I’ll never forget my first time on a movie set. I went down the block from my best friend’s grandma’s house in Wilmette to watch Home Alone filmed. A curious crowd stood behind yellow tape gaping at workers moving equipment, and while, looking back, none of it was miraculous, all of it, at the time, was magic. I promised myself then that one day, I’d be on the other side of that tape – on the inside of everything special.
Since then, I’ve been on the front lines of many film sets, face-to-face with A-list stars. I’ve learned about production, set design, and screenwriting. And I made good on what I vowed to my 8-year old self. But learning the ins and outs of movie making isn’t the only insider information I’ve gathered in the last 38 years. As a veteran teacher, I have a strong handle on America’s public education system, and with a preschool-aged daughter, I can’t decide whether it’s a blessing or curse. Either way, it has me more worried than at ease. There’s not enough time for kids to play and there’s too much emphasis on standardized tests. Students are overwhelmed, schools underfunded. Teachers are rarely respected, always scrutinized. And parents are sometimes detached, other times helicopters. It is a national dilemma that has become a pervasive personal problem.
Living in this country, how do we ensure our children are being nurtured – academically, physically, and emotionally?
So I did a little research, perusing studies and websites, blogs and articles. And the most important tidbit from all this reading?
There’s an abundance of information, and every notion can be both confirmed and denied depending upon the source. And so, once again, I was left to my own devices.
I got Autumn a passport, and thought about marrying someone Scandinavian, hoping perhaps I could love a citizen as much as the idea of my child attending school there, but with kindergarten starting in two years, the time constraint seemed impractical.
We signed up for Waldorf camp, but remained conflicted about whether giving up ruby red slippers and plastic for moccasins and wood was really the best fit.
And then I daydreamed about the past – a place where kids could bring cupcakes on birthdays and swap snacks during lunch. Where, on Field Day, there were three – not three hundred – medals awarded. Where the only drill was in the case of a fire.
A place called 1984.
And then I woke up to the present – the gift of today, and the acceptance of our reality. I ask myself which students, over the years, would I consider successful, which ones I’d like to see Autumn emulate. As an academic perfectionist in my youth, my reply shocks me, because it’s never those who earned the highest MAP score or attended gifted reading, ran the fastest or sang the prettiest.
It’s always the ones who came to school excited. The ones who had confidence and charisma, empathy and energy. They were passionate and personable. They were all things cultivated – first and foremost – at home.
So while I still worry about her education – wading through worksheets, staring at screens – I worry less. I know those are the facts of our lives, but I also know that I am a factor – the most important one – in her life. I think about parents of flourishing students, and how, during conferences, they cared more about adjustment and resilience, than whether their child made the grade. Then I make another promise to myself. This time, not about getting on a film set, but instead getting off the mindset that where she goes to school matters because, really, it’s about where she’s coming from.
And that, I can control.