Olivia, our eldest, starts P1 in September. We have not had to make too many educational choices yet in our time as parents. But, with those we have had to make (nursery, primary school), we have found ourselves weighing up what matters to us, what are the things we have opinions about, and, what are the things we actually don’t have opinions about.
Without judging, we are free to not care about some of the things other parents gush about. Otherwise, we will constantly sway from one school or nursery to another, second-guessing our choice. Otherwise, all the opinions around us will feed our fear of missing out, of our child missing out, whatever choice we make.
So it was the noticeboards, the uniform, the space, the Maths scores, the Christian ethos, the reputation as “just a better school”?
Without judging, we are free to leave those as other people’s reasons. We are free to have our own.
I don’t have a strong, clear educational philosophy. My approach is probably best summed up as hesitant and open.
Hesitant: I’m uncertain about our measuring sticks, about what we consider as ‘success’, about what educational attainment really means.
Open: I click on the articles about Finland or homeschooling or why homework isn’t necessary. I’m not on a soapbox about any of those things, but I find them interesting. I bear them in mind.
With each educational choice I have as a parent, with each article I click on, I am being asked to consider what is best for my child (maybe children in general).
From the day they are born there is this emphasis on what they are learning and (when we’re not too tired to brush our own teeth) we try to adjust our environment and our words and the toys we provide accordingly.
I am hesitant and open, knee-deep in figuring things out, but I do know I want to cast the net of ‘learning’ as wide as possible. What’s at the end of this obsession about learning environments and stimulation and bed-time stories for my girls? Say we get our educational ideal and we nurture well at home and they grow up articulate and intelligent and capable. What then? Well-paid jobs? Well-run homes?
At 4 and 2 I delight in their curiosity, their love of learning, their language acquisition. I want it to grow, at home and at school, but not as a means to an end. I don’t want a qualification or a job to be the full stop to their curiosity or their way with words.
I have been flipping all these thoughts over recently, taking a break from obsessing about how we are shaping our children and thinking more about those of us who are already grown-up. Am I the adult I was educated to be?
What does it mean now, at 35, that I was taught and nurtured as a child? How do I honour my ability to read? What do I choose to do with it? Where does my curiosity take me these days?
Sometimes it seems like we want to know how to develop and stimulate our children, while numbing and exhausting ourselves.
In an essay that I love, Anne Lamott asks some writing students if their children grow up to become adults who spend this one precious life in a spin of multitasking, stress, and achievement, and then work out four times a week, will they be pleased that their kids also pursued this kind of whirlwind life? “If not, if they want much more for their kids, lives well spent in hard work and savoring all that is lovely, why are they living this manic way?”
I want much more for my kids, I suspect we all do, that’s why we deliberate over their choices and why we click on those articles. And yet, the multitasking, stressful life is where so many of us land. I don’t want to waste a good education pursuing that life and I don’t want to be a mum who models it. I want them to see that I’m still curious, still reading for pleasure, still learning new things. I want them to see that their dad and I are intelligent in different ways and that we make room for our passions and our interests. Every time I obsess over their environments, I want to pause and look at mine. Am I the adult I was educated to be?
I look at my environment
And wonder where the fire went
What happened to everything we used to be?
[The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill]