Tomorrow I will register my sweet T for kindergarten. I cannot believe she is even old enough for kindergarten. Where is the pause button?
Kindergarten registration is always bittersweet, isn’t it? I remember feeling a mixture of pride and loss just two short years ago, as I waited in line to register Leo. I stood there, fighting back tears, and I wondered how my baby could possibly be ready for the big yellow bus.
Tomorrow, I will experience kindergarten registration for the second time. I’m sure I will feel the same mix of bewilderment, pride, and loss, but I’m feeling something else too: reservation. I am experiencing reservations about kindergarten registration, folks.
I never imagined myself homeschooling. It simply wasn’t ever on my radar. Schizz and I are both products of public education, I worked in public schools, and I am a public school advocate.
Lately, I’ve been grappling with that last part. Typing the words felt disingenuous to me just now. Am I still a public school advocate? I’d like to believe that I am. I’d like to believe that public school works, that every student receives an appropriate education. I’d like to believe that the unique needs of every single student are met. Of course, I know this doesn’t happen. I know this because I’ve worked in the public schools. I’ve always been aware of the disparities in public education and that is why I chose to work in special education in urban settings. I’ve talked about this before, and I could go on and on and on about how unfair it is that a city kid receives an entirely different education than a suburban kid. It’s not fair. In fact, it is utterly deplorable. The inequity used to motivate me, it used to make me want to fight, to work for change. Lately it just depresses me. It seems that we spend more money on public education every year and yet the same issues remain. We are spending more and testing more and yet, when you look at student performance across the globe, our nation’s performance is… mediocre.
I have been involved in public education in some capacity- either as a student, a volunteer, an intern, or an employee- since I was five years old. This is the first school year- since I was five years old- that I have not set foot in a public school. I’ll walk into one tomorrow, but do I want to?
I started homeschooling because the public education system failed my child. A highly rated school system failed my child. We embarked on this path because we felt we had no other option to meet the unique needs of our son.
And, do you want to know what? Removing the public school system this year felt good, refreshing even. I thought I would miss it. I haven’t missed it for a minute, folks. In fact, I’ve come to realize that learning and school are two separate entities, and you can have one without the other. Last year, Leo experienced a lot of school without much learning, and this year-thankfully- we have the opposite. Our world feels better, and lighter, without public school.
More than ever before, the public education system feels broken to me. I’m thankful that we opted out. We started homeschooling on a whim and it has changed our world, it has been a true blessing in disguise. I am only in our first year but already I see so many benefits over a public education. To me, it now feels unfair to send one child to public school while another is homeschooled.
“Are you going to register T for kindergarten?”
I have been asked this question innumerable times over the past six weeks. Yes, I am going to sign her up for kindergarten because it is what she wants. T is excited about kindergarten. For T, school is an entirely social experience. She adores her girlfriends and, in her mind, school equals play. When you are five, school should equal play. Sadly, nowadays there is little room for play in kindergarten. Will T love kindergarten, as I did when I was little? Will her teacher understand her? Will she feel valued and understood? Will she learn? Will she be happy?
T and Leo are not the same child and I’m certain T’s kindergarten experience will be quite different than that of her brother. Perhaps her kindergarten experience will be absolutely amazing. But, here’s the thing, and here’s why I worry: Leo is my squeaky wheel- you can’t not notice him, and T is the opposite. She would rather observe than be observed and she shrinks from attention. The school failed my squeaky wheel. Public school failed the kid who entered kindergarten on day one with several chapter books in his backpack. Public school failed the kid who couldn’t stop reading. Is it wrong for me to think that public education might also fail the child who would prefer to not be noticed? T learned to read over the summer but she is a humble reader. She will sometimes pretend that she cannot read in order to make Seuss feel better, because he can’t read yet. How will that play out in a classroom, folks? If the school failed to serve my squeaky wheel, is it wrong for me to wonder what will happen to the child who would prefer not to be noticed?
Our wounds are still healing over here. I remember that misunderstood and downtrodden little kindergartener who would climb in my car every afternoon last year. And I feel guilty that we didn’t pull him from that situation earlier. I keep telling myself that this time we know better. We can always leave. We can always opt out. The minute she doesn’t enjoy it, the second she is not understood or valued, we can pull her and do it better. But that part of me, the part of me who remembers last year so vividly, wishes we could opt out from the start.
Every child is different and I believe it is important to follow each individual child’s lead. Public school may turn out to be the best option for T, and we won’t know until we try.
Tomorrow I will enter the public school for the first time since June. I will sign my girl up for kindergarten because this is what she wants. I do this despite the deep sense of foreboding. The real question is: will we stay?
Tell me folks… have you ever homeschooled one and not the other? Have you grappled with the choice? Do you think it is fair? Have you felt they way I do? Please share your thoughts and experiences here!
We destroy the disinterested (I do not mean uninterested) love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards- gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards…in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else… We kill, not only their curiosity, but their feeling that it is a good and admirable thing to be curious, so that by the age of ten most of them will not ask questions, and will show a good deal of scorn for the few who do.
~John Holt, How Children Fail