Friday, September 27, 2013

Dismissing a Child's Complaint

Jessica Lahey, a fertile source of blog posts, has a column in the New York Times:

My Son calls School a Waste of Time

A parent writes in saying that her son calls school "too easy" and says it's a waste of his time.  What to do?  Here's the opening of Ms. Lahey's reply:
In my experience, two things could be going on here.
Your son could be a typical young adolescent, whining about the irritating and less than thrilling details of middle school life.
Why does anyone think it's OK to write this way about kids?  It used to be normal to speak this way about women ("oh, those little ladies, complaining about the right to vote!"), but feminists, quite rightly, put a big dent in it. We need a similar campaign for kids.  It's outrageous to propose as the first option that the child's complaints should be belittled and ignored.

Lahey goes on to give really terrible advice:
If, however, he really does yearn for more intellectual and educational challenge, congratulations. You have a motivated kid on your hands. Assuming he is completing the work he is being assigned and meeting the expectations of his teachers, you can go ahead and start talking with him about how to move toward a solution.
This is a familiar catch-22 to gifted kids and their parents; teachers won't allow a child to be considered "gifted" unless he's performing well on the work he's being given now.  The teachers are confusing "gifted" with "good student."  Many gifted kids are not good students, because, like this boy, they find schoolwork pointless and aren't interested in getting a good grade on work that they detest.  It's obnoxious to tell a child he has to perform correctly on tasks that he finds pointless before he'll have a chance to do something he might find meaningful.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Going to School Teaches You How to Go to School

Two interesting articles in the Atlantic:

My Daughter's Homework is Killing Me, in which a father attempts to do his 8th-grade daughter's homework for a week.


My Insane Homework Load Taught me How to Game the System, in which a high school student realizes that the objective of high school is not to become a good learner, but a good student. 

I liked this comment (from dantes342, on My Insane Homework Load):
I've got two high school juniors, each taking a couple of the de rigeur AP courses. The workload is insane, they're hitting the books from when they get home in the afternoon until 10-11 at night and always at least one full weekend day. It's just sadistic.
College GPA requirements are in the realm of fantasy, as is described in the piece.
It's not about a failure of students to buckle down and structure their time. It's about a broken system running on hysteria and disregard for actual learning, and it breeds gaming the system and cheating just to stay afloat.
I see a lot of this in the "good" school district of Upper Tax Bracket.  This is how our kids are overworked and undereducated.

Monday, September 23, 2013


It turns out that in our district, home-schoolers have access to the public schools' extracurricular programs. In our case, this means that Older Daughter has joined the local high school's drama club, which meets 4 afternoons a week. OD already had a friend in the club (actually, that's how we first heard about it.)

So, right off the bat, that's solved my biggest dilemma; getting OD out of the house, doing something she enjoys, with kids her age. Hooray! The depression has lifted. Now I see that we will not evolve into some horrible mother-daughter Howard Hughes phenomenon. (I have also taken on a couple of part-time jobs; one teaching math to small groups of kids, and one working on a computer program. I need to get out of the house too!)

In the meantime, Sainted Husband has been working on the academic angle; they've done some geometry, some writing, and some chemistry (not a whole lot, I'd have to admit.) SH has been reading aloud from Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" at night.

And that's where we are now. We have a teenager who isn't depressed, which is a huge improvement already. We could do more with academics, but the year has only just started.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Math for English Majors

Investigations homework from Younger Daughter's backpack:

If it's hard to read, the instructions say:
Explain why the image below is or is not an array using 4 or more lines and the following words
  • Array
  • Dimension
I don't know what the right answer is here.  Is it not an array because the items are not all the same size and shape, as YD wrote?  Or is it an array because it's arranged in a 3 x 5 grid?

Meanwhile, I'm still trying to teach YD the times tables, or "Multiplication Combinations" as Investigations calls them.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Not the Best and Brightest

From the comments to Homework Debate: Too Much, Too Little, or Busy Work? :

comment by Really?:
Actually the mom probably does know better than the teachers. Most of the people I went to college with who became teachers weren't our best and brightest. In fact of the dozens of now teachers I went to school with there's only one that I would let teach my kids.
comment by 777abc:
You can't explain this to people. They just don't get it. They think you're bashing teachers. They can't grasp there might be truth to what you're saying. I actually have my degree in education and was horrified at the lack of brightness in some classmates. In a math methods class, we had to take a basic math test to pass the class. It was really all elementary basic basic math...TWO people passed the test the first time in the entire class. I taught for a couple years and got out because I could not work with some of these people every day listening to them complain about their jobs and students. I have always said if people could spend one lunch period in the teacher's lounge, they would pull their kids from the school so quick heads would spin.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Back to School

I went to Fragrant Hills' Back to School Night last night.  I haven't been to one of these events in several years, but Younger Daughter wanted me to go, so I went.

The evening began with a talk by the principal.  In a 45 minute speech, she said not one word about academics.  She said a great deal about making the school safe and inclusive, but nothing about curriculum, teaching or learning.  I'm  worried about getting YD up to speed in reading and math, and nothing the principal said addressed any of my concerns.  And this is a principal I actually like!

Next, on to the 4th grade classroom to find YD's letter to me (standard procedure for Back to School Night around here.)  The teacher explained her homework policy -- there's homework every night, including a reading log to be signed by the parents (you know my feelings on that one).  After three missed homeworks, the child has to stay in from recess with the teacher, "and it's not fun".  Terrific -- once again, she'll be punishing the children of uninvolved parents.   On the plus side (I guess), she did say that if you didn't have time that night to just write her a note.

She remarked that 4th grade is an important step for the kids because it's when they start to get letter grades.  Ugh.

She walked us through an arithmetic trick where you do a bunch of calculations involving your phone number and wind up with -- gasp! -- your phone number.  In the midst of this she remarked that she's always telling the kids, "it's not two hundred AND fifty, it's two hundred fifty!"  Huh?

I left feeling, as usual, frustrated and out of step.  I'm not on the same page as these folks.  Heck, I'm not even in the same book, or the same country, or the same mental universe.