Why, oh why, did I do this today? It’s a beautiful summer day here in the Northwest…patches of clouds, a breeze, and the butterfly bushes are attracting hummingbirds and butterflies alike.
“What did you do?” you ask sweetly, with concern.
I checked my sons’ school/state test scores.
They met standard.
Now, you may be asking yourself, what is so darn alarming about that? Many parents would be thrilled that their children met standard. Besides, isn’t that what’s it’s all about? My younger son slogged through hours, and I mean HOURS of his life to end up with a B- in pre-algebra. (See other posts about the math that doesn’t add up in schools–doing 100% of his homework, getting one problem ‘wrong’ and ending up with a 50% grade.) My older son is in advanced math and other classes, and for a person under legal voting age, has consistently provided me with some of the most engaging, interesting, and insightful conversations I have ever had. The younger one is inquisitive, joyful, curious, and has a natural scientific mind. Not only does he learn information at the knowledge level, but has the capacity and has demonstrated synthesis, and ultimately, create. (My and my husband’s gold standard.)
The highest of the ‘thinking levels.’
Now, I am the egotistic mother who thinks her children are such smarty-pants that the academics of school should be a breeze, rising up higher and higher into the rarified air, so that their free time is spent on their own intellectual, artistic, scientific, and creative pursuits. To have ‘just met standard’ shocked me into considering just what these standards are, and how in the heck does anyone ‘exceed’ standards? Holy nose-bleed expectations, Batman! Calm down!
Before you start accusing me (justifiably or not) of having the Prairie Home Companion syndrome of “all the women are strong…and the children are above average,” this harkens back to our real question (I will explain who “our” is in a moment):
Just what the heck are we doing, anyway?
What are our real goals for our children/students?
Over the summer, my sons’ school district has sent e-mails of math homework packets to prevent ‘summer slide.’ (If only it was a Slip’n’Slide.) They expect me to print these packets out, hand them to my sons, and instead of spending time just outside, pulling weeds, practicing guitar/drums, painting a picture, going to the zoo, the aquarium, the park, the lake, or down the block, they want them to keep their minds sharp with math packets. It occurred to me that many teachers have, not only this expectation, but this exasperation with parents that their children are not doing something for their minds at all times. It’s like we expect students to be home-schooled after our day is done. Where does this (unreasonable) expectation come from? Because it’s sitting on all of us parents/teachers like a big, fat bureaucratic, bloated, boorish slugs. The cow-manure rolls downhill, folks. Superintendents feel the pressure from parents who scream why their children can’t read, and for the love of Pete DO SOMETHING…so they DO SOMETHING…and principals feel the pinch, and they put the pressure on teachers, but teachers (good ones, and no, I won’t define ‘good’ right now) are already feeling it, and it rolls back to parents who should DO SOMETHING and they aren’t GOOD parents because they’re not allowing their students enough independence (yes, ask me about a Facebook thread from first grade teachers who demanded that students should know how to put their homework folders in their backpacks. Yes, they should. But parents are so scared poop-less that they transform into mechanical parenting creations we have labeled ‘helicopter’ parents. (Yeah. Name calling always works.) So, if little irresponsible, forgetful first-grade Freddie forgets to put his homework folder back in his backpack he’s doomed. DOOMED, I tell ya!
I just want to yell “STOP!”
Think about this: Have we made our curriculums/content so challenging, so rigorous, by reaching higher and higher standards that aren’t age appropriate, we are disengaging parents from being supportive? If a parent can’t begin to understand a child’s homework or assignment because of the shot-gun approach to blasting everything with all that we’ve got (don’t know how to do a math problem this way? Try it these twenty other ways…oh, and why? What’s the fundamental principle behind this math problem? We don’t have time to teach you that, sorry!) So, there it is, 8:30PM, mom’s trying to help with all the things that must be done so the family doesn’t live in filth and squalor, and Freddie needs help with his math/reading etc., and mom doesn’t know how to help. So she feels stupid. And when we feel stupid, we become resentful. And we lash out.
But here is something else to consider. Before we start to feel all ‘Poor us, our jobs are so hard! Pressure!’ consider that many students I know, including my own children, actually like to do well in school. It’s true. We are not punishing them by having standards; on the contrary, many of us like to earn and achieve. Reach a goal. When an ELL student beams at me because she passed the state language proficiency tests, or when a former student puts his high school state test scores on Facebook, proudly sharing his accomplishments, or my own children share a good grade that they’ve worked for, and earned with their efforts, this shows their well-earned pride in making more wrinkles in their gray matter. It feels good to learn.
During this debate and collaboration, I guess all I asking is that my fellow teachers/administration/superintendents don’t lose sight of that human factor as well. Self-esteem comes from struggle, and then success, or failure, and then learning from those missteps. It’s growth, not fixed, learning that provides us with our intrinsic motivation. Perhaps there is confusion or a muddying of the lines between extrinsic and intrinsic. I do what I do because I like to do it, but it’s also nice when someone else notices. Admit it–you kind of like it, too, when someone comments on a blog posting, or tweet, or says, “Hey, did you do something different to your hair? It looks great!”
Who is “our?” The collective will of educators, parents, observers, citizens, students, and politicians out there.
As far as homework goes, yes, I know there’s a huge movement to abolish homework. I get it. I don’t assign ‘homework,’ but I do have assignments and projects. I try to customize each students’ day and time as much as I possibly can, all 150 of them. I try to do what’s ethically and academically appropriate to help each child, because that’s what I want for my children, too.
Now you’ll excuse me, I need to get out the sprinklers and some sunscreen. See ya.