Monday, February 05, 2007

My reasoning was flawed... I thought Chicago was the team to back, because of their proximity to Wisconsin, and then Holly reminded me about the Green Bay/Chicago rivalry. The Colts were the team to cheer for, if I wanted to show respect to my adopted state. Alex was firm in favoring Chicago, because he reasoned that the Colts were taking the rightful place of our home team, The Chargers. We got some things right, like inviting Holly, Nick and Izzy and Anne, Adam and Jacob, and the chili was good, so were the Super Bowls of Sundaes. Anne's cornbread muffins were scrumptious. The commercials? Mixed. Loved the one with Letterman and Oprah, the *cheesy/crunchy* Doritos ad, and did you catch Janet Reno and Martha? The best part? We learned how to squib.

Not liking school is normal, right? It's like a rite of passage? This morning was rough. Neither Alex nor Max wanted to go to school. Max is suffering from "I hate my new haircut" anxiety. Alex is just suffering. They are both doing extremely well academically, and they are equally successful in getting along, following rules, meeting social expectations. I don't know if I've covered their successes thoroughly enough. They've both earned a lot of praise. Alex's troubles are with making friends and coping with what he feels are the substandard expectations of the students by the teachers and staff... well, maybe the expectations aren't low, but the tolerance for rudeness, bullying, and slacking off is high. He doesn't like the way the other kids behave. Neither do I, but at least I can leave.

If I were writing about this a few months ago I would make a stronger effort to be moderate and diplomatic. It's February and I've seen enough to declare that there are a lot of spoiled, rude, mean, offensive children with incredible attitudes of entitlement in the middle school. My hope in sending them to a private school was that Alex and Max would find themselves in an environment with many children that care about learning and who want to focus their hearts and thoughts on building their minds and character. Lofty thoughts, I know, but it's more about the attitude, the intentions, than actually finding a school of perfect angels. Max is in that environment, the caring, thoughtful, gracious environment. Maybe it's about the age, second grade versus junior high school. Max's peers are polite, mostly, and enthused, mostly, and they seem to enjoy participating and sharing, which has made for a mostly great experience for Max. Alex has been bullied, physically and emotionally, and 6 months into the year he has only one friend. He likes the classes and the challenges; he likes the new opportunities and the teachers. He does not like constant display of material wealth... the iPod, cell phone, laptop, new horse, new cars, and new clothes, parade.

I've been learning some lessons too. My kids can speak for themselves, so I've been trying to step back, so they can step up. So, never mind what Alex likes and does not like. I will speak for myself. I do not like a lot of what I see at school. We are confronted with too much conspicuous consumption. This isn't just about feeling envy; our country is in a very unbalanced economic state. I am either seeing the wealthiest fraction, or way too many people are dangerously over-extending themselves. I do not like the attitudes the students flaunt. They talk back to teachers, they dictate to teachers; they leer at, glare at and defy the teachers. The things they say and believe are not the typical material of adolescents. They are firm in their convictions and expectations that they *make the rules, can break the rules and rest assured that mommy and daddy pay the rulers, so there! * And mommy and daddy do pay the rulers, which may explain why the teachers sound practically apologetic about assigning homework, or explaining why they can't have half days and more vacation days. The teachers can't anger the students, because the students report to the parents and the parents cannot be disappointed or offended... the juggling and accommodating is ridiculous and sad. The students are not accountable, respectful, or grateful. They act put out, bored, indifferent, mean, petty, and selfish.

There are exceptions, and I know it's not an easy age. The real test comes when I am in the classroom, volunteering. There are fewer than ten children, so it's easy to get to know them. They seem so burned out. They don't want to read, they don't want to do art, the girls refuse to do any sport other than dance, and the boys revel in being obnoxious as often as possible. The bad behavior can be so constant that I am relieved to leave, and I want to bring Alex home with me.

They are supposed to be learning about U.S. government in preparation for a trip to Washington D.C., so the director insisted they start a student council. Campaigning lasted a little more than two days. Initially Alex considered the possibility of running for office, so I was curious when the election was over and he had decided to refrain from running. He explained: The girls out number the boys, every student is running for an office, and every student has declared that she/he will only vote for her/himself. There was no point in running, and further, Alex reasoned he could at least cast his vote for a boy to be vice president, since the girls were certain to gain the presidency. And what happened to the school government modeling the U.S. government? I watched stunned when the results of the election caused uproar among the losing students. They complained that the results weren't fair, they all wanted to hold office and they insisted on creating more offices.

The school director obliged! *Okay, darlings. We can't let anyone be unhappy, so we'll have a second election. This time around 6th graders will vote too, but they cannot run, and we will create two new offices. So, besides a president and vice president we will elect a co-president and co-vice president. *

Ridiculous. The newly elected bureaucratic, 4 headed hydra has so far voted to rid itself of a P.E. class the girls abhorred, and they promise to get half days in the schedule.

I thought school was going to challenge Alex from between the covers of his textbooks and I was wrong. His academic lessons keep him busy, he is learning new concepts and skills, but the bigger lessons are in how to cope with rough kids from pampered circles, what American government is not, resisting the pressures to disdain effort and curiosity, and thwarting the manipulations of an overzealous director (later I will explain why Alex is not going to D.C.) School... it's not what we expected; there is good stuff and obviously stuff I don't like. I believe, even in crummy circumstances, there is something to be gained, so we are going to see this through. Above all, I hope that Alex can retain his interest in learning, his incredible curiosity and creative drive, his kindness and sweet nature. And the bullies? They had better watch out, because I was not brought up in their polite society...


Tarie said...

Hi, Natalie! I've missed reading about your family! That school actually sounds like the university I used to teach in - which is one of the reasons I decided to take a break from teaching. =( Thank God not all students and not all schools are like that!

Natalie said...

Hi Tarie,
It's nice hearing from you. I'm trying to keep a fair and balanced view on the school situation. I guess I needed to get all the *ugly* stuff out of my head. We are still trying to see the good aspects and monitor the rest. How has your teaching break been?

Julie said...

My free time on the computer comes and goes, but I am always happy to drop by chickenblog and catch up with you and your beautiful growing children!

Julie in Seattle

Natalie said...

Julie in Seattle, how are you? Are you still writing? It's good to hear from you.