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School's in session 

How I learned to start worrying about education

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, and to the Republic for which He stands ... able to leap tall buildings in a single bound ... wait. That doesn’t sound right. Damn it, I should’ve paid more attention in church. Okay, how about this? Dear Mr. Jesus: Help!

It won’t be long before my twin boys enter kindergarten, and I’m not sure I’ve imparted all the wisdom they’ll need for the official kick-off of their education. They still don’t know not to eat Styrofoam. Plus, there’s other stuff to worry about.

There’s so much information and advice out there, it all turns into white noise—study with them at home, let them play, jettison their nap, make sure they nap, don’t put the kid in a dog cage. I can only use my personal experience as a guide for what to expect. And I’ve got to tell you, my kindergarten experience was fraught with danger. It was the ’70s, after all.

Here’s my most vivid memory of kindergarten: My classroom had a few learning games, one of which was a counting game. You’d roll the dice, land on a spot, identify the number or whatever, and move on. It wasn’t rocket surgery. The game pieces were small beads. One day, I was playing the game with my friend Geoffrey and, to make him laugh, I stuck the bead up my nose. And it wouldn’t come out.

The more I tried to get my finger in there to dislodge it, the farther up it went. I panicked, not wanting to tell my teacher that I’d wedged a game piece in a place reserved solely for boogers and the occasional post-joke jet of milk.

Eventually, I lost it in my sinus cavity. I kept snorting, blowing, and poking, trying to keep it from rolling back into my brain. Then, I delivered one powerful cough and—I swear to God—it came out the other nostril. I don’t want my kids to have to go through that sort of terror, let alone have the opportunity to jam stuff up their noses.

Don’t get me wrong. My boys are smart. They already display a firm grasp of Bat Cave navigation and Hot Wheels track construction. And I know if one of them is determined to jam a bead up his nose, no amount of warnings will deter him. In fact, one will probably egg the other on, perhaps assist with the insertion. But, that’s really the least of my worries.

My boys are currently attending their third preschool. Third. You see, my wife and I discovered that some teachers are ... what’s the clinical term? ... ah, yes, crazier than a shithouse rat. I’m not saying all teachers are crazy. In fact, the teachers at my boys’ current school are awesome (and by that I mean sane). Look at it this way: Of all the people you know, how many of them are nuts? Not certifiable, but, y’know, the kind you don’t want to be stuck in the backseat with on a road trip. At least a few, right? Now, apply that to any given profession.

Of all the mechanics out there, the Law of Averages suggests that at least a few of them probably wear a tinfoil hat and have long arguments with their socket wrench. So use that model with the world of education and, voilà, a new thing to worry about. You see, I can deal with a guy potentially messing up my car. What I can’t handle is a teacher potentially messing up my kids.

 (On that note, if you’re thinking of getting into K-12 education because you “love kids,” slow your roll. You need more reason than that. There’s much more to being a teacher than loving kids. Seriously, I love sausage, but I don’t want to be a butcher.)

Yes, we need to trust our educators, but gone are the days when parents could just send their kids to school and know that they’ll get a good education. Budget cuts, school shootings, bath salts, Mary Kay LeTourneau, One Direction—the list of things that could damage my kids is frightening. And damn it, if anyone’s going to damage my kids, it’s going to be me.

Truthfully, I’ve never wanted to cram in language flash cards before dinner or long division at bedtime. I believe kids should be kids. I’d rather my boys run around the backyard for an hour than work on Spanish lessons with me, especially since my Spanish is so bad I can barely order at Taco Bell. When they’re bringing home assignments, that will change. Right now, their only weekly assignment is to bring something for Show and Tell. And yes, I do help with that.

But even the few school-related hiccups we’ve had so far made me realize I need to be much more involved in my kids’ education. I need to attend meetings, I need to ask questions, I need to talk to my boys about their day, their friends, their interests. The more information I have and the more I maintain an open dialogue with them and their instructors, the better their education will be. Because ultimately it’s all about trust, right? I need to trust the teachers, my kids need to trust them, and the educators need to trust that I’m not undoing everything they’re imparting.

I guess that’s all I can do and, really, shouldn’t we all be that involved? If I do that, maybe, just maybe, one day my boys will ask their teacher if sticking a bead in their nose is a good idea before they try it.

David Vienna blogs about parenting issues at TheDaddyComplex.com and authored SLO Little Theatre’s This Is Rock ‘n Roll, My Generation, and the upcoming Watergate & Other Solid Gold Hits. He also wrote the locally produced feature film More Than Stars. He can be reached through New Times at rmiller@newtimesslo.com.

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