I think I misinterpreted school in a big way. I thought the material was the message. I didn’t know that my success was supposed to be the message. How to learn, how to ask questions, how to grow were the opportunities set before me, wrapped up in projects and tasks and tests.
Achieving success in those things was the training I needed to prepare me to succeed in the things I would grow to care about. I didn’t see that though. I only saw that I was being pushed to care about things that I was sure were useless to me.
When I was very young, I wondered if the way I felt about school meant there was something wrong with me. After all, how could such a powerful authority be wrong?
Luckily, I didn’t stop trusting myself. I eventually learned to own my choice to quit - not school entirely, just one pitiful assignment at a time. (Even in first or second grade I had a desk stuffed with various incomplete projects; construction paper turkey, cotton-ball bearded Santa, what have you.)
I didn’t consider it failure to not tow the line. I was open to feeling my way along in the darkness of nonconformity. I got used to feeling full of questions with no apparent answers. I embraced the wait. Somehow I felt confident that I would get clarity eventually.
But how many others lose that confidence? How many children feel shame when they can’t proceed dutifully in school or follow the program? How many children get twisted up in misery and confusion instead of just agreeing to disagree? What happens to the children who feel the pressure mount unbearably? And how many are written off for not following orders?
How many are ignored because they seem difficult? Why are independent thinkers unacknowledged? And why was there no communication?
I can’t for the life of me figure out why no one said to me: ‘it is okay to feel unsure about this. School isn’t everything, the material isn’t everything but your success is what matters, so how do you plan to succeed at this?’ Maybe they actually thought the material was more important than me. Maybe they actually thought it was right to stand firm on the side of the system and watch a human being, a young girl, fail and drift away.
I don’t know. I do know that with children of my own, almost school age, I want communicate with them. I want to help them see that school is offered as a tool to help them form methods for success. With all due respect, it is not something to worship, conform to, or follow without question. Trust me.
Karen Smith is on a quest for personal truth and boundless consciousness. She’s feels lucky to live with her family in Truemanville. Her column appears bi-weekly in the Amherst News.