Why Lemony?
(the “About Me” page)

March 11, 2004

revolution in my head

Here's my reading list of the past few (and next few) days:

Raising Children As Peacemakers, by Peggy Goding
Dispatches From A Not So Perfect Life... by Faulkner Fox
Motherhood and its discontents by Judith Stadtman Tucker
No More Prisons by William Upski Wimsatt
Schools That Learn by Peter Senge

I've managed to read a chapter of at least one of these books or articles every day for the past several and my head is very full. When I dive into non-fiction, it takes me a long time to assimilate the knowledge that I'm receiving because I really want to take it in, digest it, and let it work on all my thoughts and shake them loose. I feel very alive and interesting inside my head, but so far I'm having a hard time forming words or coherent ideas about it all because it is challenging many of my long-held and acted on assumptions.

For example, I've spent 22 out of the 30 years of my life in public school, taking it as it is dished out , tolerating its ill-fittedness to my self and personality, trying to jump through all the hoops, not without serious rebellion (I left high school for a year in Guyana and dropped out of college too, only to come back in the end), but never with any hope of another way- and then here come Mr. No More Prisons saying school is a drug and you can break free of the 'addiction' and educate yourself. And I have whole books full of stories and memories in my head of the nightmares of my schooling, more than I can even start recounting here. Twenty-two years is a long time- it makes me shaky to think how long that is. And only now that I have a master's degree do I feel like I can do any serious questioning. That's so like me- just get through the awful thing and you can reflect and kvetch about it later. Is that discipline? Sometimes it is, sometimes it's just fear of failure and dishonor, I think. Questioning can be dangerous- it leads to thoughts of rebellion and living outside the system that, while it takes away spirit and independent thought, is also part of the system that gives life and hope for your future (hey, my mother sent me to public school, so it can't be that bad, she loves me and wants the best for me. this I know). But question I shall. It's my mantra and my most highly valued intellectual goal- Ask the right Questions and all will be Opened unto you. To be fair, I must compile a list of the things that are good about a public school education for my children- but so far all the items on my list are motivated by fear:
1. What if there are things I learned in school that I don't know I know, so how can I judge whether any other system has that, and what if it was something essential that without, will keep my children from attaining their highest potential (or pass society's tests)?
2. What if I can't find any alternatives that I can live with? It terrifies me at this point to consider taking full responibility for my children's education, although I guess it's my responsibility anyways, in the end. But I've had all this training to do other kinds of things that are going to affect so many people, not just my own kids. I've been counting on going back to work when Maya hits preschool. But part of that assumption is just a superficial idea of how one can make a difference in the world, and that you have to have a well-defined 'career' that has nothing to do with your children in order to be a good contributing member of society. And I don't like the isolation of being at home with the kids- how could I homeschool them and condemn myself to a lifetime of this? But then again, how could I condemn my children to be locked up in the prison (I've called my high school Buffalo Grove High Jail since before I graduated from that place) that I was in for so many years, just so I can go out and do acceptable wage-earning things by (again) someone else's standards?
3. Surely public school can't be all bad because life is not all bad and people are not all bad so I must be feeling negative and pessimistic about it because of my current literary influences or something. (I AM very impressionable.) And also from the flattening effect of time on years of memories all stacked on top of each other that makes them seem one-dimensional (very bad or very good) and without depth and context. And I know I do have some really good memories of public school, although in my discontented fervor only a couple are surfacing.

Whatever. If I had to synthesize what I've learned so far about discontent from White middle class mothers and the idea of self-education, it would be that mothers are unhappy because they are at the very center of a very messed up system, and when they buy not only themselves but their children into this system (or, if I was going to be harsh, 'sell' them into this system) it makes them die inside. But that's not my final analysis by any means, only having read a little bit of each of these few sources. I could be completely off, but, then again, I could be dead on.

Posted by Bahiyyih at March 11, 2004 12:40 AM

Dear Bahiyyih-

WOW! What an intense entry! Especially since I am feeling so open to the world at this very moment, I totally love that you are thinking about all of these amazing things!!

First off, about said Mr. William Upski Wimsatt - his book sent me back to school, actually. Not that I disagrred with him about school being a drug. No, that wasn't the case at all - that idea totally resonated with me. I sat with it and named it, and only after I had realised how that had affected me in the past (and how that had driven me out of school in the first place - I was high on following the rules and playing the game) was I able to return. And ever since then, I have been a straight A student. You know why? Because I was empowered. I didn't feel as though I was cowtowing to a beureacratic system - I was in control of my destiny. That is such a wonderful feeling.

And then I reclaimed that feeling today. I went in to speak with a TA about a paper that I have to write for a class and I told her that I wasn't going to write anything unless it resonated with me. And so she was like, "yeah!" and then we got to talking and she helped me to figure it out. And now I am all about it again!

Maybe it's spring and the potential it brings, but I am feeling open and ready to not let myself be trampled upon by school anymore. Or amybe it's the carmel latte and the fact that I can't tolerate caffeine... :)

Anyway - I think that education is something that I worry about with my kids-to-be as well. Especially because of poor experiences that I and the people I know and love have had with school. But I find consolation that if you teach children to question and to be open and to love and trust Baha'u'llah that even if they are given tests (which are signs of God's Love for us!) that they will learn and grow. Because childhood education is fundamental, but my 83-year old Grandmother always consels me to not worry if I don't get it all right - she is still learning things!!

That doesn't mean not to try, but to do exaclty what you are doing - question and learn and sit with the bad things, and then to let them become the fertilizer out of which new and wonderful things grow.

A bit sentimental and esoteric, but I think that you are wonderful, and I am feeling sentimental and inspired! I love you!


Posted by: lizzy at March 11, 2004 10:50 PM

Powerful entry. Fantastic comments by Lizzy. I am so excited that Georgia is in Montessori school now. It seems to suit her personality perfectly . . . self-directed, self-discovery. I am so glad to hear about your educational angst, Bahiyyih. I know what a difficult time you had coming back from Guyana to B.G.H.S. The college part is new to me. I am amazed that you plowed on through the Master's degree. I hope with all my heart that the difficulties reap untold bounties in your life. I'll never forget how proud I was to see you teach a class full of graduate students. I also know that whatever you turn your mind to, you succeed in carrying it out. Watching you mother your girls confirms for me Bahá'u'lláh's injunction to educate the women first. You are a remarkable woman, and I'm so happy we are part of each others' lives.

Much love,


Posted by: Nana at March 14, 2004 08:09 PM

Hey, I finally read it! I like how you've distilled some of the important concerns into basic questions, like "What if I can't find any alternatives that I can live with?" Thanks for writing.

I can't respond voluminously right now, but I will say that, like pregancy, I feel like it's a good thing we don't have to be ready all at once -- our approach to education can evolve as our children grow up. We will naturally try to plan as far ahead as we can, but we can always learn more and adjust our plans accordingly. I'm sure it will be an adventure for all of us -- I just hope it's a good one for the children. And if we consult well together, I think that it can be.

Posted by: Billy at March 15, 2004 03:22 PM

Ooh, ooh -- I forgot to say -- "I want to be involved too!" Thanks for talking about all this with me over the last few days.

Posted by: Billy at March 15, 2004 03:24 PM