The Real World- Part II

Reading Harry’s piece last week on the lies we tell our kids about the real world has really stuck with me. I keep coming back to it as I pass through my week. There is something powerfully haunting about the narratives we tell our children and how they linger- how they infiltrate the children’s minds- how they build the realities for that child and for all of our children.

A certain conversation I had with a child in the past few weeks keeps coming back to me again and again. It was a young student- a 5th grade child considering whether or not to attend Sage. In my interview at the end of the day, the child was reviewing the day, the possibilities, and the realities of schooling. “Well, I don’t really like the focus on testing that other schools seem to have- I like all the projects and hands-on learning that you do here. It was super-fun. But I am going to have to learn about testing someday, so I might as well do it now.”

First of all, whose words does this child utter? At they ripe old age of 10, they have learned to parrot these words as reality. They may be the words of their parents, their teachers, or our larger society. And yet, the child is, fairly joyfully, constructing their world in this image. Why should any 10 year old really commit him or herself along such lines? Why do we let our fears dominate this child’s life and create their future? At what cost?

I discussed with this child (but clearly needed to discuss with their parents and with others in the child’s life) why our school stands as a living testimony against this reality. There is no doubt that the SAT’s are gatekeepers, but they are the better part of a decade away- nearly this child’s whole life path needs to be redoubled still lay ahead. Why not asking the nursing mother- how will that ‘nursing stuff’ ultimately prepare your child for the test? We so often miss children’s current realities and growth potentials in life, because we are preparing them for the test. Crawling is not merely ‘walking-prep’. It is crawling, and we let them crawl. It is a sad story fraught with poor logic, but logic we gladly keep retelling and recasting as real. And more children will fall prey.

To be sure, our kids at Sage will be prepared for the tests. But their path to that reality is filled with enthusiasm, joy, excitement, diving in to topics, exploring our community, and learning how to live. Our reality is that our kids are succeeding. If they leave us to go to the ‘traditional’ education world, and its testing, they end up on honor rolls. When they graduate and enter college, they enter prepared on many levels. They succeed. Our reality can meet theirs- gloriously and in its own time.

I couldn’t help but feel the weight of the world on this 10 year old. They had constructed their reality, with a lot of help from others. And they are surrounded by people who keep perpetuating the story as fact despite the world of evidence we could present. Their reality trumps. Their reality boxes, defines, creates, and is the dominant ‘reality’. It wins. Ultimately, though, it misses so much of what this child could become in favor of the fear of missing out on a low-level skill. We can do better. In this reality and that one. Let’s not keep sacrificing kids on its altar.

Chris McAvoy