Ivan Illich might be slightly amused by all of the troubles I have had with schools lately. He might even say “I told you so”.
This year, the eldest boy went into high school. It was something that he did with great anticipation. Ever since he had attended the local high school’s orientation night when he was in fifth grade, he was looking forward to having access to greater knowledge and experience. He had to wait 18 months to get there.
After two months of being at high school, the only thing he looks forward to now is recess and lunch. And now I am packing him nice things to eat, just like I did when he started Kindergarten because he was so sad to leave his younger brother behind at home. Then, as now, I figure that there may as well be something in the day to look forward to.
High school, so far, is too easy.
He is ‘learning’ maths that he could easily do in third grade. In history he bites his tongue when the teacher says that Cronus was a god, because he knows that Cronus was a titan. He can tell you anything you want to know about Cronus, and most of the other characters in Greek and Roman mythology. In human society, they are labelling the states of Australia, something they did in second grade.
When he politely asks for harder work, the teachers say that it will come. When he politely says the work is too easy, the teachers say that some kids don’t know the stuff they are ‘teaching’. Problem is that this kid does know it, has known it for many years, and is not being challenged. And we all know the only two roads out of that town are named ‘demotivated’ and ‘disengaged’.
Today, he got into trouble for rearranging the keys on a keyboard. He’s bored out of his brain. The teacher threatened to call his parents. I look forward to that phone call. It’s not the first time he’s been in trouble.
My correspondence to the school goes unanswered. I am becoming demotivated and disengaged. When he showed me some of the maths he is required to do, I cried.
This kid is so starved of maths, he comes home and does two hours of Mathletics on the computer. But it’s too easy, and the teacher has capped the lessons at Year 7 level.
My greatest concern? That he will sit a standard Year 7 exam sometime down the track, and do poorly at it because he hasn’t been taught the work. This will then justify the teacher’s need to dumb down the lessons because the kids can’t do the work.
Insert a picture of Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream” here!
Sometimes, with older kids, there is a fine line between “protect me” moments and “comfort me” moments. Get it wrong and they can resent you for interfering. But when the system is stuffing around with my kid’s education, it’s a “kick ass” moment for me. Eldest boy sighed and rolled his eyes.
I spoke to lots of other parents. Some of them had the same story to tell. They had older kids who were good at maths and other things, and they watched helplessly as their kids misplaced their ability, their enthusiasm, and their hope.
I naiively thought that high school would accommodate each students’ individual abilities and talents, just as the primary school had. We hadn’t bothered with applying for the selective high school. Big mistake! The primary school teachers told me that high school teachers teach to the lowest common denominator and the classes are not graded.
I don’t want to be ‘that’ parent. The one that sounds like her child is genius. He’s not a genius, but he does want to learn.
I resolved to get my boy a tutor.
I rang and emailed lots of companies, and finally found someone who finished my sentences when I was telling our story. The tutor’s wife laughed over the phone, and said that she found her husband reading a maths text book in bed one night that week. She then said “but that’s not the point”. I replied “that’s precisely the point”.
I took my eldest boy to an assessment and interview. The tutor knew all about this boy and he had never met him before, but he had seen the likes of him before. Maybe it was his story too? The tutor told us what he was good at and what he couldn’t be bothered doing, because some stuff is really important (like maths) and some stuff is not (like neat handwriting, and the finer details of English). Hit the nail right on the head. My son was intrigued. He can be arrogant sometimes. His Year 6 teacher last year said that you have to appeal to his intellect or you’ve lost him and he has the propensity to get into trouble.
And now for 80 minutes per week he is challenged and engaged by someone who revels in seeing kids learn.
It’s not enough, but it’s a start.
I have had to be more involved in this kid’s education this year than I ever have before. I’m not a ‘teacher basher’. I know that the job is hard, but I can’t hang around watching my kid slowly decline. After two months at high school I didn’t know this kid. He is surly, sad, and mopey. He used to be bouncy, energetic, and eager.
All I can do as his parent is provide him with all of the opportunities that I can manage and afford. It’s up to him whether he takes advantage of them.