by Arianne Cope

If you think in seasons, plant cereals. If you think in decades, plant trees. If you think in centuries, educate your children.
-Chinese Proverb
Happy Birthday to my five year old. You are shedding your preschool self and stepping into boyhood. This next year is unfolding already, green and new and vulnerable, like the squash and pea and radish plants pushing up through the dark soil in our window sill and unrolling their tiny leaves.I got your kindergarten registration papers in the mail. I tossed them in the garbage.Why?I’ve been typing a response to that question for weeks. After13 pages, I threw it in the garbage with your registration papers. I was writing for all the people in my life I know won’t fully understand this decision. I was writing for me, who even a year ago wouldn’t understand this decision at all. I tried and tried and the words were weak. I just wasn’t saying what I wanted to say.

Probably because what I really want to say is just for you.

I was sooo excited to go to Kindergarten. All my older brothers and sisters disappeared one by one into the doors of the elementary schools. Finally it was my turn to grow up. I couldn’t believe other kids were crying on the first day of school. I’d been waiting for that day my whole life!

boy-bus_canstockphoto10313566What happened next I’ve never told anyone but your Daddy. It’s one of the most powerful memories of my childhood. I’d been in school a few weeks and it wasn’t what I’d imagined it would be. I couldn’t figure it out, but I had a heavy feeling I was dragging around, like a weight had been slipped in my backpack. I didn’t understand what it was.

One day I stole a few moments alone in the afternoon before dinner. I was swinging. I lost myself in the moment, looking at the light radiating from behind the clouds in thick beams of white. I sang a song–self composed, uninhibited. I used to spend whole afternoons like this, I remembered thinking. And then it dawned on me–the reason for the heaviness I felt inside. I remember thinking these exact words in my head, “Oh yeah, it’s because I’m in school now.”

I was too young to articulate beyond this. I knew my feeling has something to do with the constant pressure I was feeling to conform to my peers and please my teacher. I knew it had something to do with the lack of private time I now had, away from the TV or the school. Something to do with the way my brother ignored me completely when I said hello to him in the halls. Something to do with the way the windows were painted over in my classroom so I couldn’t even glimpse the parking lot while I sat at my desk doing worksheets.

I couldn’t articulate my feelings then. I was barely five. But I was still ME. There is nothing different between that little girl and my 27-year-old self now but some years of experience. I feel the same inside and I think I’ll feel the same inside at age 99. I believe all children have this awareness in them from the day they’re born. You are not a little person, my son. You’re a big person in a little body. You’re you.

I have endeavored to bow to this intelligence in you. And so I’ve embarked on a very difficult and very deep journey this last year. I have read dozens of books on education. I’ve talked to hundreds of professional educators and parents. I’ve looked deep inside myself. I’ve prayed and prayed. And then I looked deep into your eyes. It hasn’t been an easy process with easy answers. It’s been a little like standing at the edge of a murky pond and waiting for the water to clear. It took a long, long time for the silt to settle and for my decision to become apparent. But it has. I know now, clearly, surely, what I want for your eduction. I’ll tell you all about it. Suffice it to say right now that we aren’t going to find it in a public kindergarten classroom.

Why have I spent all this time consumed with this decision, researching and researching? Because I think that what you do every day for the next 13 years of your life deserves that kind of deliberation. I think every child deserves parents who make thoughtful decisions on their behalf. There have been times I’ve followed the crowd as a parent and done things just because it was what everyone else was doing. Many times I’ve been disappointed. We live in a time when most people spend more time researching what kind of TV to buy than they do investigating important things in their children’s lives–like their options for a peaceful birth or the kind of education they want.


But this isn’t about any of them. It’s about me and you and God. And a little girl who walked inside for dinner one night and looked back over her shoulder at an empty swing, still swaying back and forth, as if it held her real self. She said goodbye to that real self and carried that heavy feeling around with her for 22 years.

For your birthday, I’m setting that feeling down once and for all.

As things have cleared it seemed two paths were diverging in a wood. And I’m taking the one less traveled by. I’ve never been more excited in my life. Take my hand, and lets begin our journey.

All I am saying in this book can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.
-John Holt, in “How Children Learn”