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Public, Private, Home, and Un… Which SCHOOL is for you?

School has long been on my mind.  As our oldest is nearing her school years, this question has become more and more prominent in my thoughts.  Applying for preschool felt like college, mostly due to the fact that we were living in San Francisco, where preschool is EXTREMELY competitive.  But, also because all of a sudden, I was confronted by SOOOOOOO many different educational philosophies/choices.  Thus, I did what I (and millions of other moms) do, I researched.  I learned about Waldorf, and Maria Montessori, the roots of Reggio Emilio, and coops.  I read Beyond the Rainbow Bridge, The Montessori Method (by Maria Montessori), and all about Rudolph Steiner.  We started at an amazing coop in the city that wove together bits and pieces of all of these philosophies, which the little gal just couldn’t hang with… 35 kids somewhat chaotically owning the place was too much for her to handle.  And we also moved.  So then, after moving to a smaller town with fewer choices (thank goodness), we settled on a Montessori preschool that was very nature based.  At the time, it was between this school and a Waldorf based preschool, and even though I was more drawn to the Waldorf school, I felt that the Montessori environment was best for her.  With that said, I’m still not sure I totally believe this or whether either choice would have really been more beneficial for her.

And that’s JUST preschool.

On we’re trooping through her toddler years.  She’s now at her second Montessori school (another move – to China no less), and LOVES it, mostly.  Which I’m now using as the gauge of success – if she’s excited to go, it must be a good fit, right?  And even though she occasionally gets separation anxiety and it takes multiple rounds of 4 hugs and 4 kisses, teary eyes included, to get her through the door, she’s happy when we pick her up.  Our focus, honestly, right now, is the language exposure she’s getting through school.  Yup, we’re sending her to a Chinese kindergarten [preschool].  Before you say, woah, I should qualify that by telling you that her main teacher speaks very good English.  So yea, that’s preschool.  And I think we’re all content with how this portion of her education is/has progressing/ed.

BUT, in the very not so far off future, we’re going to have to consider a whole new variety of education… her real school years.  Dun, dun, duuunnnn.  Here’s where our heads are at (no, I’m not a two headed monster, those heads would be that of mine and the Daddy-Man).  We BOTH were raised in fully conventional school systems and fully participated.  We both had lots of friends, good relationships with teachers, [I] participated in many group sports/activities (Dad spent most of his adolescence skateboarding and on the fringes of conventional extracurricular activities), and we both were on the honor roll.  HOWEVER, when we think of putting our own children through this system, we both begin to question.

And then we [I] analyze.  What is it about that school system that we don’t want for our children?  For starters, it’s the curriculum and the method of delivery.  Ask me about the American Civil War or what a possessive pronoun is… or don’t, I can’t remember.   I read a highly frustratingly polarized but totally credible book, Punished By Rewards, for a class I recently took.  While I could smirk until the cows come home about many of his examples, the basis of the book is refreshing: children don’t develop an innate desire to learn in conventional settings because they are more focused on the reward (the gold star, the grade, the praise) than on the learning.   And I certainly can identify.   I crammed, I memorized, I regurgitated, I got straight A’s, and then I forgot it all.  Then I went to college and although this type of learning did cut the mustard 60% of the time, it didn’t work 40% of the time and I ended up with sub-par grades that have been a great detriment to me in pursuing further educational and career goals.  Oops.  And while I don’t want to use anything or anybody as my excuse, I do feel like coming out of high school, I was not mentally or emotionally prepared to put in the energy required to pursue my career.  There are things that you don’t learn in a conventional school system.   I was also 17 and from a small town; I’m sure it was caused by both the chicken AND the egg.

At any rate, in addition to the actual education provided by the conventional system of schooling, is the socialization provided by the conventional system of schooling.  Like I said, I participated in many activities, had many friends,  and might even say I was part of the cool crowd [insert barf here].  Moreover, my closest friends now are the ones I’ve had since high school.  HOWEVER, I still had to deal with being a teenage girl living in a world of judgmental, fickle girls and I think we can all agree that THAT, is not a fun world.  Well, you may be thinking, that’s the real world hunny, and it develops skills that children are going to have to take with them through their lives.  Is that REALLY true, though.  First and fortunately, teenagers do grow up (most of the time) and lose their arrogant/entitled/insecure behaviors and while yes, it’s true that you’re always going to have to deal with a-holes in life, as an adult with puberty behind you, you’re naturally better equipped to handle said a-holes.  And I’d argue that an adult who didn’t have insecurity drilled into them through teenage socialization would be even more equipped, with natural self confidence, than one who had been beaten down by her peers in adolescence.  That was my experience and not something I’d like to do over again… which translates into not wanting my children to experience it, either.

