Wednesday, July 17, 2019

When Education prevents us from being truly present

I remember those mornings when we'd step into our puffy snowsuits and walk into the frosty air, our gloved hands packing snowballs or scooping armfuls of delicate snowflakes that we pushed and stacked into forts. Later, we'd crowd back into the hallway of that creaky Victorian house and lay our wet hats on the radiator as we rushed to sip mugfuls of hot chocolate.

I remember those afternoons when we'd breathe in the crisp air as we drug the rake across the yard, forming piles of leaves. Yellow, orange, and red would mix and tumble as we jumped and flung leaves at each other. I recall when once, a man stopped his car and walked over, and after talking with us raised his camera-and soon after, we excitedly stared at our picture in the local newspaper.

I remember those early mornings when I'd sit at that long kitchen table and write, write, write till the side of my right hand was gray from when I'd rest it against the page of the fantasy story I was creating.

I remember those leisurely, long hours at the library, when I'd lose myself in the shelves and pages upon pages of books. I remember the hiking trips, the field trips, and the peaceful weeknight evenings of fellowship and relaxation. The days and nights of simply being present with other human beings.

Then, the Educational System blasted into the calm.

Gone were the leisurely afternoons of play and exploration. Gone were the peaceful mornings of work and rest as we learned and grew, letting history and literature seep into our bones. Bells now directed my days, and heavy textbooks weighed down my arms. Regimented lunch periods taught me to eat in haste, and tests and PowerPoints began to numb my desire to learn. Evenings were now filled with sports practices and school meetings and homework. So much homework.

I wanted to succeed, and worked hard. I obsessively checked the website where grades were posted, wanting to do better, to keep my grades high. I was devastated the first time I received a B+ in a class. A high GPA was all that mattered in this Education System; it would help you earn scholarships and get into a good college, which was NECESSARY-because you don't want to flip hamburgers at McDonald's for the rest of your life, do you? 

Fond memories of my time in the Educational System bolster my spirits. While there were difficult ordeals, wonderful moments smooth the rough patches. Some of my deepest friendships began to take root in that time. I learned a tremendous amount about myself, about others, and about "Reading, 'Riting, and 'Rithmatic." I am tremendously grateful for the experiences I had in middle school, high school, and college.

That being said, I look at our modern Educational System with hesitance.

I see time-so much time-devoured throughout the day when students wait for the bell to dictate where they will go next. I see pages upon pages upon pages of notes that are hastily scrawled as students listen, memorize, and regurgitate facts for tests. I see trash cans lining the halls at the semester's end, so students may toss their textbooks, novels, and notebooks into the bins without further concern for the subjects that they studied for hours on end. I see students working for the GPA instead of for themselves or for the sake of growing in awareness and knowledge of the world. I see students stressing out over how much they can volunteer while keeping their grades up and participating in extra-curricular activities so that they can apply for National Honor Society-and thus bolster their college resumes. I see people focused so intently on succeeding in the Educational System that they have no time or mental space to be present with each other. 

Yet, even if they happen to remember that life is more than tests and meetings and pages of notes, there is little that these parents, teachers, and students can do. When their days consist of mandatory classes and meetings, when their evenings are filled with hours of homework and school events, when teenagers can't even attend youth group because they don't have the time in the midst of sports and homework-how can anyone fully embrace the joy of reading "for fun" or just living with each other?

Some people choose to homeschool or participate in a "blended model" of education, so that they (and their children) can experience empty hours to fill with the abundant joy of being present with each other and their communities. However, not all people want to navigate these educational options-and not all people have these resources. Furthermore, the Educational System is literally a lifesaver for many children who primarily receive food and supervision through the schools that they attend. 

What then are we to do? Should the people who live and work in the Educational System be doomed to a miserable fate? Should those involved with the brick-and-mortar schools of the Educational System resign themselves to only experience hours of play, exploration, and presence in the few months of summer break (in between sports camps and VBS and art camp, etc.)? We cannot singlehandedly solve the inadequacies of the Educational System, but we can be proactive forces of change. 

Perhaps we can support our teachers, many of whom are overworked, underpaid, and have limited resources (and, at times, other jobs they work to earn a living) yet still show up, day after day, and try to help their students become better people. 

Perhaps we can reach out to each other, and recognize that the Educational System should not be about competing to see whose child is "better" or "smarter," but that we should all be working together to help our children succeed. The future of our society rests on their shoulders, after all.

Perhaps we can discuss ways to open up time in our days, so that we may be present to others-when is the last time that we drank coffee or ate a meal with our neighbors?

Perhaps we can take some of the emphasis off of high GPAs and college resumes and instead look a little more closely at what our children actually want to do with their lives-and recognize that there are dignified jobs in this world that do not require a degree from a four-year college. 

Many aspects of the Educational System are our of our control. The hours upon hours of homework may still come, and the endless meetings will fill our calendars. Yet, we can still be empowered to make a difference; we can open our eyes and ears to those around us. Are we willing to take the focus off of ourselves and look for ways to experience the abundant joy of being truly present to others? 


  1. There are so many important things that you've noted here. We've chosen to home school, in part because of some of the things you mentioned.
    Just a few months ago we had a local election. One of the things included was electing school board members. My husband and I read up on the candidates and voted even though our kids won't attend public school. This is one small way to be a force for change!
    It's so sad, though, because we later saw that only 7% of registered voters in our city took part in the election. Isn't that awful? I imagine more would have participated if the election had been in November or if it were during a presidential election. It's very disappointing. It's such a small way that we can have an impact!

    1. Shannon, thank you so much for mentioning local elections! That is definitely an important way that we can all impact our communities. How sad that only 7% of the voters in your city participated! I'm not too surprised, though. I unfortunately have only participated in local elections a couple of times. I have been making an effort to participate in them as they happen, but it is so hard for me to keep track of them, if they are at seemingly random times of the year. I need to work on that!

  2. I was just listening to Danielle Bean's Girlfriends podcast in the car today and her topic was on how to navigate schooling choices as a Catholic family. Not exactly your topic but still on the topic of education. I think it's so important to be intentional and involved in all aspects like you mentioned-- and what a great point to do so for all children, not just your own!

    1. Thanks for mentioning that podcast-I will have to look up that episode, I bet it was interesting! I think education is such a vast and important topic, and there are so many perspectives to consider when looking at it. I'm in the early stages of brainstorming ideas for homeschooling this year (our 3 year old is quite enamored with the idea of school, so I want to do a little something school-ish), and it is such a deep topic.

  3. I enjoyed reading this post, AnneMarie! As someone who attended public school my whole life, I agree with a lot of what you wrote above. There is so much time wasted and so many useless activities in the classroom.. it can be disheartening as a parent! But I love the last points you made - we can be positive forces of change and supporting our teachers can make a huge difference!! :)

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed reading this, Elisabeth! I think it's awful that education has reached this point. It's been a pretty hot topic in Oklahoma. Hopefully, if we all begin working together (with a spirit of joy and hope instead of resignation) we can make good changes and bolster our schools, teachers, and communities!

  4. Yes! Love that, a spirit of joy and hope for positive changes to be made! :)