Open letter to my children’s school: Split us if you must. Just don’t divide us.
Do you know what I respond when people ask me how my children like their school?
“They love it,” I answer truthfully.
“And, the curriculum?”
“And, the teachers?”
“Kind and empathetic,” I respond.
“What about the social aspect?” they’ll dig further.
“Amazing!” I’ll say.
“After school activities?”
“Rich and varied,” I’ll assure them.
If they dig a little deeper — perhaps they are inquiring for their own future kindergartners — I’ll admit that I wish there was more green space. More trees and grass would be nice. Did you know William Shatner went there? I rack my brain for some sort of critique, some analysis of everything the school could be doing better. I’m sure if I thought long and hard I could come up with something.
The reality is I have nothing to say.
And this is a good thing.
And it’s not like I’m not in the habit of questioning. Everything. Always.
My children come home from school busting with energy and good spirits. Their eyes shining with smiles and learning. You are quite familiar with those two pairs of big brown eyes: they observe you everyday. They learn from you. They imitate you. They shine back the curiosity you pollinate.
I observe you too.
I see Ms B gently and firmly corral kids onto the school bus — equal parts comedian and badass. I wave to Madame M who accompanied both my children through kindergarten with such deep empathy and understanding it brought tears to my eyes. (I allowed myself a discreet fist-pump when I learned that our second child would also benefit from her teaching.) I catch Madame L’s dreamy gaze and remember how she taught my Cartesian child to learn through song. (Secretly, I hope my daughter gets her too.) And the other Madame M who was thrilled to get my son for a second time in her class this year. (Her advice? Put him in martial arts. We did.) I am left in awe at the beautiful chaos of the Christmas concert where each child shines with pride at their role in an expertly handled choreography of hundreds — in a borrowed space that is much too small. I get goosebumps at the principal lending her voice to the show with full abandon. I pass the school everyday knowing that my children (and their little friends that I have grown to love) are cherished and nourished by a whole community of committed pedagogues.
I loiter in the schoolyard waiting for my children to emerge. My daughter always comes out first, put-together, tentatively seeking out my eye. She comes running to me, smiling wide, arms open for a hug. Moments later, my son comes tumbling out the door, looking dishevelled, clutching on to some item he hasn’t had time to put on or shove into his bag. He drops his bag at my feet and winks at me as he runs past to steal a few minutes playing ball with his friends before the schoolyard is closed.
“How was your day?”, I ask on the long ambling walk to our home a short distance away. They pepper me with stories of their friends, with things they have learned (Did you know THIS, Mama?), songs they are practicing, pictures they are drawing, and words they are spelling. This seventeen minute interaction (it really should only be five but walking with little kids is not linear) anchors my week and brings joy to my day. Even when my daughter invariably has a hunger/fatigue tantrum on the way.
And then without notice, I have suddenly had to come to terms with the notion that everything our family’s school experience been for the past four years is about to change. Radically.
Overcrowding. Another campus. Two kilometres away. Kids in different buildings. A split school.
Wait a second, what?
I don’t understand. I want to… but I don’t.
I miss the meeting and the site visit— planned with mere days notice — because my life calendar doesn’t allow the time.
I read all of the documents. I don’t understand.
I talk to other parents. They don’t understand either.
“What the…,” some of us allow ourselves.
We cannot, in the slew of feedback forms and FAQs and PowerPoint presentations, find our way through. There is no space provided for dialogue. Nowhere to engage with the idea critically.
When space is needed — but not provided — all the questions and worries and fears and criticisms emerge anyways. Dialogue doesn’t happen in an open transparent way. Conversation seeps out of us through text messages and Facebook posts, in cafés when you run into that kid’s mom, in whispers around the schoolyard.
I don’t understand what is happening. I want to but I don’t.
And I am not alone.
Before I know it I am thrust in a role of opposition to something which, in principle, I am not in the least opposed to. Something I just don’t get… yet. It took my family two years of open houses and school visits and thinking and conversation to decide on a school. In the span of three weeks I am told that this will all change (perhaps for the better) and that I am being consulted.
But I’m not.
I am told that there has been lots of thinking and innovation and that the school is committed to the project and lots of hard work has gone into this and the deadlines have been tight and that everyone is well-intentioned.
I don’t doubt this. Not any of it.
It’s just that the children who we birthed or adopted or chose or took in... The children who we kiss to bed at night… Those little people who look to use when they are hurt or afraid… Well, they need us to think long and hard about decisions that affect every aspect of their lives.
I want to. I just haven’t been given the space to. This is all going so fast.
Info sessions and feedback forms and last-minute questions that receive answers front-loaded with “As we said in our presentation…” are not a consultation. Not even close.
A consultation happens in the space between people. It happens in community. It happens with clear data, a shared understanding of the context and issues, and a curiosity to hear from many divergent voices so that we can understand the patterns that gather us and those that could fraction us. Consultation happens with open dialogue that acknowledges and honours deadlines, logistics, accountability, and decision-making authority, yet makes spaces for emergence and possibility.
Consultation is a shared space of learning and understanding and community-building.
When we are asking for more time to understand this proposal and viable alternatives, we are not trying to be difficult or oppositional. Quite the opposite.
We want to understand.
Treat us like children, please.
Give us the same care and consideration that you give our children everyday.
Allow us to be curious. Give us space to learn about the context. Create a forum for our fears. Hold back from giving us ready-made answers. Sink into the questions with us. Allow us to think with you. Don’t lecture us about missed opportunities and time pressures and missing a train that is whizzing by. Get off the train and let us walk with you. We’ll get to the next station.
Unlike our children, who have yet to uncover their life-paths, we parents come laden with gifts and talents and experiences and expertise. We have muscles we can flex and resources we can generate and ideas we can mobilize.
Create the space. Give time to our learning. Name the real-world limits. Give us voice.
Invite us in to play. You’ll be stunned by what becomes possible.
In the meantime, I’ll be waiting in the school yard. You’ll recognize me.
I have my children’s eyes.
A Concerned Mama