I was raised by two school teachers. I grew up in small private schools, enjoyed myself about as much as I expected to, and after a few bumps and lumps in elementary school, I did very well. I have no moral opposition to school. You might even say that I like it, or that I like the idea of it, in its imaginary, perfect form. There's not much cuter than a well-stocked smoothly-functioning Montessori classroom, with all the little trays and doodads around the walls, and little busy children briskly occupying themselves at tiny tables.
I'm not homeschooling because I hate school. I'm homeschooling because I think homeschooling is cool. I'm homeschooling because I think my specific child needs it. I am completely open to the possiblity that he might want to go to school someday, and I will definitely let him try it and see how it goes.
My son is not open to that possibility. He does not like school at all -- not the idea of it, not the reality of it, not the smell, sight, or sound of it. Nothing about it interests him. Why? Where did he get this idea? I have been very, very careful in my characterization of school when we talk about it. I do not say it is a nightmare sweatshop where children go to be chained to desks for hours at a time, pushing heavy pencils across black and white worksheets until their little eyes bleed. Of course, I also do not say it is a happy valley of magic playtime where elves feed you gumdrops as you learn to play checkers better. I try to be realistic. There are good and bad things about school, like there are good and bad things about everything. (Except stale candy corn. There's nothing bad about stale candy corn. But I digress.) Benny's opinion of school is so violently negative -- when we visited Boston and stood on the site of the first public school in the country, he made this face:
Why so glum, chum? What beef could you possibly have with public schools, having attended one approximately zero times in your life? We recently attended a violin workshop at a cute local school, and Benny spent a lot of time making me reassure him that he wasn't going to have to "go to school" -- that our attendance there was only temporary and completely disconnected with enrollment. Sadie liked it. Driving away on the last day, she said she wanted to go back there again. Benny immediately jumped in and said, "No Sadie! You don't want to go to school! Don't listen to her, mother. She just likes the playground. Sadie, you can get a playground anywhere! You don't have to go to school to get a playground!"
Where does this prejudice come from? Is there a back room of my mind, where a "school is bad" filmstrip is playing? Has he been able to perceive this opinion without my intention?
Then I look at the books I have exposed him to, and the shows he has watched on TV. What images of school has he seen, what situations have been dramatized for him? Guess what? More often than not, school is portrayed in books and on TV as a stressful place where bullies torture you, teachers misunderstand you, and lessons confound you. A place where you feel trapped, bored, and rebellious. There's Junie B. Jones, manipulating and suffering her way through first grade, and there are the Captain Underpants boys. Even a pious, innocuous little PBS show like Arthur shows school as a dangerous territory to be navigated with fear and trembling. I suppose the episodes are written in an exaggerated way so that school children can relate to them, and can learn to deal with reality. But how does that classroom look, to a kid who's not in school? Every day there's a new problem. Maybe Benny is getting his impression of school from these books and TV shows. I can see how that might happen.
So is contemporary children's entertainment just a secret propaganda tool for the homeschooling army? Do any of these fictional children enjoy school, do any of them have fun and interesting teachers, good friends, and happy days? There are a few books and shows that do not portray school as a hellscape of oppression and gloom. Dora the Explorer is one, but of course it is, because Dora is an unschooler. (Or possibly just a neglected child whose parents should probably be reported to CPS -- but let's put the best construction on everything and assume they're following her around in a magic helicopter in case the crocodiles don't abre at the right time.) Clifford the Big Red Dog portrays school as a fun place with positive interactions and favorite teachers. Magic Schoolbus has created the ultimate fun science teacher, although the kids still complain and whine in their little dialogue bubbles.
All this is symptomatic of the larger problem that exists in attitudes toward school, not just in my little child, but in the world in general. People seem to cheerfully just assume that kids hate school. That they can't wait for vacation. That they have to be forced to go. It's so much a part of the way we view childhood that we think nothing of basing a whole series of books on how rotten school is and how much kids hate it. Remember, I liked school. I was raised by teachers who made school so fun for their students that their kids didn't want summer vacation to come, they didn't want to stay home sick, they looked forward to the fun and interesting things happening every day at school. So -- is there something missing here? Why can I not understand why we don't expect that sentiment to be the norm, rather than the exception?
Maybe if most kids hate school so much, there's something wrong with the most schools, and not something wrong with most kids.