Friday, August 31, 2012

Damn Compulsory Education

We are struggling at the moment.

Really struggling. To send our two children to school. It is compulsory education. For them, for us.

This does not feel good. 

For two mornings in a row we have spent 1 1/2 hours cajoling and forcing them into uniforms. Cajoling and forcing them to walk the 100 metres to school. Cajoling and forcing them into their classrooms. And then, after another hour of endlessly prising the younger one's hands from my neck/ skirt/ arms/ hands, walking away from my child who was screaming for me- albeit left one to one with the very lovely classroom assistant.

I know she is safe. But she does not.

I know that she will be OK, but she does not.

She looks like a rabbit in the headlights. A trapped tiger. Her need to escape, to be with me, to feel safe is primal. She wet herself.

The teacher wanted me to up and leave her straight away. She tried to bribe away her tears with stickers. I could sense her desperation as more and more toys and books were pushed her way and questions asked. "Don't feel your feelings" was the lesson she was teaching her. Shut down. Shut up.

She snapped at me for waiting outside the door and "starting her off again." And so I sat with her as the list of rules and controls was explained to the other children. Don't speak, don't swing, don't wriggle. Don't use the toilet unless you ask...

This is compulsory education.

26 little bodies dressed the same, sat in rows, bribed with stickers to sit still and shut up and colour inane shite.

"School is boring" - my 7 year old informs me. "I know, my love, I know. This is not my vision of education." I think.

I wish we could run free in the woods, with the river as our guide, the seasons as your teachers. I wish we could paint all day, and get up when we want. I wish I didn't have to force and cajole your precious bodies and spirits to satisfy the powers that be.

But I have learnt too, since becoming a mama - I am not the patient, all loving, full of energy mama I thought I would be - I get tired, and over whelmed. I long for peace, to do my work. I am a good one-to-one mama. But there is not one. there are three. Three different characters, different needs - each I want to serve and honour - but the cacophony of competing desires overwhelms me. I begin to sink.

I need to honour you. And I need to honour myself.

We have agonised over school for many years - see here and here.

We have agonised over school for her all year - she is young for her year - but academically and developmentally well above the older kids. She is too young for this year, too old for next. She was getting bored at playschool. Her free pre school childcare year had been used.

She is her - she is highly sensitive, with suspected Sensory Processing Disorder - which is not a "thing" here in Ireland, just in the US.

If we "give in", then what do we do? Do we allow them both to home school. Do we try to find the money for playschool - which we do not have. Do we teach her that when she tantrums she gets her way?

If we don't then we are complicit in forcing and traumatising our daughter. We are not honouring her fears and needs. But will home schooling really be that different - then all the responsibility for their learning will be on my shoulders.

We are trying a gentler approach, of quarter days, to ease her in.

But oh, how I wish there were an easy answer. For her, for him, for us all. One where we all won. One where our days were full of learning, joy and excitement at the world - not fighting and forcing.

Damn you compulsory education!


  1. I want my son to trust his inner voice, not to ignore it.


  2. "I wish we could run free in the woods, with the river as our guide, the seasons as your teachers. I wish we could paint all day, and get up when we want. I wish I didn't have to force and cajole your precious bodies and spirits to satisfy the powers that be."

    You can! But, we are not meant to mother alone. It is not natural, it is not necessary, nor heroic. We all need support. It is work to create a support network for your family, but it feels much differently than disconnecting from each other and our feelings.


  3. "But I have learnt too, since becoming a mama - I am not the patient, all loving, full of energy mama I thought I would be - I get tired, and over whelmed. I long for peace, to do my work. I am a good one-to-one mama. But there is not one. there are three. Three different characters, different needs - each I want to serve and honour - but the cacophony of competing desires overwhelms me. I begin to sink."

    Every day. Every day! I don't appreciate being told that I "am well able for it" when I am stressed to the hilt. Being told that it is not stress "probably the start of your winter blues." Yeah, brought on stress!!!!!!

