If you need tips on making your children cry, I have a few.
My parents had a hands-off sixties/seventies parenting style. Seemed a success at the time. "Your generation hasn't invented anything. Just don't lie to me." Libertarian parenting. Every other parent was evaded or fed crap. Not my father. "We're going to a kegger. Home by 2."
I tried the same bluntness as a father myself, with mixed success. Each child understood the consequences of their school lives, their homes lives, their personal lives.
Each child saw the objective value of education. Each child saw the value of creativity as a path of education success.
One child wrote a fable of neighborhood harmony, using lessons from the collective behavior of Japanese felines. The other child made a self-portrait collage, including her red hair, where each red strand was a headline clipped from The Economist. Likely, you're not surprised.
But no one likes being told what to do. Especially if the demanding party is an old man with an agenda, and an investment at stake. So I applaud my children for tolerating me at their educational decision points -- like eighth grade.
I prefer the Canadian affectation -- grade eight -- but either way, eighth grade is a weird moment in life and time.
My children spent grade eight in a Montessori Middle School, one of the fancy ones that still takes leftover Italian Lira if you have a garage full of it. The Montessori Middle School experience is consistent with libertarian parenting -- the children have farming tasks as well as mathematics, all at their own speed and choosing.
There are no Montessori High Schools -- grade eight is as long as you can ride that train. But many of these eighth graders have been in the Montessori system, questioning authority, for twelve years, starting in pre-school. Lucky for me, my children understood the world by grade eight.
But I still abused my luck and unnecessarily caused moments of tears. Some skills I can communicate; some I cannot. Do not ask me to teach you to drive a stick. But if you want to understand the role of education in finding a career, that I can communicate. Regrettably, however, either way, tears may be involved.
Did your high school do a stellar job of explaining college entrance requirements to you? I somehow survived two years of high school Latin and had no intention of one more year of that -- until learning that elite colleges required three years of foreign language. If you only have two years, you might be stuck at one of the colleges that do not care, like Washington State University. That was an immediate concern. I was surprised this was not better advertised. Many students permanently stunt their options in life, with no path better than Washington State University, by skipping that third year of foreign language -- because no one warned them.
My children were warned. They were warned about it all. Here is your green pad and three pens.
What do you want to be in life? Where do they teach that? Where are the ten best universities that teach that? What are the entrance requirements for each of those ten universities? What are the commonalities of those requirements? Which high schools cover the most of those common requirements? Which of those high schools have the best programs of those commonalities? What are the historic college placement statistics for those high schools and those ten universities? What are the entrance requirements for those high schools?
And you have to figure all of that out -- NOW -- in grade eight. Not in the spring when admission deadlines have passed. Your life on this green pad -- NOW -- while the leaves are still on the trees.
So these children did all of that. It worked. Twenty years later, both children are happy and secure in life. But that is not the point of this story.
The point of the story is that Montessori teaches sassiness.
A lovely spring day. It's the final parent-teacher conference of my thirteen years of being a Montessori parent. Younger child, grade eight, afternoon, spring parent-teacher conference. The parents are there on time, and the teacher is there on time, but the child is "in the art room". One of the lower school pages is dispatched to collect the child.
The child arrives wearing a fire helmet and a trench coat. She announces she is working on an art project of "what's in my pocket", which is displayed to us like emptying a purse, if your purse includes a dead bird.
"Your child has unfinished homework. It's uncharacteristic, but it is noted right here. Three instances...." The remainder of the conference is not much different.
I remember my own parents' parent-teacher conferences, which never went well. "It's too bad your son and his mouth are a package deal..." So, I try to be cool about it -- but it seems like a concern -- especially at this vulnerable, grade eight, time. I decide to confront her about it -- "That was weird. Three instances?"
"Well, dad, as you know, eighth grade doesn't really matter. The colleges will only see my high school grades and reports, and I am already enrolled at the ideal high school for the career I want, via the college I want, via the high school curriculum I want. You know, like we have on the green pad."
It's a Harvey Korman moment. I break character like Adam Sandler on SNL. I have to acknowledge she is correct. She even appreciates the humor of my being concerned, looking like a chump paying all this money for this fancy school with a slacker eighth grader with three instances, a fire helmet, and a trench coat with a dead bird. She saw the humor in it then, and she's seeing it now.
The child wins -- using my own strategy, which was my dad's strategy, which is her strategy.
It's a win for me too, but I can't let on. Until now.