It's been thirty years since I was in first grade, which doesn’t seem like that long ago, but dealing with my son’s school is like visiting a foreign country. They don’t do anything the way I’m used to, nor does half of what they do make an ounce of sense to me. My primary confusion at this juncture is that they send home report cards, but don’t write anything remotely useful on them.
It’s not that I fear change or I don’t think education is evolutionary in nature or even that I don’t want my kids to receive the best and most useful up-to-date education in order to help them succeed in the time and place into which they were born. But for Gods sake, what is the matter with As, Bs and Cs? I don’t understand how the new “grading” system is even helpful. I mean, I could have guessed that J's math skills are “developing.” As a parent I need to know how he’s doing relative to the expectation for his peer group, so I can congratulate him if he’s doing well, help him if he’s struggling and give him the metaphorical swift kick if he’s being lazy.
When I met with his teacher we talked about spelling a little bit, and she said that kids are always wanting to know if they’re spelling things correctly and she always tells them that however they did it is fine. Which is true (and dare I say, that phonetic spelling is cute as hell?), but if they ask, they want to know the answer – she’s a teacher for Christ sake, why wouldn’t she tell them?!
When J sits down by himself and writes two paragraphs worth of story and then shows it to me, certainly I don’t say, “Dumbass, you spelled half these words wrong.” I marvel at his writing, gush over his creativity and so forth. But if he asks, “Mama, is that how you spell pirate?” I tell him the truth. So far my rotten and willful crushing of his self-esteem hasn’t hampered his desire to write stories and draw treasure maps and such in the least, so I can’t think it’s such a tragedy.
In fact, one day I sort of wished it had. J brought home a pile of work he’d done at school, including several pages of addition and subtraction worksheets, all of which were nearly blank. So I panicked and told my husband that J must really be struggling with math. And how could that be? His teacher had said he was doing fine at the conference. Plus, I played classical music for him during his infancy, after all – that was supposed to make him a math genius! Silently reprimanding myself for not having started when he was in the womb, I said to J, “What’s 9 take away 3?”
And he said, “Uh, 6.”
“Well, what’s 4 plus 5?”
And so it went for all of the problems on his papers. Then I said, “Well, why didn’t you do any of these on your worksheets if you know the answers?”
“I just ran out of time Mama,” he said.
At first I was relieved that math isn’t a problem for him at least, but then I happened to turn them over and discovered that they all have very elaborate maps drawn on the back. Complete with names, places, bodies of water, skulls, ships, jolly rogers, etcetera. “Well, that’s quite a map you drew here, how did you have time to do all that?”
“I dunno,” he shrugged.
But, unfortunately, I know – the asking was just a formality. It’s the same reason that I seem to have a chronic case of laryngitis – because J is very creative, which is nice, but he’s not very – um, task-oriented – which makes me crazy. Frankly, I sort of wish math was the problem – at least I’d know how to help him with that. So far no amount of yelling, threatening, bribing, begging, pleading, cajoling, rewarding or punishing has helped him learn how to focus on doing things he’s not that interested in doing. And evidently Math doesn’t make his heart sing.
What really annoys me is that while I know I’m not the world’s greatest parent and I do send my kids to school hoping that the school will (within reason) teach them what they need to know academically speaking, I also take my responsibility for making sure they’re adequately educated very seriously. And if everyone is going to complain that bad parenting is what is wrong with our public education system, maybe someone could catch a clue that parents need information from the school in order to do their part at home.