Thursday, June 19, 2008
Today was Riley's last day of school. In a conversation with her sister, she said she thought that learning was the most fun. Talk about a proud mama moment!
But she's only seven. I worry, obsess, and drive myself crazy worrying about whether or not she'll keep that joy of learning.
What's incredibly sad is that nothing drains that out of a kid quite like a poor education at school. Tedious homework without a purpose, overstuffed classrooms with poor air ventilation, teachers that don't believe your kid is special, administrations that aren't respectful, authoritarianism, bad peer influences, not enough textbooks...the list of what can go wrong is astoundingly long and its effects on my child's love of learning can be nearly insurmountable to overcome.
But what phrase can drive me quicker to insanity than any other: parental involvement.
This phrase has been thrown around as the answer to all problems. If we "make" our kids do their homework, even when they're screaming and crying because they don't understand it and they don't like our explanation and they're up until 11 o'clock at night. Volunteering to sell goods at the bake sale, even if you're a single working parent that can't afford to take time off work. Taking gift wrap catalogs to work and forcing all your colleagues to buy some...and then buying 20 more rolls so that your kid can get the prize they want...and then buying another 20 rolls from all your colleagues' kids' catalogs since they bought from you. Drilling your child with the times tables. Getting them all freaked out about standardized tests.
I swear, this is what I thought parental involvement meant a year ago. Because that's all that I was ever told by the schools. And my oldest daughter was losing her love of learning.
Most 5-year-olds I've met are like Sylvia was at 5: interested in everything, constantly asking how things worked, why we did this, where's that? Our children are sponges that find everything fascinating and want to take it all in.
And then they start school. And if all the stars align, and we're nearly perfect parents, or we're lucky enough to have kids whose dream is to compete in the National Spelling Bee, then all goes well. If the parents stay together and never lose their jobs, and are able to sock away for a good college, then all can go well.
But many of us experience something a little different than that. As much as we want to make our children the center of our lives and the universe, we're still expected to pay the rent/mortgage. Someone gets sick. Parents divorce. Someone's job gets outsourced. A myriad of things can go wrong, and do. And without a strong support system, we're left floundering.
And somewhere in there, we forget to take the gift wrapping catalog in. Or we can't make the PTA meeting at 8:15 a.m. Or we don't sign the field trip permission slip. And our "support system" in the school says, "oh, well. Not enough parent involvement." And our child is written off.
It doesn't have to be this way. It shouldn't be this way.
And all around the country, movements are happening. Revolutions are happening. Parents are starting to stand up and say, "wait a minute. That's my child. My child is not just a number to factor into your standardized test scores!"
And I'm standing with those parents. And I'm standing with those teachers and principals and parents and community leaders to say, "not my child."
I've been very fortunate to get to know an organization called the Los Angeles Parents Union. My "rep" - who is really more a friend at this point - just got back from Sacramento where myriads of schools and families came together in front of the Governor's office to protest the budget cuts. She's also working on the Small School Initiative, which would require high schools to cap enrollment at 400, and open hundreds of new, smaller schools throughout the district. Parents are insisting upon having a voice in their kids' schools.
And parents should also demand better support from within the schools. When a child loses interest in school, we should all be able to get together and figure out what's going on. Every child should be treated like they have the ability to be a straight A student. Every child should be encouraged to pursue their dreams. And every child should be exposed to as much of the world as possible to even find out what those dreams are.
A child should not be told they just need to learn "faster." They should be encouraged to slow it down and make sure they fully comprehend it. Our children should not be punished for being either ahead or behind the learning curve. They should be given the resources they need to either catch up, or be given higher standards to achieve.
If a parent is expected to help with the Math homework, then we should expect the teacher to send home something that explains how they taught our kids so that we don't confuse them with our "outdated" methods. (Ideally, the teacher should be available to answer questions after school hours, but I know that only happens at a few schools.)
If a parent is expected to bring something to a pot luck party, then I should expect to be notified at least a week in advance so that I can shop for it on my schedule.
Schedules should NOT be changed. And schedules should accommodate the fact that over 70% of parents work outside the home.
Boys and Girls Clubs should be available for every school. And should be big enough to accommodate every student that needs after-school care.
School lunches should be healthy and prepared at the school, not brought in frozen trucks.
As much as we get patted on the head and told that everything will be fine, we are not wrong for feeling like we know our kids. And we should be able to complain about any teacher, any administrator without fear that our child will suffer repercussions for it.
I live in an extremely turmoiled district, a district where the in-fighting is slapped on the front page of our paper. And I see a lot of finger-pointing. And now it's our time. It's time for the parents to get their say. It's time for the parents to come together, and say enough. Our schools should not be permitted to fail our children. Our schools should not be setting our children up for failure. Enough. It's time to find the solutions.
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Posted by April at 10:00 PM