The values of education

I remember listening to heated debates over public school curriculum when I was younger and failing to understand what the ruckus was all about.  Who were these people who thought that they could control what kids believe? Did anybody really think that lectures on the power of abstinence or sterile explanations of sperm meets egg forms zygote were going to have any effect on the adolescent urge to get into his classmate’s pants?  And didn’t those parent’s fighting for high quality sex ed know that the best place to learn about sex is, cough, outside the classroom? 

But now that I’ve moved from the ranks of smug teenager to concerned parent, I understand.  There is no better reflection of a person’s true values than the need to pass them on to the next generation.  Talk to anybody who is seriously searching for solutions to a human problem and they will tell you that their best hope lies in education. No less is at stake than our dreams for the future, the better world that we envision.  And this is determined entirely by how we happen to see the world in the present.

And it’s complicated.

I was a runny mess this time last year.  As g prepared to enter Kindergarten, I nourished all the usual fears.  Will he adapt?  Will he make friends?  Will they take care of him?  But there was more to it.  The memories that I have of my own education, though faded, tell conflicting stories of the joy of learning and the tyranny of institution. And yet I knew that unless I was ready to take over the job of schooling my children, I needed to support their schools.  I hoped I was up to the task.

In the end, g did just fine.  And I learned a lot about education from the perspective of the parent.  I learned that, as I had suspected, it is the community that drives the culture of the school.  And, for all it’s quirks, I have a lot of faith in my community.  When we moved into our current apartment, g was just barely crawling and yet I was immensely proud to be just down the street from this amazing place.  Last year as g’s teacher put tremendous work into introducing the kids to tough issues like race and non-conforming sexual identity, I understood what is meant by “it takes a village”.  I felt the deep comfort of knowing that I am not in this alone.

But this year, as g glides into his new first grade classroom, I feel uneasy.  I felt it just after the first drop-off, walking to my car with another mom, a recent transplant to the area.  She was talking openly about her hopes for the school year and, though she was as friendly as she was put together, her words stirred my concern.   As she pulled away in her new Mercedes SUV, I began to identify the source of my fears.

My community is changing fast.  The SF tech boom has exploded to surrounding areas. Homes only rarely sell for under 1 million dollars in my neighborhood. While discussions about these changes almost always focus on the economic aspects, I think that they are more symptom than cause.  This has truly been a place with the spirit and drive to “change the world”.   But the world, it appears, is changing it.

Values are shifting. If we are even still here in a few years, I doubt that I will have the influence to counter the shiny appeal of the new messages: technology, money, power.  I wonder who would actually listen to statements on the importance of simple living and soil stewardship  from a woman whose house is so small that she can’t even entertain playdates.  I imagine my wimpy arms giving their all in a cultural tug-of-war in the schoolyard.

And I see her, smug adolescent that she is, laughing her ass off.

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6 thoughts on “The values of education

  1. I hear you, but I think you’re too pessimistic. Of course in public school you’re going to get all kinds (Mercedes-driving and not!), but I remain so grateful for my fellow earthy mama friends who want their kids to play in the dirt and go to the edible schoolyard and ride their bikes in the street. We still exist! Even in Berkeley. Whether we can stay as it gets more expensive here remains to be seen, and I share your fears in that area, but I’m hopeful that, for now, it’s working.

    p.s. I LOVE your new look!

    1. You are right, of course. For now, there are plenty of us and I am not ready to pack my bags. But, I’m probably not going to let go of my pessimism any time soon. We are destined to be an increasingly marginalized group and as the culture shifts, it will be increasingly hard to convince the next generation that we are the ones worth following. It isn’t about the Mercedes but try and tell that to g – shiny, fast, and it goes off road!!!

      I guess I just can’t shake the vision of our little contingency raging against the parent majority who is pushing condoms on our innocent little ones (or, more appropriately, those abstinence folks fighting our demands for access to condoms, but you know what I mean).

    1. Oh mine too. Besides, my boys won’t be interested in matters of sex until I am ready for them to give me grandchildren ;).
      I don’t think it’s even about the sex itself to those who fight the notion of sex ed in schools but rather the need to defend an entire value system. And I find that I can identify with that.

  2. Awww, one of my best friends went to school there (long before the edible schoolyard phenomenon…). I know that city has changed a ton since I lived there, but maybe this will comfort you. Kids tend to get their home values from their home, so I have no doubt your kids will value (some of) the things you value regardless of how much the community becomes obsessed with material wealth. And while peers do influence their “how to act outside of the house” values a lot, like whether to drink or smoke or be responsible in general, it’s my bet your city is still a really good place for them to find the right peers. Maybe I’m just nostalgic because I met truly amazing people at BHS, despite the fact that lots of rich people sent their kids there as well. Those people with the houses up in the hills…
    Point is, I think your values will always have enormous power, AND the city you live in at least has a reputation for caring about may of those things too. Mercedes Lady is pretty much going to have to pretend to be a hippie if she wants to be cool.

    1. I don’t know. As far as I can tell, girl doesn’t even own a pair of Birkenstocks!

      You’d be surprised, though. The hills have flattened. That ol’ creative and quirky place that you knew is seriously taking on an increasingly apple aesthetic. Picture: “I’ll meet you at the Free Speech Cafe to discuss expectations for our hedge fund this quarter”.

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