I am successful in spite of compulsory public education, not because of it.
I benefitted greatly from compulsory public education, but the benefit was unrelated to education. Compulsory public education kept me alive and safe and as well as I could be.
This is more personal than I have shared on this blog. I am not sharing it for pity nor for praise. I am simply sharing it as I reflect on my 20 year high school reunion. And this is probably my longest blog post ever, so you may choose to just wait until tomorrow when I write about teachers and basic training and war zones.
As the oldest of five children from two marriages, I became a mom to my younger siblings at eight and one-half years old. My parents (mom and step-dad called “Dad” because I will not discuss the other) did like any other parents – the best they could. And they made choices that were not in the best interest of our family. I don’t fault that, it is what it is. I get to screw up my own kids in my own way.
My mom worked third shift, my dad during the day. Someone had to look after the younger ones from afterschool to bedtime and the infant during the night. Most of the time that was me. I look back on it now and see it as my training for the parenting I do now. I knew how to wash, fold, and apply cloth diapers and mix formula with tap water. I knew that sometimes babies just need to be held. And I learned that sucking on silk roses results in a face that looks covered in a rash that the daycare will not allow over the threshhold. I learned from staying home with sick siblings, yes, I did miss my own school when they couldn’t go, that daytime television SUCKS. I learned how to bake hamburger helper and make ham and cheese casserole, how to wash insane amounts of laundry most efficiently, how to clean a house in record time (including dusting) and how to cool the TV with a fan after sneaking in a 3pm episode of Nickelodeon’s “You Can’t Do that on Television.”
Of all those things I learned I have only used the cloth diaper and laundry lessons. And that’s OK. Because the domesticity I learned in the background mattered more.
I had aunts, uncles, and grandparents that kept me relatively safe in the chaos. My Grandmama St. John kept me stocked with tiny flashlights and AA batteries for reading under my covers through the night. My Grandma Chalifour kept me stocked with workbooks and paperbacks so I never ran out of things to read under the covers. She also picked me up on Fridays with whichever other child wanted to join and returned us as late as possible on Sunday evenings. I was nothing more than a child at her house and climbed trees, picked beans, and played with neighbors under the flood lights. I had aunts who asked me to “babysit” and kept me on workdays and weekends while I ran errands and went to the pool or softball games with them. And I had my Nana who would coordinate with my Grandma Chalifour to get me to Tennessee at every school break possible – Easter break, Christmas break, and thank God, Summer break.
But in between all that housework and parenting I was doing and the rescuing my extended family was doing, I had to be somewhere and do something when I wasn’t somewhere. And that was public school. Compulsory public school was my escape. I was forced by law to go there and I caught on quickly that when I was there, I could just do what I was told and I would be praised. I didn’t have to think and plan and analyze and take flack for the failure to think and analyze like an adult while doing an adult’s job. I wasn’t smart. I wasn’t gifted. I became well-read and thrived from being successful in the one place where I could just be another cow in the herd.
Then in middle school for some reasons I kind of understand but mostly do not understand and now have no interest or desire to bother to understand…I was homeschooled. Homeschool was great for me. I had more resources available to me than ever before. And I thrived. And because I then had my mom at home and awake to help me, I had less to do and I wasn’t at the mercy of the school’s schedule so I was able to get my lesson and house work done and then sit and read. Or be a kid. From the front yard of our duplex or the 6′ high fenced backyard of the duplex.
But that time ended when I think my mom went back to work or we moved or something, I just don’t even remember, and I was back in public school for the last month of middle school. ANd so I was for the rest of my time in grade school.
When I accidentally learned about the opportunity to go to the NC School of Science and Mathematics for my junior and senior years in high school, I jumped at the chance. Not because I was smart. Because I could get the hell out of my house. Yes, I was well on my way to running out of resources at my high school. But I had already shown I knew how to teach myself. No, I was not told about the school by a guidance counselor who saw some potential in me. I just wanted out of my house. And thanks to all those quarterly report cards of mine and my siblings that I forged with my mother’s signature (because she was often sleeping so someone had to sign forms and permission slips, and grade cards), I filled out my forms, signed my mom’s signature and *poof* was accepted to semi-finalist’s day.
NCSSM no longer has semi-finalists day because it’s harsh on egos apparently (barf) but I did have one and I had to get to Durham so I had to tell someone. So I told my folks, they were excited I had been given such an honor and they took me. And I was accepted. And then I began to become who I was – not just a child slave.
I honestly don’t remember a lot about NCSSM. I remember some bad stuff around losing someone that always so kind to me. He shot himself his freshman year at NCSU. It freaked me out. While I don’t know what Jonathan felt, I know that I wanted that to be me. Until I got to escape to NCSSM.
Usually on long weekends, my Grandma would get me and I would spend my time with her. She would let me sleep, wash my laundry, feed me. Holidays I still went to Tennessee. When I was stuck at home, I would catch up my family’s laundry and clean the laundry room, empty and detox the refrigerator, and babysit siblings. I have not been at home for more than two weeks since August 1990. Thank God.
And so compulsory public school, specifically NCSSM, saved me. Kind of. I am confident I would have made it out myself. If not by honorable means, then with a bullet. I was too chicken to run away and had more respect for my extended family than to get them involved. I knew the process of emancipation and taken several steps. And I wasn’t afraid of hard work, so I knew I could get a job. Even though I didn’t know much about money. So NCSSM was my babysitter.
Babysitting is not within the scope of government. And I know this now. And I can make a full argument against the existence of any public school other than NCSSM and I can make a full argument against the existence of NCSSM in the presence of compulsory public education. And I will here on this blog at some point. But not now. Because now I have just laid out more than I can even comprehend at this time.
Will our children have the opportunity to attend NCSSM if they wish? No. Number one, it is government school and I do not believe the government should be in the business of education. Number two, the school no longer supports the concept of freedom. We had SO much freedom there. I actually had more freedom at NCSSM than I did my freshman year of college at Meredith. Students are now herded around town, forced to smother opinions in the name of political correctness and the school thinks more of itself than of its students. These are my opinions from reading its publications and asking repeatedly to volunteer in the past and being turned down. Is what it is… NCSSM is a great example of government – give it more credibility and it just grows and grows without really doing any more, but rather taking away those who can do for themselves.
Which brings me back to my reunion. My Husband and I attended a casual, informal gathering at a brewery. Apparently we were supposed to sign in and be accounted for and apparently the Class o’ 1992 pretty much ignored that. I really enjoyed seeing and talking with people and I fully intend to learn more about many of them. Especially Nicole who I knew so little about while actually there. We didn’t attend any other events as, honestly, that was enough for me. This time. But by keeping up with our facebook group I see that the Class o’ 1992 shut down the Saturday night party. Sounds about right to me. And John shared at some point that the Class o’ 1992 was among a period of least-school-initiated-activities-participatory. Again, sounds about right.
More importantly, all that outlier activity tells me, that while I didn’t go to NCSSM with any interest in growing my intelligence, I was not unlike many of my classmates – somewhat independent and living on my own terms. Feels good to know.
And I’d feel even better if I knew why I think I had to struggle through a computer proficiency test just to graduate. Maybe the professors really did punk me. Oh, well. Wasn’t the first time…
Go Flaming Diapers!