Friday, March 6, 2015

What Liberals Complain about When They Complain about Schools

One really nice thing about working from home/cafes this year has been that I've felt more in touch with my kids' schools. It's sort of ironic, but as a teacher (which I am most years) it is really difficult to ever pick up/drop off/drop in. Your vacations are matched, which a lot of working parents would love to have, but due to working 7 A.M. to 5 or 6 (with my commute) and having an inflexible schedule (I can't really say, "See you class of thirty, it's my daughter's snack day"), I rarely was at their school.

One interesting aspect to this is talking to other parents and hearing their thoughts on education. A recurring theme I've been hearing is a worry that school will squelch their child's soul. Instead of consternation that their son/daughter isn't being challenged enough, I hear, "They need more time to play," "There's too many worksheets," "I wish it could be more creative," etc.

Here are three thoughts I have as a parent of a 5 and 7 year old and as a middle school teacher:

Who made them pedagogical experts?
My first reaction is a defensive one, especially about the "too many worksheets." First of all, how do they know? They aren't in the room. How many worksheets is too many for a 6 1/2 hour day? Secondly, who says worksheets are so bad? My first year teaching I thought I was above worksheets. We didn't do worksheets; we journaled. Later I realized that all worksheets were not created equally. For me, worksheets usually represented more thought-out questions. A worksheet is just a vehicle to allow students to practice a skill. Some are bad; some are good. I'm an educator, and I don't presume to know what a quality worksheet is for first grade. They have a class of kids ranging from preliterate to reading chapter books. Perhaps the skill at 1st grade is figuring out which worksheet to give.

I kind of agree
I can't get too riled up about this critique though, since I sort of have the same concerns. My son for a while this year despised school. An "I count the minutes until the day ends" hatred. Sending him every day was painful. Fortunately, it passed. But during that time my concerns were solely about him enjoying his time there. Reading? He's going to get there. Math? Overrated. Just make him not hate the next decade + of this life! He is also a fantastic artist and so I prefer any creative outlets the school can provide.

Are teachers aware of this
In these conversations, my teacher self is both irritated (see above) and relieved. As a teacher, I too often find myself much concerned with appeasing the squeaky wheel parent complaining about their bored little genius. It sounds wonderful to instead focus on ways to make my class more creative, light, and fun. A teacher I was planning a lesson with once said, "This seems a little dry. What can we add to make it more fun." I try to always keep this in mind. Making the work interesting, which does often mean adding creative elements, is inherently important (and difficult to do on a daily basis). In a way it's nice to hear that a lot of parents are pushing for this. Perhaps instead of being annoyed by this criticism, I should be wishing their voice could have more impact.

*I could be wrong that these are "liberal"concerns and I'm certainly over-generalizing, but I wouldn't know. I live in an area in Southeast Portland where probably 90% of the parents are democrats. So this is what the liberal parents are complaining about. I'm curious if there actually is a political difference in parental complaints.

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