Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Me + school = love

I'm doing the SITS Girls Fall Back Into Blogging event, with daily prompts and ideas for getting your blogging mojo back. Boy do I need it! So here goes. The first prompt is writing about your best school memory.

Unlike some other parts of the country where school starts in August (What the heck?! That's still prime summertime.),  in the Pacific Northwest it kicks off in September with a frenzy of activity around our house. 

There's back to (pre-)school for the kids, and also for me too in a way, since I serve on two schools' boards: my alma mater's and the kids' preschool. Ava's birthday is mid-month, followed by our anniversary. It's a bit crazy-making, but also exciting because my best school memory itself!

Narrow it down to one memory?! That's like asking a chocolate lover what's their favorite chocolate memory. Or a parent which kid they love best. It. Can't. Be. Done. I have ALWAYS loved school. LOVED I tell ya!

The books, the assignments ("Is it okay if I read ahead?" Yeah: I was THAT kid.), my teachers, the schedule, the lockers, my friends, and even trying to decipher the intrigues of the popular cliques.

Unlike some folks, who found their school years to be something to be endured, I couldn't wait to get there every day, despite the two hour bus ride each way during middle and high school. I also had no angst about my place in the class or school hierarchy because I had my own "peeps," my own places to excel, and because there was so much that I loved about being at school that I really didn't dwell on the vagaries of the affections I elicited (or didn't) from my fellow hormone-addled classmates.

It probably helped that I was a happy, confident, and self-directed kid. Also, I was (and am) a realist. I knew there was no way to change my family's income or name, or the fact that we didn't use the word "summer" as a verb. Things were what they were, so I had to get on my life and revel in the parts where I had some control. Like studying and doing my best in class.

From a social standpoint, in the bell curve of class popularity, I probably fell squarely in the middle of the bell curve's hump: not popular, but far from an outcast. I was a nerd who played sports, I was smart, I fit in (at least with my friends) and I was among fellow school-loving, athletic and nerdy kids and had a tribe to call my own. It was a school that was very classically academically rigorous but that also gave students a bit of latitude in identifying and working on non-traditional academic pursuits too. Like helping Bill Gates to work on early computers during his time there. And look where that got us all: right here with me blogging and you reading, here on the interwebs, that's where. 

But there is one memory that stick out in my mind as pretty great about my school years. In high school, I took Graphics (or art as it was called in most schools) with a great teacher who was renown for his unconventional approach that drew on his experience in a number of disciplines, including being a Unitarian minister. Students were allowed to draw on the walls of the studio, which were painted over every year to allow the new class to leave their marks. We learned to draw live nude models, which I drew with a discrete black bar over the naughty bits, enacting my own self-censoring.

I was no artistic standout, but he made each student feel like they were. And he taught us techniques that enabled us to strengthen whatever artistic abilities we had.

One winter, he gave us an assignment to draw a interesting Santa Claus. I decided to do a funky Santa. Not funky like smelly: funky like platforms, bell bottoms, gold chains (it was the mid-1980s and hip hop was just getting big, after all), and an afro, complete with the afro pick in the shape of a Black Power fist. The next day, he called me in to his office.

As one of the few kids of color at the school, I was scared. Was he mad that my Santa didn't match the other rosy-cheeked, white-haired specimens turned in by my classmates? Had I (horrors!) misunderstood the assignment?!

No. He got teary as he told me that my goofy picture, done on a whim to amuse myself and complete my homework, had moved him deeply. It turned out that he had an adopted daughter who was African American. Seeing my Santa, in all its funky glory and all my obvious joy at creating an image that reflected my reality and worldview and that didn't fit the cookie cutter mold of what was expected, gave him hope that his daughter would also someday be comfortable creating art that reflected her reality and complexity as an African American girl with a white dad. And he thanked me for sharing my vision of what could be, not just what we were used to. How's that for making a nerdy little girl feel that she had something amazing to contribute to the world?

Now that I'm shepherding Ava and Dylan into their school age years, I want them to have similarly powerful experiences and mentors; to have grownups in their lives - besides their mom and dad and grandparents - who let them know that they have something unique to contribute to the world, but that they have to work hard to hone whatever talents they have.

I want to facilitate their love for learning, nurture their natural interests and provide an outlet for - and celebration of - their own wacky funky-Santa-like ideas. I want to model for them the need to push their personal boundaries and be lifelong learners in a way that is not dependent upon being in a classroom. After all, I have to prepare them for a world I may never see, but in which I want them to excel. Hopefully, they will also come to love - LOVE! - school the way I did.