The last few weeks I’ve heard and seen so many things which worry me. Sometimes it feels too personal to share other people’s experiences with difficult things in their schools or child care centers. Sometimes my own experiences feel too redundant to share..Yesterday’s homework in after school is one of those things. The infamous spelling worksheet based on word scrambles and matching the scrambled words to words first and second grade children are unlikely to know or use..In this case, hys scrambled and meant to match to the word bashful. What kid these days uses the word bashful? Why is matching that to hys unscrambled as shy a better use of my seven’s time than playing with her friend or reading a book of her choosing or watching the younger ones play? It’s the nonsense of it accepted as sense that gets me down.

Another family of a young boy was recommended at parent teacher conferences to take their child to a doctor, code as the mother understood it for get him on medication for ADD. This child is not the first or the last to be told to take drugs to be able to cope with the environment of school. It’s so boring, the poor guy says, explaining how hard he tries to sit still in class. Meanwhile, other friends of older teens dose their children with ADD medication in order for their boys to cope with intense private school environments and their heavy demands.

In another school a kindergarten teacher is showing our graduate how to respond to social difficulties by encouraging the class to put one hand on a hip, tilt the head and hip, and say Nah, nah, nah, nah.

These stories are endless. Families and kids cope, or don’t. I am reminded again and again and again why I do the work I do, not for the money or the prestige, but as Parker Palmer said in a recent Sun interview about his dedication to living in a Quaker  community with his young family, because I feel I must.

Kids these days are being denied the essence of their childhood, freedom of movement and thought, the right to play, access to the outdoors and down time. Teachers and families are doing what they must feel they should do to get kids where they think they need to be, sitting still, reading, quiet, paying attention, focussing on certain tasks. It makes me sad. And scared.

Meanwhile at the day care and at Sudbury Valley the kids barely need us much of the day. Kids are so completely full up with ideas and creativity and energy and motivation and inner desire to be and learn and do, it sometimes seems all we need to do is to step back and allow them the freedom to be themselves in a kind and caring community. It helps that we have lovely books and materials, comfy couches and decent spaces and access to the outdoors, but often I feel that even these are superfluous in some ways, that kids on a beach or in the woods or in a simple structure would be as creative, open, and happy.

So, why not try this in more places, with more children, with more openness to see what the children will do?

As much as I love my work with kids in the day care and have figured out how to explain our place and welcome new families enough to fill our spaces each year, I haven’t figured out how to do the same thing for older kids full time. We do a fine job with after school and vacation care. We’ve hosted a few home schoolers.  Our attempt to provide a real alternative for school age kids failed. No home school group as alternative school for WFDC. No SPCS this round or last. And, as much as I love my work at SVS, as happy and successful as I feel my own kids have been there, as proud as I’ve been to introduce others to the place, I still can’t figure a way to explain the place as a longterm, large scale commitment to educating the full range of kids in a community. Families I talk to who are unhappy with their kids’ experience are curious, but other than a small group of my middle sons peers who came for a short time, its not a place most families I know will see as a place for their kids.

Still thinking on that. It’s my goal to figure it out.

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