Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The benefits of school

Ever notice how everything revolves around the idea of "school." Whenever someone sees a child out in public, the only topic they can even think to speak to them about is school ... Are you going to kindergarten soon? Do you like school? Are you excited for school to start? Where does your child go to school? What's your favorite subject? Retailers see school as a huge cash cow, which is, of course, a boon to a government that takes a pound of flesh for every transaction we make. Pools close down or adjust their hours as soon as kids go back to school, regardless of the temperature. Public places such as parks and the lake all seem to lock the bathroom doors as soon as school starts.

As much as I dislike the idea of institutional schooling, I will concede that the first week of school is cause for a wee celebration. All our favorite haunts are abandoned. It's almost like the rapture occurred. The parks are nearly empty, the playground at the mall is much less crowded, the lake is practically a private country club.

Last week, Dan and I took our usual Wednesday trip to the indoor playground at Southpoint. When we arrived, only five other kids were running around. The week before, it was standing-room only. This morning, Dan and I went to the park and were alone there until two other mommies joined us. A little boy of about three rode his training-wheeled bike around the sidewalk. Dan was ecstatic and curious. The little boy let him get on and I pushed the bike around. Later we went to the lake, as is our Monday custom. Usually we pay $5 to get in. Today, the gatehouse was empty. Good thing we didn't have to pay ... it started to rain. We found a shelter, ate our picnic dinner and then, when it cleared up, we took Dan for his first hike. Dan, clad in just a pair of shoes and a diaper, walked along the shore, picked up shells, threw rocks in the water, got muddy and generally had a good time hanging out with his family. Not a soul was in sight except for the occasional park ranger on patrol.

So, even though I detest the idea of warehousing children, I do enjoy the uncrowded public experience it affords us. Selfish on my part? Yes. Completely at odds with my beliefs about institutional schooling? Absolutely.

But, then again, I have chosen to stay home and be with our kids, now and when they're older. I'm not counting the days, months and years until they go to school. And it's a decision that I will likely doubt on several occasions. Hell, just last week I saw a flier for a preschool posted at one of the parks we frequent and checked out the Web site. I have to remind myself often that the thoughtful attention that Jim and I give our son is vastly superior to the one-size-fits-all experience he would get in school, no matter how well-meaning the teachers or how highly recommended the school.

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