Anyway, there was a man in his seventies shuffling along in front of me, his back bent into a hump, his face pointed toward the ground. He was wearing an apron and a black, collared grocery store uniform shirt. He moved slowly. Painfully, like every footstep was like a little miracle. He shuffled across the hot black top, his apron hanging limply in front of him, and started to wrestle two stray carts together and push them toward the haphazard mess in the cart corral.
That man has lived for more than two of my lifetimes, he is bent and broken and gnarled, and they have him fetching stray carts from the parking lot. That is the way he spends his days.
Also, there is a group of college girls sitting near to me at the coffee shop. They are polite and sweet and young and pretty, talking about their parents and teachers; working on an assignment.
Two men are holding hands across a table a little further away from me, across the room.
If I'm not careful, this all will break my heart.
There is an amazing thing happening in my city. A new school is opening. It is a beautiful, democratic-free school in the burgeoning East End neighborhood. It is called the Three Rivers Village School, and I am so proud of its founders and the parents who are signing their children up to experience life and education in such a considerate, forward thinking way. I want to be one of those parents so very badly, even. I'm invested in this school getting off of the ground on a personal and sociological and emotional level. On an everything level. I believe in this school.
Let me tell you a story about somebody I love. He is a 6 year old little boy named Eliot, and he's brilliant and beautiful.
|Here's a picture, so you can get an idea of the kind of adorable I'm talking about, here.|
He knows the names of every actor in The Wizard of Oz. He writes comic books and builds robots. In preschool, when all of the other boys wanted to be firefighters and super heroes, he was obsessed with becoming a mad scientist. He talked early and A LOT. He has always excelled at reading and writing and drawing and creating. He is one of the most interesting conversationalists I've ever met, and often prefers sitting and joining into our mama conversations about marriage and money and the profundities of life. We think of him as an old man in a 6 year old's body. He's drawn to creepy things like zombies and Frankenstein, but he's also so afraid of them that sometimes you're not even allowed to mention them or you'll be in big trouble. I've always referred to him as a mad genius. His preschool teacher declared that he will be "the next Tim Burton."
His family are my wonderful friends. My lunch dates. The people who listen to me when I'm panicking and obsessing in a very long winded way about Scouty's health, about my life and raising girls in a world that disturbs me. They are the people we invite over to roast veggie dogs in the back yard. In short, they are awesome people. I love them.
|Here's another picture, so you can get an idea of the kind of adorable I'm talking about here, again.|
So, Eliot didn't love his first year of public school. He didn't love writing the letter t one thousand times per day, when he had mastered the entire alphabet, including sounding out words and writing entire stories, a least a year before. He didn't love not being allowed to talk and think about things that interested him like paintings and ninjas and science experiments and Captain Underpants books. He didn't love getting in trouble for drumming on his desk and singing the Adventure Time theme song.
In art class, when the teacher taught the kids, step by step, shape by shape, polka dot by polka dot, how to draw a cow, he drew this:
He was frustrated when the other kids told him that he drew it wrong, that it was "creepy" and "too messy."
Eliot is, quite simply, an exceptional, artistic, brilliant kid, and it's very easy to see how these qualities are going to have to be under-explored and discouraged on a daily basis, for the sake of maintaining the flow and structure of the learning environment of public school. It is very easy to see how he will continue to become disconnected and disengaged with his learning process; how he will feel squashed and boxed in and bored. It's easy to see that his natural gifts and persuasions are not the kinds of things that can be effectively nurtured in a traditional classroom. It isn't anybody's fault. It's just the way things are.
Teachers are given orders by the principal and she's given orders by a superintendent and he's given orders by the district and they are given orders by the government, and there simply isn't room or time or the freedom to allow each and every child to explore and cultivate their unique talents and interests, especially when we're talking about a very quick and imaginative learner who thinks very much outside of the box. It's not the fault of teachers or parents or the principal or anybody, that kids just happen to fall at the very bottom of the list of people who get to make decisions about how and what, and at what pace, they learn. It's a systemic problem. It's a political problem. It's a problem on a grander scale than being anybody's fault. (Allow me to acknowledge here that lots of kids thrive and blossom under a traditional model, and it's wonderful. My support of a free model isn't in any way an indictment on any other method of schooling.)
But, what I'm saying is that my friend, Eliot, needs this school to get off the ground or else he won't get to become the amazing person he really is. (It's not that public school doesn't want him to be himself, there just isn't room for him to get what he needs to be himself, in the structure. There are a lot of kids like Eliot, and a lot of kids who are nothing like Eliot, who are falling through the cracks and not getting what they need to become the amazing, dynamic, excited, multifaceted people they are meant to be.)
I want desperately for this school to get off of the ground. Many kids in my city need this opportunity to become the people they are. They need the chance to feel valued and safe and respected in their learning environment. Having another education model available will benefit kids who aren't fitting into the system and who feel stuck, like there isn't a way out. Kids who are different thinkers, kids who are bullied or outcasts, kids who are artistic and who want to learn, but aren't a perfect fit with public schooling. Lots of different kinds of kids need another option. The Three Rivers Village School brings diversity and a new point of view to the conversation about education in Pittsburgh. I hope, one day, to seriously weigh whether or not my children belong there.
The Three Rivers Village School is important for a lot of reasons. (You can read my interview with one of the school's founders here.) And they need help raising money to get off of the ground, so that they can open their doors in the fall. They are raising money to provide a scholarship fund for students from all backgrounds, who might not be able to pay the tuition. They also need to make necessary improvements to their new building to turn it into a safe and purposeful space to teach kids.
Anything you could give would be amazing. You can click on the photo above to donate. I thank you from the bottom of my heart, in advance.
If you can't donate anything, I understand.
Any way you can pass along word of this campaign would be amazing.
If you feel like you can't or don't want to do that, I understand that, too.
I'm grateful for you no matter what.