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You, Your Child, and School : Navigate Your Way to the Best Education
Chapter One Get Your Bearings If you''re a parent of school-age children this book is for you. My aim is to help you get them the education they need to live productive, fulfilled lives. I''ve worked in education all my professional life. Along the way I''ve had countless conversations with parents about school. I''m a parent too and know firsthand that being a parent is a challenge as well as a pleasure. It gets more complicated when your children start school. Until then, you''ve been mainly responsible for their development and well-being. Now you entrust a major chunk of their waking hours to others, giving them enormous influence over your children''s lives during their most formative years.
Seeing them go to school on that first day brings a suite of emotions. You hope they''ll be excited about learning, make good friends, and be happy and inspired at school. At the same time, you probably feel a good deal of trepidation. School brings a whole new set of relationships. How will your children respond to their teachers? Will the school see what''s special about them? What about the other parents and children? Will your child rise above the new social hurdles or trip over them? As your child heads into school for that first day, it''s no wonder you feel a catch in your throat. You think things will never be the same. You''re right. Emma Robinson (no relation) is a teacher in England.
She''s also a parent and knows how it feels to leave your child at school on that very first day. She wrote a poem called "Dear Teacher," which has since been shared by thousands of other parents. Here''s an extract: I know you''re rather busy First day back, there''s just no time A whole new class of little ones And this one here is mine. I''m sure you have things covered And have done this lots before But my boy is very little He hasn''t long turned four. In his uniform this morning He looked so tall and steady But now beside your great big school I''m not quite sure he''s ready. It seems like just a blink ago I first held him in my arms It''s been my job to love, to teach To keep him safe from harm. I know as I give him one more kiss And watch him walk away, That he''ll never again be wholly mine As he was before today. Parents have always worried about handing their children over, but these days they have even more on their minds about school.
Many are exasperated about what''s happening in education. They worry that there''s far too much testing and stress at school. They feel that the curriculum has become too narrow because of cuts in important programs in the arts, sports, and outdoor activities. They''re concerned that their children are not treated as individuals and that schools are failing to cultivate their curiosity, creativity, and personal talents. They''re anxious about how many young people are being diagnosed with learning problems and being medicated to keep them focused. They worry about potential bullying and harassment. If they have children in high school, they worry about the rising costs of college and whether their children will be able to find a job whether they go to college or not. More than that, they often feel powerless as parents to do anything about it.
Anger and Anxiety Recently, I asked people on Twitter and Facebook about their biggest concerns in educating their children. In less than an hour, hundreds of people from all over the world had posted responses. Bec, a young mother in the United States, spoke for many when she said that children''s "strengths are not valued and their weaknesses are magnified. Their grades are more important than their sense of self." Kimmie, another mom, asked, "Will my children discover their true potential and be guided to a career that they love and are passionate about." Conchita wrote, "I have all sorts of worries about my two daughters. I feel the current system will not let them shine and my ten-year-old may not get what she needs to overcome her learning difficulties and anxiety." Jon is worried that children "are gradually being taught to not enjoy learning: that it''s somehow an arduous rite of passage we''re all forced to go through with no solid reasoning.
It''s a constant battle to keep that spark of curiosity and delight about learning alive when the system packages it and sets narratives about education the way it does." Karin said, "Education is broken. There''s too much pressure, too many tests, too many demands, too much assembly line. How can we reboot? How can we prepare our kids for a radically different life from the one the current system prepares them for?" Carol was concerned that the "one-size-fits-all approach, orchestrated by individuals that have no business dictating educational policy, is producing students who have no ability to think for themselves and an absolute fear of failure." Another mother''s top concern was whether schools "are teaching kids to be creative problem solvers. Testing doesn''t teach kids to be versatile thinkers." Tracey points to a deep worry for many parents: "I''m most concerned with the fact that policy makers seem to have little regard for parent voices. The culture around parent voices is dismissive at best and those who make decisions about kids haven''t a clue what actually goes on in classrooms.
" These are all legitimate anxieties and if you share them, you''re right to be worried. Education is sometimes thought of as a preparation for what happens when your child leaves school-getting a good job or going on to higher education. There''s a sense in which that''s true, but childhood is not a rehearsal. Your children are living their lives now with their own feelings, thoughts, and relationships. Education has to engage with them in the here and now, just as you do as a parent. Who your children become and what they go on to do in the future has everything to do with the experiences they have in the present. If your children have a narrow education, they may not discover the talents and interests that could enrich their lives in the present and inspire their futures beyond school. How Can This Book Help? So how can this book help you? I hope it will be useful in three ways.
The first is by looking at the sort of education your children need these days and how it relates to your roles as a parent. Parents often think their children need the same sort of education they had themselves. It depends on what sort of education they did have, but in general that''s probably not true. The world is changing so quickly now that education has to change too. The second is by looking at the challenges you face in helping them get that education. Some of those challenges have to do with public policies for education and some more generally with the times we live in. The third is by looking at your options and power as a parent to overcome these challenges. Let me enter some caveats right away.
To begin with, this is not a manual on how to be a good parent. I wouldn''t have the nerve. I''m sure this comes as a relief, because seemingly everyone else does. From Dr. Spock to the Tiger Moms, you already face a fire hose of advice on how to raise your children. Apart from the unsought advice of friends, relatives, and probably your children too about how to be a better parent, there are more than four million mom blogs on the Internet, and the online bookstores list more than one hundred fifty thousand books in their parenting categories. I don''t want to add to the clamor. My wife and I have two grown children and many relatives and friends with children of their own.
We''ve been through many of the challenges we discuss in this book. So has my writing partner, Lou Aronica, who has a large family of his own. We know that the pressures on parents never ease up. You''re going to be worrying about your children and trying to help them navigate through their lives forever. Parenting is a lifetime assignment. It can be hard work at times, and the hours are dreadful. Consider this book to be a respite from some of that pressure. We''re not living in some lofty alternate reality where everyone is having a better time than you.
I do want to suggest some principles of parenting that are relevant to education and are widely supported by research and experience. In doing that, let me assure you that I''m here on the ground with you, and the advice I''m offering comes from the perspective of those who have missed the mark on more than one occasion. This is not a good-schools guide either. I''m often asked about specific schools or systems and whether I''d recommend them. All schools are different. There are great and poor public schools, and great and poor charter, private, and alternative schools too. My answer is always to go and see the place for yourself and get a sense of whether it would work for you and your child. To do that, you do need some sense of what counts as a good school, and that''s what we will be looking at.
I''m not suggesting a one-size-fits-all solution. On the contrary, no two children are the same and yours are no different, as it were. Your parenting choices and priorities are naturally affected by your own background and circumstances. If you''re a single parent living in a poor neighborhood, your choices are different from someone with paid help living in a wealthy suburb. You may be in a position to choose the school you want for your child. Most parents are not. So you just have to play the hand you are dealt, right? Actually, n.
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