Back to elementary education.  Conventional school systems are forced to use a one-size-fits-all approach, with no room for outliers.  Understandably so.  In the ever increasing world of budget cuts, teachers must perform more efficiently with less resources and more children.  But I don’t want my kids to develop the skill of cramming and regurgitating.  I don’t want them to grow up with a narrow perspective of the world.  I want my kids to be free thinkers, who are able to confidently trust themselves and their creative ability to solve problems.  I want them to think outside of the box.  I want them to change the world.

SO, if not conventional public school, then what?  Below are the options, in order from safe/known to radical/unknown.

Public Charter:  Based on an alternative educational model.  Dependent on location.

Private:  Expensive route (and 99.9% sure not the one for us).

Home:  Flexible yet structured.

Un:  Brave and somewhat unchartered route.

Much of the choice boils down to unique life circumstances (how are the bold letters working out for you, does it feel like I’m a game show host presenting the next prize?).  If, for instance, we were still living abroad and didn’t have access to an alternative public charter, we’d be more inclined to homeschool.  However, if we ended up in the US, close to a public Waldorf program, we most likely go that route.  And when I say homeschool, I say so with a lump in my throat.  I NEVER imagined that I would homeschool my children, for lack of gumption/energy/passion/general wherewithal to provide my children with quality education.  But, but, but, as life has progressed, having a certain amount of flexibility has become an important component in our lives and one that we’d like to maintain.

Flexibility is the next major reason for steering away from a conventional school system.  This flexibility has played a central role in the fact that I haven’t worked since the first monster was born; I haven’t yet set in on something that was worth sacrificing it for  (have you ever seen Revolutionary Road?  Well, ending up in the suburbs with careers we don’t like and a life I’m not happy with makes me highly anxious- though I am not AT ALL implying that suburbs mean misery).  And YES, I am extremely grateful that I’m even able to think that way (i.e. being a single income family – clearly, I realize that many families do not have the luxury of this type of thinking).

So, school.  There is a pretty incredible network of both public Montessori schools AND public Waldorf schools in the US.  To me, the key behind both methods is enabling children to tap into their inherent desire to learn, on their own individual terms, in hopes of developing free thinking adults who are better equipped to confront their world, whatever that may be.

As for private schools, I don’t think we’ll ever have enough money to feel good about dropping 15-25K/year on elementary education, though if we were loaded, there are many schools I’d LOVE to support.

That brings us to homeschool.  To reiterate, a lump in my throat.  Doubt that I can actually teach my kids, fear that they won’t get what they need, anxiety that I might loose it in the process.  BUT, let’s assume we could achieve a wonderfully harmonious home schooling environment where the kids were thriving.  Where they could sleep in until 9, during growth spurts, when their body needed extra sleep.  Where we could take off for long weekends to participate in field studies and learn from the real world.  Where they wouldn’t be forced to learn at the same speed as the 30 other kids in their class.  Where we could dedicate a few hours per day on school and spend the rest getting dirty outside.  They’d still get the same type of knowledge learned in conventional school, but on their terms.  But what about their socialization, you ask?  This is, quite likely, the homeschooling skeptics number one ammo.  And one thing that actually doesn’t worry me about the prospect.  I trust that we’ll continue to be social enough people that our children will learn the ropes of how to be a human being in the world without us having to manifest or force it.  Furthermore, if we continue to travel, they’ll be exposed to far more social rhythms by the time they’re 10 than either of us did until well into our twenties.

Now, raise homeschooling to the tenth power and what you’ll get is unschooling.  A radical choice, indeed.  I’ve recently come across dozens of traveling families who have chosen to blaze their way through this path and I’ve got to say, they’re inspiring.  The idea behind unschooling is that by just actively being part of the world, with parents who are 100% engaged in the lives of their children, that kids will naturally learn.  Sure, it probably won’t be at the pace of a child who is learning through a conventional system, but by the time they’re 18, they’ll most likely have similar skills and knowledge under their belts and arguably, skills that the conventionally schooled child doesn’t possess.  Lee Stranahan, an unschooling Dad, wrote a great piece about his experience at the Huffington Post.  Another inspiring unschooling family can be found at Raising Miro.  I found this quote by unschooling advocate, Sandra Dodd, that I thought was simple and effective:

There is a Sesame Street book called Grover and the Everything in the Whole Wide World Museum.  There is a “things under the sea” room and a “things in the sky” room, but still each room is just a room in a museum, no windows, everything out of context.  Then he opens a big door marked “everything else in the whole wide world” and goes out into the sunshine.  There is unschooling.