    My heart twisted when I read of the clinging and the rules being "explained" to them. They need to put themselves in the child's position as elderly people in a home - "no. You cannot go to the bathroom."

    Enjoy the weekend with your girls! xxxx

  4. You don't have to be a Perfect Mama, patient all the time, you just have to be your loving self.

    You can have rules at home, too, and one of them could be Quiet Time in which the kids do something quietly on their own, and you have time to yourself. There are many options. It takes time to build routines, but it can be done, and quite possibly done more easily than all the struggling you are currently experiencing.

    Wishing all the best for your family. May you find the support you need so that you can follow your heart.

  5. Thank you all, for your reflections, your words, your input. They are deeply appreciated.

  6. You can only teach your children to listen to their inner voice if you listen. To yours.

    Will only say that I was afraid of homeschool and now I adore it. But that was my inner voice. What is yours saying?

  7. Oh Kate, Oh Kate, what a question!! Such a good one!

    It feels like my inner voice and my energy reality are at odds. My inner voice and my kids are the same. It is those around us (family and community) which are challenging.

    I don't want to be seen to be taking my kids out of school because I'm
    a) rejecting the world
    b) rejecting our community
    c) being irresponsible
    d) doing it for myself

    I have always dreamt of homeschooling, before I even had a child, the very first time I heard of it. I have a bookshelf full of resources. I just, honestly, cannot trust that it truly would be better for them - the gaps in their education, the constant cabin fever, the sense of responsibility, the not wanting them to stick out, the reality of me being a shouty, grumpy impatient mother, the constantly having to defend my choices...

    1. Hi Lucy, me again.

      ehm just reading your first cons against homeschooling, well. You won´t put "what the others may think" over your childrens needs, will you? So this not really counts, does it?

      More weight do have the other arguments. well, you don´t trust that it works. So it would be interesting to go further there - maybe with journalling, what is behind that. And to read some more about all the facts that prove that it works. :) Its proven over and over again. Maybe look around if you don´t find some homeschooling families you can talk to and visit?

      And we are first talking of gradeschool, aren´t we. What do you think how many gaps in education you can produce in gradeschool content? Really? But this is thought like classical homeschooling, I really recommend to read about unschooling although this might go far too far for you, it might shift the perspective :)
      I could talk for hours about this topic, but it all comes down to: its a matter of trust. But if you want, you can grow into it. And you can give it a try.
      But you are doing yourself a favor if you try to get rid of the fear and the pressure.
      Please be brave for your child. Be the lion mother she needs that grows for her - you will all benefit from it. And there can be no really harm happen in trying it out. Look at it. Its the fear again. Its probably your potential, calling.

      I hope I didnt offend you.

  8. I am NOT the "patient, all loving, full of energy mama" I thought I'd be either. Yet, despite having an overwhelming need to CREATE and my head is overflowing with MY NEEDS of things to do, I feel that home-schooling is infinitely more fulfilling for all of us. Tke them out of school, give it a couple of months, and suddenly, this silent, joyful rhythm takes over. I won't say that every day "works"-we have screaming matches; but millions less that when they were in school; I won't say that I get to do everything I want to do, but yet, it works. It just works. Organically, with compromise: but what you give up, you get back in so much less stress, peace and relative calm in the house. Give it a try for a year!! We were philosophically where you are now, took the leap of faith, and now, every September feel such UTTER GRATITUDE and completely blessed we did what we did. Good luck... I understand your pain :)

  9. Hi Lucy, my little one is fresh to school too, going there for 3 weeks now. We are not allowed to homeschool in germany and I decided for a democratic free school. You might google if you have such kind of schools near you. Although my lovely one has problems to find into this school, too - its a free and safe place, where she is seen, hold and offers to learnings are made. And its her decision what she does. She can play or learn or both and find her own way- for me its much like free learning homeschooling (not classical homeschooling) but in a house with other kids :) .
    Whatelse comes in my mind is that you might not know unschooling. I thought so because of your "her learning is on your shoulders". We all learn - anytime. And the idea of unschooling is about that live teaches us and that it all comes naturally, without pressure, without schedule, without curriculum. I can´t explain it very good, just google if you don´t know it. But as always its the trust in our children, thats behind it. And I know parents who practise some free learning: offering interesting experiences without a really school schedule or learning sessions etc.
    I know you will follow your heart and find the best decision.


