So I was watching PBS last week, and this guy was on talking about how we talk to our kids, what we stress, what we want, and how all this affects their education. Well, he was mostly interested in their self esteem and comfort level with academic subjects. So I have split feelings about him and his little program–based on the “little” you can make a safe bet that I think it’s mostly a lot of touchy feely crap that will help no one do anything useful or good in life.
But . . . and it’s a pretty big but (no snickering in the Peanut Gallery), he did put a report card up on the overhead that had the following grades (or in my memory, anyway, as I couldn’t find it online in the two seconds I allotted for the search):
Physical Education B+
Then he asked the audience: If your child came home with this report card, which grade/s would you spend the most time on? Well, most people say the F, right? If they’re being honest with themselves and overthinking the fact that there’s GOT to be a catch (and the clever ones have already worked it out fully).
I know if I’d dared bring home an F, there would be hell to pay in the form of disappointed shakes of the head and long sad stares from my parents as they looked at me and saw prison stripes or perhaps a bit of drool forming at the side of my mouth. There would also be easier punishments to deal with ranging from phone and television restriction to the full-blown “no nothing” restriction. And it would work. No matter what the subject or how much I hated it or sucked in it, you can bet that after the full range of parental ammunition was tossed my way, I’d get the best grade the next time around. And I’m not screwed up (well, in that regard), nor do I hate my parents or myself, nor do I think they were wrong, inhuman, or anything but loving and concerned about me and my future.
But . . . yep, another big but headed our way . . . why does the F get all the attention? And I suspect that in most households those three A’s and the B+ might get a passing glance, like yeah, well, okay, so you did well there, but let’s look at this C and oh my god! that F! In some households, I would venture to bet that the kid him or herself would have to point out the A’s and the B+. Sigh. And in those households, my guess is that the I don’t comment when you’re doing as you should rule applies. Sigh squared.
This PBS guy who was peddling his wares on television went too far in the next bit, but on this, well, on this he has a point. Maybe it would be nice if we spent equal or near equal time recognizing the positives, and there are far many more positives here than negatives, right? But most kids wouldn’t see that or feel that or get that from their parents, right? Now, no one, myself or this guy out to make a buck, is saying that NO time should be spent on the F or even that a you’ll do better next time pat on the head is helpful, just that wouldn’t a full and fair assessment of the entire report card be . . . better?
So. Just in case you missed touchy feely boy on television, his next pitch was for all of us to focus ONLY on the things the kid is good at and that make the kid FEEL good. Yay! How supportive, how positive, how marvelous! So is Junior good at fingerpainting? Fabulous, let’s focus on that and forget all about pesky things like being literate. Does adding short columns of small numbers make Jane Junior puff up with pride? Well, that’s marvelous, stick her in the room next to the fingerpainting room, so we can tease out her ability in this area. No need to bother with anything that might lower her self-esteem like reading or writing just because she can’t do it yet or isn’t best at it, right? And coming in second or third (or worse!) is just so awful, makes a kid feel crushed and useless. So it’s best that we find something, anything they are best at. Even nose picking, so we can gush over the wonders of their pointy little fingers crammed up their pointy little noses.
Rolling eyes and feeling just a wee bit o’ steam coming out of my ears. I can’t believe that so much of this is . . . wait, yes, I can believe it. I just don’t want to. How horrid and what a wretched disservice to potential great minds and mediocre minds and even to dull minds (and yes, Virginia, there are stupid people and people not quite as bright as others). True story: I was really good at recess as a kid; I longed for it, ran straight out, talked with all my friends, played on the monkey bars (can we still call them that or is that unpc?), and was the last to come back in. But no one recognized my ability. Oh, no. They made me sit in the classroom and do . . . (are you sitting down?) lessons. I had to learn to read. And to write. And to do maths. Ugh.
It was all gruesome and horrible and my whole sense of accomplishment at being the very best at recess faded away into practically nothing. Sad. So sad. And now I’m stuck with all these skills that one would never use. I mean who reads? Who writes? Who does math of any kind, ever? Who needs to be able to think? Or analyze things? Who needs to know history and science and political theory? Who?