Tuesday, October 26, 2010

e-mail to a math teacher

Mr. Q -- DD mostly enjoys your class; she says it's the best math class she's had.  The homework so far has been reasonable, so on the whole we feel that the class is going well.

However, I was not pleased when DD came home recently and told me she had a "strike" against her because she had forgotten to ask me to sign her quiz, for two reasons:

1.)  When you use baseball metaphors in class, you send a subconscious message that math is for boys.  DD's a girl; she doesn't have any experience of baseball.  In fact, I asked her about it today, and she wasn't sure what a "strike" in baseball even means.

Suppose I was teaching a math class, and you were my student, and I was constantly using metaphors related to knitting.  ("Hey!  You dropped a stitch!")  You'd feel that the class wasn't really meant for you, right?

2.)  More importantly, I don't like to see DD scolded for completely trivial errors.  I want school to be a positive experience for her.  All she did was forget to ask me to sign her quiz.  How does that warrant anything more than a simple reminder?  The "strike" system is negative, punitive, and unnecessary.  Why do it at all?

Thank you for your consideration.  -- FedUpMom.


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  2. Aaaand here's the response from the teacher:

    I apologize I wasn't able to answer all of your questions regarding my three strike policy as it was explained on Curriculum Night. It wasn't clear from your email whether the issue lies with the metaphor or with holding students responsible for completing assignments. I would be happy to discuss this in further detail over the phone. You can reach me at school at XXX-XXX-XXXX. I look forward to hearing from you.

    and my reply:

    Mr. Q -- my objection is to both things; the metaphor, and the unnecessary punitive approach.

    As you know, there's an ongoing problem that math is identified as a boy's subject. When you use sports metaphors, you keep the stereotype going.

    However, my main concern is that I want DD to enjoy school. If school is a place where she gets scolded for completely trivial mistakes like forgetting to get my signature, she won't enjoy it. The "strike" doesn't make her more responsible; it just makes her more alienated, more cynical, and less trusting of you. She told me, "I got a strike today because I forgot to get your signature, but I decided it's okay because it's really meaningless." I said, "you're right, it's meaningless, don't worry about it". I would rather have her cynical than depressed, but why should those be my choices?

    I would add, how does my signature even count as part of her assignment? Why should she be punished for something I did or didn't do? What if I didn't sign because I don't believe in signing quizzes? In fact, I think that's the new policy I want to put in place. I resent being told to sign things. It's a sign that you don't trust DD to talk to me, and you're checking on both of us.

    What's a good time for me to call you? -- FedUpMom.

  3. From PsychMom:

    You are hot this week, FedUpMom! It gets ridiculous, doesn't it? I like your knitting analogy. Time outs, strikes, low-balling something, taking the ball and running with it....it's all male language. I had not considered that angle...but it's true. Thanks for waking me up to something that I've taken for granted.

  4. Hi PsychMom! Oy vey, I think I confused the poor dear with the sports issue, although I do think it's a completely valid point.

    I let everything go for a while, but I reach a certain level of frustration and everything blows.

    And I haven't even addressed the clueless science teacher who's "surprised" that I think outlining a science paper is tedious!

    To my readers: is there anyone here who actually uses outlines in their adult life?

  5. PsychMom wonders....

    Outlines? The only outline I've seen in the last 50 years is a "Course Outline" at the post secondary level, where the highlights of a course are specified.
    Who the h-e-double hockey sticks has the time for outlines?

  6. This post was timely for our family -- thank you for sharing your correspondence.

    The email above helped me clarify my objections when my fourth grader came home yesterday with a "homework responsibility" slip for me to sign. The slip came home because she had forgotten to have a social studies packet signed by me.

    I'm told the teacher suggested she write on the slip that the reason she did not turn in the "assignment" was because she "was not responsible and would try not to let it happen again."

    I said she needed to write exactly what happened, which in this case was that she simply forgot. And I sent an email, very similar to the one above.

    Looking forward to conferences in the hope that I can be very clear on this.

  7. Peggy, great to hear from you!

    I'd cross out their ridiculous statement and write in something like "[Daughter's name] forgot to get the social studies packet signed because, like all human beings, she occasionally forgets trivial details that have no meaning or importance."

    ARGH! Where will it end?

  8. The reply was disappointing, to say the least. I am told my daughter had a week, and that this is all done in the name of responsibility, accountability and home-school communication.

