Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A. A. Gill on School

from Schools Are Ruining Our Kids, by A. A. Gill:
In the 100 years since we really got serious about education as a universally good idea, we’ve managed to take the 15 years of children’s lives that should be the most carefree, inquisitive, and memorable and fill them with a motley collection of stress and a neurotic fear of failure.

... Childhood is a war of attrition, like some grisly TV game show where the weak and the kind and the quixotic and the dreamers and the gentle get dumped at the end of each year. Only the gimlet-eyed and the obsessively competitive and the driven make it to the finish line.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Pointless Labor

The Nazis used to harass their prisoners of war by forcing them to move a large pile of rocks from one side of the exercise yard to the other, and then back again.  They understood how demoralizing it is to spend your days in pointless labor.

I am reminded of this watching my Older Daughter go through freshman year of high school.  So much of what she's asked to do is demonstrably pointless. 

In English, they read a book and then "analyze it to death", as she says.  They have to write essays about the books, but the process is drawn out step by step, every step analyzed and critiqued, either by the teacher or by other students.  The formula is so confining and unnatural that it's just about impossible to learn how to convey your thoughts on paper.  They aren't her thoughts any more after they've been extensively critiqued, and she can't convey them clearly and fulfill the teacher's formula at the same time.

In History, which is allegedly World History this year, they're doing some bizarre role-play of conflict resolution.  It's been going on for weeks.   OD is supposed to be writing up her notes on the process, but she's highly resistant.

And her teachers wonder why she's depressed!  The only way to get through this without depression is not to care whether your efforts have any larger purpose, or to accept that their sole purpose is to produce a transcript that might get you in to an exclusive college.

We're dragging OD through freshman year "like a thorn through a fleece", as the Yiddish saying goes.   Enough already. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Another Dispiriting Meeting

Today I had a little conference at Friends Omphalos with the Co-Head of the Upper School and the Dean of Students.  Let's call them Ms. Co-Head and Mr. Dean.

The take-away message is that they would like Older Daughter to be happy, but they're not willing to actually change anything.  They can't even imagine what might be changed or how anyone could go about changing it. 

I kept coming back to what I feel is the central problem, even more basic than the homework load:  OD isn't engaged in the classes she's taking.  This problem is especially acute in English and History, which ought to be interesting for a bright, verbal kid.  Not to put words in their mouths, but the look on Ms. Co-Head and Mr. Dean's faces seemed to say:  "You mean somebody might be interested in English or History?"

One very revealing moment was when Ms. Co-Head remarked that her own daughter attends Friends Omphalos and likes it, but "it's not about the classes for her."  So, the kid who does well is the one who enjoys the social scene and maybe some of the extras like sports or orchestra, and is willing to do what's necessary to get through the classes.  You call this education?

Sigh.  One step closer to home-schooling, I'd say.