Growing up I moved ten times before I was 14 years old. This means I attended almost ten different schools before I entered high school. I have been a student at private schools, Montessori schools, Catholic schools, Quaker schools, public schools, year-round schools and even home schooled. I am also the daughter of educators. My father taught high school students who were second language learners. My mother was in early childhood education for years and continues to teach elementary school today. My grandfather was a photography professor at the University of Southern California and several other family members have been early childhood educators my entire life as well.
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To say education was a huge part of my life would be an understatement. I’ve always excelled academically. I was at an 8th grade reading level at age 7. I was an honors student in high school and received early acceptance to Loyola Marymount University where I later graduated with a BA in Chicana/o Studies and Studio Arts (photography).. I earned my masters degree from Pacific Oaks College in Marriage & Family Therapy with a specialization in Latina/o Families. I am so proud of these accomplishments. My schooling is a huge part of who I am as a woman of color, a mother and honestly just a human being in this world.
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Is education everything? Of course not. Is it bad? Is it good? Nothing is that black and white unfortunately. But I was given the opportunity to experience formal education and informal education and plan to make that choice for my son until he is old enough to do so.
My father came to this country from Mexico and was put straight into Catholic school. The nuns were cruel and practiced corporal punishment often - especially when it came to my father and his brother - who broke the rules by speaking Spanish; although it was the only way they knew how to communicate. I can’t help but think that this shaped his choice to get a degree from Cal State Los Angeles during the Chicano Movement of the 1960's and become an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher. This enabled him to help young people who found themselves in this country not knowing the language just as he hadn't. He may not have been the best father to me, but his students loved him and he was able to show them a kindness and compassion that he wasn’t able to show me at home. There is not much that he and I ever spoke of, but whenever I received a report card with good grades I could see the pride on his face.
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My drive, although partially affected by my need for my father’s approval, was really something that came from within me. I have always had a fire for learning and school is something that kept that fire burning. I always wanted to be the best and school was a place where I could be the best (or one of the best) and thank god for that - because growing up in my home was really fucking hard. School was a place that I looked forward to going to so that I could forget about my life and focus on reading (my first love), music (I was a flutist and total band geek), and later in college other passions like ballet, photography and community organizing.
I was also told that earning a higher education represented my freedom. Freedom from a man or unhappy marriage as shown to me by my mother, who was in school my entire childhood while simultaneously raising me and working full time. Freedom from a system that isn’t tolerant or accepting of people of color or people outside the norm. I understood my privilege as an American (first generation) and the access to education that I had and what it would mean to turn my back on it.
And so I went - straight out of high school to go to a private university. Completely oblivious as to what student loans really meant after school was over. Blindly thinking that I would pay these loans off as soon as I graduated and got a job. Two years in I dropped out. The financial burden was too great for me on my own and despite working two jobs and going to school full time - taking the bus all over the greater Los Angeles area to get to said jobs I was done. I was exhausted and felt like despite trying so hard, maybe school was only for the privileged. So I worked. And I was in a string of dysfunctional relationships. And I moved to different cities. And that life was just as exhausting and unfulfilling and I knew I had to go back. And so I went and finished my education with a new flourish and passion of someone who truly appreciated the cost, the commitment and the power of what a higher education could help me attain. I didn’t skip classes (I knew how much each class was costing me - and I believe at that time I figured it was over $100 per hour), I focused, I didn’t fuck around and it felt amazing.
So when I think of my “college experience,” sure it involves dorm life, navigating the world on my own, eating pizza and drinking beer but more so it is my journey of being young and naive, the devastation of thinking I was giving up and then growing up and taking life by the balls and getting my shit together. Did I get a job right after and pay off those loans. No. I am currently drowning in the financial debt of attending two private schools for my higher education. I may go to the grave with that debt.
Will that stop me from encouraging my son to seek a higher education? Hell no! But I will show him how to do it in a smarter way - either community college for 2 years or a public college for undergraduate at least. Who knows - he maybe he’ll be a brainiac or amazing athlete and get a scholarship. Maybe he’ll be into the arts or music and go that route - point being there is a route for everyone. Every child is different. I don’t know yet what environment my son will thrive in. But once he shows me then I will put him where he will thrive. If he is an artist like his Papa then you better believe we’ll encourage him to attend the LA High School for the Arts (public). If he’s an academic I will find an amazing all-boys private school that focuses on whatever area is his passion. Depending on how much structure he needs that could also be found at a public school. But to say I know today what path I will guide him would be foolish.
Education means a lot of things but mostly it means school and formally being taught mixed with life in general. My job as a mom is to deal with the life part and to find a school I trust to do the formal teaching. I do not want to be both things for my son. He needs to learn from other people that aren’t his mother and father. We will be busy teaching him EVERYTHING else: Social skills like how to treat people and be a good person, helping him to form his view of the world. Political, social and gender issues - in general how to be a worldly young man who is informed and who has an opinion on these things. We will explore, travel and have fun - because this is also how you learn and what makes up the character of a person.
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Traditional education is full of rules, tests, expectations, standards and discipline. But guess what? So is life. If I want my son to succeed in the world he needs to feel pressure and know the goodness that comes from it. I refuse to have him live his life in a bubble where he never knows stress. Stress shouldn’t be seen as negative or hurtful (more on that here from the amazing Kelly McGonigal - watch it - it could literally change your life- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcGyVTAoXEU).
If I sound like a bit of a tiger mom maybe I am, but in reality I’m more like if a hippy, commune-living dad and a tiger mom had a baby. I was raised by hippies who were babywearers & homebirthers when that stuff was still taboo. My mom made my baby food and used cloth diapers just because she's a bad ass, thus her "badassery" rubbed off on me. My mom did the most amazing activities with me - art projects, baking, learning to sew, gardening, playing Swan Lake and Kraftwork records so I could dance to different types of music. These are the awesome things I was taught at home. And then come Monday my mom sent me to school to allow others to teach me English, music, math and science. Just as I was sent to a ballet company 3x a week to learn how to dance.
It may sound like I’m being facetious but I’m not - I say this only to illiterate my point that you cannot be everyone to your child. It’s not all or nothing. As a parent there are teachable moments in everything you say and do with your babies. Even when your child has a teacher you don’t agree with or another child who is teasing yours - THIS is a teachable moment. How will you prepare your son or daughter to deal with and move through such issues if you don’t allow them to experience them?
With all the schools, teachers and children I experienced in my life I had great experiences and terrible ones. My parents taught me how to deal with children who teased me and called me a “wetback” when I came home in first grade asking what that meant. They also showed me how adults handle things like this by going to the school and talking to administrators. Will my heart break if my son ever comes home and asks me a question like this? Of course - and I hope I never have to deal with something like this, but the reality is that if its not that then someone will tease him because of the way his father and I look, or because of the clothes he wears or the shoes he likes or the way he’s chosen to comb his hair that day. Trust me - it will be something.
But with our support my son’s going to be okay. Actually not just okay, he’s going to be great. Because the person he will become is so much more than what school he goes to - who he is - his spirit and heart will be one formed by the education he receives from me, his father, extended family, his Godparents, friends and the teachers we trust to teach him from 8-3 pm every day.