Thursday, April 06, 2006

Leave me alone, school! I graduated already!

My son's school drives me crazy. There's this whole movement now to force parents to do all kinds of work under the guise of "being involved," a kind of blackmail I don't appreciate and a pedagogy with which I'm not sure I agree. Is there really that much to be gained from assigning grade schoolers projects that they can't complete on their own? Where's the autonomy, the personal ownership, the leaving me the hell alone for two seconds so I can watch bad television?

I won't even go into the myriad and complex ways in which schools now beg for money. Well, maybe I will: When my son brings home his weekly folder, it is FILLED with more and more exhortations to put myself out to provide the school with a few pennies. We do the Box Tops. I clip the fucking Box Tops and send them in, OK? It's not the very first thing on my list every damn day, but I'm doing it! I feel like Basil Fawlty seething at Sybil, "I'm doing it, DEAR," with these people, with their constant reminders and requests and "Tuesday is [insert name of local restaurant] night! Eat there and say you're from our school and they'll give us three cents!" Every day of the week is sponsored by someone. Leave me alone, school! Quit trying to orchestrate everything from my breakfast cereal choices to where I take my photocopying business!

I'm a teacher myself, so I could never be unsympathetic to teachers. I get how frustrating it is to communicate with non-communicative parents. But things have gotten out of hand. My son, as a third grader, is supposed to read for twenty minutes each weeknight. Great--we're a readerly household, for obvious reasons. Why, though, do I have to sign off on each day's reading three different times? There's a form that lists his homework for each day--including "read for 20 minutes"--and I have to initial it. THEN there's a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT calendar-looking sheet on which I'm supposed to write "20 minutes" every day and sign off on THAT. THEN there's this other section that has the calendar separated by weeks and I'm supposed to add all the "20"s together and sign off on his having read 100 minutes each week. The hell? Isn't there some kind of "excessive paperwork" law for employees? How about for ME? It takes me longer to sign all of this crap than for him to do the homework. It's ridiculous.

Which brings me to this whole home project craze. I recall having to concoct science projects or history projects here and there, but the volume of such things now--and at much younger ages than what I remember doing--makes me wonder what the bloody hell they do when they're AT SCHOOL. I'm not even going into the most recent ordeal because the trauma is too fresh, but I will say that at least it was for his gifted class so the intensity of it makes some sense. What really annoys me is the barrage of bullshit such as what we're facing now. The third grade is reenacting the land run of 1889. Each student must have:

• $3.00 cash (naturally)
• a wooden stake with students' names (they form "families" of 3-4)
• disposable pie pan
• western wear (to be worn to and from school)
• a covered wagon (one per "family") or a stick horse
• an old blanket or beach towel to sit on during lunch

You know what? This activity sounds fun. You know what else? If they want to provide this awesome fun they should put together goddamn covered wagons AT SCHOOL. The instructions mock me, advising, "Covered wagons and stick horses are to be constructed at home with adult supervision. Students may wish to gather together after school or on the weekend to do this." REALLY? You mean, since they have to do it but cannot do it at school they'll need to do it during the other times of the week? Thanks. Also, screw you.

And what's with the "to be worn to and from school" thing? I guess that means they won't be allowed to go in the bathroom and change into something costumey? So they want me to buy a real western outfit? My son's wardrobe has two levels: sports, which includes uniforms and shorts and tees with Nike basketball shoes or cleats, and Old Navy, which includes just what you imagine with either Vans (complete with funky argyle shoelaces) or flip flops. There is no way I'm going to purchase cowboy boots for one day of pretend. The child is getting a button down shirt and a bandana around his neck, and if they think he needs something more authentic they're free to put my three dollars to whatever use they deem fit.

I remember we used to decorate floats for the homecoming parades, and we always worked for hours and hours, twisting those little squares of tissue around a pencil eraser, as a class--at school. I don't understand why that's not appropriate anymore. Or why something like this has to be so complicated in the first place. Whatever.


At 8:06 AM, Blogger Tense Teacher said...

Oh, I am so with you on this...My 5-year-old daughter already has homework 2 nights a week, and since she's 5 and can't read yet, either I or my husband have to do it with her. Which means, we're doing homework, too! I almost always bring my own work (grading papers, making tests, re-reading a novel), so I REALLY don't need or want anything more to do!
Oh, and the constant begging for money thing...That just makes me see red. We're a small private school, so the begging is constant. My daughter's school pays me, so if I give money to all these causes, isn't that the same thing as my giving back my paycheck?
Sorry 'bout the long comment; this just struck a chord.

At 10:51 AM, Blogger Shell said...

Don't apologize--it's a great comment. And, yes, you are giving back your paycheck, and it's maddening.

My school asks for my paycheck back in the form of: official fund for sending flowers to colleagues who have illnesses or family deaths, etc. (if they're a friend of mine--I'll send my own, thanks); forced participation in birthday parties (we each take a turn buying party foods for someone's birthday, and it's NOT voluntary); a faculty endowment into which we're encouraged to donate at least $200 (not happening); $40 a year for the coffee/water cooler fund, and I am not kidding. . . It's always something. Ain't education grand? :)

At 10:52 AM, Blogger Shell said...

Oh--we have to pay $3.75 for holiday lunches, too.


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