Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Going Public

I only went to public school for one year, eighth grade, and it was in Pacific Palisades, California, one of the richest suburbs of Los Angeles. It was and is the very public school that O.J Simpson was filmed standing in front of, waiting for Sydney I guess, in one of the clips they showed over and over again, all the while he was getting away with murder. But there are other reasons I hated that school, well before O.J. killed his wife.

My gym teacher was a very tiny, plump Asian woman who was so heard-hearted and cruel, even mocking, that the thought of her gave me epic nausea every day before school. Stuff was stolen from me constantly. Kids shoved and tormented. It was harsh, mean, classist and full of every kind of bad value. Its biggest flaw, though, was that it was crashingly unmemorable but for those memories I am trying to forget.

The rest of my education was spent in fruity private schools. For those of you who don't know me personally, I will say by way of explanation, that I (and my sister) had a very privileged life, educationally, paid for by my dad, who was a working writer, a film critic at Time magazine. If Time had a heyday, it was in the 70's when I was a kid in New York. He was by no means rich, instead he worked incredibly hard, constantly in fact, at his profession, and somehow he afforded to send me to Dalton, and then boarding school. It would have been a comfort for me to discover that he had maintained a double life in which he was drug king pin, or I that I am the secret heir to title and substantial fortune, but the reality is he worked his ass off and chain smoked - no doubt due to the pressures of affording my education -my entire childhood. That, and things were a lot less expensive and exclusive then. There was still a middle class and it was still allowable, even honorable, for them to be included in upper class activities. I don't think that's true anymore. We were the last of the middle class Mohicans.

I say "fruity" private schools with love in my heart. I know that I had it real good, and didn't appreciate it enough. But I now say with pride, I am fruity! My people are fruity. I come from the fruit, and I have born the fruit. When I describe some of the educational techniques from my private schools, to my republican husband, educated himself through the very system our own kids now enjoy, I can see in his eyes, as they roll entirely back into his skull, just how frilly-poo-poo I am, and I am embarrassed for me.

When I tell him that in high school we acted out tableaus of our family life, placing other students in the "picture", posing them to represent our family dynamic, I have to hand Vild a barf bag. While conversely, he tells me how the principal used corporeal punishment on him and his 6-year old pals, I want to paint signs and picket all the way back to 1973.

They don't do corporeal punishment anymore. Instead, they do No Child Left Behind. Frankly, I'd rather have my ass paddled. Bush's hand cranked grinder for education, is mashing out the sausage meat of mediocrity, in state mandated bullet points. Weeee!

So, needless to say, I'm a very conflicted parent. My kids go to a really superior public school, and they are very lucky. But something about the "criss-cross applesauce" taming of large groups, and the handout rich environment make me edgy. I know I take my life in my hands, criticizing my kid's school, or over-generalizing about public school. But...

Why? my mother correctly asks, in the whole discussion about education, are the only subjects mentioned, Science and Math? Because, answers Bill Gates, we must prepare an entire generation for high tech jobs.


But I read everywhere that education doesn't lead to jobs anymore, so is it too much to ask that at least the years of education be fun and interesting while it happens? If math and science are your thing, go forth, my friends and prosper. But reading and drama and music and civics and creative writing, and family tableau enrich civil public discourse, not, I would argue, algorithms (though I'm well aware there can be poetry there too). Furthermore, I, and most of the fruits I know, would die in high-tech jobs. We would shrivel and our limbs would fall off right onto the motherboard.

I write this with the painful knowledge that my boy hates school. He sucks at it, for the most part. It plays to none of his strengths. Sitting still. Following the group. Being told what to do. He hates that. And it makes me long for an environment for him where he might clap out numbers by twos and fives rather than reading them off a xerox. Or I yearn for him to learn to write in an environment where creative juice is squeezed a little more fruitily, as much, let's say, as stickers are given out, not to him, for good penmanship.

My husband argues that it's good the kids are exposed to the "real" world, not some coddled one in which one's individuality is formed on the paper doily of indulgence. I just can't abide that. My individuality, which was so honored in my education, is the force that gives my life form and dimension. Certainly not my job. Not even what I learned, but the way I learned it, showed me that there were a million ways to do any one thing and that I might avail myself of any of those avenues to solve problems, to make friends, to meet the world, that global world we're so hot for, head on.

Who knows what the job market will look like in twenty years? We don't know what it will look like next year. It seems to me we need to make kids more flexible and adaptable, more creative in their thinking, not less so. Sure, more kids over the hurdles, I get that. But is our goal really to perpetuate a paradigm of ho-hummery? I can say this, I did NOT hate school. Sometimes it hated me. Mostly though I felt some fun things might happen there and while I was at it, I might learn a couple of things.


  1. You've done it again, Miss Schickel......I LOVE THIS and what it says about our beloved kids. And spending my adult life in a fruity school where kids prance around stages acting out Greek myths and Colonial American family life has been 100% fun. Bless you for writing this.
    Apologies to Vild......

  2. Great to rediscover you again my friend. You are such a great read - funny and compelling all at once. I say pull em out for a year and travel!

  3. I like the idea of acting out Colonial American family life and pulling my kids out of school to travel. Maybe I can travel in a bonnet and have it all?

  4. Led here by our friend Lori T--just saw Race to Nowhere this week, a documentary about the education "ratrace" (not a very good summary term for this, but it will have to do). I was bored as heck in public school but found Hampshire College which saved me from hating "organized education". I worry not only about the loss of arts in public education, but more about the continued ignoring the very real fact that kids have all different ways of learning. We know so much and yet our education system doesn't change!

    I could never homeschool, but I admire those who do--tapping into your child's desire to learn can be done afterschool too--don't let homework drag you down. Watch the documentary--start a discussion!


  5. You might appreciate a Waldorf school.


  6. Richard, eh? I learn something new aboutcha every day :)!
    Bend your teachers ears ad nauseum about creativity. Offer to read and act out the stories with his class. Once a week, or month, or whatever. I bet they take you up on it and I bet it pushes them to stretch a bit, too! Maybe talk to Katie Poe too...she's great...voice your concerns...ask about teachers for next year (there are some spectacular teachers in every grade!) see what happens. And then continue to nurture creativity at home -- tho I have no doubt your children swim in it there! Best Wishes!

  7. Excellent credit given to your Dad. I know you remember my frustration with two very bored kids, choiceless about their public education, never fitting in, always in some kind of trouble, and all because they were bored to diliquency, very bright, and in the end , resourseful. Jake says he attended high school across the street from Northampton High, which, of course, is Childs' Park. NO music program, no art, lacking in compassion, and now my goreous grandson, the best runner, has no track program at his school. Sucks. So, this comment is about my empathy for Lou. Seems as though the trade off for a shittie education is private lessons, so there goes another $50! Keep writing you are my shinning star.

  8. Great post, Miss Jessica. So eloquent, as usual, and absolutely echoing where we are right now as we check out schools for Duncan. Friends keep saying, don't worry about the lack of art/music in schools, D. will get that at home. Doesn't make me feel better. I'm with you, sweetie—creativity rules out! Anna

  9. nice story- I can tell stories of your hubby back in the day if needed- I know the reason for the beatings!!!!!! He is a good man.