Saturday, February 05, 2005

The Stuyvesant Story (4): The Little Engine That Could Stalled

or

Prowesslessnesslessness's Jr. High experiences and High School options

My child-rearing bible was Children: the Challenge by Rudolph Dreikurs. I remember one phrase from it: "A broken ego is harder to fix than a broken bone." Dreikurs' advice was to interfere as little as possible with your children's age-appropriate interactions with the outside world ("natural consequences"), but to make maximum efforts to engineer situations to sidestep power struggles. (Child-proofing the house instead of saying "No!" all day long - an example of Dreikurs applied for crawlers and toddlers.)

The suburbs were more "child-proof" than the city, in most ways. But divorce is a family earthquake event that is really hard to "engineer" for children, no matter where you live. Bad-mouthing the other parent is an obvious no-no. The workaday routine I tried to keep at home throughout it all was punctuated by occasional afterschool babysitter crises. I saw that both elswhere and P. were sturdy enough to weather the storm well: they kept their interest in school, perhaps even as a refuge. I knew they could learn the material, do their homework, "ace" their tests with reasonable effort, and I expected (and needed) them to do all those things on their own, except for extreme situations. They didn't disappoint me. Most of the teachers were OK, some were really good, a few were great. Only once did I have to enlist my ex-husband's help getting an administrative "mistake" fixed. The schools were happy to have my children and we all knew it.

As long as public school wasn't too boring, they enjoyed reading on their own, and they had nice friends of a heart-warming variety of colors and ethnicities, I was satisfied that we were all doing the best we could. True, there was a certain lack of socio-economic diversity, but we did have the lower-income sections of town feeding into our Junior High School. And acceleration in Junior High (the SP program) had been replaced by an enrichment program for the Gifted and Talented, which kept the regular classes integrated and the spark alive, at least for elswhere.

My son has chosen the alias "Prowesslessnesslessness." He thinks it will discourage spammers. The fact that it discourages everyone and involves endless typing is what he likes about it: he never types it, and the people who matter to him know his name. This may be a clue to his character since birth:
"Unless you are truly qualified to share my music/puzzles/games, leave food on a tray outside the door. I am happily preoccupied here on Planet P."

He really was happily preoccupied. Math was fun for him. He'd been reading forever. He had perfect pitch. He was well-behaved. When he got tired, he went to sleep - no drama. He scored top on tests. I could predict the report cards, year after year: "It is a pleasure to have P. in my class." [Note: elswhere's teachers gave me the same reports, but she was more sociable.] By the time he started Junior High, I was beginning to worry that our public school system would become too boring for P., even with the benefits of the Gifted and Talented program, and boredom meant Trouble.

By the time P. was 14, his interest in school was waning and all he wanted to do was play his drums. P.'s choices for high school in our town were the mainstream or the alternative high school, ("oasis for teenage outcasts, heaven for me", says elswhere). P.'s dad, who had remarried and was living in Queens, proposed a third option for him: Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. "Just let him take the test," he said. My ex made reference to his fond memories of the Bronx High School of Science, challenge, stimulation, etc. I asked if his wife was ready to have P. live with them, because Stuyvesant was for NYC residents only? Yes, she was. Was our Test Gladiator willing to spend a winter morning in New York filling in boxes with a #2 pencil to please his dad? Yes, he was. I assumed P. would live away from me at college when he reached 18: was I willing to let him live away from me for high school at 15? I decided to wait until the test results arrived to worry about that one.

**********End of Part 4**********

Two more episodes to come...

5. The Stuyvesant test and its aftermath
6. Ten years later: a surprising vindication

1 comment:

Third Street said...

The plot thickens. Can't wait for more. Interesting about Rudolph Dreikurs. Don't know that name...