“The Woods Are Lovely”

….Dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep.
 I made a promise to my son the other night.
He is struggling so much with 9th grade (still junior high here).  The tasks in class and assigned for home seem pointless, repetitive, and not at all related to anything he is in the least bit interested. Part of these feelings obviously stem from the fact that he is 14 and doesn’t know what he is interested in (forced societal stereotype…), part from his want to really do nothing but sleep and play video games (I think perhaps teenagers are a bit like cats – super super tired and really really jumpy all at once). Alternately, could his want for other outlets for creativity stem from there being absolutely no real time for him in his daily routine to explore any activity well, let alone creatively?  After 7 hours of school and 2 hours of homework, he has roughly 2-3 hours a day to eat, engage in some sort of commute to and from school/home, do some slight amount of chores like put the dishes or his laundry away, and perhaps play a little trumpet sometimes before getting things ready for the next day. I’d argue that within his extremely limited free time, video games provide the social interactions wanted and no longer provided by our culture of busy that focuses on predefined, individualized success.
Only interested in sleep and video games? Of course video games are appealing – these are games that require very little set up, have instant connection to other humans also playing, have easy to learn story lines and/or tasks that are productive in that they provide instant gratification to the player. The goal is to beat the boss; you beat the boss;  another boss appears, and some cool armor that you have some ability to customize. All of this within 5 minutes of game time. These games provide a creative social outlet in a world where texting has taken over real life friend communication, and his friends are too overwhelmed with homework, school, tutoring, music, and/or sports to have any time to engage creatively face to face.
This idea about video games is a bit of an epiphany for me, really; any one of my family members will tell you that I am the worst advocate of video games in the world – I pretty much remind all of my kids and maybe sometimes my husband, to turn them off and actually be a part of the real world.  It is actually only this moment, as I total the sum of hours available to my kids in a day, do I understand the games. I used to hide in the sycamore tree and read a book, they put on headphones and shoot some zombies, comme ci, comme ça.
In any case, I made my son a promise. I see him struggle with school and I know that rather than gaining vast amounts of access to knowledge, his relationship to school is actively shutting down his creative resources, his want to learn, and his ability to care about something for longer than an hour (bell schedule, don’t get me started). I told him that I felt his frustration and apologized that I need to work right now to pay off loans (otherwise perhaps home-school/un-school would be an option). I then promised that while it won’t effect him in this very moment, I will do everything within my power to change the education experience of students within my reach and perhaps I could extend that reach in a way that it touches his education as well.
A revolution perhaps – reform just ain’t cutting it.
My last post, “Edumacation”, attempted to throw out many of the thoughts and questions that I have been wrestling with over the last year or so. Some of these struggles are due to my experience as a teacher, some because of my experience as a mother who feels helpless to change the public education experience of my kids. I did not expect to get any straightforward – fix-the-system, answers – but ah, the start of good conversations has now taken place.  Maybe these will prove productive, maybe futile, but we’ll never know if they never happen. I want to talk to other educators, parents, leaders, and find out what it is about education that we find so important that it is compulsory. 13 years of our lives – 13 very influential years of our lives – when we are growing and becoming who we will be in the world, we are most influenced daily by our time in school. What is the underlying goal – the societal importance, and are we even aware of what education should be providing vs. is actually providing for our children and what it is not?
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep*
poem excerpt – Robert Frost, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”

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