Pedagogy Stew: October 2013

Picture an eighth-grade boy in the late 1970s. Sort of a cross between Richie Cunningham and Shaun Cassidy. Watch him as he jams a little nubbin of a pencil so far into an electric pencil sharpener that it runs continuously, leaving the not-too-bright teacher to puzzle over the mystery of it all.

Don’t worry about that boy. He’ll grow up to be an aeronautics engineer.

The teacher? He’ll get fired. He had so little control in the classroom, we looked like one of those inspiring hero-teacher movies BEFORE the hero shows up.

That’s the closest I ever came to being homeschooled, when this teacher was in the process of being fired. My Dad was on the school board, and when the teacher accused me of crying to my parents about how mean he was (I complained, but I don’t remember crying), they pulled me out of school. But it wasn’t really homeschooling. I just sat in a lawn chair in the corner of my Grandma Roane’s lawn (which was kitty-cornered to the school) and waved at everyone when they were at recess. Soon enough a hunky-hero teacher showed up and I went back to school.

I was lucky enough to spend an evening with many of my eighth grade friends in early August this past summer, and it was terrific seeing all these folks again. What we went through in grade school bonds us in deep ways.

We caught up on all kinds of things. We agreed the hunky-hero teacher still looks pretty great, thirty-plus years on.

We chose to get together this summer.

But the time we spent together back then wasn’t out of choice. Not ours, and not our parents’.

We went to school where we went to school because there wasn’t an alternative.

Since most of us were from staunch Baptist or Methodist or Pentecostal families, the Catholic school in the next town would never have seemed like an alternative, though it occurs to me now that it was.

I don’t think any of us had ever heard of homeschooling.

Homeschooling is but one of many, many alternatives now. School choice in Wisconsin means my husband and I can send our son to any local elementary school, including our choice, the Studio School, which is a public school/charter school/school within a school. Next year, there may be a STEM school (focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in Arena we could send him to. School vouchers in Wisconsin mean we could send him to a private school and get some state money for it (wait—really? That can’t be right. Maybe I dreamed that).

Our two main criteria for deciding how to school our son are these: is he happy? Is he learning?

I’m glad to have alternatives. I’m glad we get to have criteria beyond “if the teacher is horrible, we’ll try to get him fired.”

But it’s not just nostalgia when I miss the simplicity of how I went to school.

(This column originally appeared in Voice of the River Valley.)

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