    "This procedure is so parents are aware of what is going on in class, to help create a dialogue about what they are learning and it is to help prepare them for fifth grade. I will continue to send home assessments with the parent signature stamp. I know that you are aware of the expectations at this level; I believe you have had other children pass through the fourth grade."

    I think she's given my already motivated and responsible daughter enough "help."

    For crying out loud, this 9-year-old forgot one minor thing! And the teacher should realize I have seen, in my older children (of whom she appears to be aware) what this kind of "help" can do to a young child.

    Really wish I knew how to stop this.

  9. Peggy, I would definitely take this one up with the principal.

    Everything about that response is ridiculous. If the purpose is to communicate with the parents, can't they do that without penalizing the child?

    "It will help prepare them for fifth grade." This is one of my all-time least favorite excuses. Fourth grade should be about fourth grade, not fifth.

    And I really hate this idea that the purpose of school is to teach kids how to go to school. Just teach the basic subjects! That's hard enough.

  10. Hi, Peggy. I would urge you to refuse to sign the homework, and to write a letter to the teacher telling her that. See if they will really punish your child for something over which she has no control. I wrote a post on this earlier, and intend to spell out all the reasons why I oppose the signing requirement in a future post. But one of them is that it is plainly unjust to punish someone for the act of someone else. If they want to require her to ask for your signature, fine. But punishing her for failing to get your signature is another matter.

    Such a practice is even arguably unconstitutional, assuming your school is public (and that you live in the U.S.). Yes, even kids in school have constitutional rights. The government cannot punish adults in ways that are purely arbitrary, and there is no reason the same principle would not apply to kids in government-run schools. (What school would even want to teach the opposite lesson?)

    And the public schools do not have any authority to require parents to participate in their homework schemes. It sounds like this teacher has his own lesson to learn about what the limits of his authority are.

    You are in the right. Good luck.

  11. Chris says:

    See if they will really punish your child for something over which she has no control.

    Chris, unfortunately, the answer is yes, they're perfectly content to punish the child for something over which she has no control. It happens all the time. The school won't necessarily perceive this to be a problem.

  12. PsychMom says:

    The main thing is for the child to feel that someone is on her/his side...not torn between two camps. Someone has to go to bat for the child...oh geez, I just used another ruddy baseball analogy. Someone has to stand up for the child and protect the child from the system.

  13. You may be right, FedUpMom. But I still say, make them do it. Test them.

    If it were me, I'd seriously consider threatening a lawsuit. Kids do have rights. Is the school board really going to spend money defending that practice in court? I know, not everyone would go that far. But that's exactly what they're counting on.

  14. Young Curriculum answers ...

    Is the school board really going to spend money defending that practice in court? Probably.

    Unless they don't like the teacher and want to throw him under the bus. In which case the teachers union will proably spend money defending the practice. *sigh*

    Lower Merion School District spent $743,000 on legal fees, through the end of July, 2010, in part to not be held accountable for taking pictures of school children without authorization, via school supplied laptop webcams. http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20100813_Lower_Merion_School_District_questions_motives_and_fees_in_opposing_motion.html

    That was before settleing for another $610,000 this month.

    OTOH, they have supposedly changed their policy.

  15. It's a good thing someone in that case sued!

    I know that not everyone would sue over an issue like this one. And you certainly can't sue just because you disagree with a policy decision. But there are constraints on what public employees can do to kids in school. If people don't assert their legal rights, they might as well not have any.

    Some of you know that I'm trained as a lawyer, so I feel obliged to add: This is not legal advice. Needless to say, it is unwise to sue anyone without consulting an attorney. But that doesn't mean that ordinary citizens can't raise legal issues when they're in a dispute with a public employee, or that they can't make it known that they're willing to pursue their legal rights in court. School administrators wouldn't hesitate to do the same, even when they don't know what they're talking about (as in your example). Don't let them intimidate you -- dish it right back!

  16. Maybe you don't have to sue, but remember that Calgary couple--both lawyers--who managed to hammer out a no-homework contract with their children's school? Perhaps that's the answer. Here's the link to the story: http://www.edmontonsun.com/news/alberta/2009/11/19/11805441-sun.html. And here's another link to the actual contract with the school: http://media.stophomework.com/Milleyoptout.pdf (Sorry, I still don't know how to insert proper links in a comment.)