What does a rainbow mean to you?

There was a rainbow, sprouting nearly out of the edge of the parking lot at school when I stepped out of the school office this morning. I had just completed the withdrawal paperwork pulling my eldest son out of public school at the end of the year – merely five days away. It occurred to me that I’d made the right decision to homeschool him because the only thing I wanted to do at that moment was go yank him out of class and admire the rainbow together. We would draw pictures and read about water droplets, weather patterns, light reflection, the color spectrum, and the earth’s atmosphere. We might even read poems about rainbows and pretend to be leprechauns in Ireland. We would make rainbow cupcakes and paint a Roygbiv painting. We might even create our own rainbow with a prism and a glass of water. Then we’d have a rainbow lunch and pack up the chalk to go draw rainbows on the pathways at the local park. We’d sing rainbow songs as he conquered the monkey bars and pretend we were gliding down a rainbow on the slides.

Instead, he was going to spend the next six hours inside getting lost in the crowd. And what a crowd it is – 30 high demand 5 and 6 year olds. One teacher. No aids or assistants. At least 10-15% of that class consists of children with serious mental and emotional problems, as well as very immature kids. The result is an environment where the loudest, neediest children demand, and receive, the complete attention of an over-worked, under-paid teacher who is doing her best with the limited resources available to her.

And then there’s my little guy, relegated to the “good kids table” in the very back of the room, where the teacher doesn’t have to keep as close an eye on the activity. My amazing guy, who comes home complaining that he keeps getting distracted and can’t finish his work. My guy, one of the kindest, sweetest, best mannered kids I know, who never gets recognized for being a good citizen in class because he’s not a hand waiver or a type-A kind of kid. He’s his own goofy, quiet, serious, focused, active, peripheral participating kind of absolutely normal, wonderful kid. A child who adores learning in every form.

There are lessons here that I think he has learned with grace and shown remarkable moral differentiation about in such a short time. He learned quickly at the beginning of the year how to ignore the bullies and how to avoid being shoved or body slammed off the top of the playset. It only took once…or twice…maybe. No one knows because there’s rarely enough adults to monitor the children on the playground. He’s learned how to keep his head down and skirt getting blamed for bad behavior, because when no one’s watching, it’s easy for the bullies to get away with nearly murder. He’s learned how to follow inconsistent or incomplete directions from a distracted teacher. He’s learned to turn a blind eye when something’s wrong. Keep his head down. Don’t make waves.

What parent wants that world for their children? Not many, if the parents of this class are any indication. In chatting with several other Moms, it became apparent to me that I wasn’t alone in my concerns this year. Does this make us all helicopter parents, that we wish the best for our children, to allow them to be joyous, creative, silly KIDS for as long as possible? It was a hard choice, because the little dude adores school. He craves structure and knowledge. He thrives on his own, and with other adults in a safe and open environment. But when we started talking about other options with him, his eyes brightened and he threw himself at us in an enormous hug. “Can we really, Mom? Can you and I do school together? With experiments, and crafts, and books?”

I have significant reservations about extended homeschooling, although I’m increasingly surrounded by like-minded parents who have chosen to keep their kids out of public school. Was it this bad when I was a child? I am a product of a top notch public education, but my catch phrase has always been that I learned in spite of school. I have a few great memories of transformative educational experiences, but the vast majority of my schooling involved teaching me how to hack the system. And here’s where it gets tricky. I’d like my sons to learn the hacker mentality – change your perspective, challenge all assumptions, dive in and experiment, subvert oppressive authority, teach yourself, make incredible things and never doubt who you are. How can you pass those values on? How does one create an environment that fosters that kind of independent, creative problem solving?

I don’t know. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to give you an answer. But I plan on trusting my instincts and letting my incredible little man have a chance to shine on his own for a little while longer. With the cost of private schools nearing a monthly mortgage payment, who knows if we’ll be able to afford to send him somewhere with a compatible teaching theory. We’re going to revel in our freedom to follow our instincts and interests. Move it, move it Mondays, Tasty Tuesdays, Wandering Wednesdays, Thinking Thursdays, Fun Field Trip Fridays, Silly Saturdays, Sleepy Sundays, karate, piano, rock climbing, soccer, and more. We’re off to explore this wonderful world. Wish us luck.

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