At any rate, while I quite love the idea of unschooling, I think it may be too unstructured for our traditionally trained minds.  I also believe that this option very much depends on your lifestyle.  For traveling families who are constantly exploring and engaging with new places and cultures, for instance, I can see how unschooling could be a good fit.  I’m sure that I could find plenty of great examples of families who unschool in a multitude of environments and be plenty inspired.

As with much of our life at the moment, the destination is unknown and open.  At this point, the same goes for what type of learning environment will best suit us.  There are many options; more than one of which, I’m certain, can provide our children with just what they need.  And who knows, maybe they’ll end up in a traditional public school.  Life is constantly evolving, as am I, as are our children.  What is right in this moment, may not be right in the next and it’s the least I can do to stay flexible and open.

What are your thoughts on schooling?  Will your kids go to traditional schools?  Could you ever imagine homeschooling?  Tell, tell, tell!


A Brief Recap of My Floundering Adulthood

I’ve worn many half made hats, but don’t own any perfectly constructed ones.  I’m a jill of all trades, master of none.  I’ve dabbled in dozens of things, but specialize in nothing.  I’ve explored a million careers, but still don’t have one.

SO, in an effort to validate (or perhaps further confuse) myself, I’ve decided to write down how life has transpired since I graduated from college in 2005.

1) Lived and traveled through Mexico with friends for 5 months.

2) Worked as an Americorps VISTA volunteer in St. Croix for 6 months.

3) Worked as a junior paralegal while applying for law school, for 1.5 years.

4) Traveled through southeast Asia for a couple of months.

5) Was accepted into first choice law school (Vermont Law – a small, private, environmentally focused law school) but chose to defer and help my sister in law realize her dream of creating a line of cosmetics.

6) Accidentally got pregnant (with baby of committed partner).

7) Started said law school and took a leave of absence after 2 months (single mama with a 6 month old – decided to support career of baby’s daddy, who was on the other coast, instead).

8) Let leave of absence expire (timing still wasn’t right for career of baby’s daddy, a family decision).  Then reapplied.

9) Got pregnant, again.  Planned this time (still wanted to go back to law school, so we kinda rushed in to number two so it would be at least 9 months before school started).

10) When it came time to make the final decision to attend law school, baby’s daddy’s career was cooking and I still couldn’t justify mine for his.

11) Determined that law school in Vermont was the ONLY school I wanted to attend, and relocating wasn’t going to happen, so I allowed other interests to take over.

12) Took an Anatomy class (and loved it) because I wanted to become a midwife, or a pediatric nurse practitioner, or a naturopathic doctor.  In all honesty, what I REALLY want to do when I grow up is to be an pediatrician who specializes in integrative medicine (I even started college as a microbiology major)… BUT, with kids, at age 29 going on 30, I’m almost 100% sure that ship sailed long ago.

13) Was trained as a Doula and volunteered at a local hospital as one.

14) After a few births and realizing how difficult becoming a midwife in San Francisco was going to be, again, I let other interests creep their way in.

15) Decided that I’d go to business school instead (something I had pondered way back between #’s 1 and 2).

16) Started an MBA program in Sustainable Enterprise, but left after a semester to again, pursue baby’s daddy’s career (who is now the husband).

17) Moved to southern China and now spend my days hanging with the babies and writing and dreaming of new pursuits.

WOAH.  That list just kept growing.  Even in college, my thoughts on my career changed every month.  I wanted to be a doctor.  Then, I wanted to be a zoologist.  Then an anthropologist.  Then I wanted to quite altogether and go to fashion design school.  Then an attorney working in International Environmental Law.  Then a trapeze artist in the circus.

Sometimes, I wish that I had been born 50 years ago when my options would have been a) a secretary, b) a teacher, or c) a nurse.  The OPTIONS are what kills me.  WHY MUST I HAVE SO MANY INTERESTS?  Combine that with being, oh, I don’t know, the MOST indecisive person who ever lived… and well folks, what you get is a 29 year old mother of two who is still floundering trying to find her career self.  AND, as dreary as it might sound, it’s ALL good, really.  It’s all part of my journey and I accept that there is meaning behind the floundering.  Sure, it would feel great to not have to wake up regularly wanting to research new programs, and schools, and possibilities, BUT, I trust that I’ll get there… wherever there is.

