Monday, March 07, 2005

school, schmool

My young progeny and I attend the local Waldorf school every Friday for a Parent-Child class. There's a free play time during which much pretend soup is made and hundreds of tasks are started and abandoned mid-way, and then we clean up while singing about a gnome in a falsetto voice while setting the table. Before we sit down to our healthy snack/meal, we sing songs and do fun rhymes, watch a little puppet play and count how many kids try and put the ambience candle out with their bare hands. Raelin is the star of the class.

No, seriously, it's fun to kind of poke fun at Waldorf because its easy to do so, but it's a pretty amazing program. Rudolf Steiner, the founder, could be argued as either a genius or a freak and so he was probably a little of both. Anthroposophy was the philosophy he developed (at least, I think he developed it) and it's controversial among various crowds. I don't know all that much about it, but of what I do know it's like most things: much of it seems right on, some of it is downright weird and suspect.

But, onto the issues at hand.

Since we are part of the school community, even if it is only for one morning a week, we get the weekly news. This week the news arrived and I started reading the first article. Seems that the third grade has a class project.

Science fair? no.
Interviewing a grandparent? no.
Collecting money for tsunami victims? not quite.
Drawing up plans for world peace? 4th grade.

no, the third grade has secured an 11,000 grant to construct a New England style barn- designed by one retired architect grandparent- which will house outdoor gear including 20 pairs of brand-new cross country skis at reduced prices, a parachute, sleds, ropes, tools, etc... for general school use.

uh, i want my kid to do that!

i'm having a big dilemma about Raelin's school years, and she isn't even 2 yet. It's kind of scary. I told myself I would never be one of 'those' mothers, but here I am obsessing about where she should go to preschool and thinking we better get our names on some lists so we have options. Ok, correct me if i'm wrong, but I moved to Maine. Why the *hell* do I have to have my kid's name on a waiting list for preschool?

here is my crucial question: how important is elementary school? and does that importance outweigh other life experiences during those years? what i mean is, is it worth it to spend the money for her to go through her elementary years in a rich (mostly education wise, but clearly in general families tend to be better off at Waldorf schools), stimulating on all levels, beautiful environment.... OR to use that money as a family to both add to her college coffers (not that we even have the coffers yet. or the money, for that matter) and do to other things that could be pivotal in her life like trips, concerts, music or art lessons, etc... Could we as a loving, active, and creative family make that impact, or will being in a school like Waldorf have an even bigger effect that we could not have? (there is a lot about Waldorf that i'm not mentioning for lack of time and motivation to write about it, but you can check out the link if you are interested in learning more).

the other piece of this is- how much do I shelter her? At Waldorf, I won't have to worry about soda in the classroom or other kids bringing game boys or other garbage toys to school. She'll get outside everyday and won't have to take stupid standardized tests. if she's smart in one area, they'll challenge her in other areas, rather than just bump her up a grade, or put her in some gifted and talented class for an hour a day. She'll get to build a barn, for crying out loud.

and yet... there is soda and a plethora of garbage toys out there. There are kids who live differently from us, who have maybe never had wheat anything in their lives. Standardized tests are a reality, and finding one's own challenges in life is a skill that needs to be mastered. Part of me thinks that one of the biggests lessons of public school is learning to deal. The problem is, that most kids don't- they don't get the guidance and support to learn how to make the best of where they're at. Lots of teachers just don't care; and the ones that do are rare and make very big impressions. 'Course, even if she has crappy teachers, she will have 2 caring and invested parents, but we aren't the ones who have to endure school again for 7 hours a day.

I don't know. Its a tough call. So much of it is financial, but there are some big philosophical issues that I'm grappling with in this one. Both Kevin and I went to public school, and we turned out fine. But we were kids back in the day when, well, at least at my school we took standardized tests twice- 3rd grade and 8th grade. Now it's almost every year. There was no stupid No Child Left Behind Act and money was still given to art and music. Public schools are different now. And, I did well- got bumped up a grade for reading and whatnot. But.... I was bored a lot. I knew how to do well without a lot of effort and so I think I developed a habit of only doing what was enough. I sought enrichment outside of school to the point where I did so much I could barely keep up with it. In the end... who knows whether something Waldorf would have made a difference for me or not. How different could I be? I mean, no Waldorf and I'm still a nature-loving, wheat grubbing hippie.

I'm interested in what other people think about this. And remember, I'm talking about preschool through 8th grade, not even highschool. There's a great alternative highschool here that I pray will still be around- and that's she'll want to go there. But really... are those early years the most important, or ....? tell me. i'm listening.


Blogger xz said...

i think assuming you can only afford to either a) send her to waldorf or b) have a rich afterschool life, you should chose B.

singing about a gnome is important, but she should connect her family with growth and her institutional life with making due, not vice versa.

that's the model i'd want my kids to have. plus if you can't afford 16 years of top level education, what will happen when she needs to go to public school? or when she leaves college and needs a job? school primarily teaches social skills at that age. no one is worried about raelin learning to read or count.

11:31 AM  

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