day!
    Yeah. People not only need to relax. They need to remember about balance, too.



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