Schools dominate my life.

It’s been decades since I’ve been in a classroom as a student and many years since I’ve been in the classroom as a teacher. But I have never been able to detach from education institutions, because of my kids. Classrooms, homework, grades, the school calendar command my time and brain space. Writing about schools is an effortless task, because they are on my mind all day long.

Ian’s school turned Memorial Day into a five day holiday. Which is fine. But it meant that I couldn’t quite get into the writing zone and get my crap done. I got some minor e-mail tasks done yesterday, but after three hours of him playing Plants v. Zombies, I felt guilty and took him to the mall. My work day was finished. On Monday, he had to be at the school at 8:00am to perform with the school marching band in the town parade.

Other chores for Ian today include a phone call to his case manager to discuss how we would go about bumping him a year ahead for math. I have to figure out what I’m going to do with him for a two week gap between camps in August. Is there enough money in the Ian slush fund for extra tutoring in the summer?

Even though Jonah is a college kid, he’s not quite baked. His sloppy work habits and poor “soft skills” came back to bite him in the ass last semester. Distracted by the demands of pledging for a frat, he did stupid things like not making sure that his assignments in an online class were properly submitted and was generally disorganized. So, I’m making him take classes on organization at his college over the summer. We’re talking through various lifestyle changes and basically scaring the shit out of him.

I don’t think there’s another government institution that has a bigger impact on me on a daily basis. There’s definitely more brain space in my personal life for non-school stuff that there used to be. I joined a running group this spring and ran a 5K on Monday. I have a couple of harmless hobbies. I read a lot and see friends on the weekends. But school issues, which are so integral to my kids’ lives, still dominate.

Other parents are even more driven by schools. Ian doesn’t spend over twenty hours per week doing a varsity sport, like Jonah did. He’s not in honors classes, so he comes home with no homework. And Jonah’s missteps only become known when the semester ends, so we can spend months in la-la land thinking that he’s taking care of his shit.

Last week, a neighbor told me about her weekend schedule driving her two young boys around the state for various sporting activities. One kid had to be an hour away for a full day Lacrosse tournament. The next day, the other kid had a full day of swim meets. Between reading tutors and school dances, her schedule was packed. She couldn’t grasp what we did with our lives without a kid in sports. Because I couldn’t gossip with her about teachers for next year or the school play, we quickly ran out of conversation topics.

Walking through Storm King with the family

Ian’s life is a lot more simple, so we drag him around to do our various interests, rather than living our lives on the soccer sidelines. We took the boys to an art park over the weekend. It feels somewhat rebellious to craft our own schedule, rather than have one dominated by sporting activities and schools. We could be even more whipped by schools than we are.

Being whipped by schools is both a privilege and a burden. Parents in towns like ours demand these services and are able to pay for it with high taxes. Three quarters of our local property taxes go to schools. The superintendent is more powerful than the mayor.

But it also means that schools oversee our lives. They control our children’s destiny. They structure our social lives. The school panopticon’s oversight is totalitarian in communities like ours. While schools are broken elsewhere, the system is still rigid in its own ways making it difficult for individuals to take alternative paths.

I think when my kids move onto the work-world and schools are a thing of the past, I’m going to stop writing about education. I fantasize about reinventing myself as a travel writer. Maybe I might write about my weird hobby of selling used books. Who knows? But I would love to break the school chains someday.

9 thoughts on “School-Whipped

  1. This a lovely little essay, Laura. Though our situations are very different, I can relate to your final paragraph a lot. I think about the thousands, the tens of thousands, of hours that could have been dedicated to work or relationships or health, but instead have been absorbed (and, for five more years at least, will continue to be absorbed) by our daughters’ schooling. I really don’t think I regret any of it. But it does make me wonder: will Melissa and I become dramatically different people, or at least dramatically more “productive” in the conventional sense, when school no longer whips us it does today? How will we reinvent ourselves? I wonder.


  2. You know, I love school. I love the academic schedule. I love thinking about learning and education (and even a bit about schools and how they work and a little bit less about education policy). I love the idea of renewal in schools, that every year there’s a new group walking the path.

    I’m going to miss not having schools in my life as a structure. Might have to find some way of having school (even if my kids aren’t in them). I sometimes tease my spouse that he should go back to school.

    (I do sometimes get annoyed by the school schedule, but only in a minor way. It was nice to be able to travel when the kids were littles when school was in session and everything was less crowded)


  3. I meant to loop this essay back to the Tara Westover’s Educated story. In some ways, her dad was right. There is something totally oppressive about the schools. Meh. Missed opportunity.


  4. Despite getting a PhD, I’ve always hated school. Far too much sit down shut up for me. Plus, too much busy work. Why does it matter if I (or my kids) won’t do the math homework if I (they) still get A’s on the exam?


  5. Our youngest is starting 1st grade in the fall.

    12 more years!

    Like bj, I like the structure. Here’s an incomplete list of what I don’t like:

    –getting up at the crack of dawn and driving kids to school
    –forgotten backpacks
    –obligatory after-school/evening school events
    –homework (especially projects and particularly before they are big enough to handle things themselves)
    –any school assignment that requires me to go anywhere and buy anything
    –my kids’ late/missing school library books
    –complicated uniform rules/expensive uniforms
    –foreign language instruction for tots that doesn’t lead anywhere
    –school paperwork
    –extra school expenses
    –school sports events not actually in our town
    –teacher appreciation week/teacher’s birthday/Christmas/end of year teacher gifts–not that teachers are undeserving, just that that is a lot to keep track of
    –doing things for college admissions
    –keeping track of things for college admissions


  6. If you think education is expensive, try extracurricular activities.


  7. SAUDB said, “If you think education is expensive, try extracurricular activities.”

    Very nice!

    Another item for my list:

    –Buying a squillion dollars in school supplies every year


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