Thursday, January 31, 2008

100 Days

Today is the 100th day of kindergarten, which is a major holiday among the five-year-old set. One hundred days. Shouldn’t I be used to this by now? One hundred early morning wake-ups, one hundred calls of “are your teeth brushed yet?” up the stairs, one hundred hurried breakfasts, one hundred struggles to find matching shoes, one hundred treks out to the driveway. One hundred matching afternoon treks. And yet somehow it all still seems so… new.

She’s learning a lot. I admit I was surprised by this. Imagine – you send your child off to school, and she learns! Who’d have thought? She reads entire books, mostly accurately; she adds and subtracts, also mostly accurately; she can identify a trombone playing on a CD; she entered and won second prize in an art contest. The other day she used the word “infer.” In a sentence. Correctly. And yet somehow it all still seems so… much.

She’s also learning the culture of school. Unavoidable, I suppose, unless you don’t send them at all, but distressing nonetheless. She plays school with her three-year-old brother, who routinely gets sent to see the principal (me) for things like not sitting on his bottom or talking when she’s talking. She corrects me for saying “A hundred and three” instead of “One hundred three.” Who makes up these rules? I have an advanced degree in mathematics, for God’s sake, and I’m telling you that it doesn’t matter! She scoffs at this. Of course it matters – her teacher said so. Rules are important, especially when you’re trying to deal with 21 five-year-olds by yourself all day. I understand this. And yet somehow is all still seems so… rigid.

I guess this is life – you take the good with the bad. You learn a lot, but some of it is pointless, or even wrong, and it may take you years to realize that. Figuring out what’s pointless or wrong and what’s important and correct may, in fact, be part of the learning. A meta-learning, if you will. I guess I’m slow in this respect, since I continue to be surprised by both the pointless, wrong things and the important, correct things. I just didn’t realize that it would be so… hard.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


Every month Lucy brings home a little yellow sheet of paper commending her on having been in school every day of the previous month. Every month I grind my teeth, ask her if she wants it, and, because happily she doesn't, I throw it away. Except this month, she didn't bring one home. Not that I noticed, of course, but yesterday she said, "I didn't get a yellow paper today, Mommy."

I acted nonchalant. "Oh, that's because you went to school late on Lucia Day, sweetie."

"Oh," she said. "You only get one if you're there for the first bell every day."

"Right," I said. "It was worth not getting one this month to get to stay home on Lucia morning, wasn't it?"

"Yes," she said, "they don't really mean anything."

That's my girl.

Still and all, has it come to this? Must we reward children just for showing up? Don't get me wrong, I'm not against rewards - ask me about the chocolate chip potty-training system sometime. It's just that I'd like to believe that we could find some, I don't know, accomplishment to reward them for. Doesn't rewarding kids just for showing up send a message that they haven't done anything substantive for which they might be rewarded? Doesn't it say, well, you haven't done much, but at least you were here! And doesn't it seem like if we reward them just for showing up, then they may come to believe that showing up is all that's required? And aren't there some fairly obvious motivational problems with that down the road? Not very far down the road, actually. And, finally, isn't there a fundamental problem with the idea that showing up every day is even desirable? I mean, what about illness? What about doctor's appointments, and family commitments, and educational opportunities that exist outside of the far-from-comprehensive public school curriculum?

I had a student this semester who earned a C in my class. When he got his grade, he was irate and demanded to know how this was possible. "Well," I said, "let's see. You had a C average on the homework, a C average on the quizzes, and a C on the final. That averages to a C."

"But I came to every class!" he said.

Maybe I should get him a yellow paper.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Recess III

Twenty-minute recess rule abolished. Principals now permitted to decide how long recess should be for their students. Additional training and encouragement for teachers to include movement in regular classes in progress. Funding for additional P.E. teachers to provide expanded P.E. classes in the works.

Moral: speak up!