Kindergarten I learned to sit 'Indian style' on a 14"x18" carpet remnant. I also learned I did not like boxing, wrestling or martial arts, even as a spectator. Every time the teacher left the classroom, the boys would jump off their mats and begin kung fu fighting.
One day, the teacher caught them. Now I understand that a logical punishment for some mistakes is to let children follow the negative behavior through to its natural conclusion, so they learn the consequences of making bad decisions. After all, that's what Ward & June Cleaver did for Wally and the Beav... But, these were 5 and 6 year old boys, so when the teacher made them continue the fight until one boy clearly won, all of the rest of the boys wanted a turn, too! From then on, every morning after we recited the pledge, sang the alphabet song, ate a snack and had a bathroom break (which usually meant we had 30 minutes left in our kindergarten day), the teacher refereed. Girls got ringside seating, our mats arranged in a circle so we could dutifully watch on the outskirts of the action. Not that we didn't get attention, too. "Miss Cathy, did I see you uncross those legs? Now just sit right back on your square, little lady!" And, of course, that's exactly what I did. Partly because in those days teachers paddled for obstreperous behavior like uncriss-crossing your legs - thereby, crossing the teacher. And partly because, up to that point of my life, I was ambivalent about my "luck" at being born female. I hated wearing dresses and itchy tights, especially when my big brothers walked around without shirts on. But, after a few months of kindergarten, I really appreciated the advantages of being a girl - and not a boy... or a pit bull.
1st grade I learned to read. In the first couple of weeks, I was put with three other kids in the Owls' Gold Star Reading Club, a great honor. Of course, that meant the teacher spent the least amount of time with our group and always quickly grew impatient with us because we kept forgetting to move the tongue depressors along the page as we sped read aloud. She was a nice lady, though. When she saw me walking to school in the mornings, she'd stop and offer to give me a ride the rest of the way in her yellow Cadillac. "Thank you, but no, Ma'am," I'd always say. She'd smile back at me quizzically, twirling a finger around wisps of blond hair dangling down to golden hoop earrings, and then drive off as the passenger window magically rolled up without her ever leaning over to turn the handle. I'd walk the rest of the way to school thinking of three things: 1) I wasn't sure if Mrs. L counted as a "stranger" or not; 2) anyway, Dad told me to never accept a favor if you don't absolutely have to because you shouldn't feel beholden to anybody; and 3) Be Thankful for What You've Got.
2nd grade School administrators decide to create "accelerated classes" and select the 25 brightest seven year olds to compose a fledgling elitist class. The principal visits our room on the first day of school to tell us how fortunate we are and how he thinks very highly of our fine teacher. And it became clear he did, too, as our princi-pal was constantly summoned to his office to consult about advanced teaching methods... she'd tell us not to move, she'd be right back, then hurriedly switch on PBS television as she left the room. That year, I learned to loathe "The Electric Company." Halfway through the year, I loathed "The Electric Company" and "Sesame Street," which aired afterwards. By the end of the year, I loathed "The Electric Company," "Sesame Street" and no, I did not want to be Mister Rogers' neighbor. Finally, I simply learned to prefer the testing of the Emergency Broadcast System to the resumption of "our regularly scheduled programming."
3rd grade We covered all of the material for 2nd & 3rd grades with a wonderful teacher who'd taught both of my brothers and was in the last of her forty year career. Did not watch wrestling - live or on tv - even once. I learned the best teachers have naturally retiring personalities.
4th grade In another attempt to meet the academic needs of its students, the district implements "cross-graded classes." They took 15 'gifted' kids from the fourth grade and the top 15 fifth graders, stuck them in a classroom together & told the privileged teacher, "Congratulations, this should be easy." Yet, there was still a wide disparity in the abilities of the students, plus the teacher had to go back & forth all day between grades & lesson plan preparations. Eventually, Mrs. McC decided to just give us a week's worth of assignments on Monday morning. We'd race to see who could finish first, a few of us wrapping it up by Tuesday afternoon (in her defense, some kids took until Friday and she was busy helping them). But, whenever you were done, you got free time, which meant you could access the hallowed land behind the partition. For a few months, we reveled in a smorgasbord of craft materials, board games and old sets of Highlights, Ranger Rick & National Geographic. After we'd exhausted those, Mrs. McC supplemented with magazines from home: I learned about feminine etiquette from Redbook, feminism from Ms. and was pleasantly amused by the droll quotes in Reader's Digest. I also learned that you can fit no more than 126 games of eraser tag into a regular school day, 97 on assembly days. Sure, I could have done more independent study. One girl did - she'd break out a book & start reading as soon as she finished her class work. But, that was because she had connections. While the rest of us were limited to checking out two books on our weekly library visit, her mom volunteered and schmoozed with the school librarian so much that she was permitted to check out four books! Frankly, I wouldn't have read four books a week anyway... not when you could play dodge ball instead.
