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Get Me Out Of Here

Last night some other homeschooling moms and I were talking about educational theories. Someone said, “Waldorf says…” and another said, “Well, Montessori says…” And then we started talking about teachers who were trained in one discipline who start to go renegade. For example, a Waldorf-trained teacher who practices handwriting with her kindergarteners.
What it comes down to for me is that any theory of education that has well-defined boundaries is immediately self-canceling. Humans come in an infinite variety, and our understanding of human brains has only just started to develop. Educational theories are developed in a certain time and place with a limited number of children. But when they’re sent out into the world, they get tested over and over with the wonderful diversity of humanity.
My daughter has recently been described as a “visual-spacial learner,” and I’m only beginning to research what that means for our homeschooling. I used the word “described” because I keep a (healthy) skepticism about how closely you can define any person within the boundaries of a theory. But the visual spacial learner approach does seem to fit her well.
She’d probably do better in Waldorf than Montessori, though since the Waldorf is a good 45 minute drive from our house, that’s not going to be tested. But I did test her under Montessori methods, which claim to fit “all children.” The problem is, all children don’t fit the Montessori classroom.
First of all, you have the quiet, calm environment. I remember a conversation I once had with a mom about choosing teachers for her daughter. She said, “I’d go into one room and I’d see disorder and chaos. I’d go into another room and it would seem calm — perfect for my daughter. The problem is, she thrived in the disorder and chaos!”
That conversation took place before I enrolled my daughter in a Montessori-based school, so perhaps I should have considered more carefully. My excitement-loving, novelty-seeking daughter was clearly out of place there. It was a beautiful room, and the teacher kept everything perfectly organized. She would play quiet music, and the kids weren’t allowed to make any noise. My daughter hums when she’s concentrating — this is something we’ve always loved because it shows us when she’s “in her groove.” But the teacher forbade her to hum, thus insuring that she’d never be in her groove.
You might be better than I was at seeing what will happen next: my daughter quickly got sick of the calm, the quiet, and the order. She started to throw things. She started to try to get other kids to react to things. She started to say inappropriate words. In her four-year-old way, she was speaking very clearly. Get Me Out Of Here.
Then take my son as the opposite story. He was not thriving in his public school classroom. It was chaotic and loud, and the teacher was frazzled and didn’t notice that he was bored. She expected that he’d be able to go off and do things on his own, but never presented his options, which is something that he needed. One day when I was working in the classroom, he had as usual finished an assignment with no trouble. It was much too easy for him. He was leaning his chin on his hand, and his face spoke clearly to me. You know the type of boredom that’s so intense that it hurts? My son’s face registered that. It positively screamed Get Me Out Of Here.
Ironically, when I moved him to the Montessori-based school my daughter was in the process of dismantling, he blossomed. He loved to show me little things about the classroom, like the skip counting beads and the little mineral boxes. He knew where everything was. He knew what his options were. At first, his teacher said, he’d ask, “What am I supposed to do now?” But eventually he became the model Montessori student.
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with American culture. There are aspects of it that repel me. But I am intensely proud of our history of supporting individualism, freedom of ideas, and innovation. At the same time, though, we seem to be giving into a pressure to normalize everything. Public school, which used to have room for variety across regions and even from school to school, is becoming more and more rigid. Fewer kids fit in there. Charter schools are starting to fill the need for variety, but they are also under the gun of testing and finances. School districts are seeing less and less reason to offer variety.
Private schools, in my experience, are generally focused on a subset of learning types. That can cause problems with families like mine, where the kids have very different personalities and learning styles. I know of one family who sends their kids to two private schools in the county, one at the south end and one at the far north end. Sometimes you have to do pretty crazy things to do the right thing.
But it’s worth it. If you ever see your child’s face registering Get Me Out Of Here, make sure to take it seriously. Their happiness will be worth it.

Posted in Parenting.

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