Soap Box Tuesday - FamilyEducation

Soap Box Tuesday

November 17,2009
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Years ago, when we lived in our old neighborhood, we visited the base school there as part of our kindergarten shopping for L. The school was nice, and clean, but large; still, we had an open mind. Part of the “plug” or gimmick, if you want to call it that (we have grown very wary of all the gimmicks so many of the magnet schools offer in our particular county—each one with a new and interesting spin on education and learning. One of the reasons we’re so happy with T.’s school is that it’s a simple, no-nonsense traditional, regular old elementary school—and there’s a lot to be said for that, I think) of the particular magnet program at that school was that it focused on art and creativity. The halls were called “galleries” and students did a number of art projects each year, and they were displayed in a number of different “galleries”. At the close of our school tour a parent asked when the kids got a chance to do all the spectacular art projects that were on display. “Oh, they are ALL done at school,” the principal said quickly. “We like all our kids to have the same chance to produce the same type of work.” And, in fact, upon closer examination, most of the art pieces looked...the same. That comment just rubbed me the wrong way back then for two reasons. First, I was bothered by the school’s insistence that sameness in their minds equaled something positive, something measurable in good ways, a perspective that has tormented me every year since then in my dealings with L.’s school, even if I didn’t even have a single idea back then of the challenges that lay ahead. Second, it was one of those comments you don’t dare disagree with because if you do the implication is, of course, that you don’t believe in equal educational opportunities for everyone. The sad reality is that there are those kids who have strong, supportive families at home with the time and energy to devote to helping their kids with projects, then there are those who simply don’t have that type of support at home, and this is tragic. But what I object to is that this bandaid approach of sweeping level the playing field at school means that there is little or no pressure placed on families at home to step up and be accountable for all the learning--that infinitely precious and valuable learning--that needs to go on at home. I have always believed that schools simply can’t do everything. If it takes a village to raise a child, then it certainly takes a lot more then just one single school, and a handful of wonderful but over-worked and underpaid teachers, to help the child continue to grow and develop outside of the school walls. And for those kids who simply can’t get the help they need at home, then more funding needs to go to mentoring and parent education programs and after-school programs that can help fill in the gaps, and give kids the support they need. I had all of this swirling around in my brain yesterday when I walked across campus to my next class. My first class of the day is one filled with students who are armed daily with excuses and no sense of personal responsibility for their actions, and who seem unable to think outside of the box, and approach problem-solving in individual and creative ways; yet they are also the kids who need the most help, and the schools and their families have failed many of them over the years. They are here, in college, in a last-ditch attempt to grow up and out into a world they are not equipped to handle. That level playing field--the one that's supposed to be so progressive and equitable and leave no child behind--is the same one that swallowed up my students in elementary school, and middle school, and high school. I recognize it all too well.