Fear of School

Fear of School June 11, 2012

The van pulls up in front of our house, and a mom and her son get out. They stop here every morning, to wait for the school bus. Usually this happens without incident, but this morning is different. The boy is hanging on his mom’s leg, and when she tries to walk back to the car he begins to cry. She crouches down and they talk for a little while, and she fishes out a tissue for him to wipe his tears. She gives him a hug as the bus pulls up to the corner, and for a moment it looks like he is going to get on after all, but then he pulls back and begins to cry again and the mom carries him back to the car instead. Watching this happen outside my window, I experienced my usual reaction. The little boy could have been somewhat sick, lost a member of his family recently or felt like he was missing out on something happening at home that day, but all that I could think was that he was afraid to go to school.

It’s embarrassing, but I am terrified of school. I don’t really know how else to explain it. It isn’t a passing fear, or nervousness, it’s an outright sick to my stomach fear. Sometimes I wonder if it qualifies as a phobia.

I really want an education, I do research, and debate on whether to start with my GED or go directly into Junior College classes. I think about it all the time, wondering what I want to major in. I worry that I am not intelligent enough to make it in school of any kind. I wonder if I will be overwhelmed and unable to keep up, that none to the textbooks will make sense to me. And yet, whenever I think about just passing on the whole school thing and doing something else instead, I feel really really sad. So I know that I want to forge ahead despite my fears.

And I am excited about sending my kids to school, where they will get to interact with people other than myself. Make friends, try all the messy projects without a baby sibling destroying whatever they make, learn things I never learned. But all the stuff I was told about school is still there in the back of my mind.

Parents who send their kids to school don’t really care about them. School = Jail for kids. In school, you do endless busy work, trapped in the same desk day after day, doing the same thing over and over. You don’t really learn anything. In school, the teacher is too busy with all the other kids to take care of your kid. In school there are bullies and bad influences and sexual predators. Sending your kids to school is like sending them to Hell in a hand basket. In school your real potential is squashed and ignored, you are forced to be like everyone else. When kids are in school they have hardly any time to see their parents and siblings.
School was a bad place, something to be protected from.

My Hunnie has heard me talk about my fears over and over and over. And she has tried to reassure me again and again. Unlike me, she actually went to school for a couple of early grades, and tells me that it was a pretty normal experience. She reminds me that most kids go to school, and that the teachers are trained to be compassionate and attentive. But that doesn’t stop the nightmares. The dreams where I bring my child to school and the teachers hit them and tell them that they are stupid worthless sinners.

My rational mind tells me that would never happen in a public school setting, but apparently my subconscious is messed up.

We went to the kindergarten orientation at my oldest child’s new school. It was only the second time I have ever been inside of a school building. The teachers seemed nice enough, the principal was very enthusiastic. The room was clean, and it smelled nice. The curriculum and approach to learning sounded cool, part of the reason why we chose this school. The other parents seemed completely at ease, chatting and filling out papers for their 5 year olds. I’ve hidden my fear from my kids, and Ms Action was beside herself with excitement over trying out the playground outside and checking out the kindergarten classrooms, saying again and again “This is MY school Mama? Is this MY school?” I tried to relax, but my heart was pounding, and I felt stiff and tense and awkward. Haley held my hand and asked me several times if I was OK. I probably looked white as a sheet.

The tour of the classrooms surprised me. The room was spacious and well lit, with windows extending almost all the way to the floor. There were three child sized tables with small chairs placed around them. There were maps and pictures and drawings covering the walls. The sides of the room were lined with art supplies and there was a private bathroom in the corner of the classroom. The teacher explained the average daily schedule for a child in kindergarten, which included time outside and several snacks as well as a particular art-type class every day. It sounded cool, fun even.

I’m not sure what I expected really, I’ve never been in a classroom before (other than a couple of educational summer camps in my late teens that took place in college classrooms), so pretty much my only reference is the stories in the “Little house on the Prairie” series, and the one room schoolhouses we visited during re-enactments as a kid. I distinctly remember sitting behind the little wooden desks while the costumed re-enactor described how school was taught back in the day, and feeling grateful that I was homeschooled.

Ms Action is very excited about school, but it takes effort for me to not feel like a horrible failure of a parent for sending her there. Will she hate it? Will she feel alone and afraid? Will kids pick on her, will a teacher criticize her? Will she be able to tell me if something happens to her at school that hurt her? Will she hate me somday for sending her to such a horrible place?

I realize that there will be pleasant and unpleasant things experienced in school, just as there are pleasant and unpleasant things in every environment. And I realize that every child is different. I know why we have made the decision not to homeschool at this time. But I am sure that in 3 short months I am in for quite the learning curve, as my 5 year old goes to school for the first time. One thing I keep hanging on to is that I have found that aside from my fear of school, I tend to fear the unknown in general. I think it is part of being a sensory person. If I haven’t experienced something yet, is it difficult for me to conceptualize it. As I have experienced more and more, I am afraid of less and less, and perhaps it will turn out to be the same with my fear of schools.

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