Saturday, January 17

At Home, But Unhappy

Suddenly I've got more work than I know how to get done (and no babysitter). One current project is to write a handful of passages, items, and lessons for a test preparation book for first graders. Yes, indeed: for first graders. Debates about No Child Left Behind and high-stakes testing aside, I can tell you this much: spending time on the lessons in such a book might help a child improve his or her test scores, but it is unlikely to stir any excitement about reading. Certainly not the wide-eyed, bobble-headed excitement that I see in our four-month-old Critter's face when I turn the pages of The Very Hungry Caterpillar for him.

Ah, school. What else is it for but to crush your spirit? I do my work, the Critter on my lap, and consider these sentences:
Education on Freud's view is precisely the attempt to make children (and adults) forget about what most interests them. Our unique attachments to the world are what education is designed to erase, and it is those unique attachments that make knowledge real for us, as opposed to mere rote exercise.
I quote from an essay in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy, "'My God, It's Like a Greek Tragedy': Willow Rosenberg and Human Irrationality," about Willow's sixth season–concluding attempt to bring about the end of the world. It was while attending the International Reading Association's 2006 Annual Convention (about which I remember little other than the ugly carpeting extending toward all horizons of the massive McCormick Place, Chicago's convention center) that I read this essay, and, gazing at all that carpeting, asked myself, What have I been doing with my life?

Like Willow, I was good at school. Success at school involved a paradox, however: I was at home in the classroom—particularly the English classroom, where poetry, novels, and stories were the subject—but unhappy. There was always too much to do, and I felt I was smothering something else in myself in order to measure up to what seemed to be expected of me. And so I mastered the invisible curriculum, learning to put aside my own desires in order to accomplish what others expected of me.

Who were those demanding others? Parents? Grandparents? Teachers? Though I possessed an abundance of wild energy, like many children, I wished to please. So now that I have my own wild little Critter, I see just how important it is for us—parents, grandparents, teachers—to carefully consider what it is that we expect of our little ones—and whom (or what) those expectations really serve. And what worries me most as I write and edit the various lessons, teacher editions, and tests from which I make my living (what, indeed, am I doing with my life?) is that I consider very little of it good enough for my boy.


katie said...

a particularly pungent juxtaposition for you i imagine: the reading to your wee one (whom i still cannot wait to meet very soon i hope) and thinking about learning and working on your professional projects.

i cannot help but think you will navigate this one with grace, ms. rae. maybe that doesn't help a'tall, but sounds like you're trusting your instincts, or at least feeling them out, which is half the battle, no?

raerae said...

One hopes that grace will see us through, and I'm grateful for your faith in me. Right now, though, I dislike my complicity in the rationalization, standardization, and testing of knowledge that has taken control of our schools; on the other hand, with the skills I've happened to develop I'm able to work and stay at home with the Critter. (Though eventually he will be in day care part time; I cannot keep this up!)