When we are driving for more than 15 minutes, Jude, my four year old, will inevitably ask me, “Are we here yet?” I always say, “yes, we are right here.” After a few seconds more driving, I will say, “Oh, and now we are right….HERE.” He gets the joke and then asks me if we are “there” yet instead. But we are never “there”- we are always here.

When I was a kid, there were hardly any kids I knew who went to pre-school. Kindergarten was meant as the transition to grade school. In Kindergarten we played a lot, did art, music, and had naps. We also learned things like colors, numbers, the alphabet, and shapes. Now, most kids I know are in pre-school. Children are expected to come prepared for Kindergarten because it is more challenging and academic. Despite much research on the importance of play, It is actually challenging to find a pre-school that is play-based and not focused on preparing children for Kindergarten. In Second Grade there is already talk about preparing for the CSAP test (Colorado Student Assessment Program) that comes toward the end of Third Grade. There are numerous complaints from parents and teachers that education has been tailored to ensure the best possible test scores. Teachers have less autonomy than ever before and the curriculum is heavily weighted with reading, writing, and math because that is what is tested.

Most high schools, public and private state their primary mission as preparing their students for college. A mission like this is admirable. I, too, want college as an option for every kid who wants to go. But this kind of mission almost implies that the years in high school don’t count in and of themselves, but only as preparation for later. Companies across the nation realize this, and provide their products and services to schools and families accordingly. Millions of dollars are spent each year in preparing students to take the ACT or SAT exams for college entrance requirements.

Now, I am all for preparation. I am a planner! I am the kind of person that loves to plan a vacation but has trouble fully relaxing and enjoying it because there is nothing left to plan. I don’t want my kids to fall into that habit. I do want them to be prepared, but not so focused on preparation that they learn to ignore the present moment and pay attention only to the future. The present moment is where we are, always, and learning to stay in it will not hurt our chances at getting into a good college. It certainly helps with the ability to cope well with that challenge.

When I was in high school, there was a boy named Steve who was popular, a good athlete, a capable student, and a nice guy. I believe he had a basketball scholarship and was headed to college in the fall, rooming with his best friend in the next chapter of his life. To save money or for extra spending money, Steve worked on the back of a garbage truck, where he stood on that little pedestal and held on to the handle as the truck moved forward to the next home’s garbage. As the truck headed up a hill, Steve fell off, hitting his head – he died that day. This was just a month or so away from his graduation. That night, as the community heard the news, a huge number of his fellow students gathered on his parent’s front yard on Main Street for a respectful, tearful, spontaneous vigil. It was a sad and moving experience. I think all of us realized the preciousness of life that day and for the first time considered our own mortality.

I am sure Steve was prepared for college, but I hope he fully enjoyed and experienced his youth and his education. I think he did. Experiences like this one remind me to live in the present for my own sake and to set an example for my children to do the same. I want them to have the kind of education that not only prepares them for the next thing, but also thoroughly engages them and causes curiosity, wonder, creativity, and awe. I want their childhood to be unrushed and celebrated for what it is now, not for what it could be later. There should be plenty of time for laughing and playing as well as learning.

John Dewey said “education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.” When thought of this way, education is a process, not an end, and it should be cherished for its own sake. With this philosophy, Steve’s untimely death was still tragic, but his education was not wasted. It comprised the best parts of his life and gave him joy and purpose when he was “here”.

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