By: Tanya Ward Goodman
Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Kate Bush. She’s there in my car, in my kitchen, filling my house with her soprano warble. I played the song “Wuthering Heights” for my daughter a couple of weeks ago because she’s got her own soprano warble going and I thought she would connect to the inherent drama of Ms. Bush. She liked it okay, but it was my son who took time out from his most recent obsessions with KISS and Joan Jett to become a full-fledged fan of Kate Bush.
I told him the short version of “Wuthering Heights” — gloomy moors, angry guy, angry girl, love, rain and ghosts – and he was even more hooked. He started to make connections with the whole album. He wondered if it was all part of the same story. “Cloudbusting,” he said, was “like it was coming from Heathcliff, because it’s raining and he’s thinking of Cathy, and the sun comes because he’s in love.” The song, “Running up that Hill” was a song they both could sing “because they probably have a lot of hills around the house and they are walking a lot.”
“Did you tell Papa about how I made the connections with Wuthering Heights?” my son asked, his shy smile paired with his sparkly blue eyes. This smile and sparkle mean he’s proud of himself. He smiled like this when he wrote a report on chameleons and when he jumped for a basketball at the edge of the court and kept it from going out of bounds. This smile fills me with joy.
School this year has been hard. Everyone says third grade is when the homework ramps up; the expectations suddenly shoot through the roof; education suddenly becomes a job. It’s been a chore for my boy. I don’t want his excitement to be lost in the deluge of multiplication drills, alphabetization lists and homework drudgery. I know that our children need to learn to multiply and add and subtract, but I’m not sure that they are learning these things in the most interesting way.
When I was a child, a school bus came to the top of my driveway and I got on it and went to school. My parents didn’t think about any other options, they just put me on the bus and assumed it would all work out. And I think it did. I was lucky enough to go to public school in the 70s and 80s when there was still money for arts and physical education. My classes were small and I felt like my individual needs were met.
I enrolled my kids in public school because I had a great experience in public school and because I believe that public school should be great. The idea of community is incredibly important to me and I think one of the best ways to know the people in your community is to send your kids to public school.
That said, this year has been hard for my boy. Hard because his class is large and his teacher is overwhelmed. Hard because there is no money for physical education and so he has precious little outlet for his eight-year-old energy. It’s hard because there is a test coming up and his teacher has to get everyone ready for the test no matter what. They race through material, rushing to cram information in their heads so that later they can pencil in bubbles on an exam. My boy is asked to make connections, but he is given precious little time to actually make them. He does not smile and his eyes do not sparkle when he talks about school.
I am trying to keep him excited outside the classroom, trying to find new ways to talk about math and language and story structure. I play music and read books and ask questions. I am looking at possibilities. I don’t want to abandon the idea of public education, but I cannot abandon my son.