As we neared the school gate, I noticed the slight change in body language – like a soldier, getting ready for the morning drill. I stopped and turned to him and said. “I feel like I’m squeezing the Kai out of you, the essence that is you.” He looked at me strangely and I said. “Imagine a sopping wet cloth that you are wringing dry in your hands until every little drop of water has been squeezed out and then you hang it up in the sun to dry out even more”.
His eyes flickered. “Ah, I know what you mean, I suppose you could say that school feels like that.”
His reality became crystal clear to me a few weeks earlier when he walked onto the school grounds and looked at me. “Mom, do I look angry?” Then he looked at me again and said. “Mom, and now?” For the first time he displayed to me what it is that he does at school throughout the day, control himself, mask himself – suffocate who he truly is. Seven hours, five days a week – learning, discussing and pretending to be interested in content that stifles his mind, not expressing himself when he is annoyed, angry, tired, bored, afraid, anxious, unhappy, not feeling well – pretending.
Not because he doesn’t enjoy learning or doesn’t want to learn. It’s more a case of content not being presented in a way that will immediately tweak his thirst for knowledge, or allow for discussions and debates as an equal like an adult and not a child – reasoning and logic beyond his 10 years of age. The squeeze of being stuck in an environment that does not compliment his needs, or provides him with a platform to truly explore his talents and strengths.
Am I preparing my child for a lifetime of conforming to a reality that is not him, a reality where his feelings and experiences are irrelevant? Am I sacrificing my child for a system of education that ensures that he passes each grade academically on par with his peers, yet leaves him dripping himself dry of the essence that is him – that illusion of mainstream education?
Am I teaching my child that education comes at a cost. The cost of self, the cost of individuality and the caging of a mind that few will ever make the effort to understand. Am I restricting his ability by not exploring the alternatives and re-evaluating my own understanding of what it means to learn and be educated within the context of South Africa? Surely there is a way to educate a child in a way that speaks to their interests, their strengths and resilience and leaves the door wide open for creativity and exploration in a way that nurtures ability.
The penny has dropped. We’ve reached a critical time where a decision needs to be made. I know that there is far more to receiving an education and learning than sitting on a chair, behind a desk in a confined space with 28 – 34 other kids.
Do I continue to hold on to the “security and stability” that mainstream education provides to me as a parent and risk losing my child as he disappears into the system, or do I step up and be fierce and bold and take a break from the system and help my son refuel and get ready to take-off in a direction that allows him to soar like the mighty-mighty eagle that he once wrote about?
Whichever that direction may be, I am strongly considering taking a break from school and the tradition thereof for three to six months. I no longer want to be part of squeezing the Kai out of my son. We need a break and we need to re-evaluate, together.