  10. Thanks Emily. And Nora.

    I am familiar with unschooling and have my reservations. We have many home schooling friends around here, so are not isolated. In terms of schools they are all very, very mainstream... not offended at all, so touched that you took so much time to respond and support me.

    One major issue is that it's not just me in this - my husband also needs to be comfortable with it,and because we share child care between us, it will be a decision which impinges on him directly.

    We shall see, we shall see...

  11. Oh Lucy, what turmoil! Like Gwendy I felt upset reading about the rows of bodies being taught, so young, to conform to lists of rules. My little girl starts school in a couple of weeks, so these are raw emotions for me too. If they are happy, all feels okay, if they are distressed, it just feels so wrong to compel them.

  12. (((HUGS))) Mama!!! What matters to me personally, *today*, is that my child is comfortable, happy, learning and loving life, *today*. IMO, if you decide to try keeping one or all of your children home at this moment in time it does not have to be forever or always. Perhaps you could look for alternate schools or experiences in your area, while taking one or all of them out of school for a bit. Perhaps you could tour and find some "alternative schools", or even homeschooling groups which may be able to help you in meeting your own and your children's needs.

    I truly believe that children can "run free in the woods, with the river as our guide, the seasons as [their] teachers..." etc. (And I LOVE your description here--sounds very unschooly to me. ;)

    I personally am not homeschooling my son (at the moment--you never know what the future holds ;), but I've been able to find very satisfactory (and fantastic) alternative "schooling" options in my area. Places where parents are welcome (even encouraged) to come and stay, places that value play and fun (how we all really learn! ;) over academic 'success' and standards etc. Places that my son RUNS into with excitement and joy, and does not want to leave. Perhaps there are alternatives to the current school(s) your children are attending that you have not even discovered yet! Sometimes there are combinations of homeschooling and group experiences/classes/etc that you may not even realize exist, and may be perfect for your family!

    I love living with the trust that there are always wonderful opportunities and possibilities out there which I can find that will meet my own and my child's unique needs. "Good enough" or "just fine" are NOT enough for me!! IMO, my belief that there are always alternative options out there and that settling for any less than bliss is foolish allows doors to open that I may have never seen had I not been expecting and seeking greatness. I guess all I'm trying to say is that there are always choices and options. Sometimes we have just not seen what the options are yet. Perhaps thinking creatively with your entire family might lead to you finding solutions you have not considered yet, ideas that may allow you to let go of the fears, reservations and upset feelings around your current education/school issue...

    Sending lots of love and good vibes to you and your family. I hope you can find a way to meet all of your needs and ensure that each of you are living lives that you love in every moment!! <3 <3 <3 <3

  13. I really really feel for you.
    We have had a similar experience with my daughter at pre-school and in the end stopped taking her as it wasn't compulsory. But she starts the 'real' school on Tuesday, and in spite of our efforts to say 'Yay, uniform!' 'Yay, lunchbox!' (and I'm aware of how 'things orientated' it all is, she maintains her stance that she is scared, and would like to stay with me instead. 'I love you more than all those things' she told me, when I told her about all the fun things she might be doing. :(
    Expect I will be blogging about it myself from a place of heartbreak next week.
    I feel very sad that I won't be spending all my time with her too, but like you, have my reasons for hoping that school works out and is a positive experience for her.
    Fingers crossed and hugs to you. x

