October 10, 2003

Skool Daze

One of those mouth-open drives to school with Jenna today. Every now and then, the voice from the back of the van says something that freezes me in mid drive--I know my reaction by now. Foot releases from the accelerator and I become a three-second statue. Whiz bang the kid pinged my mind.

Today's conversation focused around her interactions with some little girls from her kindergarten class on the playground this week--or at least on the surface that's what it was about. One five-year-old in particular has had a mission the last two days of trying to make Jenna feel shitty in the way some little girls (especially) do so well: "I'm not your best friend." "She's not your best friend!" I've been around enough of them to know that this zinger is the weapon of choice for little girls. No matter who says it to whom, or why, or when, one of them ends up crying.

anyway, I talked with Jenna as I drove about her experiences last year at Montessori, and reminded her of similar experiences, and how she sucessfully handled the same kind of experiences there, and even ended up being friends with some of the girls who started out being mean. And I talked to her about what a "good" friend is and how good friends don't try to hurt each other, and how Jenna is a good friend to the friends she has.

I finished it off with, "Jenna, just be yourself, honey. You know yourself. You make friends wherever you go. Just be who you are."

She says, "I can't be."

I say, "Why not?"

She says, "The teacher."

I say, "What about the teacher."

She says, "I have to be her.

[[foot off the accelerator]].

"What?"

"I have to BE the teacher. She wants us to be EXACTLY like her. She wants us to say what she says and do what she does. She wants us to be her.

wshew.

Captured and interpreted in the mind and voice of a six-year-old who notices this for one pretty simple reason. The Montessori experience is the opposite of institution. In a Montessori classroom, learning is self-directed. The teacher plays the role of "facilitator" not teacher. Children choose their own work (and it is called work), take it to a table, do their work, return the materials so the other children can use them next. The Montessori classrom is quiet motion. It is a non-choreographed dance of learning, with the teacher adding value only where needed. It's child+materials+older children helping younger children.

Montessori is very much like blogging.

This is why it was so evident to Jenna during these first few weeks the contrast between where she'd been and where she is.

The institution of public education cannot be like blogging. I get that now. Although I have promises that this new school with its own curriculum approved by the board, not the State, will not behave like a regular public school. But how can it not?

Yes, we have further stepped up our efforts here at home. You have no choice with Jenna as your child. She demands to learn. And I know that her most important learning has and is taking place right here.

But what of our public schools? What of children in kindergarten who get the message that mirroring is the way succeed. Who learn early on not to be themselves, but instead to "be who we need you to be."

What about all of them.

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