The Thrill is Gone
“May he be a great learner and a great teacher.”
S chool never thrilled SchoolLess.
Just because this is not a new story doesn’t mean it’s not a tragedy, doesn’t mean it’s not, in the words of the Lamenting Mathematician, a “calamitous social injustice.” If, before putting a bullet in your brain, your killer says, “It’s not personal,” guess what? You’re still dead.
Folks often ask me this sad question: “What makes you think school is about being thrilled?”
Let’s start with the math. Forget about preschool, forget about college, kids are looking at about 1300 hours (180 X 7) of school a year for thirteen years, that’s about 17,000 hours; throw in, conservatively, another 3,000 hours for homework. We’re talking about 20,000 hours, double Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule. For what?
Don’t we want to teach the concept of opportunity cost? With all that time invested, shouldn’t our children be experts in something other than getting into college?
One of the issues— I do not say the only issue— that Skeptic and I have discussed over the years when school and learning issues have arisen, is my somewhat [Skeptic note: change to “irrationally”] antagonistic relationship with schools and formal education. Let me say it, and not for the last time: schools suck. I grew into this belief but— more Malcolm Gladwell— once I tipped I was gone, baby, gone.
I was eleven when it happened, about the same age as A. is now (cut to scribbling therapist).
Before that, until I was 10 ½, we lived in New York City where, for five years, I attended a wonderful, truly diverse, truly progressive independent school. And then we moved to Wilton. Wilton made no sense to me.
It wasn’t intellectual. It wasn’t diverse. It wasn’t progressive. It wasn’t interesting.
The town was filled with white, Christian, anti-intellectual, conservative, company men (IBM, Xerox, and so forth) and their spitting-image families. My peers were company (TBD by IQ, GPA, and SAT) men and women (the times they are a-changin’) in waiting.
Some will say things have changed. Some will say I’m being too harsh, unfair and uncharitable. Some will resort to barely euphemistic (for the sake of the children) expleteive: “where the sun don’t shine, my friend.” Realtors will threaten to use their Second Amendment Rights to “counter” those granted to me by the First.
I say to these people (some of whom are relations): I hear you. By which I mean: whatever.
The Wilton schools, so it is said, have always been “award winning.” Almost everybody goes to a four-year college. In my day, congratulatory colorful construction-paper balloons with every senior’s name and future alma mater were prominently displayed on the bulletin board in the school lobby. There were a few folks for whom college didn’t apply (names have been changed to protect the persecuted): “Artsy Jones: Undecided,” “L.D. Smith: Army,” “Antiestablishment Johnson: Norwalk C.C.” The horror, the horror. There were no surprises here, of course, the honor roll (made it once!) and the high honor roll (no comment) were published quarterly in the weekly Bulletin.
I never got a balloon. I absconded, diploma-less, after my junior year, headed for the hills (where I did eventually receive a round college diploma on a hot, cap-and-gown-less day four years later).
I can, and will, write more about this but, for the moment, back to SchoolLess and family dynamics. Skeptic has always been worried that my non-traditional mindset would rub off on our children. Confusingly, and it seems this must be so, she married me, loves me, for that very same non-traditional mindset. Suffice it to say, when she allowed her imagination to wander down home school lane, she wasn’t seeing dancing sugar plums (or Ivy acceptance letters) along the way. Something dark and formless loomed; whatever it was, she never quite could say, but it scared the hell out of her. Yet, she relented, she allowed herself to believe— contingently, uncomfortably, worriedly. Home school (AKA Learn Me Project) was a go.
Years ago, at a baby naming, each guest was asked to stand and state a wish to and for the infant. I’m shy; I waited. By the time my turn came all the obvious wishes— health and happiness, a wealth of friends and money, the Red Sox winning the World Series— had been taken. My mind was blank, panicky, and then it came to me: “May he be a great learner and a great teacher.”
Murmurs from the gathered throng, a smile from my wife. This is one of my most fervent desires for my own children. I didn’t see it happening for SchoolLess. In the realm of school, the opposite was true: he was not happy, he was not able to be himself, he was failing to thrive.
Some of you will dismiss this as the dystopic rant of a madman. I ask you, nonetheless, to grant me the opportunity to make my case over the coming weeks and months.
If you can’t, if you won’t, all I can do is wish you well.
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