Let me tell you a little about something I am passionate about. It’s a place. A place where beauty overtakes the senses and kindness prevails. Where organic gardens are carefully tended to and children’s laughter fills the air. Where music, art, and culture are practiced and revered daily. There are ‘magical’ forests in this place I speak of. Forests where miracles both large and small can be found. A gecko’s nest, rare and exotic birds, a virtual botanical garden filled with exotic foliage of all kinds, and wide-eyed children respectfully explore and soak in all that this place offers. I will let you in on where this ‘magical’ place can be found, but you might be surprised. It happens to be my children’s school.
Before I go on, first I must digress. In order to grasp where I’m coming from, first let me tell you a little about where I’ve been. I guess you could say the public education system ‘runs in my blood.’ My mother retired from teaching in the public school system after 33 years of service. I have multiple aunts and uncles who are teachers. Growing up, much of the family conversation that took place revolved around the educational system and how it was progressively going downhill. They reflected on a time when variety was allowed in the classroom and differences were okay. Kids played outside and sometimes got hurt, but they learned from it. Physical activity allowed kids to exert energy and feel alive and alert, so they could continue their day in good health and good spirits. Music, art, and other trades were encouraged because they provided creative outlets for students to express what their spirits were put on this earth to do.
Something went wrong along the way. Little by little, the physical and creative outlets for students (and teachers) were plucked away. Recess was less frequent. Art and music were challenged and often limited or taken away all together. No child being left behind also meant that no child would excel. Like a McDonald’s menu that is both efficient and dependable, the government assigned a standardized curriculum to all schools in America that would ensure that children received a “fair” education. No longer having the freedom (or time) to express themselves, let alone allow the children to do so, teachers no longer got excited about going to work.
The pressure of “making the grade” based on what the government deemed ‘fair’ was often too much. Knowing they no longer had the freedom to make a difference, many good educators left the system altogether. School districts were held hostage to these standards with threats of reduced funding. Reduced funding meant eliminating even more extracurricular programs and staff members. Plenty of schools, especially those in low-income areas, did lose funding, leaving children who needed these programs the most with nothing. Children in more affluent areas who already had good resources in place at home received the most funding. Although teachers were often blamed, in reality they were helpless to do anything about it.
These are the stories I heard growing up. Yet, even with this knowledge, I was determined that I would, in fact, make a difference. When I high school, I announced that I was going to be a teacher. My mother practically begged me not to. She told me things were not the same as they used to be. Too many politics. Too many meetings to discuss all of the failures within the system. Too much discouragement knowing there is not a damn thing you can do about it.
I was determined to prove them wrong. I charged full steam ahead into school, determined to be the one to ‘make a difference.’ But, I found myself slowly losing steam as I furthered my degree. The more time I spent within the school system in preparation for my career, the more dysfunction I witnessed. It was just too deeply ingrained. I accepted that there was nothing I could do and graduated, not with a teaching degree, but a degree in English Literature.
Although my love and appreciation for those who did teach always remained, I thought little of the educational system after I graduated until the time came that my own children entered school. Since a private school was not in the budget, I spent many hours researching the best schools in my area as well as how to get my daughter in even if she did not live in the district. The fact that my child could be ‘assigned’ to a school without my approval didn’t sit well with me, so I found a great school as well as a work-around to get her into that district. Nice try, public education system!
My hard-work in getting my first daughter into a good school seemed futile, though. Although I loved that her school was secluded in “the country” with hard-working kids and exceptional teachers, I began to observe the restrictions that they were bound by. The looks of exhaustion and exasperation on their faces each day as they spent the majority of it keeping the “troublemakers” in line. If certain children weren’t requiring attention, they received very little because the teachers simply didn’t have the time or resources.
Because I knew my child demanded little from the teacher, I decided it might be a good idea to make my face known. I wanted her to understand that I knew my daughter’s potential and, although I realized I am the one who’s ultimately responsible for helping her achieve it, I would appreciate if she would at least push my daughter while in school. My annoying behavior continued and it seemed to work. The teachers did push her. She was accepted into a Gifted and Talented program. Her school was one of the few that offered such a program because of funding cuts, so we were grateful. The program pushed her even more to “explore outside the box.”
As my second daughter entered school, I knew my girls were not being provided with the ability to reach their full potential. Each day, there was so much homework, so much reciting and routine work. All revolved around passing their standardized tests. Where was the fun?
I noticed there was little time for my kids to look outside of school into the miracle that surrounds them. Life. The world. People. All that there is to explore and appreciate. Humans have an inherent need to connect with their environment. It is a necessary part of a joyful life. Instead, it seemed they were a part of a machine. A machine that turns our children into robots instead of allowing them to blossom into the miracles that they are. Feeding them processed, cancer-causing chemicals and providing a mediocre education that suits the needs of America’s blue collar work-force rather than those of the child as an individual.
It was around the time I realized my children were being taught in a way that did not serve them that it occurred to me that I was living in the same manner. To make a long story short, my husband and I decided to get as far away from it as possible and purchased four one-way tickets to Hawaii, sold everything, and we hopped on a plane in pursuit of our dreams.
Nearly a year later in Hawaii and one of our greatest dreams has come true. We have managed to mostly break free of the “rat race” and live where we want and how we choose. Our kids do miss “home,” but are growing fonder of the island each day. This brings me back to the magical place I told you about earlier. My children’s school. A Waldorf-based public charter school founded on the principal of imagination in learning with a holistic approach in all levels of development.
What does “imagination in learning” mean? I’ve seen what it means and it is amazing. My children spend as much time outdoors exploring, running, jumping, and playing as they do sitting in the classroom and learning instruction. Instead of using technology and learning about which keys to push on the computer, they learn about building technology beyond their wildest imaginations. They practice art, music, handwork, gardening, and play. They have limited homework because the school seems to run so effortlessly, they have time to complete most of their work at school. The requirements for perfection in their work are strict. Everything is hand-written and drawn. Children are taught to work together in teams and to be kind to one another. They are encouraged to question their teacher and they are often praised for doing so. And, as I mentioned earlier, they accomplish all of this surrounded by one of the most beautiful forests on earth. But, the greatest reason I am passionate about this school is because it has taught my children and us that there is so much more to this life than just “surviving.” A truly joyful life is about loving, helping, sharing, and connecting with one another and the world.