Another School Saga

So we are having issues with school again. They want Siena to do another year of preschool next year. They don’t think she is ready to start first grade in February. This is despite Siena really wanting to start first grade and wanting to learn how to read. So why is the school against her starting first grade? Because she is too attached to me apparently. I walk her to her classroom (as opposed to being dropped off at the gate) and she leaves at 1 pm, rather than staying until 3 pm like the rest of the kids in preschool (mostly because school in Boston was until 12:30 and changing six months into the school year when she was already dealing with a new culture and language seemed like too much). So they want her to wait until she is seven and a half to start first grade.

Hearing this opened up yet another conversation about cultural differences. By US  standards (or at least by the standards of the families I know in the US), kids here are neglected. And in case any of you thinks this is a harsh judgment, consider this: the typical 4 year old is away from home for about 12 hours a day, 2 to 4 of these hours are on a school bus. Parents have to be called repeatedly to get them to show up at school functions (and they still often fail to show up!). Kids are left home alone by the time they are four years old. Their parents drop them off with friends and don’t even come inside to meet the parents. And most importantly, everybody I talk to about this – our nanny’s family, our housekeeper, our ceramics teacher, the head of Accion’s Bogota office and his wife – all complain about how hands-off parents are here. They claim that the parents care ore about their own lives and their material comforts than their children. I have heard this across all socio-economic groups.

Our housekeeper, went so far as to tell me that kids have it rough in this country. “You should see the five and six year-olds working so hard at the market”, she said. “Well, the parents probably have no choice”, I replied. “Oh, no”, she said, “the kids work earning money while the mothers sit on their butts and spend the money earned by the kids. And then smack them around to boot.” OK, what do you say to that? As I have mentioned before, child physical and sexual abuse is actually another huge problem here but that’s for another time.

So back to the school saga, I realize that I am getting triggered here but I really am having a hard time with being told that there is something wrong with my kids because they are too attached to me (we already had this conversation with Jade’s teacher). I would be surprised if anybody back home would call me an overprotective parent. In fact, I always felt rather relaxed and hands-off compared to my fellow Waldorf parents in Boston. But here, I am definitely “too much”. I walk my kids to school and accompany them to the door of their classroom because they ask me to. I pick them up from school. I go to school meetings. I talk to the music teacher when he assigns inappropriate homework and I find out that he scared Jade because routinely screams at the kids (and he is a huge and scary looking guy!) I get to know the other parents. Basically I am an involved parent and the school keeps saying that they want involved parents and that it’s the job of the parents to raise their children. But their actions do seem very different from their words. You should see the looks I get every time I walk the kids to their classrooms.

Anyway, I have been trying to be very respectful of the fact that we are here in Colombia and therefore have to try to honor their cultural customs. But some things just don’t fly. I have bit my tongue when the school director criticized me for nursing Saige (“You have to stop by eight months or she will grow too dependent on you.” What? Are we in the 1950’s?) or called me “exagerrada” (overly involved when I was still hanging in the school office two days after the girls started school not speaking any Spanish and begged me not to leave the alone in this strange place) or pushed me to have Siena stay in school until 3 pm even though she was still crying at drop off in the morning.

But I could not hold back any more upon hearing the news that they wanted to hold Siena back due to her dependence on me. I told them that there are serious cultural differences here and that the way things are done here would be considered child neglect in my country. I went on to explain the differences in great detail (being involved, knowing your kids teachers, knowing their friends, shorter school days for young children, etc.) . I won’t bore you with all of the details but ultimately there was nothing the Director could say except “wow, I wish parents here behaved like you say parents do in your country.”

She still however would not commit to allowing Siena to start first grade in February. She said that she still has to go to the committee of teachers to discuss this again tomorrow. Meanwhile, Esteban was so angry about all this that he wanted to tell the Director that we will be looking for another school if this doesn’t happen. That Siena is ready and this would be a blow to her self confidence to be held back for no good reason. I was able to talk him into waiting until we see what the school comes back with before making any threats. Especially since this seems to be as child centered of a school as we are going to find here. From what I understand, other schools are way worse in this respect. Yikes, fingers crossed. Wish us luck!

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