Tag Archives: School

Prep School

10 Jun

My conventionally unconventional middle son, William, has strong opinions.  Last year it was his strong opinion that school was boring and he shouldn’t have to go.  Though his father and I patiently explained to him that truancy laws prohibit 8 year-olds from absences caused of their own free will, William nonetheless exercised the only peaceful protest he knew how:  he waged a boycott of 3rd grade.

Such an act of civil disobedience was not new behavior for my son, who by the age of 2 had earned himself the nickname, “The Conscientious Objector.”  His M.O. was to protest any perceived injustice in his life– by simply going limp and unresponsive– thus requiring an exasperated parent to drag his lifeless body toward the bathtub or perhaps away from the gumball machine at the grocery store…

Once, at the age of 4, in order to get out of a much-hated swimming lesson, William pulled his passive-aggressive schtick, and went limp in the arms of his gullible swim instructor, who promptly activated the YMCA’s emergency response system, thereby clearing the pool, calling 911, and summoning the fire department and paramedics. 

So after Willie’s tenacious boycott resulted in him spending the entirety of his 3rd grade year with his head on his desk, folding all his spelling and math worksheets into little origami ninja stars, it became apparent that our precocious son would be better suited to a less traditional environment than what our neighborhood public school had to offer.

A long search and much hand-wringing lead us to a progressive charter school where we learned, he would call his teachers by their first names and have the freedom to decide exactly what schoolwork he wanted to do and when he wanted to do it.  This school doesn’t give out grades—it doesn’t even have desks in the classroom!– but it does have a labyrinth for quiet meditation… an organic vegetable garden… and Peace Pole in the middle of campus where students can gather to celebrate one another’s diversity.

On the Friday before school was to start, we pulled into the parking lot for the New Student Open House.  My disbelieving eyes took in an unlikely assortment of dilapidated trucks and expensive hybrid vehicles.  Each sporting a bumper sticker with some sort of wacky liberal credo like:  “Friends Don’t Let Friends Eat Meat” or “Every Day is Earth Day!” or  “Obama for President.”   I warily parked my nondescript minivan next to a Volkswagen Beetle with a license plate that read “MTHRSHP.”  Seeing as how the most liberal thing about me is my use of sunscreen, I started to feel uneasy about whether or not we were going to fit in here.

As we walked across campus, I took in the people:  apparently every dad had either once played backup for the Allman Brothers Band, or perhaps had recently written a manifesto.   And as tired as I was of seeing the Scottsdale SAHM’s uniform of $200 jeans and Juicy Couture, nothing could have prepared me for the Lilith Fair reunion that were the moms at this new school— all hairy-leggin’ it under flowy peasant skirts, and free-boobin’ it beneath tye-dyed tank tops.  Their pierced noses and pendulous breasts reminded me of the National Geographics I used to thumb through at the dentist’s office back in 1979.  If there were any cues about Fall Fashion Trends to be taken from the women at this school… then, Ladies, I can tell you without reservation that “Hemp is the New Black.”

In the classroom, boys and girls alike had long hair and oddball names like Cosmo and Chrysanthemum.  They gripped their eco-friendly, reusable metal water bottles and talked excitedly about summer vacations spent composting garbage; while their parents stood around proudly comparing carbon footprints and exchanging the names of good Rolfers.

I quietly excused myself and wandered outside to the school’s ‘Garden of Global Serenity’ where I sat down forlornly on a bench—probably hand-hewn by the school’s 2nd graders from the reclaimed bark of an organic tree…

Never before had I felt like such an outsider.  My bland little family is about as exotic as a loaf of Wonder Bread– yet at my son’s new school, conformists like us are the lunatic fringe.  I imagined having to instruct my son to keep our conservative values on the down-low:  Whatever you do, don’t tell them your parents vote Republican… or that we attend church on Sundays!   If anyone asks, we voted for… Kucinich… and we worship Mother Earth!!

I’m ashamed to say it to you now, but at that moment, I longed for signs of civilization as I knew it.  I closed my eyes and envisioned myself in my happy place: pushing a cart through Costco.  I found solace in the sea of sameness there:  the gargantuan SUV’s… creaseless foreheads… and buoyant silicone breasts.

I took a deep breath and shored myself up to rejoin the group of parents.   Despite the culture shock, I knew we’d made the right choice and found a school where our little non-conformist’s creative genius and personality quirks would be so nurtured that someday he could —  live his own truth — and fulfill his destiny… by chaining himself to a municipal building… or dropping out of Harvard… or publishing his very own manifesto.