Anyone can look back on their early education and offer an opinion on how it went. When my husband Alan and I became parents, this look backward changed from casual reminiscence into a long, hard look at what went right and what went wrong for each of us. Interestingly, when Alan and I tallied up what, specifically, a good education meant to each of us, our vastly different answers shared from a common root – neither of us wanted our son’s experience to mirror our own. All we could see, in hindsight, were the shortcomings.
My Education Journey
My schooling began in the smallest school district in New York State. It comprised one room, one teacher, and three grades of about eight students each. After second grade, I was shipped to the nearest modern elementary school. It was crippled by budget issues and staff problems so obvious that even my oblivious eight-year-old self picked up on them. My weak math skills were never addressed, despite an obvious need for intervention. I entered high school not fully understanding how to write an essay. My reading and writing skills improved tremendously thanks to my own natural proclivities, but by that time, it was too late to enter any Advanced Placement classes. I made the best of it. I was at the top of any course on social science or language, but I strongly believe that my shaky math education during my early years led to a permanent dearth of ability.
My Husband’s Education Journey
Alan’s journey was a touch stranger than mine. After he was bullied at the bus stop near his home in rural central Oregon, his mother pulled him out of public school and enrolled him in what was, at the time, a fairly unknown organization – a Waldorf school. Without going into specifics on educational philosophy, suffice it to say that traditional classroom learning didn’t occur there. Only three other students attended the school with him. When I asked him what he learned there, his response was a touch puzzling. “I remember knitting,” he said. “Sometimes we sang songs.”
When a shift in his family situation moved Alan to upstate New York to live with his aunt, who happened to be a sixth grade teacher, his new guardian was (quietly) horrified to discover the state of the 11-year-old’s math and reading skills. The child was in for a deluge of tutoring to catch him up to his peers, and a crash course in completing homework – something he had never had to do. Luckily, his natural skill with numbers helped him reach grade-level functionality, but other knowledge gaps remain to this day. He was once humiliated during a trivia board game when it was revealed that he had no idea when Christopher Columbus sailed to the Americas. Not knowing the answer to a question during a party game is not the end of the world, of course, but it speaks of a greater loss. What else might he not know that could have opened his world up, had he had the same education as others? What ifs can be painful, especially when they are not the product of your own choices.
Our Approach as Parents
Every parent wants to avoid giving their children those anguishing what ifs. I hope to avoid, whenever possible, instilling them in my son, especially in regard to his education. Luckily, my son has been born at an opportune time for learning – the Age of the Internet. While Alan and I were in elementary school, computers were not classroom staples, and casual home internet use was still years away. Had we had access to online educational tools, perhaps the holes in our educational experiences could have been filled before they got too deep.
Education is, in many ways, like a journey into uncharted territory, and each child is a different vessel. My son’s needs are not my own, and they are not my husband’s. We should not project the frustration of our lost opportunities onto him, but rather, we should learn from the missteps we weathered in order to help him better navigate his journey. Tools like Genius Plaza just might be his compass. And in the journey of education, there is no such thing as being too prepared.