Lost years - FamilyEducation

Lost years

February 11,2009
I had a big post planned for today on family meetings and making house rules, and on how to motivate your child to follow house rules. And I had three hours in my office set aside to write and work, and to complete some piles of teaching-related paperwork that have been shifted to one side of my desk. And then I ended up buried under a few a textbooks that a publisher sent me to preview. None of those other things got done--not a one (although I did push some papers around a bit when I was trying to find a pencil). I'm still working on the house rules post--don't worry, those of you who worry about such things (like me). But my plans for that post were derailed when two colleagues dropped by, bearing school woes of their own to add to mine, and the conversation turned to why it seems--in our little world here on campus--that we have a disproportionate number of parents who are dissatisfied with their children's education. I wish I could throw together an informal survey on how many bored, frustrated, unmotivated kids come from creative-minded, quirky, out-of-the-box-type people--just the people who seem to populate worlds like mine. Or, more importantly, a survey studying how the increased incidents of behavior problems, sensory issues, and attention disorders are the result of kids just not being allowed the chance to stretch their mental muscles more in school. I know I'm generalizing a bit, and that plenty of motivated, fulfilled, and creative kids do well in school (T. will probably be one of them). But the kids who are falling through the cracks do seem to me to be the ones who have a different way of approaching learning--who learn in less predictable ways--whether right-brained or left-brained or Aspergerian-brained. Or they get so bored with the worksheets that they try to invent ways to make them interesting; then the more they try to make themselves interested, the further they fall behind, until they get to a terrible place, indeed--that place where kids stop caring to try. What a sad place it is--this place where kids stop trying. I see so many grown-up (?) students of my own who mostly gave up caring to try, yet a small piece of them (some strong maternal voice, or grandmother's voice in their ear) kept pushing them forward, refusing to let them give up on themselves. I had one such student drop by my office yesterday to turn in a late paper. He's getting ready to graduate, and he's bright and ambitious and very personable. He also overheard parts of my conversation with my colleagues. "Elementary school?" he said, waving his hand as if trying to wave away the whole experience. "Oh yes, those years were GONE--what a waste." Clearly not all was wasted, since he's here today, on a college campus, ready to leap into life after school headlong. He's lucky and unusual for my campus, though, because he comes from a long line of college graduates in his family--siblings and parents who just wouldn't let him quit. Still, getting to college wasn't without struggles (but those are his stories, not mine). When he talked about those years being "gone," something clicked into place in my head. You know how something someone says bothers you--like an itch you can't quite get at--until finally something clicks and you realize that you'd been bothered by it for days and just hadn't known it? I remembered that last week my husband heard something at a parenting group meeting about elementary school being "the lost years" for kids like L., and that sometimes you just have to accept that and move on. But yesterday, when my student echoed those same words to me, I felt sudden anger. What a concept, really--for any child to have "lost years"! It doesn't seem right in the least that a child should just mark time in school and not make the most of it, regardless of where they end up 10 or 15 years from that point. Time is too precious, young minds too important, to waste. I don't have any great conclusions to draw from all these thoughts swirling around in my head, and I think they've just added to my muddled state of mind when thinking about anything having to do with public schools and my own kids and What To Do. But I'll throw it all out there with a huge wish: that no child will ever have to look back on their school years and see only lost years--no matter who they are, or where they came from, or where they end up.