Friday, September 18, 2009

Back to School blues

We are SO back to school. I’ve gone from leisurely coffee by myself in the morning to being shot out of a cannon into a civil war each day. At our house, Back to School is one of those Through the Wormhole experiences where summer sun kissed children must get beamed up Scotty and reconstituted as school children who must be assessed and tested and must fit precisely into the labeled and classified system. We are not doing so good with it this year. Some of my children may have become Aliens.

Far away in another galaxy, my children went to a progressive private school. They LOVED school and couldn’t wait to get there every morning. They bemoaned weekends and holidays. They may have been slow to get out of bed, but they were Fired Up and Ready to Go. But we live on Earth now, and my youngest is drawing hearts and flowers on the calendar where there are days off. She is counting down to the first day she does NOT have to go to school. We’ve already had the first “Mom, I’m too sick to go to school” day---its so early for the psychosomatic tummy aches and head aches that are a household specialty. And my almost teenaged son was blasting Pink Floyd’s The Wall one night:
We don't need no education
We dont need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it's just another brick in the wall.
All in all you're just another brick in the wall.

Now I would hate to deprive my children of the universal youth experience of Hating School. And I am completely certain that whatever job they end up getting will require them to take standardized tests monthly to determine what species they are and what their benefits and compensation package should be---in fact, I plan on putting their ISAT scores on their resumes---oh wait, the school does not just give those to you, I forgot. You have to hunt them down and capture those little meaningful numbers.

In its infinite wisdom, our school district has already started the standardized testing, a mere three weeks into the year. My kids have not even figured out the names of all their classmates and teachers yet, and this is a district that lost our preregistration forms turned in last July TWICE. Not sure I trust them with the data.

We sat over a fire last weekend looking up at the stars. I looked at my children in the glow and wondered what each of them will become. I realized that probability is high that one or more will have a career that does not exist yet. Five years ago, who could be a professional blogger? Or a social media consultant?

I am not sure that testing them like lab frogs will help anyone’s kids fill the positions we are going to invent. Most of the innovators whose biographies I have studied did not do so well in the normal schools of their time. Frank Lloyd Wright and Margaret Mead were homeschooled.

Maybe a small piece of me hopes, in this back to school season, that my kids don’t fit easily into the cookie cutters created so neatly for them. You know the Below Standards, Meets Standards, Exceeds Standards slots. Because I don’t think the MAP tests can assess the wonder of looking at the moon or the innovation of talking about the resort you would build there. They aren’t looking at my standards which measure the fascination with a song and the tenacity to keep working until you find the melody and then the harmony on the keyboard. I do know that right now, the things that light my kids up and capture their hearts, minds and souls are not the things they are finding in school. Their love of opera, fascination with films, empathy for living things, understanding cooking and sewing and their places in human culture—they have found those things on my time. I know that a parent is supposed to be a teacher, but I am sad that they don’t like the time they are spending with formal education.

I reconcile myself to the fact that this is the gig though, and start plotting our adventures for another weekend. I just hope the school system does not do too much damage to their love of learning.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

welcome to the island of America

One of the few news stories that got through to us on our recent backwoods vacation was the detention of a Bollywood superstar at a Newark airport most likely because some typist can’t spell.

Shah Ruhk Khan’s recent experience with our official US welcome committee sent shock waves through our house. We are film freaks and Bollywood is on our passion list---last year we watched Om Shanti Om instead of the Oscars. If you are not a big follower of the genre, let me put it this way: How would you react if the Beatles were on a suspected terrorist list because of a typo? Can you imagine Brad and Angelina and their multinational brood questioned for 66 minutes at an airport? For a huge chunk of the world outside our myopic borders, Mr. Khan is bigger than Elvis. And I think he’s a better dancer, but we could argue on that.

It’s a little bit wonky, but if you managed to read through Richard Florida’s work, you will get his point that economic prosperity flows where diversity and creativity thrives, and as Mr. Khan’s experience showcases, this country has been in a creative lockdown for years. We don’t track the flight of artists, but I know film production is fleeing our borders with frightening speed, and with it go the really good jobs that kept me and my colleagues afloat. When you are making movies, you go wherever the box office gold WANTS to go. And there’s the struggling music industry: more than one music festival has had to substitute a headliner last minute because a major, well-known artist has trouble getting a visa. I think it’s really sad and bad for long term economic recovery that it’s nearly impossible for interesting creative folks to get here without jumping through innumerable hoops. I mean I know Art is a Hammer with which to change reality, but famous folk are easy to keep an eye on.

My kids are growing up in a global economy and culture—they have Facebook friends and email pen pals on multiple continents. I am frustrated that the education system only requires them to master a single language--even developing nations require at least 2. The planet is shrinking---but the only way to really be global is to go there whereever there is and have them whomever we designate as them come here. We need to meet, converse and exchange ideas and art with the world. And we need to understand where everyone is coming from, so the worst thing about the fact that the biggest Bollywood movie star in the known universe was treated as he was, was the fact that the folks detaining him had no real idea of who he was. His face is instantly recognizable to at least twice as many folks as the US population. We cannot build our security if we isolate our selves and teach our children a single language: our own. Talking to ourselves about ourselves is not relevant or helpful. We cannot be safe in a world if we don’t know who our neighbors are.