What adults learned in school that kids won't
By DR. KAREN LATIMER
In my Mom/kid summer book club, we are reading The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. Set in the mid 1960s, with the Vietnam War as a backdrop, it is about a 7th grade boy, Holling, and his struggles with a particular teacher. At our first meeting, the kids were shocked at how mean the teacher is and how stern his father is. On the other hand, the moms all thought the boy's sensitivity to authority was surprising – and kind of awesome. Holling's father says, "Stop," and Holling stops. His teacher asks him to do chores, and he doesn't complain to his mother. My how things have changed.
When I visit my children's schools, I am actually jealous of the environment in which they are given to learn. A far cry from my experience of sitting (up straight) at a desk for hours and copying what was written on the chalkboard, they are moving and interacting with their classmates. They are taught to color outside the lines and question the teacher. Teachers see each child as an individual learner, with unique abilities, and they look for creative ways to nurture and encourage every student.
It is all very impressive, and I know it is working to my kids' benefit. However, with kids spending a good part of the day in this permissive environment, I worry there are certain skills they won't have a chance to develop.
Some people of my generation are concerned kids aren't learning how to write cursive or how to use the Dewey Decimal System. As someone who has illegible handwriting and a Kindle, I am O.K. with these educational "gaps."
I am much more concerned with some life skills they may not develop.
How to stand up for themselves – If I came home from school and told my mother I was having trouble with another student, she would either laugh it off, or offer some advice on how I should handle it. Today, the same conversation usually ends with the mom calling the school or the parent of the other child, and handling it from the top down. By enabling kids to avoid confrontation at a young age, we curb their ability to learn self-defense techniques.
How to respect authority – A couple of decades ago, when a child got in trouble in school or on the field, it was the child's fault. Now, parents immediately look to blame the teacher or the coach, and they do so within earshot of their child. While parents may actually believe their child can do no wrong, I am certain the bosses of these children in the future will feel differently. Respect for authority is not an infringement on personal rights, but rather a necessary skill to function as part of any community.
How to manage time – My kids are given so much time for tasks. There are sloppy copies, editing, re-writing and then re-re-writing. If they want a do-over, they usually get it, and if they need extra time on a test, teachers are inclined to grant it. In real life, there are deadlines and timeframes. While I appreciate the low-pressure assignments, will they know how to work within time constraints when they need to?
How to enjoy a book – I mean a real book, with pages you actually turn. Textbooks seem to be on the verge of extinction. When my kids ask for homework help, we have to do internet searches to find the answers. I miss tables of content and glossaries. I may be old-fashioned, but I think there is nothing as comforting as holding information or a good story in your hands.
How to communicate – I asked my 13 year old to call a friend and ask her a question. She immediately started texting. When I insisted she call, the conversation that ensued sounded awkward and stunted. Is the avoidance of one on one conversation bad for social development? At the very least, I cannot imagine it is helpful.
How to handle failure – Failure hurts, but there is nothing like it for learning and gaining experience. When we not only expect our children to be perfect, but we convince them -- and ourselves -- they are, we rob them of invaluable life lessons. We need to fail in order to grow, and we need to fail to know how to pick ourselves back up. We are doing our kids no favors when we teach them they are infallible. We are not building self-esteem. We are destroying it.
How to figure out what they are good at – I am a terrible singer. I have to live with that – and it is not easy! Despite my childhood dreams of being the next Debbie Gibson, no one told me I had musical talent. This saved me lots of time practicing in front of the mirror, giving me more time to focus on things I was good at. Today, teachers are hesitant to point out any inherent weaknesses, and parents want to believe their child is capable of excelling at everything. It is a set up for a confused and lost young adult.
Despite all of the above, the kids will probably be fine. They won't know how to hold a pen, won't be able to use a phone or turn a page, they will be late for everything, and they won't be able to spell, but they will be fine. I am sure my parent's generation thought we were going to be all screwed up too, and look how great we turned out.
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