A Tyrannical Victory of the Common-Sense View

I was struck by the first sentence of Peggy Orenstein’s article, Kindergarten Cram, in this past week’s New York Times magazine. She claims, and I believe her, to have “made the circuit” of kindergartens in her town. And Berkeley’s no small town, mind you. I had to immediately put down the article to dodge the guilt wave that arose and threatened to soak me, Sunday bagel and all. For, you see, I have never made such a circuit. In my defense, my daughter’s not yet in kindergarten. She’ll be in pre-K next year. And I’ve visited, ahem, one pre-school, aside from the one she currently attends because, cough cough, that’s where my cousin sent his girls, it’s close to home, it’s the cheapest option we could find, and, of course it aligns with our philosophy of pedagogy and life. And, obviously, we’re NOT going to choose a kindergarten based on cost or location or convenience. Obviously we’re going to make the circuit and choose the absolute best school for our child, a school where they compost and play and don’t give homework and don’t confuse the shape of the Hebrew letter “samech” with an octagon.

Marion Milner, in her book On Not Being Able to Paint, cited in Avivah Gottleib Zornberg’s The Particulars of Rapture, describes the process of doodling, and how difficult it is, while doodling, to prevent oneself from creating a recognizable object. She writes:

It seemed almost as if at these moments one could not bear the chaos and uncertainty about what was emerging long enough, as if one had to turn the scribble into some recognizable whole when in fact the thought or mood seeking expression had not yet reached that stage. And the result was a sense of false certainty, a compulsive and deceptive sanity, a tyrannical victory of the common-sense view which always sees objects as objects, but at the cost of something else which was seeking recognition, something that was more to do with imaginative than with common-sense reality.

This is what Orenstein fears is at risk in our children’s schools – those rich moments of chaos, of uncertainty about what is emerging – moments of imagination and potential. Homework is part of the world in which sees objects as objects, but at the cost of something else.

Is it possible, though, that we too are caught in the clutches of homework’s tyrannical victory of the common-sense view? When we as parents research ad-infinitum the best possible schools and programs for our children, diligently doing our homework, aren’t we attempting to turn the scribble of parenting into some recognizable whole? Aren’t we prey to the compulsive and deceptive illusion that if we make the circuits, and at least spare them from homework until fourth grade, we will spare our children the chaos and uncertainty that we so fear?

–Maya Bernstein

One comment on “A Tyrannical Victory of the Common-Sense View

  1. Cecily on

    One of my mantras in life is that ‘you don’t have to have it all figured out before you do it.’ I relate this concept to big things like getting married and having children. I feel that so many of my friends think that every corner should be analyzed before making a decision and I think this is a mistake. Just because you haven’t contemplated every scenario under the sun doesn’t mean you aren’t prepared. This relates to this post because I believe it applies to parenting. As a mom, I feel like I’m on a continuous learning curve and as my children grow I believe it will never end- I will probably coast on this path forever.
    So just because the preschool was recommended by a cousin, is cheaper, and close by… I think that sums up to a pretty good decision. The best part about it is that you can always switch and probably you will learn from your mistakes and apply what you have learned to new situations.

    One last point… people always make out this whole raising children thing to be all about the parents. I like to view it as a joint venture and thereby give more agency to the child as an actor. The child in labor and the three year old on the playground has instincts and abilities that motivate their actions. Children often make it very clear when things aren’t working out for them and if we busy parents listen carefully and notice we might just learn something from them.

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