Saturday, August 14, 2010

Freedom for 10 weeks a year (a repost)

Today I heard a commercial on the radio for a retailer who claimed to have the brands your kids want for back to school. I reflexively flinched, as I do every year about this time. Right now, I have little energy or brainpower to say much better what I wrote a few years ago on the subject. I've made some revisions in an effort to make my offerings on the subject more thought-provoking than offensive. Please, please, please do not take my criticism of the predominant model of schooling in this country as a rejection of education or a desire to reform that education model. My desire is simply for choices about education to be returned to parents, who know when and where and how their children will learn best.

The back to school propaganda machine is in full swing from news media to advertisers. The news media makes light of the collective groan from children mourning the loss of summer freedom and cheers from adults anticipating the return of "free" day care in the form of compulsory public education. Advertisers swoop in with the diversion of back-to-school shopping. New clothes, fresh supplies, the latest electronics—all to distract parents and children alike from the scary reality of ever-increasing government control over our children, our time, our entire lives.

Children's instincts are right, but not for reasons that they are even conscious of. Learning is about making sense of the world around you, but too many children are cut off from that world. They are stuffed in a classroom for eight hours a day after a too-early bus ride and are spending even more time away from family on homework or extracurricular activities. Caged like animals, cut off from their natural instincts to explore, observer and learn, they turn into adults who can't make sense of the world around them. Their survival instincts were shut off at an early age. They know it isn't right or natural, and I suspect, deep down, parents know this, too. They go along with it, though, perhaps because they feel they have no choice. They accept, essentially, government-mandated control over how their family spends its time.

Here in North Carolina, it's still over 90 degrees outside, hurricanes are churning in the Atlantic, summer thunderstorms wash away the day's heat, the ocean water is the perfect temperature, the cool air of the mountains still beckon, not a single leaf has turned color, tomatoes are still ripening on the vine, mosquitoes and fireflies still flutter in my backyard. Yet students are returning to school next week, unnaturally ending a season that naturally meanders into late September. Every year, I feel excitement with a twinge of sadness as seasons pass. But as a child, returning to school in late summer was met with unspeakable sadness and anxiety. It unnaturally cut short time with family, time to play, enjoy summer, read, sew, garden, swim, be with friends or be alone, even doing nothing at all.

The language of the back-to-school blitz makes me flinch. A "Kickoff to Kindergarten" event at a local museum was described as boot camp for 5-year-olds; a lifeguard described the change in demeanor among children in the past week saying "It's just like they put their heads down and look at their feet. They know what's coming."

A headline declared "Last week of freedom." I'm afraid that's old news. Our freedom was lost a long time ago.

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