"You are unfailingly kind: a trait people never fail to undervalue, I'm afraid"--Albus Dumbledore to Harry Potter
Josh for recommending it. (P.S. buy everything he tells you).
I just finished it over the weekend and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. It's a story about a boy named August with a terrible facial anomaly (it has a fancy name that I can't be bothered to look up, let alone type), who is just starting school for the first time. Having been homeschooled for years, he begins fifth grade, and middle school, in a traditional classroom setting--with traditional kids who are jerks and everything.
I don't want to give too much away here, but I just have to talk about some things.
1. I have changed my entire perspective about what I want for my kids. There is so much pressure to have a kid that is "accomplished," academically, artistically, etc. These are good things, but I am realizing that I would much rather have kids who are KIND than who get into Harvard (both would be nice, but seriously, I don't care about Harvard). Parents say thing like "she's so precocious! She knows how to get what she wants! He'll go so far in life" and all the while, I'm thinking, no, she/he is actually just really rude. It's like Dumbledore says: kindness really IS undervalued. But it is the number one thing I want my kids, and myself, to be. Holden will probably move to Alaska and live off the land for his career. As long as he's KIND, have at it. No need for a doctor in the family!
2. School is awful. Sometimes I want to pull my kids out of school just to shield them from the awfulness that lies ahead, with social hierarchies, games like "the cheese touch," and so forth. So far, they have had great experiences and haven't really faced that stuff yet, but I know it's coming. And yet, I think I better keep them in the school system.* Here's why: they need to learn to deal with that stuff and come away unscathed. They need to learn how to navigate in the world without becoming caught up in worldly things. They need to be challenged and learn to conquer those challenges, creating their own strong identities. They need to have the opportunity to be the kind of kids who sit by the social outcasts even if it means they get guff for it. They need a chance to be like Summer in Wonder, who is the only kid who sits by August at lunch and befriends him without having to be asked by a teacher. In short, my kids need these experiences to grow, and I think the schools need my kids, too.
3. I have been reliving and regretting my own public school experiences BIG TIME since I read this book. To be clear, I was not a bully, and I didn't begin the mean games or start the teasing. But I certainly didn't take the high road when everyone else was playing the cheese touch game at another person's expense. I was too embarrassed to stand up for what I knew, even in 2nd grade, was right. Now, I did at one point stop playing that game, but I wish I had never played it in the first place! Everyone should be like Summer is in the book, but I think more of us are like Jack Will, who is asked to befriend August by the principal. He becomes true friends with August, but then when the peer pressure is on, he succumbs a little bit. You'll have to read the book to find out how things work out in the end, though.
You should seriously read this book. It will make you think a lot about this stuff.
*Please don't think I am opening an anti-homeschool or private school or charter school or online school discussion. Whether to homeschool is such a personal choice, and depends so much on the kids, the parents, and the schools available. People I love and respect home school, so don't think I am dissin'.