As an economically fortunate individual with ‘hippie parents,’ the majority of my education has taken place in private schools consisting of people who possess unique personalities but similar backgrounds and mindsets to my own. My early childhood education began with Seasons Preschool: “Home of the Gluten Intolerant Flower Children.” Then, Waldorf School: “Home of the Wednesday Soup-Making, Silk-Scarf-Waving Finger-Knitters.” And finally, Orca School: “Home of the Biweekly Field Trip-Going Norse-God-Drawing Ukulele-Enthusiasts.” Not to mention the various supplemental summer nature camps which involved eating wild plants (but first identifying them and determining their “edibility”), hiking with a literal pet duck and hatching praying mantises in my family refrigerator. All of these activities and experiences, although considered unusual for ‘mainstream’ school children, eventually became a normal part of my educational routine, one that I learned to love and began to identify with.
Then, abruptly, in fifth grade, I ventured my first steps into the unexplored territory of the ‘very public’ Santa Barbara Charter School: “Home of the Class-Quitting Teachers Who Succumb to Emotional Breakdowns at Unexpected Moments.” I was in shock, plunged ruthlessly and repeatedly into the raging waters of mainstream education and social practices. Suddenly, I was surrounded by kids sporting cartoon graphic t-shirts and Ninja Turtle Heelys. Sights that resembled a Hallmark Valentine’s Day card greeted me every time one of my female classmates entered the room: purple ‘jeggings’ accompanied by a pink Disney character shirt. Overhearing boys’ conversations in the hallway lead me to believe I had entered a violent warzone. Daniel was passionate about snakes and HotWheels. Sabrina was a reincarnation of Dora the Explorer. Alexa was what we would later call a hipster. Chris was the class heartthrob (braces and all), and Tristan was an avid American camouflage fanatic. Together they comprised the clique leaders of my fifth grade class, and I alone did not understand them. I found Daniel’s repeated snake show-and-tell redundant. Sabrina was just way too optimistic. I could not comprehend why Chris and Alexa held hands at lunch while never speaking a word to one another, and Tristan’s love of camouflage gave me an unidentified disquiet that I would later discover to be caused by the views of the Republican party. I made friends, yet they only further instilled the feeling of confusion and resentment I felt towards public school. That year, during ‘fiber arts,’ I desperately soothed myself by knitting a heinous eight foot long scarf made of acrylic yarn which would have made my lambs-wool-loving, braided-armpit-hair teachers of past schools cringe.
Fast forward to the summer of 2014 during which I volunteered at Fairview Gardens’ Farm Camp. I love nature and (most) children, so I saw this as the perfect ‘Community Service Opportunity!’ For three weeks, I played with and basically waited on kids ages 3 to 11.
The 3 to 5 year olds were excitable, absent-minded, and without control of their bodies. Lucia obsessed over feeding the goats and occasionally peed her pants while climbing trees. Tana never managed to bring a fork (which I had to sprint across the farm to replace). Riley, Tana’s sister, brought exceedingly elaborate lunches that always seemed to exclude a water bottle (which I had to sprint across the farm to replace) and unfailingly corrected anyone who pronounced her sister’s name wrong, “Tay-nah!” Anthony wore light-up sneakers, had the world’s smallest bladder, the universe’s worst aim, and chose me as his loyal bathroom buddy. The girls’ renditions of the Frozen soundtrack set the goats on edge while the boys tormented the ladybugs and roly-polys to their breaking point.
The 6 to 8 year olds were talkative, captivated by simple activities, and had already begun to define themselves as individuals. Xander was a sensitive walking-encyclopedia type who only broke his constant stream of words to cry when his painted egg shattered. Luke looked like the beach on a summer day and was completely open and fully absorbed in any experience. Olivia, the adorable red-head, had grandparents who owned chickens and was a self-titled ‘chicken whisperer.’ They occasionally lost shoes or jackets, but they had the basics of fork ownership and water bottle care under control.
The 9 to 11 year olds were moody, unenthusiastic, and annoyingly confident in their certainty of personal preference and self-identity. Ben, the ‘bad boy,’ abused the chickens and the counselors in equal measure. Gemma arrived late for drop-off everyday and, after bawling and dragging her mom around for an hour, left the premises. Sienna was kind, but after being stuck in the bathroom for three minutes, proved that she had not mastered the art of bladder control and peed her pants. Vulcan despised crafts, crafting and crafters. He even detested the mere utterance of the word CRAFT. Before each activity he would question each of the counselors ruthlessly about the details of the project: “What are we doing? Is it a craft? Will crafting be involved? Do I look like a crafter?” We would respond mechanically: “No, Vulcan. We are doing a ‘project.’ This is an ‘invention.’ ‘Building art’ is involved. You look like a ‘constructor.’” Under this pretense, he would then complete the ‘creation’ suspiciously.
At the end of these long and exhaustive days on the farm, when the singing had ceased and the stream of pee had been stanched, I would retreat to the makeshift outdoor kitchen and methodically wash the dishes from that day’s cooking expedition. My brain drained and my body limp, I would ponder why I found these kids so hilariously intriguing. Why couldn’t they contain their urine? Why did they hate crafts? Why didn’t they treat insects with respect? Why wouldn’t they appreciate the unique and transformative outdoor experience they were being given? I searched through the diverse archives of my educational history for the answer: they were simply brought up differently than I was. This realization raised questions about my own self-labeled identity. I mean, who would I be if my name were Vulcan and I wore camouflage Heelys?
March 10, 2017
March 10, 2017