Since Maya and Ben have never been to school, and my own school experiences are a shocking number of years ago, my knowledge of the current school culture comes mostly from reading about it, hearing the parents of schooled children talk, or the bits and pieces I get from Maya’s schooled friends. Until yesterday when I had the chance to sit down and talk with Lucy Albert. She had been homeschooled, along with her three siblings, her entire life. She is an accomplished singer and musician, having spent years singing with the New York City Opera and the Met Children’s Chorus. (that’s the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus). We have seen her sing and act in several NYCHEA Players productions. In other words, she is very active in the arts.
Last year Lucy got herself in to the LaGuardia Performing Arts High School, and attended 10th Grade there. Meaning she applied and auditioned on her own and not because her parents told her she should. LaGuardia is a famous place, being the high school featured in the original “Fame” movie, and is generally known as a premiere public institution for arts-oriented students. So when I saw Lucy’s mom earlier this Fall and heard that Lucy had opted not to go back, I was intrigued. This was the first time a homeschooled child I knew had gone into school. And then didn’t go back.
Yesterday I asked Lucy about her experience there. We talked for a while, and she said she did make some friends with whom she is still in contact, and there were teachers she liked, but…. Here is the ‘but’: From her point of view, most of the time spent inside the school building was wasted time. Nothing actually got done in the way of learning, and then the kids were handed 2 to 3 hours of homework. She told me, “I just refused to do it. I’d already spent all day there. It was like jail.” She said there was a lot of time spent talking about what homework they would have, and a lot of ‘classroom management’, but hardly any learning. Even the good teachers were hampered by the system. Then I asked her if she enjoyed the performing arts part of it. After all, this was LaGuardia High School! Her response was, “Weeell, it was ok. I mean, I guess if you had never had a voice lesson, or never really had any training, it would be exciting. I liked the NYCHEA productions better.” Wait a minute. Supposedly LaGuardia only lets in those with proven talent. From Lucy’s point of view, however, it was a different story.
I know Lucy’s mom fairly well, and she and her husband are pretty hands off in their approach to teaching their kids. All four kids are very involved in the arts, highly social, generous and intelligent with a lot of drive and motivation. It’s no small feat to get yourself an audition at LaGuardia for year 10. (The usual acceptance is in 9th Grade). So I sit up and take notice when a child with this background, who has taken the initiative to attend a particular school opts out again because she felt her time there was mostly wasted. I suppose if you’ve been in the school system all your life, you wouldn’t know the difference. Which if what Lucy said is true (and I have no reason to believe that it isn’t) is very sad. Herd the kids around all day and then expect them to do their real learning at night? What’s the point? Very expensive child care? (Public schools are not free. We all pay for them with our tax money, even when our kids don’t attend)
Food for thought. I want to thank Lucy for taking time away from her friends at the Craft Fair to talk to me. She’s an amazing young woman, and LaGuardia is the worse for having lost her. But I’m sure she is much the better.