Monday, August 21, 2006

The First Day Of Third Grade

I hate the first day of school. I always get this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach like I'm feeding her to the lions. Someday I will look back on that feeling and know I should have listened to it, but by then it will be too late. She will have become a drone. But I know that I don't have the means to home-school her and that she needs the social interaction, so I send her off on her scooter with her stiff new backpack strapped on, knowing that the teachers are waiting to strip her of all remnants of individuality.

On the first day of kindergarten we send dozens of happy enthusiastic children off to school, and by second grade they want to drop out. Why? Not because they are tired of learning. No, it's because deep down they instinctively resist being transformed into mindless herds of cattle, pushed single-file through the school system, unable to even take a tylenol or cough drop without it being spoon-fed to them by the school nurse. It's sad to watch, to see my daughter , whom I have raised and nurtured for eight years, disappear into some random cookie-cutter image of Standard Caucasian Female. So far she's done okay, but for how long?

She still prefers Rachael Ray to Hilary Duff, and Animal Planet to MTV, and I encourage it. But someday soon her Christmas wish list will include a Britney Spears CD, her Tony Shaloub as Monk poster will be replaced by some over-styled boyband, and wardrobe arguments will go from "You've outgrown those pants, they're too short" to "You are NOT leaving this house with your belly showing!"

It's not that I resist her growing up. Well, not much anyway. It's that I resist her being made into a conformist by teachers too under-staffed and under-motivated to deal with individuals. We send these kids off to schools to be made just like all the others ("See how Johnny colors inside the lines? Don't you want to do it just like he does?") and then we wonder why they succumb so easily to peer pressure. We didn't raise them to do things just because the other kids do them, did we? Well no, we didn't. But while our time with them was spent arguing about teeth-brushing and homework and bedtimes, while we made dinner and sorted laundry, we spent far less time with them than we thought. From age five on, we hand them off to teachers and soccer coaches and troop leaders, and as long as they don't get molested we think it's fine. But none of those people are in the business of thinking about the adult they're helping to shape. They want high test scores and game scores and more patches ironed on a vest. They teach competition, not compassion. Labor, not love.

I think I'm going to spend more time with her this year. Not get as worked up about teacher reports as I have in the past. Let them worry about classroom participation for a year; I'll worry about exactly who I may be sending off to college in a decade.

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