AAARGH. I think this has been the longest since I’ve written. Why? Because September went from 0 to 60 and October decided that wasn’t fast enough either. I am looking at a schedule where my daughters have activities 4 days a week after school and I seem to have at least two nights a week where I have meetings. On a good day. And then add the *%&^$$%@#$%@# open houses for high school on top of those and you have one family that is hanging by a thread.
How do people do this? Why do we do this?
I guess this is really the crux of the post. The whole high school thing is like an onion of discouragement: it is composed of whole layers designed to get me down.
Here is what I mean:
1. It goes against everything I think learning should be. Every time I step into a school (and no, the irony is not lost on me) I feel like I am surrendering my idea of what education should be: self-directed; engaging; not dependent on a building or teachers. That is, I want my children to be engaged with the world. To know that they can pursue intellectual ideas on their own, as they become interested in them.
Yes, I know this is idealistic and impractical. But if we take that thought to its logical conclusion, couldn’t we say that living is idealistic and impractical?
Caution: Digression ahead
I came across my high school report card for the first semester of Grade 12 the other day. Now, I have been labouring under the delusion all these years that I was a good student and that school was pretty easy for me. I looked at my marks and, unsurprisingly enough, I got all As in the 4 (4!) literature classes I was taking, and only Bs in Geography, History and Law, the latter of which I have no recollection whatsoever. Even more telling, this report card was issued in November and I already chalked up 26 absences. All this to say, that yes, school was pretty easy for me (if I wasn’t taking any math or sciences obviously), but that I didn’t ever do more than was expected of me. I did the work conscientiously, but only so that I could receive the grade at the end. No self-directed learning for me, no siree. Only a series of jumping through the hoops.
This is what I don’t want for my kids, but that I see is already happening.
2. This is connected with #1, but is such a big point that it deserves its own number: I don’t believe in studying just to pass tests. This whole idea of standardized testing and then streaming the children based on those results seems ludicrous. First of all, you are judging them by their ability to take tests. That’s all. Second of all, are we saying that that is the only valuable part of our children? Their IQ? And what of the many factors that go into doing well on these tests?
Let me put this in context for those who are just joining us. Here in Quebec, There are Public High schools that determine admission through a very rigorous test. Many kids spend the summer after Grade 5 into September studying for this test. Test workshops and test preparation manuals are a burgeoning business. Oh yes, the private schools have them too.
But the Public high schools? I guess some schools are more equal than others.
These are the schools however, that you want to send your kids too of course. They are smaller. They are more dynamic. They have less discipline problems and have better equipment.
So. What did I do?
The wrong thing. I set my daughter up to fail. We had discussed taking theses tests. We knew it was coming. We even bought one of those test preparation manuals and we took the practice test. While correcting it, I knew that she would never pass an admissions test if we didn’t study our behinds off.
Did we? No. Why? Because it is boring and stupid and in the long run useless to try to cram someone’s head full of information they don’t care about. And because I value my relationship with my daughter and I tend to be a homework ogre.
But still. We found a school in the French public system close to our house, small, with dynamic and engaging teachers and students and thought that if our other options did not work out, this would be a good back up. At the information session, we were led to believe that the test was just a formality, that there was a waiting list for those kids who did not get in right away. So we took her one Saturday morning to tdo the 3 hour test. She seemed to think it went okay. Then, just a few days later, we get this curt letter in the mail:
Unfortunately, your child did not meet our criteria for success on this exam. We are obligated to refuse her application. Try your local high school.
All that was missing were the words Dumb ass.
Partly, this is my fault. I should not have sent her to do an exam she was not prepared for. Deluded in my view that tests and exams should be a form of evaluation of student program and not judge and jury, and convinced that my child has many other gifts to bring to a school environment (kindness, emotional intelligence, eagerness to learn, diligence and responsibility) I felt like surely they were not just going to judge her on her test results. Obviously I was wrong.
Luckily, this was not our first choice and we found some alternatives. The open houses for us are over and we will see where the chips fall in the next month. But I feel drained, and compromised, as if I have failed my child and myself.
And so I end with the same question: Why do we do this?