kids in American schools

The Innocence Lost in Our American Schools

I have been substitute “teaching” in my kids’ school this year. I think because of COVID (how many times must we say that expression?!), parents have found creative ways to be involved – literally to be IN the school – at their children’s schools. I hadn’t the time or the credentials to substitute in a long time, so I very much looked forward to this last year when my three little kids would all be at the same campus – not to be repeated until Ellie is a senior! And I have learned more than I expected to (which is always true, right?) and be shocked into realizing that the innocence and joys we experienced as children have been lost in our American schools.

And I only tell you of it not to offer a solution (I have many ideas, all completely without ground or merit since I am unqualified to offer advice!) or point fingers at the problem makers – I write because I want to tell you this, as my friends. Love your children. See them. Hear them. Ask. about. their. day. With intention. Ask more than three questions, while you’re driving. Ask the questions when you can see their facial reactions and interpret their thinking. Stop what you’re doing and look at them. In the eyes. Make them feel valued, special, important, smart, interesting. Every single day. I actually mean it. Every day. And I say this with complete humility at realizing I don’t do this consistently and need the reminder.

I remind us because of what I’ve learned back in school – it is not as you imagine it. Actually, when I used my photo search to find a high quality picture of “kids in school” to insert into this post, I laughed at the results. Because -it’s what I believed school looked like, too! Yeah, the smiles, the engagements, the learning, the teaching, the happiness, the camaraderie, the ease with which the students and teachers work. Examples:

There are no chalkboards in this school where I substitute “teach.” As a matter of fact, I often can’t find a place to write with a wipe off marker because the wall is covered with a smart board and everything is programed through the computer to display on the screen. Imagine all these precious kids above – but with masks on. They can’t talk, they can’t breathe, they can’t communicate. They feel walled off, apart, separate, unseen. You can’t hear them when they speak, only when they yell. Frustrations are high, like higher than you can appreciate. By the students, by the teachers, by the staff. It’s so unnatural, it’s sad. (I’m not writing to debate or argue or criticize or anything the Mask Topic. It’s old, I’m over it. I’m only writing about my personal, lived experiences in an American classroom with American students. :))

When you send your kids to school – and I’m not differentiating here between public, private, boarding, inner-city, small town, faith based, expensive, free, new or old. If it’s a building and it houses your children for the point of educating them, I’m calling it a school and I’m talking about it. When you send your kids to school, you are sending them into a storm. Depending on the school, the storm looks and feels differently. But it’s still a storm, and your kid is still in it.

Technology. It’s everywhere. It’s in their face all. day. long. It’s used as a teaching tool, a replacement tool, a pacifier, a reward. It’s in your child’s classroom in the most prominent positions, it’s in their backpacks, and, if you choose, it’s in their hands. And the effects of this pervasive priority are too many to delineate here, and again, I’m not qualified to know them all. But it’s like the schools have turned blue, the screens are so just, ON, all the time.

One of the days I got to “teach” my own kids 🙂

Kids. I grew up in a small-ish town, going to its public school. And I’ve never seen anything like this before, from children so young and so precious. The anger, the bullying, the disruptions, the animosity – it simmers just below everyone’s breath, every day. The differences in learning and student preparedness is as wide as the Grand Canyon, and yet everyone, despite these enormous differences, is in the same classroom with the same teachers, “learning” the same material. The kids are abrasive, manipulative, smart but exceptionally lazy. (See technology and all its affects for copious buttressing here.)

Teachers. They are managing. Barely. They are managing egregious behaviors, they are swamped with minutia that doesn’t create a love of learning, they are under-appreciated and yet, protected by unions, cultural norms and current trends. In general, they remind me of all the professionals we know who entered a field of study for one beautiful and pure motivation but end up living their lives navigating and managing an entirely different set of skills, wholly miserable and unfulfilled. Yes? Where are the teachers who love their students? Who believe in them, who see them, know them, nurture them? Where are the schools who encourage teachers to instill that love of reading, that wonder in science, that excitement in the written word? Again, they too, like their students, seem irritated, frustrated, annoyed, managing. Just managing the day. Not thriving, not loving, not happy. Just getting to that final dismissal minute and dragging themselves to the car.

So, my point. Appreciate what you’re doing when you send your kids off in the morning. Understand that their days, their experiences, are just as tough as yours, probably harder. They are tired, they are disappointed, they are very, very, very frustrated. They are – more than likely – managing. And do yourself a favor and don’t eliminate your reality from this. You’re not exempt, if you have children in school. You cannot pay enough, micromanage enough, prepare enough, volunteer enough to protect/avoid/insulate from these realities. So, this goes to you as well as me: love your children. A lot.

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