5th grade We were now the fifth graders in Mrs. McC's cross-graded class. Repeat routine from fourth grade, but bored games were replaced by new-used board games, bought for us at garage sales by Mrs. McC's husband. Her teenage daughter also donated some of her "cool" subscription discards, from which I learned my preference for Mrs. McC's Better Homes & Gardens' spreads on leaves or garrets to Tiger Beat's glossy foldouts of Leif Garrett. All year, I reigned supreme as Dictionary-looking-up-words-faster-than-anyone-else-Champion. I stood to deliver an acceptance part of speech, but then meekly sat down when I realized the fleeting fame of a lexicon job well done. Still, it was in fifth grade that I was told that I was scoring at grade level 13+ on many sections of the annual standardized test - how bogus, I thought, who's gonna believe that one? Everyone knows there's no such thing as grade 13 (at least I hoped there wasn't). But, Mrs. McC and my mom seemed very pleased, so I kept my suspicions to myself and asked if I could go outside to play because the rain had made the mud just perfect for slip n slide freeze tag.
6th grade By now, our little core of students had been together so long, we were all aflush in a frenzy of anticipation because we were finally going to get "the hard teacher." She was young and pretty, but aloof & strict. Without a doubt, she'd whip us into intellectual shape. No more free time, no games, no fun of any kind: this was going to be good! We were busy from the moment the bell rang - grammar, math drills, quizzes, more worksheets than we'd done in all previous years combined. I wasn't too sure what I was learning, except for that fact that I was clearly a 'C' - for handwriting - student. But, just as I was about to wilt under her curs(ive)ory disapproval, she suddenly quit to go have a baby and never came back. We were halfway through sixth grade with nowhere to go - whatever were we to do? The next week, Mrs. McC emerged from retirement to finish out this last year of elementary school with us. From that, we learned how much we liked Mrs. McC and just how much she liked us back. Also, her propitious return was of the utmost significance on a personal level, as the third time did prove to be the charm for my shoebox. Gloriously and gaudily transformed into a card-receiving mailbox for her third and final Valentine's Day class party, it was awarded first prize & shrewd Mrs. McC had taught me that all-important lesson about perseverance paying off. And, finally, just for review in case we'd missed it those other times, we learned again that sometimes the "best teachers" are not the best teachers.
But, really, I liked school, as I'd happily tell any adult who asked that original, recurring question. What wasn't to like? I got good report cards, teacher-parent conferences were a breeze, and where else could I be sure to get up a rousing game of kickball between the hours of 8 am & 3 pm on weekdays, which was truly the only worthy criterion in my eyes (revealing the real reason I so despised dresses). Besides, no one had ever heard of homeschooling back then. And, I had no desire to go to a private school like some of my friends, whose parents paid lots of money so their girls could wear uniformly plaid skirts, brag that they scored two whole years above grade level due to their superior educations and meet with the "foxes" from the boys' private school behind the rectory. (I know, that's a cliché, but that's what you get when life imitates art/movies... you get to talk about it with more clichés... Wow, I guess it's, like, a vicious circle, ya know what I mean?)
Plus, I moonlighted. My mom became a teacher at an inner-city high school across town when I was two. For years, she took me with her on in-service days and I accompanied her to many afterschool activities. I got to help decorate her bulletin boards, write on the chalkboards anytime I wanted, shag balls when she coached tennis and, the very best, straddle the rails at football games & dance with the cheerleaders as the band played during halftime. One evening, we went to a school play and I was exceedingly proud because some big kids with whom I was enamored allowed me to sit with them. To prove my sophistication, I distinctly remember pulling out a book from my own backpack at intermission and pretending to read. I even timed it so I turned the pages of Green Eggs and Ham after silently counting what I felt was an appropriate interval (had I actually known how to read). Though they didn't let on how impressive it was, I sensed from then on that I was "in." So, when I told people I loved school, I really did... High school, when I was in preschool, was the greatest learning experience of my life. That was my "home" school, as far as I was concerned, where I found my zone.
Learning can, should and does happen everywhere. Ultimately, we chose to homeschool Mikaela & Katrianna based on our family situation and the girls' personalities. But, I don't think there's one "right" way to get an education. Public school, private school or homeschool - it's often what we learn outside of these constructs that counts the most.