Blessed and wonderful is the path of education

by April Gutierrez

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Next week my son will start kindergarten. Earlier this summer, we received a packet from the school to help ensure that he is prepared. The packet included a suggested reading list, some flashcards and a list of tasks our son should be able to complete, skills he should possess. In the three years Silvio has been in preschool, he’s certainly built some skills, but I realize all of this preparation has been coupled with preparation at home focused on who he is becoming.

The following are my own priorities for what my son will take with him on his first day of kindergarten. There is some overlap with the school list, some designed help him simply be present to each moment with awe and gratitude.

1) Ability to write your full name (on the list)

When our son was born, I decided that I wanted to send an announcement of his birth that included the significance and meaning of his full name. Now as he has learned to write his first and last name we take the opportunity to talk about naming him and his heritage. Silvio learned to write his first name, well, first. This name we chose for him, and its meaning is outlined in our birth announcements. He knows that his name means “man of the woods,” and that in this he is like his grandmother, a prolific gardener who loves the outdoors, plants and dirt.

His last name is long and still difficult for him to write. It is a name that we did not choose but that we love, a name that we share with each other and with a tribe of people we don’t necessarily know as I was not raised with my father’s family. A name that we share in kinship with many Latinos from countries all over Latin America including Gustavo Gutierrez, OP, who I had the privilege of studying with and who called me his little niece in class. With both names he belongs to us and also to the many, there’s a part of himself that he can explain, and a part that will be explained to him over time.

2. Reading (on the list)

From an early age, my son has loved time together reading. Each evening “book time” is treasured bonding mostly with his parents, when friends are in our home around 6:30 p.m., they know a request is forthcoming to share a story with him. Blessed and wonderful is the path of education and I know the great privilege and responsibility my son walks into the world as a child of two parents who have earned masters’ degrees.

Kindergarten will continue the invitation. As he experiences the world, we try to create opportunities to reflect and teach him practices early that will allow for growth and empower him to respond. Because he has two parents who treasure education and the gifts it has given to us we hope he will be on the path for a very long time, a journey to be celebrated as he grows in understanding of the world and discerning his vocation.

3. The Examen (not on the list)

When my son was about 3-years-old and I would have a new sitter, I would go through the bedtime routine half joking that when you lay Silvio down be prepared for him to stay in bed but to talk for a while because he needed to do his daily Examen. Sure enough they would laughingly tell me when I returned that I was correct, he went to bed fine but stayed in there talking for 10 or more minutes.

Now each evening we look forward to time in prayer with each other actually praying the Examen. This centering, reflective prayer grounds our day in gratitude, in hope and provides a beautiful window into his life with God active in his preschool adventures. His prayers are just as he encounters the world, with the profound in dialogue with the ridiculous. Some days he prays for every morsel of food he has put in his body that day. Some days he prays for and with my grandmother who recently passed bringing me in close proximity with her tenderness and joy as tears stream on both our cheeks. It’s an opportunity to hear what he is learning and thinking about as well as teaching him to pray with his experiences, to know when to ask for forgiveness and savor his sense of wonder.

4. Keep your hands to yourself (on almost all lists)

Keeping one’s hands to one’s self is a universal rule that speaks to knowledge of the other as an individual, worthy of respect and dignity. This is not an easy concept for 5- and 6-year-olds, who still have a foggy understanding of the boundaries that separate themselves from others, that others feel pain and joy in the same way they do, and that not everyone wants grubby fingers all over their stuff and person. As a person trained in nonviolent activism, walking gently without harming others is an essential value I hope to instill in my children.

While the concept is universal it is not of equal importance or equally enforced for all. As a person of color, I know well that my son will grow older and one day cross the threshold of darling into dangerous in some peoples’ eyes, unbeknownst to him. This event will come sooner than we expect and when it happens, he will need to be practiced at “keeping his hands to himself.”

My husband has friends from college who walk in the world with a great deal of privilege, who speak casually, sharing their ideas and opinions quite freely, without considering their audience or surroundings. Those same friends have often commented on the way my husband speaks. His gregarious nature and wit always come through, but he’s learned to speak with great care. He once told these friends that “I strive to be unimpeachable in my speech — to never say something that could hurt or be used against me later. By anyone.”

For Silvio to be unimpeachable in his actions, especially in his respect for others, seems an impossible standard. Nonetheless, he will walk in a world with people who have privilege which affords them a more casual set of standards. My boy cannot live by that set of standards, he has to learn to keep his hands to himself.

5. Take naps and enjoy recess (top of my list)

Poring over the standards my kindergartener must meet does not evoke a sense of joy and wonder. There is likely not a “joy-based” curriculum or standard he must meet. He will not have to prove that he’s learned to love everyday life or cherish the breath in his lungs before matriculating to first grade. Even so, I pray for him that he deepens in his love of play and continues to be rooted in God’s love, in joy and in grace. I hope that Silvio cackles and screams, plays ridiculous games, chases his peers and runs himself into exhaustion.

And then I hope that he sleeps. Making time for rest is not easy and we are discouraged from doing so the older we get. The emptying out and refilling of our energy reserves is what our bodies and souls were made for, even as we reduce down these peaks and valleys into a predictable and uniform work day. Silvio will go to kindergarten knowing that he needs to rest, retreat to the dark to find sustaining quiet.

[April Gutierrez is a graduate of Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry and is a campus minister for First-Year Experience at Loyola University Chicago.]

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