Saturday, January 15, 2011

Thwarted Education

The events that lead up to my request for a meeting with J's teachers usually have me anxious even before the meeting. At the conference itself, I find it difficult to stick to my rehearsed talking points and before five minutes are up, I am rambling way off topic at furious pace trying to cover all that I have to say in the twenty minutes I have alloted. My frustration levels run so high, that I can't keep it coherent anymore. Each time, I feel like I failed and should have handled it a lot better than I did. This year for the first time, I had DB to accompany me and that was comforting. We had agreed, if I wandered off-course, he would nudge me so I'd come back on track.
I had wanted the time to understand why J's motivation was diminishing. Why it was that she refused to apply herself to do anything beyond "minimally required" to make a decent grade. It took a while for me to even get them to see that there was a problem, that I was interested in whether my child loved learning and found happiness in accomplishing results through hard work. I was not interested in her grades - good, bad or ugly they did not to me indicate how her education was progressing. The moment of truth came when in response to me saying "I don't want my child to become the kid who learns how to make the grades and loses the love and joy of learning. That is what I am afraid is happening to her", the teacher said "This is ultimately not about what you want, but what she wants"
That left me so non-plussed that I could not summon any kind of response. DB was caught off-guard as well. For a teacher with some twenty odd years of experience to say that the course of a nine year old's education and therefore her life is not up to the parent to decide was so stunning that I had nothing left to say. Would she be advocating for J's voting rights next ? Surely, if she can make such significant decisions about her life, she would be well qualified to elect a leader to represent her. 
I send J to school so she benefits from the social interaction with her peers, learns to work in a structured environment and follow instructions. I don't have any academic expectations from the school at all. What I had not counted on was for this enviornment to diminish her innate strengths, make her less than who she is. So not only is the school failing in its primary goal to "educate" because the teachers equate education to grades, it is also harming her by being the enviornment in which her curiosity, creativity and yen for learning are actively thwarted. And this at what is touted to be one of the best schools in the district. 
What was most surreal about the experience was the hubris of the two teachers we met. They were completely convinced that they were doing an outstanding job educating the kids in their charge, that their tools and methods were absolutely the best. If the kid was not thriving, it was up to the kid to figure out how they could do better. Their process was simply perfect and would not be tuned. I realized when people get to that point in their profession when they turn deaf to unfamiliar ideas, there is no hope for them or those whose life their methods impact. So it is with J's teachers and J. In the private sector, dinosaurs such as these teachers are often let go when organizations restructure and get an infusion of fresh blood from elsewhere in the industry or university campuses.
I have come to the sobering realization that along with educating J at home, I am also responsible for making sure that I undo the damage that the school is doing to her before it is too late.


ggop said...

And my friends and I just went through all the Amy Chua discussions last week. I know she is over the top and obsessive but reaction like this makes my eyes roll.

OtienoHongo said...

Very interesting post, something that is quite close to my heart as well...

Sandhya said...

I am having same thoughts and seriously considering home schooling my daughter! Would love to connect with you.