Friday was Toby’s last day of school. We pulled him out of the public elementary school he or one of his brothers has been attending for the past 10 years, and enrolled him in a private Waldorf school. As our friends and acquaintances find out about our move, one response outpaces the rest. “What happened?” they ask. The answer is anticlimactic. No major event occurred. There wasn’t an incident. Our decision isn’t a reaction; it’s what we hope will be a positive preventative measure.
Toby’s just…different. He pursues his passions with the intensity of a fish swimming upstream, nosing here and there to poke between the reeds while everyone else beats on. He asks questions…probably too many. He likes to talk…to his teachers, to the recess monitors, to the bus drivers; he considers them peers when they’re not. He is very sensitive; if a boy he plays with every day makes the random eight-year-old-boy decision to hit him in the arm instead of pass him the rubber playground ball, he isn’t hurt. He’s deeply injured. He loves the Beatles and Harry Potter and Little House on the Prairie, and wants to talk about these things even though no one else on the playground wants to listen. He sews quilts at home but knows not to admit this to his buddies. He plays soccer like a rockstar but loves piano just as much. His many, many standardized test scores show that he’s above grade level in reading and in math, but he doesn’t enjoy either of these subjects in class. Or any other, really. School is either stressful, filled with land mines–”What if I have no friends today?”–or brutally sterilized of imagination–”We did ten review worksheets today.”
After being raised by two public school teachers, befriending many teachers during my adult life, and working in a public school myself, I will never be that parent who accuses a school–any school–of failing my child. Schools are institutions, trying to serve masses using standardized methods designed to teach the greatest number of kids in the most efficient manner possible. Of course they’re going to fail some kids. There will always be kids in the margins, who don’t swim along the main current. I taught many of them, and trust me, they were floundering. Let me be clear: our kids, including Toby, have been blessed with many wonderful public school teachers over the years. The best ones, the ones who truly made a difference for our kids, found ways to make the system work for them, instead of the other way around. But sometimes, this cannot be done.
In this era of blame-shirking and finger-pointing, mine may not be the popular opinion, but I stand behind it: the education of a child is a parent’s responsibility. So is the happiness of a child. And the preservation of their whole self, quirks and all.
And so here we are. We first looked within our school for a solution, but the problems Toby faced daily–the lack of creativity in the educational style, the lack of room for individual voice, the negative bent–were either pillars of the core foundation of the classroom itself, or of Toby’s personality. We looked next within our public district–when Calvin’s math needs were not met last year, our district bussed him to another school just for one class a day–but no direct solution existed in this case.
We landed on a small school of one class per grade tucked into a rural neighborhood about 20 minutes away from home. It’s vastly different than its public-school counterpart. It looks different: there’s a vegetable garden and a knitting room. It feels different: teachers loop with their classes, worksheets are unheard of, and grades are not awarded. It’s scary to try something so…counter…to what we know, but for our different kid, we needed something different.