Monday, July 30, 2012

Parents or No Parents

My mom played a significant role in my early childhood education. Despite our differences now, I have to give credit where credit is due.

I learned first grade-level skills well before I entered kindergarten because my mother spent hours tutoring me everyday. At this stage in my life, my dad was brutally abusive and controlling; he would not allow my mom to make friends, much less hold a job. Perhaps if she'd been allowed to lead an independent and abuse-free life, she might not have spent as much time tutoring me. I guess I will never know. Instead, in between cleaning and cooking, my mom prepped and tested my mind. She believed her ticket out of this prison was my education and success, that maybe something good could come out of this tragedy of a marriage with my dad.

After kindergarten, my mom decided to transfer me out of St. John Vianney (a private, Catholic school) and into Roy Elementary School, the local public school to begin the first grade. This would be her last influence on my education. My dad was fairly uninvolved in most matters except when he was needed to fill out forms (she couldn't read or speak English well at the time). After I was officially enrolled, my skills were assessed by Ms. D, who would later be my fourth grade teacher. I remember quite vividly she was impressed that I could count up to one-thousand as a five year old.

Until Roy Elementary School, my mom was very involved in my education, but after my transfer the after-school tutoring slowed to an eventual stop and I seemed to be on my own. I originally thought that we had come to some form of mutual understanding: as long as my grades were stellar, I would be left alone. As I got older, my mom stopped checking my test grades and relied solely on parent-teacher conferences and quarterly report cards. And by high school, she didn't bother attending conferences either as my grades remained on point.

As my mother transitioned out of my education, my role within the household grew much more significant. By middle school, I was sifting through our mail and determining what was junk and what wasn't. Soon after, I was writing checks and paying our utility bills using my dad's checkbook, while he remained drunkenly passed out until mid-afternoon. When my teachers gave me important forms to get signed at home, I read them on my own and simply told my mother where to sign.

My literacy and initiative unburdened my parents from some responsibility, which made me feel like a grown-up: something every child wants to feel. In reality, I obviously wasn't a grown-up. The responsibility I was taking on wasn't happening because I wanted it to happen, but simply because the adults around me weren't holding their end of the bargain. I was simply the only person in the household simultaneously literate and sober. A child without mentorship and guidance. I had no one to talk to about college, I just knew I had to get there. As much as I thought I knew back then, I know now I didn't know shit: most of the things I learned, I learned because I made mistakes and then had to work twice as hard to get to where I should be. Thomas Edison said it best, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

I think back to my days as an elementary school student, now as a twenty-seven year old high school teacher, and I can't help but wonder: what if the charter school movement had boomed back then instead of now? Would I be where I am at today?

Although my skills were high as an elementary school student, my parents weren't by any means "involved." They just wanted me enrolled in the nearest public (free) school. After my mom stopped tutoring me, her only involvement in my education was driving me to and back from school. Would my mom have entered my name into a "better" school's lottery? How would she even have known about a new charter school, if she wasn't even reading the documents I brought home from school?

Ultimately, the decision to move to a charter school would have come down on my shoulders, but I still wouldn't have been able to act without my parents' consent. And as a student who was doing just fine academically, I probably wouldn't have acted on it as it required too much work: getting my parents to submit my name, going to the lottery with my mom, transferring schools, getting my parents to sign more forms, etc. As a seven-year old, I think a new Batman movie would have seemed much more interesting than an opportunity to enroll into a charter school. How can someone expect a child to comprehend the so-called "benefits" of a charter school vs. a traditional public school?

If charter schools put even the most driven, independent, and ambitious students at the mercy of their uninvolved parents, how is this system fair? And what about the students who aren't as driven or involved in their own academics and have uninvolved parents? They're pretty much doomed, aren't they?

Thank goodness I didn't grow up under that system, who knows where I might've ended up if I was given a choice as a seven-year old.


Anonymous said...

Since you envision due to paperwork & procedures involved in getting into a charter school that you would've been still in a public school. You would've rotted. surrounded by students not fortunate enough to get into a charter or catholic school, no one one who have fed your brain, unless you hooked on a great teacher not overworked & overburdened to overlook you somewhat like your parents did.
You my man are a survivor, now start thriving some more, you a great example to all.
Keep up the good work on yourself, get a good therapist & stay away from all addictions if possible, including saving kids. save one at a time.
Thanks for a great read.

Yo Mista said...

@ Anonymous:
Thanks for your very generous and kind feedback.