School is coming to an end soon and while this year has been a better year than last, so I'm not necessarily jumping up and down and yelling HOORAY!, I'm still pretty happy about it.

Look, I love school and I want these Shortlings to learn to love the education they receive.  I want them to just generally develop a thirst for knowledge that will continue throughout their lives.  I work with a church group of teenage girls and I'm always arguing with them about how school is Awesome with a capital A and they should learn to appreciate it now because, wow, being out of school is Not Awesome with a capital NA and I wish the biggest problem I had in my life was spending time in class again just learning Stuff.  Any Stuff.  Everything I want to know something about.  I now totally understand those thirty year-olds I knew in college whom we joked were "professional students" because if I could choose to do anything right now and money were not an issue, I'd go back to school and get like eight unrelated Masters degrees, not because I want to work in any particular career field, but just because I want to know stuff about Stuff. 

I feel strongly about this.

To the point where when The Shortlings do something awesome at school and the administration gives them a Get Out Of Homework Free Pass as a reward, I'm always mildly irritated by it.  I like that they're being given a reward; I just wish it was a different reward.  This reward isn't directly related to the work they did to get the reward.  I'm also annoyed by the reinforcement that doing work is a bad thing and you should always be looking for ways to get out of it and, I don't know about all kids, but my kids always use it for something that I'd prefer they actually do.  In general, I think the way they handle homework in school is stupid and heavy handed.  There's too much of it. Too much of it is dumb busy work.  Too much of it doesn't really help them learn. But neither of my kids ever use the homework pass on the dumb busy work things -- that thing where you have to write every word on your spelling list ten times in different fonts and colors on the computer and then they commandeer your computer for three hours playing with fonts and colors and writing the word alligator over and over.  THAT thing, they're happy to do. But about ten percent of the time, the homework they bring home is something they really need.  It's practice or reinforcement of a skill they haven't mastered in class and they need the added repetition.  For The Dormouse, it's usually a math concept.  For The Caterpillar, it's usually spelling.  This is the thing for which they want to use the homework pass.  My kids will invariably sit down at the kitchen table, look at That Thing That's Hard, that they actually need the homework to help them practice, and then pull out that long-saved homework pass they got because mom bought them a chicken sandwich at the PTA fundraiser four months ago and say, "I'm gonna use my homework pass on this one." What kind of message is that sending, School Administrators?

Maybe I'm taking the homework pass thing too seriously.

All that is to say that if there were a way to keep them in some sort of school, I would gladly consider it. But the problem with school is that it doesn't teach kids to develop a love for education.  More often than not, it stomps it.  And the toll it takes on a kid... whether it's problems with teachers, friends, grades, behavior charts, or whathaveyou, well, to borrow the current vernacular... I can't even.  Every year, even when it's been a relatively problem-free year, I get to the end of it thinking, "For joy, now we can work on my daughters' self-esteem and ability to find joy in life," because apparently those two things don't really get to happen in the same environment and the same time.  

So every year when school ends, my first, overwhelming feeling is relief, and, "Now we can have the summer off to repair the damage done by this year."

That's why we've made it a priority to find a good summer camp experience and keep them in it all summer even though it's expensive and inhibits our travel plans.  That's why no matter how much their teachers complain, I refuse to take music away from them as a punishment for not getting the grades everyone expects.  That's why, even though I hate, loathe and despise driving them to lessons and being scheduled up to my neck during the school year, and always having some place to go every weeknight, and paying for all these after school things, I get in the car evening after evening and drive them to the next thing, the next day.  Because school isn't always a life affirming experience. Kids are mean and parents yell at you and teachers are unfair and yes, that's the way the world works and they have to learn to work with the system they're given because it doesn't get any better when you're an adult and have a job (something I've said to my kids on multiple occasions) but you know what? You should also be able to get a break from it now and again.

The Dormouse switched from violin to viola in instrumental music this year and started to get really interested in playing.  She liked the violin last year, but as a string player myself, I know how many little violinists there are running around at that age and how much competition there is for each of those kids, so I suggested she try the viola.  Maybe it's because I wish I had played more viola in those years and maybe it's because I started to notice her really fixating on the harmonies and other intricacies in music as she sang alto in the chorus this year.  I'm gonna claim the latter.  I did know, however, that no string teacher in her right mind would turn down a kid who actually wanted to switch from an instrument where there were eighteen kids to an instrument where there were two.  Whatever the reason, it worked.  She wanted to practice more.  She excelled more.  Maybe she got more attention, I don't know.  If nothing else, she did seem to enjoy it more.

Solo and Ensemble Festival is a thing lots of school districts do to give kids a chance to play by themselves or in a small group. The Dormouse wasn't even mildly interested in it last year, but this year a lot of kids were going, so the instrumental music teacher put several small groups together.  This was The Dormouse's group.  They worked hard; they practiced their parts individually; they coordinated times to practice after school and secured permission from parents and teachers who allowed them to use a classroom; they asked for coaching from the music teacher, an older student, me; they tried hard to play together and listen to each other; and from what I saw, they all tried to both give and take constructive criticism to and from one another in a way that wasn't mean or defensive, which is sometimes a really hard balance to strike.  They came away from this experience with not just a certificate and a "Roman Numeral I" rating (something I remember so well from my Solo and Ensemble days); they came away from this experience having worked for something and feeling good about accomplishing it.  These are all things the school administration says it wants to teach kids but in actuality does very little to incorporate into the learning environment.  This is why I wouldn't listen to that fourth grade teacher who asked me to take my kid out of music because she talked too much in class one day.  This is why we need music (and sports and arts and clubs and other extracurricular activities) in schools.

If she got this kind of learning, experience, and positive reinforcement in each of her classes... even just once a week... I wouldn't need the summer off to repair.