  14. Could you flexi school them? Or just delay a couple of terms till she feels more secure? Maybe you could hang out with the teacher outside of school hours to build that relationship between the two of them without the rest of the class around? There's no one right answer except the one that honours most of you in the family most of the time. Nothing's perfect - homeschooling, unschooling, flexi-schooling..... none is a guaranteed route to nirvana, and they all have a pain-in-the-bum element. But if one of those options makes everyone all round happier then it's a step closer. If you homeschool for a few terms it's not a life sentence for either of you x x x

  15. I've been thinking about you and wanted to share a resource I've found immensely helpful for getting creative ideas and solutions (which I've not thought of) from various perspectives on many issues. Perhaps sharing your story/situation here could be helpful.

    Again, I wish you the very best of luck!! I trust you will find a (or many) solution(s) that will be just right for you and your family. <3 <3 <3

  16. Goodness your post brought tears to my eyes Lucy..I wish we'd had a chance to talk about it last Sunday..which was lovely by the way.....
    I have had children torn screaming from me, I have torn my hair out at the pointless soul destroying content of much of the school day, I have extracted my kids and at great personal sacrifice..(ie living in yurts caravans and little wooden cabins off grid) sent them to a steiner school which I would heartily recommend, and yet and yet....big announcement... we're doing a trial home school year from next week with my two youngest, 4 and7. I'm not all patience and calm. I have a million creative needs zinging up my sleeve but we'll see how it goes. My instinct has always told me that's what's right, to have kids with me, watching what I do helping me milk the future goats and follow the seasons.... guess I better break the news on my blog now. Good luck I really hear your dilemma.

  17. Thank you all, am reading and reflecting on all your comments, I am deeply touched that you have taken the time and effort to comment and deeply appreciate the empathy. We are talking and talking and reflecting. And tomorrow is Monday, when the whole drama starts again...

  18. Oh Lucy, reading your words, they could be mine!! I totally get where you are coming from and I am sending lots of love your way right now. I guess the best advice is to take each day as it comes and trust your instincts as a mother. I think you are right, no situation is perfect, but as you rightly said, we also have to honour our own needs as mothers. Being present in the world, and voicing their concerns for them when they can't, even when it seems like one tiny voice in the dark, can only serve for the better as we become role models in teaching them to navigate the world as it is, warts and all. I am learning this strongly too at the moment and I will be thinking of you and sending you love as I do. It was fab to meet you on the blogging course the other week and I got so much from it. You are an amazing inspirational woman doing a great job. Keep it up!! Much love, Suzanne (Tracy's friend)xxxx

  19. Thanks,Suzanne. Looking forward to checking out your blogging baby - Tracy says you've been on fire with it!

  20. I don't have any answers. I know that this is something that rolls arounds your thoughts often and I am sure you have been through all the points. It's just so hard to see others in turmoil. This too shall pass..... Is that any help? Not sure but thinking of you and your beloved children.

  21. Oh what a dilemma for you, it would be great for these situations to wave a magic wand so that we can meet all our needs. I hope you find peace and comfort in your journey soon.

  22. I sooo feel you. I think it's easier to be a mama who coompletely believes in the benefits of institutional education OR to be a mama who completely believes that institutional ed is absolutely wrong. It's hard to be the mama who sees the hurt & benefit in both paths, who agonizes over the choice that's right for this child, all the children, herself, the whole family. My eldest was in a Waldorf Kinder for 2 years, then homeschooled for two. This year we applied for public school in our area (we can't afford private) - purely because I felt unsure about my ability to continue our homeschool path. The only school with room is the worst in the district with mandatory 8 hour days, teaching to the test philosophy, uniforms, etc. We decided to homeschool again this year, but here is my experience of the first week NOT back to school

    I really appreciate your willingness to talk about your struggles, the places where you are not the perfect mama. Too often mama blogs gloss over the challenges & present an idealized image of parenting. I am inspired by your honesty & hope to bring the same to my writing. Thank you.



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