So, I graduated. And now I feel really strange. Strangely strange in enough ways that I could write quite a lot of angsty self-involved rubbish, but I really don't want to.
But one thing I've come to see with alarming clarity over the past year and a half — the one thing I want to talk about today — is that being in school has a very real impact on my mental state. Mostly not a good one.
I know that's not what I'm supposed to say right now. And I don't mean to say that I regret having gone back or that I don't think it was worthwhile. I've learned a lot about computer science (and relearned a lot that I'd forgotten), I now have a credential that might be useful someday and gives me a bit more confidence, in any case. And I've learned a lot about myself, and I've learned a lot about other people and academic culture and, dare I say, human society in general.
Here's the thing, though. After being a stay-at-home mom for several years and being out of school for much longer, I went back to school fired up about learning, ready to take on the challenge as my own person, the person that I felt I had become in the intervening years away from grades and tests and constant measuring up. A person who believed in being brave and not worrying about asking dumb questions and not caring about the grade or whether anyone thought I was smart, just caring about learning the most I could. All too quickly, though, I felt myself pulling back. Getting protective, not wanting to look stupid, abandoning my initial "It is a victory and a privilege simply to be here! It will be a victory simply to graduate!" and moving uncomfortably close to the old clawing whispers, "What if they find out I don't fully understand X? That I never took Y? That I haven't heard of Z?" or, most simply, "I'm not perfect at this or even the best at this... why am I here?"
I was stunned at how quickly the structure and culture of being in school brought back that kind of miserable, destructive attitude. An attitude which I detest and yet still could not fully free myself from. Although at least this time, with more life experience behind me, I could see it for what it was.
It's been particularly unnerving to be observing this in myself at the same time as Mr. P was going through his first year of public school. Watching him learn to read and write has been amazing (though I continue to feel it would have been a lot less painful and just as amazing, although a bit later, if it wasn't pushed so hard). Watching him beginning to internalize conformity to "the right" way of doing things has been disheartening. Hearing him refuse to practice his handwriting because "I'm not good at this!" or tearfully say things like "I'm the worst in the class!" (because he had not yet had a turn to be "Star of the Week", an "honor" which is actually randomly assigned; it took some real effort to convince him of that) has been quite hard.
I don't know if the answer is to give up on school, though I sympathize with many of those arguments. I do know school desperately needs to be something quite different than what it is now (and has been for generations).
(Final note, just because it's interesting: The automatically suggested links that my blogging engince pops up as I type a post have gone through quite a strange progression while I wrote this, with especially disappointing suggestions as soon as typed "stay-at-home mom".)