Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Dusting Off the Soap Box

My sweet boy has had a rough week... of "Alexander and the No Good, Horrible, Terrible, Very Bad Day" proportions. He was overlooked for an activity during Physical Education, skipped two problems on his vocabulary test resulting in a "C" and completely misunderstood the directions for an assignment today and made a 0. He's devastated. Sobbing, heaving, crying until your throat hurts devastated.

Part of me understands that there are great lessons to be learned from this kind of day, this kind of week in life. But a large part of my heart wants to make it all easy and right for my child. I don't WANT him to have to suffer, to have anything horrible happen in his life even though I know none of us will escape the sad, the hard, the difficulties that come with living. Most of me knows that the most lasting, the most valuable things he can gain will come from facing adversity. But it is so hard to navigate through these rough days.

We are very frustrated with the state of our public education system (thank you Dubya). He comes home each week with a stack of worksheets, does 30-45 minutes of homework every night and spends too much time studying "test preparation" in school. We certainly don't believe that teachers bear the blame for this sad state of learning in our country. Rather, most of the blame can be laid on the shoulders of politicians who think that if a child achieves a certain score on a multiple choice test, we can determine their level of intelligence. Engaging, higher level learning activities like experiments, model-making, and creative writing are being sacrificed to be sure that students can regurgitate memorized facts on tests. They are not being taught about strategies, thinking or being creative. Instead they spend weeks learning how to bubble in circles on a multiple choice test. Learning how to eliminate least likely answers... what a waste of valuable learning time!

Our son, who is bright, articulate, mechanical and gentle is being stressed out in the second grade because he daydreams, because his hand-writing is horrible, because he gets a little nervous about asking questions. It is truly ridiculous that the obsession with achieving a certain score is leading a generation right into mediocrity and believing that there is only one way of doing things. Not MY child, though. I'm no lemming and I won't be diving over the cliff with the rest of those interested in maintaining the status quo.

Yes I want my beautiful son to set a high standard for himself. Yes I want him to understand that effort, hard work, and perseverance are important. But I'm not willing to let him lose his identity, his talents, his personality in a quest to fit inside a box that some idiot measured wrong. We've worked hard to improve his handwriting, to get him on grade level in reading (which he LOVES now, by the way), to encourage his strengths and bridge his weaknesses.

Rob and I have spent the last 30 minutes telling him that today was just a day. Tomorrow is a new one. We've figured out how to learn something from the disaster of his first 0. Now I have to buy that tomorrow is a new day, because right now my throat is clogged with tears, my eyes are wet and I really just want to turn off the alarm, let him sleep in and have a cuddle day. But we won't do that. We'll cuddle before school and after breakfast. He'll put his shirt on backwards and I'll have to stay after him to find his other sock. Rob will remind him to brush his teeth three times before he finally does it. There will be a mad scramble to get the book bag, the lunch box and a cup of water before he heads out. Tomorrow is a new day. It will be a better day. It has to be. Because today was terrible, horrible, no good and very, very bad.


Michelly said...

Not having any children I have no words of wisdom when it comes to what you are going through as a parent. I do remember having these types of days as a child, teenager, adult...and it wasn't until I became an adult (an over the age of 30 adult, mind you) that I finally realized that this is really just another day. How are you supposed to articulate that to a child when it sometimes takes a lifetime to realize this? Do know this, your child might not remember this specific day in his life but he will remember that you and your husband were there for him, trying so very hard to make him feel better. Hopefully he got to eat a wonderful dessert tonight, nothing a little chocolate can't cure! :)

Stomper Girl said...

You are a great mother. And the school ideals you describe sound really sucky. Are you sure you don't want to move to Australia? I think you'd like Climber's school.

Poor JT. I hope you all feel better soon. It was just one grade, it it not what he's worth as a person. xx

Rob said...

Last night JT started writing a script for a new Batman movie he wants to film. I repeat, my 7 year old boy started writing a script for a movie.

Scene 1: The Joker breaks Scarecrow and Mr. Freeze out of Arkham Asylum. All part of his dastardly plan to thwart Batman.

Scene 2: Realizing that three super-villians might be more than he can handle Batman calls Robin back to Gotham to help him out.

The above scenes are complete with back and forth dialogue between the characters. We start shooting in three weeks once JT has the script complete. Our actors will be 7-inch action figures and our sets will be made out of cardboard but there's going to be a movie.

Sadly, this type of creativity is neither encouraged or rewarded in our public school system. Instead the children are encouraged to be neat when filling in the circles so that the scantron machine can accurately grade their paper and chart their progress.

If it wasn't for my parents and Melinda's parents we would be on the first plane to Australia.

rhubarbwhine said...

oh my. Your last paragraph sounds like my last post. But for different reasons.

twolimeleaves said...

And we would welcome you with open arms. Homework is EVIL in my opinion. And 7 yr olds should not be stressing about it. Full stop. (or "Period", if you prefer. Although that makes Australians think of menstruation, so practise saying "Full Stop" instead, OK?)

M said...

Fight for your child's individuality Melinda!

I can't tell you how much JT keeps reminding me of PL.

Reading Rob's comment reminds me of PL's chapter books he writes. Each chapter is about 5 lines long, but it is a chapter book nevertheless. They are all about people who do really exciting things. This is a boy with handwriting and coordination issues (we keep the OT, osteo and many other practitioners in full employment). And yet give him a computer and watch that imagination soar!

I'm sure he'd love to work on the Batman script with JT.

bluemountainsmary said...

All I want to do - ALL I want to do is give you the biggest hug.

I'm glad Rob is right there by your side.

You have expressed so eloquently the frustrations we all feel with schooling. Also that dilemma of keeping them focused despite the bitter disappointment and just wanting to bundle them up and kiss their tears dry.


Lesley said...

I've heard teachers explain that as a result of the 'No Child Left Behind' menace, in extreme cases, schools have become so encumbered with tests, and positive test results have become so vital, that all teachers can do is teach kids to sit and pass the tests.
There's no time/effort/money/incentive left to teach kids the actual curriculum.

It sounds like you know what to do to counter this evil! Lots of positive encouragement, cuddles, books and fun — and keep him talking — he'll be a lot better off than some of the damaged SoCal teens I've met through my son's school. Shudder ...

Rob said...

"No Child Left Behind" should only apply to school buses.

Fairlie said...

Man. I'm starting to see why homeschooling is gaining popularity in the US. I had no idea your education system was like that. Of course if I was homeschool our girls one or other of the parties (them or me) possibly wouldn't make it past the first I'm not suggesting that as a solution!

I reiterate Stomper's comment - come to Australia. Bring your parents with you!

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