I will finish with 3 things that I would like to accomplish in the next year:

1) Take trapeze classes and become a BADASS trapeze girl.

2) Learn Mandarin as well as my VERY American accent will allow me.

3) Make some stuff and sell it.

What new things do you want to accomplish this year???


Psychological Terror and the Dreadful Thought of Parenting Advice

I was recently confronted with what I perceived as judgement of my parenting.  To which I responded:  Don’t mess with me, YOU HAVE NO IDEA.  And then, I reflected on my defensive reaction.  Why is it that parents are less than open to what is most likely meant as constructive criticism?  After this experience, I thought about this question; why was I so quick to jump on the defense? And then I came to my answer:  BECAUSE BEING A PARENT IS HARD, and the last thing you want is someone diagnosing yours.  Sure, there are times when my mind is checked out and I don’t constructively redirect my 2 year old (rather, I say NO or DON’T DO THAT or throw my arms up in defeat) BUT FOR F$&%’S SAKE (and as studies can back up),  I HAVE A FINITE AMOUNT OF “COPING” ENERGY GIVEN TO ME PER DAY, AND GOD HELP ME, YOU BOY (said 2 year old), JUST CROSSED THAT THRESHOLD.  We all have a different threshold and while I’d like to believe that mine is particularly resilient, well, if you saw me by 7pm, I’m afraid the jury would be in that I was full of shit.  I’M TERRIBLY IMPATIENT.  There, I said it.  My buttons are pushed to their limit nearly every day.  Did I mention the phrase Psychological Terror?  I’m fairly certain that it justifies the impatience.  Most of the time.

In discussing the situation with my husband, he so eloquently gave me the term “psychological terror”.  Cause that’s what it feels like sometimes.  Right?  The screeching on top of the whining on top of the needing on top of the bickering, multiplied by what’s going on years, and some days, I feel like the victim of torture.  AS IN when the headstrong 2 year old, fresh off a night of whimpering for the boob multiple times (AFTER HE HASN’T BREASTFED DURING THE NIGHT FOR 6 MONTHS), wakes up at the crack of dawn and drags you out of bed screeching, just so he can whine at you about the birthday balloon that has somehow managed to stay perky for what feels like a century.  AND BY 6:45 AM, YOU’VE ALREADY BEEN PSYCHOLOGICALLY TERRORIZED.  6:45.  And then you hope that, by the grace of the universe, today is the day you’ll be allowed to call UNCLE, and go back to bed in peace.  Though to be quite honest, as of late, this is usually my better half who has to endure the morning torture, because that’s just how wonderful he is.  But you get the picture.

This leads to one of those days where you desperately need a RESET button.  Or, a recalibration to CRAZY, where your new zero is ten (zero as in cool, calm, and collected.. ten as in heading-for-the-hills).  Because if you’re at least recalibrated, balance can be restored and sanity can be attained.  Seriously though, do you not wish you could press a magical button that would RESET your psyche for the day?  One where you could forget the frustration derived from your toddler nursing for 20 minutes until he was dead asleep, only to wake up hollering when you pull the nipple out of his mangy little mouth (YES, I have a two year old that still nurses down for his nap, don’t judge me)- thus totally screwing over what chance you had to naturally decompress?  SERENITY NOW, I say, RESET.  I want to be patient and loving and compassionate, BUT MY THRESHOLD HAS BEEN CROSSED, what power have I over the situation?  RESET.

And when it is finally accepted that no magical RESET button actually exists and patience is not restored, the GUILT kicks in.  Why can’t I be more patient?  Why do I need a reset button?  Is my child’s tantrum a result of said impatience?  Am I emotionally damaging them for life?  Which I guess they had coming, I AM berated with psychological terror on a daily basis.  Tit for tat?  After the barrage of negative self-affirmations has passed and my daily bottom has been reached, what usually happens is that I get an unprovoked kiss (preferably without a tongue) from one of the littles, perspective is found, and I let go of the guilt and remember to just let things be.  IT’S ALL GOING TO BE ALRIGHT, the kiss told me so.  The kids’ll be fine, I’ll (most likely) come out of their childhood sane, and we’ll go off into the night hand in hand.

IN CONCLUSION, do I deserve the much dreaded parenting advice?  Perhaps some days I do.  BUT, I think I have it taken care of, really, I’M FULLY AWARE OF THE TIMES WHEN I SUCK.  YOU’RE NOT TELLING ME ANYTHING THAT I DON’T ALREADY KNOW.  Throw me a bone, yea?  Aren’t I allowed to fall apart sometimes too?