homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Learning vs. Gaming the System

In addition to my lovely offspring whom I home-educate, I also have two stepsons. One is grown-and-gone, and the younger is currently a senior at the local public high school. This kid is scary-smart and has a strong work ethic. Last year he balanced a full load of academic classes (many AP, and two math courses), a job, a girlfriend, and a band (not just jammin'-in-a-basement, but legit public gigs), and excelled at everything. I hold him in pretty high regard, and trust that he is someone who carefully considers his education.

When the current term began, he came home flustered by Calculus. Unsurprising. Calculus is hard stuff. Not beyond his ability, but enough to be at least a bit of a struggle. He wanted to drop the class.

His father--my husband--counseled him to stick it out. There were good reasons for this. I could possibly argue with the "don't be a quitter" angle (it took me a long time to let go of the perfectionist inner voice that advised me to ignore my limits to the point of over-committing and struggling) but his other arguments were sound. The kid is intellectually capable of the work. Help is certainly available (hubby was a math major before switching to Computer Science; his father was a math teacher and his sister still is a math teacher). And the skills will benefit him, both in the esoteric sense and the practical.

The kid's counterargument hit home, though, and made me both sad and discouraged. Since the class would be a struggle, he is concerned about a bad grade dropping his GPA, and fearful that a lower number will hurt his chances at college admission.

And he has a point. Despite the *knowledge* and *skills* that could help him with his education, the truth is that he may have a better chance getting his foot in the collegiate door with a lack of that experience than with it.

These are the choices that students make every day. Instead of pursuing what will enlighten them, or inspire them, or make them more skilled, they often weigh the options and choose instead based on what will look best on a transcript or a resume. What's better: straight A's easily handed out in low-demand classes, or hard-earned straight B's in challenging courses? If you're only looking at the bottom line, you're missing a big part of the picture.

And if you're looking at your education based on the bottom line, it's a sad commentary on what our educational system is.

I'm not naive enough to think that there's a workable solution for quick-referencing a student's potential, knowledge, or motivation. I get that there needs to be a standard shorthand, and quantitative assessments, while flawed, seem to be a reasonable way to meet this need. But we lose so much when we do it that way. I can speak from experience about knowing how to test very well without ever having a firm (or at all lasting) grasp of the content. Students who plan to get from point A to point B in their academic journey learn how to take shortcuts, use loopholes, and play to the system's expectations. They learn how to carefully manage things to look good on the final report card, regardless of what sacrifices they make along the way.

The upshot is that my stepson ultimately decided to keep the class on his schedule. I think it was a good decision. But given the overall picture, I'm relatively certain that I could have supported the opposite decision. I think it comes down to a question of goals vs. risks. Maybe he will make it through the class with high marks and the gamble will pay off. He'll have the knowledge AND the grades. I wish that we didn't have a system where sometimes kids have to choose between the two. Because either option comes with a loss.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I'm not dead!

Dear hypothetical reader (mostly just my future-self and possibly my mom):

I've been absent for blogging for Reasons. Some of them are circumstantial (just too damn busy/distracted) and some of them are guilt-emotional (Does blogging make one a narcissist? An exhibitionist?) and some of them are reflective (How can one truly embrace living in the moment if constantly mentally drafting witty recaps of events?) and some of them are just plain *meh*. (Apathy. Ennui. Boredom. Laziness!)

So, there's all of that.

But I need it again. Because above and beyond anything else that blogging might accomplish (entertainment? popularity? attention?), I truly did start this for *me*. (And, as a dear friend once suggested, for *them* to someday read through.) To track our journey. To articulate my thoughts so I can process whatever-it-is that's busying my brain that day. And of COURSE, like the blog title reminds me, to celebrate the little moments.

So, okay. I am going through a paradigm-shift period and I might as well use this tool to deal. I think best by getting my ideas verbalized so I can "see" what's going on. 

*cracks knuckles*

*clears throat*

Here we go (again)...

Monday, March 17, 2014

In Which I Have Issues, Apparently

Hey! Happy St. Patrick's Day! I didn't wear green today, because *reasons*. Part of it is that my heritage is of the more Protestant persuasion, and I've been told that my grandfather would have insisted on orange. (I didn't wear orange, either. No need to be political about things.) Part of it is because I just don't care. (*shrug*) But as usual, I got to thinking about past years--especially far in the past, and well, here's the dump of my issues.

