Friday, April 4, 2014

Opting Out.

I read a great line recently about how parenting is about balancing the days versus the years. As in, choosing to have the fight over the broccoli at dinner because you know that in the long run you want to teach your child healthy eating habits. As parents we are constantly tipping the balance one way or the other. Towards having more peaceful, less stressful days (ohmygosh, yes, just have bread and butter for dinner, again!)... or towards teaching life lessons and staying true to your long term goals (yes, we are going to church EVERY Sunday.) I know that lately I've been leaning more towards the years, which is leading to a bit more stressful and hectic days.  Dinner time battle grounds. Homework.

Let's talk about Homework.

D, in his first "school" at the care center in Ethiopia.

We all know it's pretty useless, right? I mean, I'm a teacher and I think it's pretty much useless. But I give it anyway, because that is what (most) parents expect. ...And something about teaching life long study habits... Except that I'm pretty sure that what homework is teaching, at least in my house, is that learning is hard and boring and tedious, and reading is a chore. Which is NOT, just to be clear, what I want to teach my children.

The odd thing is, both our children are extremely curious and love to learn. Just judging by our car rides home, other wise known as THE TIME OF THE QUESTIONS. Some days I have to bite my tongue to keep from shouting at them "Please! Please! Mommy has just spent all day answering little kid questions and right now she just wants to drive and contemplate what she is making for dinner so for the love of all that is holy, please stop talking to me!"

But I don't, because I know some day (all too soon), they will not want to talk to me and there will be sullen silences in the car so I treasure their incessant, un-answerable questions:

Mom, why is that lady being dangerous crossing the street like that?

Mom, what's that?! That! Over there! Behind you! The green thing! Oh, you missed it.

Mom, what does horcak spell? How 'bout rtzqa?

Mom, what does that sign say? That one. No, THAT one. 

Mom, why are all white people rich? (I almost crashed the car on that one.)

Mom, how come Julia gets to watch The Walking Dead? (!)

Andrew and I were both nerds in school; both of us love to read. And now we are parenting two children who are athletic and charming and social butterflies.  Basically, the opposite of us. One of whom is struggling in school in a way that neither of us ever did. Andrew is an advocate of getting a tutor and making flash cards and buckling down. And I... I'm not so sure I really care about it. I'm thinking of opting out.

As those of you who live in New York know, we just finished the first week of TESTING. For the past three days every 9 to 14 year old in the state spent three days answering reading questions.  Or, almost every kid.

Because a bunch of parents (and teachers) are crying: enough! And opting their kids out of testing. Some schools had just a handful of non-testers. Others had whole grades of kids who sat it out.

Next year Daniel will be in 3rd grade, and I'm already thinking... No. Nope. No, thank you. We know how he's doing: he's struggling. He's falling behind. The curriculum keeps getting harder and he keeps not being able to keep up.* His reaction to seeing long reading passages or even longer math problems is to moan. He hates homework, he doesn't get math, and he already knows that other kids have it easier than he does. He calls himself stupid.* We really don't need a test score to confirm all this.

I think, as a culture, we're getting really out of balance. Yes, in the short run it certainly is better to have everybody reading and doing math on grade level. But, in the long run... are we just creating a generation of kids who are really good at passing tests and not much else? Will these children become responsible, healthy, helpful citizens? Will they create the next wave of art and music and dance and poetry and science... or will they only value what can be measured by multiple choice tests? I'm pretty sure we've got some tough times ahead, at least judging by the weather and by the wars... but I'm not so sure that we need people who are only good at reading comprehension and solving math equations. I'm pretty sure we are going to need good plumbers, and excellent, creative, inventive, kind, thoughtful and responsible leaders. We're going to need rabbis, priests, builders, and artists.  We're going to need people who ask questions.

Not just answer them.

I do want Daniel to learn math. I do. I'm just not willing to sacrifice our days to it. Because in the balance of the years, isn't it better than he learn... everything else?

* This is a kid who started Kindergarten 6 weeks after being internationally adopted.  For whom English is the 3rd language he has had to learn.  Whose whole world was turned upside down just weeks before being asked to learn to read. Whose "pre-school" experiences included kicking a homemade ball around under banana trees. When he calls himself stupid I want to rage at the world.


  1. As a former teacher, I support your testing opt-out. I also suggest you look at the role of language in math. Under the common core, you need to understand a lot more academic language to do it. Sometimes I don't understand how to do it. Perhaps looking at a private school that does not do Common Core would help. Also consider teaching him Singapore Math that relies more on visual. Good luck! I wish the best for you and your son.

  2. just yes! i am from another country and we have the same issue with so much testing that i reckon learning has taken second place, ugh! and as for homework, we just dont do it if it causes angst & anxieties & more trauma, we are parents not teachers, our family & relationship comes first, and our kids will learn at their own pace. having said that we read and talk and argue and make fun experiments and cook and . . our kids are ok, in fact they are better than ok :)


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