Chapter Thirteen: Jordan and Jacob
For seven years my wife and I bought into the myth that Public School was the only place that our kids could learn. Why question it? Our grandparents went to Public School. Our parents went to Public School. And we went to Public School. There was no reason to think twice about sending our own kids.
The school our kids were assigned to is a rural school. We know all the teachers and care for them. They are devoted to doing the best they can to teach and lift the little people assigned to them. They always seemed responsive when we met with them at parent-teacher conference. They were willing to listen to our concerns when we had them. Mostly though, we didn’t really have many concerns. We did our job as parents and we let the school do its job to teach our kids. We were together with our sons in the morning for breakfast before they went to school. One or both of us was home when they returned in the afternoon. We involved ourselves in their lessons and tried to keep up with what was going on in their school life.
As days turned to months, turned to years, we began seeing changes in our sons. Once naturally curious and anxious to learn anything about the world around them, they seemed more and more listless. Once naturally confident, they seemed more and more worried and less engaged. Instead of looking for nice things to do for one another and the family, they fought and bickered more often. We always got the same response when we tried to find out what was going on each day at school. We couldn’t quite put a finger on the growing disconnect we felt.
We reminded ourselves what great people staffed the school. We reminded ourselves that even if we wanted to make a change, there wasn’t a private school within reach. We increased our efforts to be involved and engaged. Yet the trend continued. We talked up “our” excellent school. We looked for all the good to convince ourselves and others that we were good parents by having them taught there. We knew and loved all the teachers. There was hardly any crime. Among other schools in the state it performed well. The boys were getting good grades. And they were learning those invaluable social skills.
As the boys got older and were more able to articulate their experience we began to understand what was happening to them. But we knew we had to just make the best of it. Our only other option would be to take them out. That was out of the question for many reasons. We weren’t qualified to teach them. We didn’t have the time to teach them. They might not want to leave. We couldn’t do it financially. And most importantly, we wanted them to have those social skills!
So we tried to involve ourselves even more. When we brought up concerns to teachers and principals they would always acknowledge our concerns. We would feel validated and yet things would continue on with no change. The picture of tedium, confinement and demeaning policies began to take shape. We began noticing that the students were being taught to be in the middle of each subject. There was no real reaching for excellence. We began hearing of children in the school behaving in ugly ways. We knew them all and were surprised and saddened as we understood more and more what role the school played in bringing these kids to the point of behaving that way. A more complete picture of “our” exceptional school was starting to form. We wondered what it must be like in schools where the staff wasn’t as devoted as “ours” was. We heard about failing schools all over the country. If “our” excellent little school was in trouble, we could only imagine how bad others must be.
We began talking about the changes we were seeing in the boys. With some simple math we were able to see that the school had them for more time than we did. Their formative years were slipping away, never to be redone. What were they learning about themselves? What were they coming to believe about the world around them? Was the medium, middle, dare I say mediocre education worth it?
The opportunity came to actually teach at the school. The money and benefits were pretty good for the first year of any job. The school district was willing to have me teach for a year on a provisional certificate. I would get to be with our boys right there in the school. I would be able to reach out to hundreds of little people and teach them the joys of music. How could we lose?
I am so glad for that year. If it weren’t for that experience, I might still believe as I had and my sons would still be consigned to finish their education in the Public School. We have never changed our opinion of the teachers and staff at the school. They are devoted men and women. They are doing the best they can within the system. The Public School system dictates to them how to teach, what to teach, when to teach it. They are under contract to carry out the policies of the Federal and State Governments. They must carry out the policies and programs whether they think the children are benefitted or not. Seeing those policies and programs in action, seeing the culture they create, seeing what was becoming of little people and teachers first hand, was enough to get us on the road to freeing our sons.
We discussed leaving the school for months before we finally got the courage to do it. Until the day we actually made the break we could not see the system for what it was. We were in it. We were part of it. It was a part of us. Our lives had revolved around the school schedule. Our goals centered on success for our boys in the system. To change all of that was to change our whole lives. Were we ready? Was it the right thing to do? Were we up to actually teaching the boys? Had we considered how much more it would cost to feed them at home? What questions didn’t we know about? We were walking blindly into unknown territory. But we had come to see enough of the school to know that we could at least do as well. So during Spring Break we made the decision that Jordan and Jacob would not go back. Cassi and I thought that maybe they would be against the idea when it came right down to actually making the break.
“Really?!” Jacob asked excitedly. “I thought you were just talking! You mean we really don’t have to go back…ever?”
“Never.” We replied. (“What have we done?” we thought)
“That’s so awesome!” Jordan added.
From that very day our life has changed in ways we couldn’t have imagined. All that time given over to the school is ours. It always was! Our family is happier and closer. Our sons are excelling in ways we couldn’t have imagined. We have expected a mutiny at any time, but so far, our sons appreciate the experience as we do.
With all my heart I want for you to have this experience. Your life teaching and living with your little one will be rich. Only now do we realize that it was never the natural way of things to give up our children to someone else to be educated, protected and fed.