So, I’ve been thinking about fitting in and not fitting in. Three seemingly unrelated things brought this together for me.
First, I’ve been thinking about the financial cost of having our children in an independent Quaker school. If I were to be very responsible and talk to a financial planner about this, I feel quite certain there would be gasping for air about the expense we are incurring relative to our incomes, plural though they may be. (Thank you family, and dear, departed grandparents for your assistance!) I loved the trips my family took when I was young, yet I just don’t see that happening for us at the moment, since we did not win the most recent MegaMillions. It has been suggested that maybe it would be better to save tuition money and be able to take some trips. This theory says that the cultural experiences of travel combined with going to the local public school would better than the independent school combined with a lot less travel. I’ve been thinking about it.
Second, in the early spring I went into GAP Kids with my daughter. We were at our local Trader Joe’s and it’s across the parking lot so I said we could stop in. My daughter has recently become a huge fan of plaid shirts, and she was on the lookout for more. (I had not promised to buy anything, it was just a reconnaissance mission.) Anyway we headed into the store. The girl side was all pastel and sparkles. My daughter quickly determined there was nothing there of interest at all. She is not a girly girl, at the moment, and her short hair often gets her mistaken for a boy–a boy with little heart earrings, but a boy. On the boy side she found several plaid shirts that she liked and which we did not buy. In this instance we just happened to be at The GAP, but I we have had similar experiences at other stores.
Third, I read Seth Godin’s most recent manifesto about school: Stop Stealing Dreams. I’ve read a couple of his other books (Tribes, Linchpin, and Poke the Box) so I knew what I was getting into with him. He writes about the early purpose of mass education being the production of a labor force for the new industrialized work place. The goal was to churn out trained and obedient workers for jobs on assembly lines. He contends that too many public, and independent schools, still work on this model, squeezing all passion out of students, forcing them into compliance, and creating graduates ready for the jobs of a previous decade (in a nutshell).
So, putting those three little bits together, I started thinking about trips and school first. If school is a bit boring, that might not sound that bad, but if boring is not “just boring” it can head right into mind-numbing. Then we are into the realm of and dangerous in my opinion. Yes, those fun trips surely would be memorable, but if I believe, as I do, that the school my children attends is fostering their love of learning, encouraging them in their passions, and valuing them as individuals, a week or two a year of big excitement is not a good trade for an entire school year of boredom and potentially the need to undo a lot of what happened during that school year. Now, we live in a “good” school district, so I know it would not be as bad as all that. And yet, my school gets students from the local “good” districts all the time. The parents and children are, almost to a person, thrilled with the difference they see.
Then, I added in the GAP piece and thought about my daughter in particular and fitting in. I find her to be an interesting, challenging, and sometimes infuriating person. Seems about right for 9 1/2 I think. She still has good friends who are both boys and girls and invites either over to play. She loves poetry, LEGO, reading both fiction and nonfiction, playing in the dirt/garden, and is currently creating a ninja club with my son and some friends from school. Training is proceeding according to schedule as far as I can tell. So far I have not received my letter to join. As we walked around the GAP kids, I felt that my daughter, the interesting, and yes sometimes infuriating, person in front of me was not really wanted. We have no problem shopping in the boys’ department there or at any store (especially when buying shorts as apparently all shorts for girls are actually made for hookers, which I find inappropriate, even though I do have a bit of a soft spot for short-shorts.). But why weren’t some of these shirts that could be worn by anyone, as clearly several of the shirts in the boys’ section could be, in some sort of anyone zone in the middle of the store? Traditional girl colors have been adopted for boys, great. Boys now have the option for dark traditional boy colors and patterns as well as new pastel options. What about some range for the girls? (Note: on a later visit to the GAP there was a wider range of color choices for the girls as well as some shorts that did not make me think of the “street-walker or starlet” game on Joan Rivers’ Fashion Police.)
Finally, as I have been reading Seth Godin’s manifesto, I am more convinced than ever that although we should check out our local public school more thoroughly, and perhaps play the lottery a bit more, we should stay the course in terms of our children’s school. I don’t think any trip can compensate for a year of having the fire stamped out of you. If a world of pastel and sparkle is what is waiting, it’s clear that my daughter does not see herself in those neatly defined boxes right now, and I certainly have no need to put her into one. Her class is very small and she has had her issues with a student or two. She’s not perfect. She gets her feeling hurt and is very undone by any perceived injustice. And, she has a healthy sense of self, regardless of where we buy her clothes. Her school is not perfect either. Still, I think we are making the right choice for now.
So, this spring vacation we hung around the house. We did a lot of cleaning out of junk and rearranged bedrooms. It was very satisfying. We drove to Washington, DC and spent 1 night. We had a great time, and on Monday we all went back to school feeling good about our choices.