Friday, September 04, 2009

School with a Purpose

(News-Herald, September 3) First week of school in Venangoland, and already I suspect many people are starting to feel their focus fade.

As the first day approaches, parents and students (and teachers, too) ramp themselves up. They buy new clothes, new school supplies, nice pair of socks, clean new eraser. Resolutions are made about how this year will be filled with achievement and growth. And for a few days, it actually is. And then the noble goals start to fade.

You plan to worry about Important Educational Goals and end up worrying about how to keep your pencil sharp and where to sit at lunch.

It’s like steering a car. Focus two feet in front of the car and you’ll weave over the road, threatening the safety of all around you and alarming those traveling with you (this is a good time to apologize to my old drivers ed teacher, Mr. Shreck). You have to stay focused way out ahead. Eyes on the goal.

Parental focus is challenging because we have so many kid-related worries, and sending them off to school means we can no longer control every aspect of their lives. It’s not that we want to be puppet masters. We just want to master the impossible art of keeping them safe.

Some parents keep trying. They want to be right there, contacting the school regularly to make sure that their child is never sad or hurt or disappointed or upset or forced to deal with difficult people.

I completely understand the impulse. Parents do not want to see their children suffer, not even a little. Our strongest instinct is to protect our offspring from any threat. And there is no question that a parent should be a child’s advocate. I can’t tell you how heartbreaking it is to sit in a conference with parents who show no faith in, nor support for, their children.

Somewhere between abandoning the child completely and driving to school to cut up his food at lunch, there’s a wide gray area to navigate. When should you step in? When should you let junior takes his lumps?

For middle and high school students, I offer two guides: a three-month old baby and a cranky boss.

For every problem, take the long view. Each problem’s solution is a lesson in solving problems. Let’s assume that our goal is to prepare our children for life as grown adults, who may have to deal with a three month old baby and/or a cranky boss. Is my child learning an approach that will be useful then?

In school, students must sometimes deal with people who are demanding, unreasonable, and completely insensitive to what those students want. Lots of parents want to leap into these situations.

But who in the world is more demanding, unreasonable and insensitive to others than a three-month old baby? When your grandchild is crying and complaining at 3 AM, which of the following responses would you like your adult child to use:

“This is completely unfair. I really want to sleep. It’s unreasonable; I’m not doing it.”

“Mom, come here. I don’t wanna take care of this baby; it’s so haaaaaarrrd. Fix it for me. ”

“Well, this is inconvenient, but sometimes in life you just have to suck it up and do what needs to be done.”

How many times do you want your adult child to change jobs in a search for a boss who treats him like Mom always used to?

Some real research says that a major predictor of success, both in school and life, is resilience, the ability to bounce back from disappointment and defeat. Unfortunately, some parents are determined that their child should never experience disappointment or defeat. So when young people should be doing heavy lifting to build emotional strength for the years ahead, some parents are making sure Junior never grabs anything heavier than a twinkie.

A major cyberschool advertises itself with the question “Is your child happy in school?” I don’t think students should be miserable, but I don’t believe that the best preparation for adult life is a childhood without tests or sadness. The absolute worst reason to cyber- or home- school is to insure your child years of never having to do anything hard, deal with any difficult people, or experience disappointment.

This is the challenge—to make sure that we don’t get so worried that child’s life is so happy now that we forget to lay a foundation for the future.


Rick said...

"It's so haaaaarrrrd!" Brilliant. I can hear that whine leap off the page.

Anonymous said...

Yawnnnnnnn. Boringgggggggg ... Its time to find someone else to write.

Dittman said...

And of the main reasons that I chose private over public school was knowing the barriers that stand in the way for parental involvement in the public school system.
When I protested one of my child's teacher's history curriculum that included viewing an R-rated Bruce Willis action adventure movie, it was refreshing to get immediate action...

Joe said...

I'm guessing that Anonymous is not a parent...

After all your years of wearing both teacher and parent hats, all you can offer is to look for some middle ground between helicoptering and hands-off? Still leaves me flying pretty blind.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous has 3 children. I dont disagree with the subject I just get tired of his musings. He thinks he's a literary genius with a pen, paper and a computer. Why not replace him for awhile. He's sadly boring. Does that answer your question??

Anonymous said...

And yet anonymous chooses to return. Hmm. Deleting the blog from your favorites list is easy enough.

I'm pretty sure that he views himself as human as the rest of us, and he's humble enough to refrain from telling us what to do. I enjoy his perspective and unique voice and will continue to follow as long as he's willing to share. Anonymous #2

Anonymous said...

Am I a he or am I a she that is the question. Are my children school age or grown? Did my children have him for a teacher or not?

He's a big ole baby and his only friends are his kids. Oh that will make me popular. LOL. I know I'm going to catch a load of crap for that comment. My kids if I have them are my friends/children, but I do have more friends that dont even look at facebook. Which means I HAVE A LIFE! Thank you very much!

Says Peter, "oh I just farted let me hurry and put it on facebook!" It's so harrrrrrd. I cant go all day at school without facebooking...

Anonymous said...

I think Anonymous #2 could be you Peter Peter. I'm sure you will be sticking up for yourself under some various ego...

Anonymous said...

I agree anonymous 2 is dear old Mr. Greene. He's been a nobody most of his life and I see things haven't changed much. He's a nerd.
Concerned parent and Anonymous #3

Anonymous said...


My child has Mr. Greene this year. I have heard some good and some bad. Sometimes the bad out weighs the good. I'll be watching you ;-D

Anonymous said...

Sorry anonymous 1/3,I can't let you give credit for my comments to PG or anyone in his family. I am--without question--a woman.

Good luck with your own gender issues, determining whether or not you are a parent (LOL), and finding a blog and facebook friends with entries that you enjoy. I'm accustomed to thought-provoking, even dissenting, comment entries after PG's columns. Life's short; read things that you like, and let the rest of us do the same.

anonymous #2

Anonymous said...

Literary genius he is not.

From my Flickr