CHAPTER 2: The World vs. The Classroom

A short excerpt from Chapter 2…

Chapter 2 - the world vs. The Classroom

On the drive home, Natalie told us, “If we had to choose a regular school for me, this school would be fine.  But, there are two things that are so important to me and I wouldn’t have them going to this school or any other school.”  She went to on to explain that although the interior spaces were pleasant, the exterior space was terribly dispiriting.  Compared to the school setting she had been in since age five, with redwood forest and stream, this was true.  A treeless blacktop and parking lot were the extent of the outdoor area at the school we had just toured.  Natalie wasn’t the only one who realized she needed time outdoors.  Articles I had read in the magazines Audubon and Sierra demonstrated that children are smarter, healthier, and happier when they spend more time outside, particularly in natural environments.

Natalie’s other concern was the longer school day — from 8:15-3:30.  Natalie wanted time to pursue her interests in dance, music, art and writing, without feeling like they had to be squeezed into the one hour between arrival home from school and dinnertime.  She had already had more than enough experience in three short months of 6th grade with the “squeezed day,” as we called the kind of day that began by 7 am and ended at 9 pm, stuffed with a series of scheduled activities.  I heard what Natalie was saying, and I had learned to trust her feelings and wisdom.  Furthermore, I agreed with her on both points.  By this time, I had become convinced that all of the stressed-out and over-scheduled adults I knew were teaching their children to acquire the same behaviors, without any thought to the long-term cost of those habits to physical, mental and emotional health.

William had one question for Natalie before we took our final vote.  “What about friendships?” he asked her.  “Do you think you would miss being able to make friends at school?”

Natalie had two answers.

First, she assured us that she didn’t think school was the only place to make friends.  She went on to explain: “I like spending time with people my age, but I’ve learned in the past couple of years that spending seven hours a day with just my age group is too much.  A couple of hours is plenty.”

William and I were used to Natalie’s keen perceptions of human behavior, but I still had to smother a laugh.

On the other hand, William not only laughed out loud but voiced his agreement with Natalie, “I don’t think I’d want to spend seven hours a day with just 50-year-olds,” said William, who as a professor spends his days with a wide range of ages.

“Remember the documentary film we saw about the one room school house in France where children of all ages spent the day together?” asked Natalie.  “If that existed somewhere, that would be wonderful.”  After a pause she added, “And besides, I don’t think I’m going to make my close friends just because we’re in the same classroom.  I think I will make friends by doing the things I enjoy doing.”

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