school lessons. life lessons.

ian started first grade a couple of weeks back. we were all excited about him starting the school year. he was bored out of his mind this summer, and i felt bad that i couldn't devote as much time to him for the last two and a half months because of the attention maya needed. i think it will be good for him to get back into a routine, be surrounded by his peers, and face the many challenges of school on his own. oddly enough i wasn't very emotional about him becoming a first grader. i think i was more verklempt last year on the first day of kindergarten.

i feel like i've been preparing for this day for what seems like years. my brief experience in the first grade classroom prepared me to drill ian with the skills he needs to be "successful." he's considered bright, and although he's not a genius by any means, he's pretty darn close to being gifted. i'm sure first grade will be a breeze for him, and on a superficial level that's what i wanted for him.

and then what should i come across, but the cover story in a recent newsweek: the new first grade: too much too soon? i am totally guilty of being one of those parents who pushes and pushes to make sure their child can read, has impeccable penmanship, and can do math ... all before starting first grade. i don't know about you, but i remember (albeit hazily) kindergarten and first grade being fun. we weren't tested all the time, we didn't forgo hands-on fun activities in favor of phonics. and, yet, i am subjecting my child to pressures he shouldn't have to experience already. i'm torn because ian is capable of learning many things some of his peers are not ready to learn; his brain can process, understand and apply much of what i teach him. he's ready. when he asks me a question, i dispense information - as much as i know - and i let him pick and choose what he wants to remember.

but why do i do this? does he need to know all this stuff before he's taught it in school? i fear the day he becomes a wise-ass (he's already on his way) and alienates himself from his classmates. in kindergarten his friends thought it was great he knew so much; they were actually proud of him. but how long does that last before it turns into resentment and exasperation? how long before his classmates' eyes roll every time he opens his mouth?

more importantly, will knowing all this stuff make his life better? all of sudden i'm confused. i used to think with 100% conviction that the more we crammed into his brain, the more we were enriching his life. that's why i've always surrounded him with books, encouraged him to read, and demonstrated the importance of reading by doing a lot of it myself. after all, knowledge is power. right? i was reminded of this at the school library just today when i saw a poster: the more you read, the more you know. the more you know, the smarter you grow. the smarter you grow, the stronger your voice, when speaking your mind or making a choice! my ultimate goal has always been to give him the tools so he can make the right decisions for himself. that's empowerment, in my book. that is wisdom.

and, yet, at the same time, i felt huge self-satisfaction when others acknowledged ian's brightness. it was more than just being proud of my son. upon reflection i think i really, honestly thought it was a personal reflection on me. and that was horrifying to me. it made me realize how vain i am. it's not about me at all, and yet i was making it about me. i was using ian as a tool to make myself look and feel better. do i even know how ian really feels about his own achievement?

all these years, was i really pushing him to learn his numbers and alphabet, drilling him with math questions and phonics rules, and smothering him with trivia for his benefit or my benefit? i am beginning to seriously doubt my motives in educating my son. what is it exactly that i want for him? not me. him.

as i read a book review on sunday, a couple of paragraphs caught my attention and held it all day and night. the reviewer is describing the relationship between two characters, a mother and son, and i couldn't help but see the overlap with my relationship with ian:
Meredith builds her son up and rips him down with equal gusto, telling him at one point: "You're not an artist, Michael…. How are you going to compete with people who have genuine talent?" She herself is an artist of the highest order — one who, along with her estranged writer-adventurer husband, set a standard that Michael could never live up to. His response to this is one of the central questions of the novel: Is a life worth living if it's not destined for greatness? For him, the answer is no.
i do want greatness for ian. but what is greatness and how do we measure it? can it be achieved by school alone? does ian even want greatness? all these questions raced through my mind as i watched him playing soccer in the backyard. what does being smart in first grade have to do with achieving greatness in your lifetime? do most people achieve greatness? or is greatness to the average joe being able to hold down a job, provide for your family, and share love and laughs with people who are important to you? what would be wrong with that?

and, so, for the last two nights, instead of the usual worries about school (packing lunch, getting him to school on time) my mind has been completely bombarded with fear, doubt, and concern over the rest of ian's life. my control freak tendencies are, for lack of a better phrase, getting out of control. this also frustrates me. i know ian's life is not my life. rationally it makes sense. but realistically? not so much.

i've rambled on for so long that i'm not sure where i'm going with this. all i know is that ian's schooling weighs heavily on my mind. more than i ever imagined.

1 comment:

Krimey said...

it's so interesting that you bring this up yukari, because i've been having the exact opposite fears lately.

while i was growing up, my parents were very...overbearing - insisting on good grades and high achievements. my mom in particular did not really have parents that were active participants in her life so without any role models, she figured she should just make sure we aim high. best is best, right?

there are 4 kids in my family, and i must say we look great on paper (all 4 went to berkeley, 2 of us are lawyers, 1 a veterinarian, & 1 a brilliant musician.) it took me a long time to unlearn what my parents had subconsciously taught us throughout our lives: that "average" people with "average" goals are just not as good as the intellectuals in the world. what i started noticing after college is that most of those "other" people are in fact doing very well in life and, more importantly, are well-adjusted (something I can't say about myself to this day.)

snapping back to the present, my main goal with alden has always been to make sure he's well-adjusted. but will i be swinging the pendulum too far in the other direction? i don't teach him colors and numbers, i don't read to him every day, i don't point to every single thing he sees in the world to offer him an expanded vocabulary. granted, he's not even 8 months old yet, but i figure i have to have a plan at some point. part of me assumes that with my genes & dean's genes combined, the kid's gotta turn out relatively bright. but how much of intelligence is learning vs. being taught?

for now i'm content to simply encourage him explore his ever-growing universe and make sure his needs are met, but these thoughts do linger in my mind.

anyway, thanks for opening the discussion on a very pertinent mommy topic.