My first-born son is in Kindergarten. This has been a bit of a tough transition for us as a family is some respects. For starters, he only has 20-25 minutes to eat his breakfast. Do you have any idea how hard that is for a kid who spends 85% of his meal time talking? I do. Just sayin'.
We have to pack lunches, go to parent meetings, sign up for committees, and figure out how to handle birthday party treats. When it's a kid's birthday in his class, their parents will bring some kind of a treat for the class at the end of the day. Well, when your kid can't have wheat or dairy without getting seriously bound up and suffer some pretty intense gas pains, it puts a whole new spin on a simple cupcake. We (and by this I basically mean Ginny) have to be at his school by 7:25 am and 3:45 pm...like, EVERY day! As if it wasn't hard enough to have kids and socialize. It's always been, "Sure, we'd love to come over! We just have to leave by 6:30 to get home to start the bedtime process, which takes longer because he spends 85% of his time talking." Now it has become, "We can be there for 15 minutes at 4:45."
He's also started what I'm sure will be a life-long tradition of not giving us any information about his day. Even when I know what he's done that day and ask leading questions?
"What'd you do in school today?"
"I don't know."
"Well, what did you study?"
"I don't know."
"Did you learn any letters?"
"I don't remember."
"Did you learn the letter A?"
"Oh, yea! We did."
"Did you sing a song about it?"
"I don't know."
"Did it go like this?" [I sing the song]
"I don't remember."
I'm not vocationally an academic achievement assessor, but I will say that I'm not sure that counts as learning.
The biggest thing we're dealing with is that our education system was developed during the industrial revolution, and the conveyor belt style of universal and uniform information dissemination into quiet and seated children is heralded as the only way to teach. Now, if any of you have boys that have any kind of personality at all you will know, as I do, that they are basically puppies. They have feet that are too big for their bodies, they have two speeds: the speed of sound and off, they need to be hosed off fairly frequently, and if you don't take them out for a walk/run every single day they will eat your newspaper and throw up in your shoes. And while this may only be a slight exaggeration it stands to reason that little boys are not meant to sit for 8 hours a day in a large group and get told what to do. I know of only a handful of adult males who can handle that, and I am certainly not one of them. So the notion that they will be able to keep their hands to themselves, keep quiet, and never talk out of turn for an entire day is on the outskirts of ludicrous. Then to punish these boys by moving their peg down on the behavior board for simply being boys is maddening. Also, I've never been so emotionally swayed by a clothespin on construction paper in my life.
Since he started school nearly a month ago, I can count on two fingers the number of days that he hasn't had a net loss on the behavior chart for the day. He's wrestled with the, "I'm a bad kid," feeling--a notion which we have brutally murdered immediately. This is a label that any kid can quickly grow into, and I'm not about to have the kind of self-fulfilling-prophecy bull-roar take over my kid. We've had a teacher conference and my wife's observing tomorrow to see what the deal is. To his teacher's credit, she has over 20 kids and no aide and no parents allowed in the classroom to help. I've heard from a credible source that kids learn best in a group the size of their age plus one, so for kindergarteners 6-7 kids per group would be optimal. So we can say that at least some of their conditions are sub-optimal. But she also seems to want to stick to this whole notion that they are 6 now and should be ready to follow all the rules, all the time all day long. Also, they should get jobs, pay taxes, and make their own meals. We're going to continue to work with his teacher and the school for now, but we are also keeping an open mind. Maybe we'll homeschool him for a few years. Maybe we'll apprentice him to a cobbler and he can learn to make shoes and then open up his own shop when he turns 14. Just spitballin' here. There are no bad ideas.
Here's where I'm heading with this, though. Through all this, my son still really like his teacher. He still loves his school and to see the fervor with which he puts on his own uniform in the morning is unmatched in our home. He's learning new words, new songs, and all kinds of cool stuff. Just the other day in Target he turned to me and said in the most sincere and earnest voice I've ever heard from him, "Dad, it'd be my honor to check out the Lego aisle."
I'll bet it would. I love you.
He is punished for behavior that is outside what could be reasonably expected of him. He's made to feel inferior to other kids just because of his approach, when he's finished doing worksheets before the teacher is even done explaining them to the other docile idiots in the class. How unfair is that! But his joie de vivre perseveres in the face of injustice! He still loves school, and happily showed us his handiwork at his open house. He says good thing about his teacher and his, "best silly dude, Jude." He doesn't like to talk about moving his peg down, but he isn't depressed. He doesn't drown his own self-disappointment in Ben and Jerry's. It'd just bind him up anyway! By the end of each day he's taken his lumps and disappointments, but has moved forward with the same passion for life that he started his day with. I hope Kindergarten doesn't beat that out of him. I wish I had learned that. Every day he teaches me something new. I'm still smarter and possess a slightly greater command of my bowels, but I can take notes about how amazing it is to find just the right Lego, or to eat a pancake, or to even be able to dress myself. LOTS of people can't do that.
Thanks, Ben, for once again showing me how to do life better.
Jesse is a professor at Houston Baptist University. He also directs the school's theatre club, does handyman projects on the side, and produces features and short films. A Pastor's kid/missionary kid, his view of life is at the very least unique. And hopefully helpful.