Thoughts on the first day of kindergarten

August 11, 2009, 8:27 am

2030_02_2---Yellow-School-Bus_webI’ve been lax in posting lately because I’ve been enjoying an all-too-brief interim period between the end of my summer Calculus class and the beginning of Fall semester at the end of this month. I’ve been splitting time this summer between being a stay-at-home dad to my three kids during the day and then teaching Calculus at night. Since the end of the Calculus class in July, I’ve had two weeks where pretty much my only “task” is to hang out with the kids — playing games, doing puzzles, going to the Childrens Museum, etc. It’s been a blessed time, the kind of quality time with one’s kids that a lot of dads only dream about having. But today that period has come to an end with the crossing of a major milestone: The 5-year old, my oldest, just got on the bus for her first day of kindergarten.

Lucy has been intellectually ready for kindergarten for a while now (she went to an excellent Montessori preschool for two years) and has been relishing all summer long the idea that she is heading to kindergarten while her little sister is still in preschool and her brother is still just a baby. So she showed no signs of nervousness, fear, or sadness this morning. As for her dad, though? Not really trepidation, but definitely a sense that both my kid and all of us as a family have crossed over into a major undertaking, namely a minimum thirteen-year journey through the very educational system I have blogged so much about here at this web site. (And if she takes her old man’s route, this becomes a 22-year journey.) And definitely a bit of a lump in my throat as I watched her ride off down the street, and as I sit here now knowing she’s 30 minutes in to her formal education.

It gives me a sudden, deep, and above all deeply personal sense of perspective about things like teacher licensure and school choice and other issues of the K-12 school system we debate about so much. It’s one thing to be a mathematician writing hack jobs articles about K-12 education and quite another to be a dad whose kid is doing the homework, riding the bus, being affected by the decisions of school boards. Perspective doesn’t necessarily make your thinking about these things any more informed, but it does make you think a lot harder about them as the abstractions of issues like licensing, redistricting, and so on become very concrete — as concrete and real as the big yellow bus that pulls up to our next-door neighbors’ house to take my daughter to a school where her lifelong intellectual development is in the balance.

So I hope that, just as my teaching changed for the better (IMO) once I had kids and could see my students as human beings near the end of this educational journey rather than Just Another Freshman Class, I hope that my thinking and writing about schools will change for the better now that my daughter, and by extension both my wife and I, are in it. And to all those parents who are sharing this journey with us — and especially to all the school teachers, administrators, school board members, politicians, etc. whose decisions and actions shape our kids — our family is pulling for you.

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