Chapter Two: Tory
Public School is saturated with meaningless competitions. Many are not intended. But the very situation, the very place forces kids to compete. In Public School your little one wouldn’t compete with a skill that he is trying to perfect, like playing the piano or distance running. He would be forced to compete for information, validation and attention. Should any little person have to compete for those things? Would that be the case if you were teaching him? It’s difficult to keep in mind that the child’s experiences are as deadly serious to him as our adult experiences are to us. What’s more, they are happening in the time of life when his concept of himself and the world are forming.
From his earliest years, Tory took every form of competition very seriously. Even where no competition existed, Tory was competing. Sometimes, in the environment of constant meaningless competition that exists in the Public School, Tory’s emotions would get the best of him. Sometimes Tory would “meltdown” with no apparent reason. It would have been very difficult to see that these outbursts were caused by some competition, real or perceived. Maybe a teacher would point out another child’s strength without mentioning his. Maybe another student would get his spelling done before Tory did.
By the end of primary school, Tory’s behaviors grew worse. He was naturally kind. He came from a loving home. Yet he began to persecute those he saw as competitors. He began to lie when he didn’t achieve the highest score. He lost his temper more often, more violently.
One day, in my music class, a girl sat in a seat that he wanted. He completely lost it. The kids giggled at the display. He was embarrassed and got even angrier. It quickly played out, so I just let it go. He would “meltdown” at different times for what appeared to be different reasons.
I tried to observe what was happening to see if I could help him, but at the same time I was responsible to keep order in the class and help the others learn. I came to see that every time he lost it, there was either an obvious competition, like for a place in line, or a competition that he inferred. He was in constant anxiety. Why?
For Tory, and all little people, these competitions aren’t just struggles for a place in the lunch line. They are life struggles for their identity. They are in their formative years with no one to give them perspective on these competitions. The outcome of those struggles will have a profound effect on every aspect of their lives. It will effect who they become as adults.
The more I observed Tory, the more compassion I had for him. We had an agreement that he would never blow up in Music again. He did his best. But I could only imagine what “50-in-a-minute” was doing to him.
One day at lunch hour, I found myself at the local convenience store with Tory’s teacher and the principal. I took the opportunity to get some insight from them on how to help him. I had no teaching background, no training to deal with the situation. And I really wanted to do what I could to help Tory. We exchanged some ideas. I asked the principal, who was formerly the school counselor, what he saw down the road for Tory. What could I and the other teachers do to help him? The response was not what I expected, but it helped open my eyes. His response helped Cassi and me decide to get our own kids out of there.
“I’ve been working with Tory for years. You can’t expect any real change. Don’t take it too seriously or personally if he continues like this all through school.”
I was stunned. There seemed to be no recognition that any school policy or program might promote the behavior, or even cause it. The response was immediate and matter-of fact. The discussion was over.
What still strikes me about this experience is that I knew the principal to be a decent, good man. I have heard him talk about the greatness and potential of our youth…all but Tory. Was he right? Would his parents say that he was right? Do you believe he was right? To teachers it doesn’t matter much, because they will only have to deal with Tory for one year. And so his principal and teachers make sure that Tory’s school experience will be full of stress and pain. There’s no need to help him if he can’t change. There’s no need to find out the problem if it won’t matter anyway.
How do you feel about the idea that your little one would be forced to compete? How do you feel when you are forced to do something? When was the last time, you, as an adult, were forced to compete? What is the actual reason the little people are being forced to compete in public schools?
I am for competition. I thrive on it. Our economic and government systems rely on it. It can propel us toward excellence. For competition to have this effect, it must be voluntary, not compulsory. The competitors must know what they are competing for. They must be able to understand what’s at stake. They must be free to prepare to compete. The outcome of winning and losing must be clear. Seldom, if ever, are these essentials in place when the little people are forced to compete in the public school.
Some argue that competition is a part of life; that competition in the learning process helps little people prepare for life. But the unnecessary, incessant competition in public school actually retards the emotional growth that will give the little ones perspective on their real world competitions. No adult has to participate in the type of artificial competition that exists in every layer of public schools.
Especially during those early years, the competition that is weaved into every aspect of life in Public School is very damaging to every child’s ability to learn. The damage that would be done to your little person’s developing personality and character would be so profound that he would likely never get over it.