Thursday, September 13, 2012

Stop Already! Or At Least, Let Them Eat Cake.

I have had children in the school system for 15 years.  In that time, I have watched academic creep. What was for third and fourth graders, is now taught in second, what was first grade is now expected of kindergarten.  What my children do in high school, I remember struggling to master in college or opting to avoid all together.

At the same time, the schools go merrily on discussing how our kids should 1) volunteer 2) get 8 hours of rest 3) exercise 4) read for recreation 5) join at least three clubs or 1 club and do a sport and have a social life that includes at least 5 friends and regular-get-togethers.  They should also feel free to let the teacher know they couldn't finish an assignment if they needed to rest but know ahead of time, they'll probably be penalized for not turning it in on time.  They also are informed that high school is a time to try out new interests, but if you do poorly, know that this will affect college applications and there's no mercy for mess ups.  It's goofy. Apparently, if you are not carpe the hell Diem out of every moment, you're flunking parenting and childhood. 

I protest.  I was a teen. I remember being stupid.  I remember not getting 3/4ths of what I was supposed to do.  I remember listening to the same record over and over again, playing video games until my quarters were all gone and having nothing to do.   I remember being bored.  We have become a society that does not value rest or down time or non online time.  Every moment is caffinated and stimulated and saturated with live stream and twittering and email and wi-fi. 

As the parent, I wrestled with the desire to tell her to blow it off.  Honestly. I wanted her to just relax about it and go to bed.

This was not a case of a girl being irresponsible, this was a girl who had done homework over the weekend to get ahead and now was working on new assignments that arrived this week. She took a 30 minute break but was still working at midnight only to receive email notification that two of the assignments were no longer due the next day even though they'd been assigned as due.  So she lost sleep and time to work that was no longer immediately necessary and had the unfortunate situation of still having work that was due which she had not yet done as it was supposed to take only a few minutes of time.   I know because I got to hear this rant last night when the strung out teen couldn't find a paper she was supposed to correct.  She'd done the work, it had been graded, she'd made two small errors but the paper was missing.

It was physics. 

Rather than allow me to send an email explaining the mishap, she redid the entire thing.  She explained, "Yeah, maybe I lost it but that won't mean I won't be penalized."  I understood she was partially correct, there is a tyranny of policy that sometimes seems to trump common sense and sensibilities. And while I thought her teacher would probably be reasonable, she didn't feel she could take the chance. She also explained she wouldn't be able to sleep knowing it wasn't done.   

Being incompetent in physics, I did the only thing I could do, I brought her cakes and milk. 

It made me wonder how and why there hadn't been push back against this demand to make children master what we did not, to demand they know more than we ever did, sooner than we did.  I know why. Part of it is ego manifested in vicarious pseudo virtue competitive parenting.  You know what I mean, "my kid is an honor student who takes physics and is on the highly selective competitive team of whatever that wins and is better than all those other...blah blah blah."  Part of it is the desire of school systems to win that battle on the district level.  Our children are foreign policy experts, Olympians, multi-jointed multi lingual TED talk worthy thinkers with steve jobsian inventiveness and oratory skills that put the founding fathers to shame.  They can assemble a plane from a bicycle just like MacGyver and have memorized Pi out to the 1,000 number (9).  Next year, we're making them expand it to 2000, but with a calculator and by hand.     

As a society, we keep demanding more without  ever pausing to consider what we might be losing in the process of demanding that kids act as something other than kids.  It started with the death of recess and shortening of lunch, the professionalization of parenting and extra curriculum activities, the banning of sweets and treats and firm denial of the reality that there is always a bell curve in every class.  We've decided as professionals and a people, the definition of success is the highest standard deviation.  In statistics, these numbers are supposed to be thrown out and not applied towards one's generalizations that might come from the data.  The question becomes, when college students have to produce Ph.D. work, what will the doctoral students do?  I don't know about you but I'll cry foul when I can't adequately assist with Kindergarten homework.  The authorities will probably declare me unfit and make me return to preschool at that point though. 

My daughter finished her work. She chatted happily over her snack, buoyed by the little something and the knowledge she'd finished.  She said it was a good thing I'd shown up, or she was prepared to break out a journal and start writing how she hated the world and everyone because it was just so hard.  But the little dessert, that was enough to take the edge off of everything. 

I learned something they don't teach you in any grade.  Midnight snacks and milk even cure the ills of physics and high school. 


maria mcclure said...

Oh, dear! I thought it was just me. phew!

RAnn said...

I graduated from a well-regarding public high school in 1979. We took 6 classes a year--4 or 5 academic courses and one "minor"--pe, band, chorus, yearbook, library assistant, etc. Study halls were not uncommon. Spending more than an hour or so on homework was uncommon, even among honor students. We had to have 4 English credits, 2 math, 2 science, 3 social studies. Some students took four years of science, English, math and history and 2 years of a foreign language, but most did not. They took home ec, shop, mechanical drawing, marketing, business, art,typing--and that was in a relatively small school that did not offer the variety of some of the larger schools in the area

Where I live, the middle-class norm is Catholic or other private high schools. Those kids take 7-8 classes/year and are required to take four years of science, English, math, history and religion, plus a foreign language. Honors students take high school classes in eighth grade and college (AP) classes as juniors and seniors. I say why?

My son is autistic. His standardized test scores are about at the 50th percentile. He couldn't handle the Catholic high school academics. He was doing 2+ hours of homework nightly. My daughter is in a public magnet school for bright kids. No religion classes but eight academic credits a year. She could have graduated at the end of her junior year with all college requirements met. As a senior, all her classes but one get her college credit. That's wonderful, but she's never taken home ec, any business classes, drama, journalism, or computer. She has ACT scores in the 80th percentile in math and science but is convinced she can't do college math and science because her high school classes were so hard. So what if she goes to college with 20+ hours credit? I would rather she had more breadth and less depth.

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