When I was in grade school, we were expected to wear green for St. Patrick's Day. Fun? Sure. It's a silly and visible stunt, to have that much of the same color in a large group. (If I were feeling even more cynical, I'd say that it smacks of superficial patriotism and group identity, but I don't have the energy or interest for that chip on my shoulder tonight. You're welcome.) If it had been treated as a true "spirit day" should, people would be encouraged to participate, but not required. Or pressured. Or ridiculed or shamed for abstaining. 

But that's what we got. I remember one child in my class who didn't wear green. No good-natured (ahem, *acceptable bullying*) "pinch" for not conforming to the crowd, oh no. The teachers--no lie--made the kid a sandwich board to wear that said something about him being a dunce (or maybe a Grinch? He was green...). He could take it off when seated at his desk, but walking to the library and going to the multi-class cafeteria? He had to wear the sign. He was a pariah. He was visible. He was singled out for not conforming to the uniformity of the crowd that day.

Just digging up that memory infuriates me now, because when many adults look back on the cruel and hurtful hard-knock social lessons that were beaten into us (metaphorically or literally), we usually think of peer socialization. But not all of the messages to conform, to go along with the crowd, to obey blindly lest you get *noticed*, are coming from equally immature young humans blindly fumbling their way toward figuring out how to act in a society. Some of it comes from the authority figures. And whether it's an overt bullying action like publicly humiliating a child and laughing it off as "all good fun", or a more subtle "go along with the crowd" nudge, messages get sent, and not all of them are healthy either for the individual or, frankly, for the group.

It's easy to roll your eyes at the cynicism; to deny that school is an institution for destroying individuality and diversity, and I am not here to make any global assumptions either way. I just wanted to say: it's not "spirit" if it's not voluntary and motivated by an actual desire to do the thing. It's pressure. And it works, but then--what's the meaning in it?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christmas Spirit

One of the many things to which I devote entirely too much time overanalyzing is Santa Claus. I'm torn on the whole thing. I hate the deception, but treasure the magic. I love dialing up the ReindeerCam and squealing when the BigMan turns up to put on a show, but I hate the inherent threat (Santa doesn't watch my kids sleep or weigh their merit based on a behavior evaluation before determining whether they deserve the earned reward of love). I'm conflicted, and more than a decade into this parenting gig, I still haven't really developed a policy with which I'm completely comfortable.

But we do Santa, in some custom form. And part of my Santa policy with them is that Santa gets them items from their wish list that I have either said no to, or seem unlikely to buy. That's what makes Santa awesome. He overrides disappointment and lets them dream beyond the practical. Or something like that. If Mom says no, ask Santa!

T has been pining hard for the Eleventh Doctor's sonic screwdriver. Obsessing. Talking nonstop. So of course, Santa bought it for him and plans for it to be his spotlight gift (the Most Wanted, not necessarily the Most Expensive) and Mom has been waging a frown-and-sigh campaign of "I don't know honey, it's so expensive...". (which it isn't, but so far he's only quietly raised an eyebrow. I keep thinking he's on the cusp of deciding to not play the game...and being wrong.)

Then last night C pulled me aside and said that he wants to get it for T for Christmas. My initial reaction was resistance. This will throw Santa's plan out of whack--with the spotlight gift out of the way, there are no real contenders among the supporting Santa gifts to be that "WOW" moment first thing on Christmas morning. I brushed him off with a comment about "expensive" (Seriously, I'm cheap and my kids have learned that quoting prices is my go-to shutdown for any conversation.) He countered that he will give me the money he has saved and pay back the rest in installments each allowance day.

And then I stopped and really thought about what was going on here.

It has always been important to me to model GIVING at Christmas. Instead of just throwing the kids' names on gifts for other family members, I involve them in the shopping process and often let them choose things on their own. They have learned from many years of watching both their father and me crafting, that making a gift for a loved one entails a special value just in the doing. And I plan to eventually wrap up these half-assed Santa years by explaining the Man in Red as an extension of the joy of giving, as the anonymity allows you to focus on the receiver, not the giver.

And my son wants more than anything to give his brother this year's Golden Ticket. The Red Ryder of Christmas wishes. THE. GIFT.

That's the best gift I've received this holiday season. I doubt anything will top it.