I am privileged. I am white.
I had my infancy in the 80’s, my adolescence in the 90’s and lived through Y2K.
I grew up in a family of educators. My dad is a retired high school teacher and my mom ran a preschool out of our house during my childhood.
I attended this school in 1984, the first graduating class of the Nipomo Children’s House Montessori Preschool. A special benefit of this school was our immense backyard that was lined with huge coast oak trees, handmade playground equipment including an old boat and a vast front area that was covered by tall grasses in the spring.
Nature was my teacher. I played outside from morning till night as many days as I could. I climbed oak trees, discovered, rode bikes and could be found with a lizard in my pocket. I used to tell people that there were wild horses in my back yard. It could have been true, then.
We lived in a small town around 30 minutes from a small college town. Our community was mostly white but my mom managed to bring some diversity into her school. My mom chose this career so she could help shape us and be home for us when we got home from regular school.
My mom had studied early childhood development after having a very religious upbringing and experiencing lots of trauma.
She realized that she needed to learn how to care for and raise children.
Her program introduced her to Maria Montessori whose philosophy was to allow children to be autonomous and learn from experience. My mom had the approved wooden puzzles that taught us how to solve problems.
We were encouraged to do as much as we could for ourselves, like cleaning and putting on jackets, and guide our own learning through rich hands on materials.
As Maria’s method instructed, my mom had individual sized carpets that we could grab, roll out and use as a play space for our selected material to fulfil our natural inclination to learn. Our outside time was open and the space felt like a park. It was idyllic.
I feel so fortunate for the home I grew up in and the school my mom created there. We had a computer in the school room, the first one I ever used.
After learning how to read, write and play from my mom, I moved on to elementary school. This was a huge shift from the freedom I had luxuriated in during preschool.
I had to do a lot more sitting in one spot and listening to the teacher.
My most prominent memory during this time was asking a teacher to go to the bathroom and being told no. I then quietly went back to my chair and after I could not hold it any longer, I peed. I remember a puddle growing on the carpet under my small plastic chair and my mom having to come and get me.
During this time the first woman went to space, Bush Senior was president, MTV was born, Chernobyl exploded, Mad Cow disease was identified, the Berlin Wall fell and Exxon Valdez spilled oil all over Alaska. Environmental disasters abounded and we were on the brink of the explosion of the internet and personal computing.
My other elementary was very close to my house so I could walk or ride my bike through the park to get there. This was exciting to me as I did not have to rely on waiting for the bus and felt like a big girl.
One of my best memories of this school was my 5th grade teacher named Mrs. Pierce. She was a kind lady who wore large glasses and was always smiling. Her husband used to come in and read to us from the Little House on the Prairie series. This was my favorite.
I loved listening to the stories and something about her family coming into the classroom to help her and us, touched me.
My favorite teacher in middle school was Mr. Johnson who taught algebra and leadership. Being able to take algebra in middle school was a privilege which allowed me to take nearly all the math classes at my high school. I was on the leadership team and helped to organized activities and rally’s.
I was a respectful student, ready to listen and do as I was told. Since this matched the desired qualities in students, I excelled. It did not however, inspire me to ask questions or think for myself.
Finally I went to the local high school in the next town over that had three feeder middle schools. I remember being in some classes that were more rowdy and then moving into honors and then AP classes. This tracking kept me with other mostly white privileged children, which was not an equitable representation of the school population as a whole.
My Honors English teacher was Mr. Denike. As we would write paragraphs and essays he would always pick a model and put it under the document camera for the class to read. I wanted mine to be selected. I tried hard to follow the prescribed model, and add my own interpretation so mine would be up there.
One day it was, I was elated.
During this time I took regular science classes and also agriculture science classes. Some of the ag classes where a joke. I remember having one first period my junior year and my teacher waited so long to actually come into the room and start class that I was routinely mad at his laziness. One time I went to the back office space to ask him if he was going to come in and teach.
I graduated with a 3.98 GPA and applied to many colleges, but all far away from my small town. My graduation theme was:
Life on the edge of time, the class of 1999.
The 90’s fashion of my youth is current again right now with baggy clothing. This decade also saw the death of Freddie Mercury from AIDS, Clinton’s election and the subsequent cigar episode, you could “Ask Jeeves” anything on the internet, and Napster was created for file sharing.
I was also waiting to hear back from colleges. I received more rejection letters than acceptances. I ended up on a plane across the county with my teddy bear as my carry on.
I studied science because nothing else really sounded interesting to me. My original aspiration was medical school so I made sure to take all the prerequisite classes. At Mt. Holyoke College I had a professor of organic chemistry who had a British accent and to this day I still have to think about how to pronounce some compounds. I remember doing really cool microscopy and exploring slime molds.
My favorite class however was Zen and Japanese Culture. We had to go to a tea ceremony and meditation, both sitting and walking for an assignment. I loved the ritual of it all.
I still remember how he talked about meditating- imagine you are walking on the pitch of a roof, each time a thought comes into your head gently push it down off the roof and keep walking.
The constant thoughts in my head were song lyrics.
I felt terrible homesickness, hated the snow and my family could hardy afford to bring me home for Thanksgiving, so I applied to Occidental in Los Angeles.
This was more like it, back in CA.
I realized that I could graduate in two years by majoring in biochemistry and decided to continue my exploration into the other side of me by minoring in Religious Studies.
I took in a variety of religion classes and appreciated being able to interact with my classmates about reading and interpretation, instead of learning cold hard facts.
One class I really disliked was immunology. It sounded good, until I learned that our lab involved using the blood of rats. We were supposed to make a small slit in their tails, if we could not get enough our professor would take them and slide a small glass tube near their eye to suck it up.
I could never do it myself, this was the end of my medical dream.
During this time we used modems to dial in with AOL, allowing connection with people all over the country and beyond in chat rooms. I also got my first cell phone.
After graduation I learned about the APLE Grant that would pay back your student loans for teaching so I decided to get my teaching credential. I did not feel I had any actual skills and I knew I did not what to pursue an advanced degree in science.
I knew I could make it one more year.
My favorite assignment was writing a book about my life that we had printed in hardback. I found the whole credential program slightly useless honestly. How were we really supposed to translate these classes into managing and motivating students?
Here I am ten years later and I have never really left the classroom.
My own educational philosophy has grown as much as I have. I am eager to continue the process.
My advice is we need to nurture all facets of our children.
Strengthening families should be our number one priority, without this we are just doing triage.
We should dedicate the mornings to physical education and small group meetings to discuss, explore, and learn in stations. After a healthy lunch that students help provide by growing and preparing, we would dedicate the afternoon the mindfulness, working on service projects and applying what we learned the morning sessions.
We need to work side by side with children and build community.
This at least is the dawning of my vision.
To be continued…