Monday, June 20, 2011

Academics - going against the grain....

     I saw an article in the paper about  stakes being too high  in our  high schools.  I know it's the current trend to put a lot of work on AP kids and I've seen my niece average 3 to 4 hours of homework a night plus 8 to 10 hours of work on weekends. She's been doing this since 7th grade and I feel sure she has a bright future ahead of her as far as college and a career go.  Yet, still, I feel uneasy about the system.
     Even though it's not popular, these are some concerns I have:
     1.  I'm not sure that I could ace some of the requirements for AP kids in high school these days. I've heard other teachers (privately) say the same thing. I could do it in college but not in middle school and maybe not in high school.   If some teachers have reservations about the current work load, maybe we need to voice those concerns and look at the AP program - especially  where it is headed.
    2.  I think - particularly in middle school - that the EOC tests have engendered a "More is better" philosophy and that's not always the case.  I've seen my niece bring home 100 multiple choice and open-ended math questions to do over Christmas break along with science and English homework.  So I'm asking - why a 100 math problems? Why not 30?  For middle school kids on Christmas break?  REally?? I think 30 is plenty.
   3.  I've seen my niece come to dislike classic novels - novels that I read in high school and loved - because they were assigned as summer reading between 7th and 8th grade or between 8th and 9th grade - no instruction: just read and we'll test the first week you get back.   Some things have to be taught and some things need to be appropriate for not just the child's reading level but also their social maturity and their frame of reference.  On the other hand, I've seen literature taught "to death" (not in my district that I know of) with kids having to do 7 one-page essays on each chapter - which pretty much destroyed the tension in the plot build-up so that by the time they reached the end of the novel, they simply hated it.  I loved chicken and dressing until my mom made me boil the chicken and de-bone it... :)  I think we have to be careful how and when  we have our kids de-bone great literature.... (And yes, I know... Moby Dick was not a chicken...)
   4.  And then there is the reason why we are doing this to our kids.  For the most part, it started years ago when we decided to catch up with Asian students who were kicking our posteriors on standardized tests.    For many years, our family worked primarily with Asian students who were attending UALR.  Over  and over, as I worked with these students, I heard them lament the pressure they experienced in their native schools.  Some talked about nose bleeds every time test day rolled around or stomach cramps. Others told me that each graduating class had a 10% suicide rate.  The pressure they experienced was intense.  All I'm saying is that maybe it's time to look at both sides of the coin here before we go much further down this path.
   5.  Another thing that really bothers me: the school is not a substitute for the family.   As it is right now, from August to the end of May - if your teen-ager is bright and involved in the school system, your days are determined by school schedules and for the most part, you have to pencil in family activities around the school curriculum as best you can.  Now the curriculum is starting  to dominate weekends and vacation time as well - especially small breaks like Christmas and Spring break. I understand that the family is falling apart in our society. But still, the family unit should have priority on weekends and vacations.  The school didn't bring the child into the world; the mom and dad did.
   6.  Another thing that bothers me is how normally sweet people can turn into piranhas when it comes to their kids' grades.  People who are otherwise sane can suddenly flip into the ozone because their child doesn't  have an A in every class or no child had an A in a particular class at mid-term or their child got bumped from the number 1 spot re. GPA to the number 2 spot... And it affects the kids as well, creating  hostile - not friendly - competition between adolescents.         Ummm... do you even know who had the number 1 spot in your graduating class, assuming you've been out of school for a while?  Seriously, do you even care?  I promise you, when I was getting married, going into labor, tending for my terminally ill mom, and/or trying to balance the check book when funds were tight, I didn't sit around and recite my high school and/or college GPAs in order to calm my nerves or bolster my courage.
   7.  The last factor that bothers me is the end product.  If academic success brings happiness and fulfillment, then our college professors should be the happiest and most fulfilled people on the planet. Judging from my years as an undergraduate student, a graduate student on two different campuses, and a member of the staff at a college I never attended as a student, I'd have to say that isn't the case. Some profs. are well-rounded, happy and fulfilled. From what I saw, many are not.
  Over the years, I've seen the school system lacking something and now that I'm out of the system, I still see that something missing, maybe even more now than when I first started.  The thing that's missing is balance. To me, the AP program is rapidly becoming a good example of that.