choosing school

Bee's picture
Mon, 06/13/2011 - 09:30 -- Bee

Ever since his fourteenth birthday my son has been exasperated with me, and frequently asks why I do, oh, anything and everything.

I quickly learned to answer "Because I am old, and stupid."

He accepted this, and proceeded with the activities most dear to an adolescent.

Except one day he asked why I was doing something so obviously routine and necessary I answered "Because I am old, and stupid, and boring!"

He paused, thought about it, and replied "You're not boring."

Hilarious, accurate, and probably not intended as a compliment. My faults as a parent and human are numerous, but my offspring do acknowledge that I am interesting - exasperating, yes, but they say I provide high entertainment value.

The least offensive word to describe my antics is 'quirky,' but beyond my tendency to pontificate and obsess I have always kept them well supplied with novelty: moving to a new country, traveling the world, hanging out with scientists and historians and musicians and circus performers. We've had grand adventures.

And throughout our twenty years together they have rarely, and only very reluctantly, attended school. Because I do not approve of the formal institution, but also because they are. . . eccentric. My daughter was performing in front of thousands of strangers by age nine, my son has worn a suit and bow-ties ever since he could walk. They have strong opinions. About everything.

From the earliest age the children have made their own choices at every critical juncture. My daughter attended perhaps two years of school, total, before deciding to go to university. My son has clocked more time in regular classrooms, but he dropped out a few years ago.

What has he been doing with his time? Animation. Film. Theatre. Physics. And a few months ago he asked for tutoring in the core curriculum subjects - to catch up on dread topics like 'how to write a formal essay' and 'how to conjugate French verbs.'

Doom! Because this was the first step back to institutional learning. And there was no arguing with his desire, because as he pointed out, it is hard to make friends in a new place when you never meet anyone your own age.

I harboured a sincere hope that he would not be able to find a school, and the city cooperated - it is difficult to enter UK schools at age 14 because of the way the curriculum is structured, and central London is wildly oversubscribed.

I put him on the wait list for the nearest and least horrid school, and felt relief every few weeks when another letter arrived notifying us that there were no places available. In fact, he was taken off the list three times, as the default is that people in our position put the kid in private school. I wanted to tell him his wish was impossible to fulfil, but that would have been wrong. I just kept putting him back on the list.

Last week, the school called - a place had opened - did he still want to attend?

Every last shred of me wanted to say no, turn down the spot, lie to my kid if necessary. But to do so would be unethical and contrary to the very reasons I have kept the children out of school. I wanted them to learn from life, to make their own choices, pursue their own interests, make mistakes, fail, try again, on their own terms, for their own reasons.

Fundamentally it is up to my son to decide. And he chose. . . school.

This is England, so school means uniforms. Structure. Schedules. Tests.

Over the weekend we filled out his schedule. He had never been directly confronted with the fact that the school system is divided explicitly into college prep and vocational, even at this age. My kid is of course, before he even shows up on the first day, college prep. Because his parents and sister have attended university. No point debating, or even meeting the child, this is just the disastrously unfair way the system works.

The schedules are a morass of flow charts, acronyms, and conflict: if you take triple science, you cannot take media studies. If you take art you cannot take drama. If you take the college prep route you are excluded from the option of vocational skills classes, no matter how interesting. Does any of this make sense? Not if you care about education as opposed to test results.

My kid started arguing and I pointed out that school is about training clerks, soldiers, and clergy. I said "Don't think, just obey!" Then I started laughing wildly.

And this morning I waved as he walked away.

Comments

Lynn's picture
Submitted by Lynn on

Omigod. I don't even want to think of him as that old. Then again, my Jo is taller than I am now, and the "baby" is up to my ears.

Wait, you guys are UK citizens now? whu? How do I miss this stuff?

Hipmama Techmama, NewHomemaker, fantasy writer

Bee's picture
Submitted by Bee on

Yep, we're citizens. Subjects of Her Majesty the Queen. Had to swear allegiance and sing a little song, and everything! Though I kept my fingers crossed.

He is six foot two!!

Remember when he was about the size of (as he said at the time) a plate of lettuce??

Lynn's picture
Submitted by Lynn on

I do! Well good for you. I'd have emigrated to Canada by now, but a. they wouldn't take me (no seriously, I've been too ill) and b. the hubby won't come.

Hipmama Techmama, NewHomemaker, fantasy writer

Bee's picture
Submitted by Bee on

They grow up SO FAST! Mina is at university.... she has only moved ten minutes away, but sniff, I miss her!

Yes, I chose the only country that would take me as-is with no hassling around about insurance. When I write for the newspapers here people post mean things in the comments section about health care tourism, but hey! What other choice did I have? Suicide? Gotta live somewhere.

I do miss Portland though. I want to come visit! I've only been back for a handful of hours since I moved away.... nine years ago?

Susan's picture
Submitted by Susan on

6'2"? I guess that doesn't surprise me since M1 is officially & obviously *taller* than me. I think last time we saw everyone, he & I were almost eye to eye. (My kids will be lifelong bowling fans because of the time we went bowling with you all).

"Do not forget. Remember and warn." -- Plaque fixed to the hollow shell of Sarajevo's National Library

Bee's picture
Submitted by Bee on

Yes, and he has more growing ahead! He is expected to be six foot eight. This is really hard to imagine since I carried him around 24 hours a day for three whole years! My tiny little preemie is ENORMOUS!

That bowling expedition was so much fun! And so long ago, what, 2008? The four of us haven't been back since then... I only manage to snatch very brief moments in the city between funerals... I miss the mountains, and water, and friends like you so much. Oh, home! I would live on the ferry if I could!

Susan's picture
Submitted by Susan on

6'8"!? Good heavens! That's... inconceivable! But then again, not so much, perhaps. 2008 sounds about right for bowling. The house had been on the market for a while (still is, ^&*%^&%^&*, selling vibes desperately needed!). Perhaps next time you visit we will be ensconced elsewhere. Or this house will be miraculously bigger. Oy.

Totally psyched -- we're going to Orcas again this summer. FERRY TRIP FTW!

"Do not forget. Remember and warn." -- Plaque fixed to the hollow shell of Sarajevo's National Library

Susan's picture
Submitted by Susan on

Ok. I still cannot put 6'2" on that lanky boy up there!

"Do not forget. Remember and warn." -- Plaque fixed to the hollow shell of Sarajevo's National Library

Bee's picture
Submitted by Bee on

His dad is 6'6". So it is easy for me to imagine.... liking is a different matter! I'm the shortest person around here! Fierce and wise doesn't make as much of an impression when people tower over you. They laugh and pinch my cheeks. Though it is kind of funny to have them all trailing along after me as I stride purposefully onward.

I AM SO JEALOUS YOU GET TO GO TO ORCAS!! I haven't been since 2003! I'm so homesick I accidentally had nostalgic thoughts about the Key Peninsula the other day!

Lynn's picture
Submitted by Lynn on

SIX FOOT EIGHT? I mean, I know Byron is tall, but srsly? Jo's supposed to top out at 5'10", not sure about Lou but it'll be close, and that's bad enough considering I'm only 5'4" and they're already calling me Little Mama.

Does your kid like manga? Wonder if he and Jo would wanna do the pen pal thing...

Hipmama Techmama, NewHomemaker, fantasy writer

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