Post 244.

Back to school.

Ziya’s teachers have started suggesting that I invest more in her focus on school work and a routine of revision. She’ll need this in order to not experience Junior 1, next year, as an overwhelming leap in demands, pressure and material to be covered.

The girl is dreamy, drifting away from whatever she is assigned to doodle on her notebook pages, wanting to fall asleep on afternoons, more interested in chatting, drawing and play, and sometimes outright inattentive. So, I’m appreciative of her teachers’ insights and advice.

I’m also committed to developing her motivation and concentration, and guiding her to write more quickly and neatly, and take more initiative to complete homework. I’d like her to feel confident and capable of tackling learning and responsibility challenges, and to begin to develop the habits and skills to do so.

Another part of me is protective of her dreaminess and distraction. I think dreaminess and imagination are wonders and rights of childhood. I think her brain transitions to doodling when she gets bored, and that school shouldn’t consist of years of mostly boredom, which it was for the majority of us. Children get bored because of how they are taught so the challenge to adapt is for us, not them.

Does homework systematically nurture children’s creativity, courage, caring or love for learning, especially when it often consists of tired and frustrated parents buffing up tired and frustrated children? I’m unconvinced that ‘alternative’ assignments that require parents to search the internet or spend nights helping to put together projects really present displays of independent effort. I’d rather Zi spend her evenings drumming or dancing than doing more writing at this stage. I think we should go to the river or waterfalls every weekend rather than sacrifice them for revision. And, I think these sentiments are appropriate for the mother of a child just six years old.

I have many reasons for these priorities. First, I’d like Zi to learn to love learning more than I’m concerned with how much content she learns. I spent twenty-eight years in school and did my best learning when I loved my subjects, and that didn’t start to happen until university.

Second, I think that children grow into school practices at different rates and our homogenizing system misses this fact of childhood development. Maybe at six she doesn’t care about school for more than half of the allotted time for a subject, maybe some teaching styles are sheer tedium, maybe she won’t begin to reach her peak or potential for another couple of years. None of that speaks to her capacity for self-determination in adult life, but it could compromise that defining moment of childhood, SEA, which unfortunately establishes the overarching rationale for parents’ schooling decisions.

Third, I teach university students. Many come afraid of experimenting or getting things wrong, asking for example essays rather than trying to find their own voice, wanting instructions for every step of assignments rather than figuring it out, terrified or passive about communicating confusions or critiques with lecturers, pessimistic rather than utopian, disengaged from social transformation rather than demanding it, expecting good grades for mediocre work, and unclear about their responsibility to improve not only their lives, but the world. Marley called it ‘head-decay-shun’. Our courses have to pull out passion, political will, purpose, creativity, empowerment and a sense of care and humanity. It’s in the students already, just hardly still prioritized. When rewarded, I’ve seen so many of them spark.

I’m also most likely to hire young women and men who bring unusual ideas and angles, who aim beyond the status quo, can devise solutions and strategies, and are ethical, fearless and self-motivated. Passed tests matter, but not really. I’d rather a hunger for new experiences, lessons and opportunities to contribute.

As a mother, I see Ziya starting a schooling path that many have gone through, and survived just fine, some better than others. As an educator and employer, I also see the end results and its myriad costs.

Come Monday, when school starts back, I’ll still be wondering how to negotiate my own learning philosophy with that of the system of which we are also a part.

Post 229.

I don’t remember being much of a good student in primary school. I was rarely in the top five, maybe once in a while in the top ten. I remember Common Entrance as terrifying. All I have in my head is a picture of sitting at a desk in a room full of wooden desks, with the bright light from a large window to my right and a ‘lucky’ stuffed toy we were allowed to bring with us in those days, perhaps mine was a white unicorn, in front of me, watching me writing, writing, writing until my hand hurt.

I passed for Bishops Anstey High School, while girls who usually had better marks than me, but didn’t survive that one exam as well as I had, cried and cried when results came out. It’s painful to think about even today, that pressure and those immense feelings of relief and failure, when we were so young. Nonetheless, I never attended high school in Trinidad, instead becoming a Queens College student in Barbados, and later attending three additional high schools in Canada. In all of these, I was undeniably, unremarkably average.

I don’t remember any passion for my subjects or any particular drive to do well.  I barely passed physics and chemistry. I feel I like was on automatic, doing school because that’s what adolescents do, not necessarily connecting to a compelling reason, plan or future. I was a reader, and I liked writing poetry, but I had no real hobbies or areas of excellence. My mother most likely despaired, wondering if I’d turn into a delinquent, while I got through reality from shifting locations in my own teenage dream world.

Adults are so different from children that we should reflect on whether they see the world, and our expectations of them, the way that we do. Their inability to connect to our standards and aspirations might not be a sign of present or future failing on their part. They are just growing at their idiosyncratic pace, and partially living in their own world.

Parental expectations can also be wholly unrealistic. We want our children to do well in all subjects as if it’s a national norm for adults to be great at eight separate things simultaneously. By the time we grow up, we accept that we might be better at art and math than biology or creative writing, but we scan report cards with that very measurement rule still in our minds.

Ziya’s only just started primary school, yet parents are already concerned about revising classwork in the afternoons and reviewing term material for assessments, producing a sit down and learn practice, and comparing the percentages that children get at the end of term. I believe in none of these. Afternoons are for self-directed learning, including play. Revising for assessments hides what was actually learned, or not, in class. Sitting still and memorizing book knowledge gives concepts that can be regurgitated without understanding of their applicability or meaning. Percentages are great for knowing how your child performs in assessments, but not whether she or he increasingly loves learning, which is a wide indicator of when students will do well.

Any time spent with our children will tell us how they best learn to think, question, apply and remember, and which skills they have mastered or are still developing. Parents’ job is not to follow the Ministry of Education curriculum, but to do whatever enjoyable activities help to strengthen our children’s’ capacities, without resorting to more school.

All this sounds like letting education slide, but I’m more concerned with our despair when children don’t excel early on. Not all can excel every year for their entire school lives. Not everyone’s academic performance will peak when they are children. They might finally find their feet in university, in a job or in a course that offers an alternative to traditional subjects. That was me.

I began to seriously excel at university, finally. A surprise to many, I ended up with three degrees, plus focus, discipline and ambition. My mother need not have been so worried, and perhaps as parents neither should we. That’s the lesson I now try to live with Zi.

Post 132.

Children start attending school to learn, but surely the real schooling is ours.

Last term, Ziya’s first in school and more importantly my first, I was completely unprepared on registration day. Had no clue. School supplies? Ummm. This term, yuh girl checked off the list like I studied for that gold star. Who’s learning now, baby!

There with the other parents, I was amazed that somehow we manage to bring up children without group therapy sessions or domino-effect disasters, the business of parenting, at once so mundane and been-there-done-that for the last two hundred thousand years, also seeming like everyday, parental A-level exams.

Today, a speech and language therapist came to talk about dos and don’ts, and the importance of getting children tested. By three years old, she emphasized, lisps, mispronunciation, language fears and even baby talk are no longer cute, but show potential problems that need attention.  These can result in shyness, lack of confidence, greater conflict and an inability to be understood in your child’s interactions with others. All kinds of things can contribute, from thumb sucking to bottle-feeding beyond a year to just sheer bad habits when talking to our children.

I must have been sitting there like the other parents, glassy-eyed and reviewing the last months’ memories, to see if there were signs I missed or don’ts I was guilty of. Like most parents of three year olds, I couldn’t imagine how anything could be wrong with the speech of someone who literally talks so much she once stopped herself to comment on how talkative she was. When you comment on your own talkativeness, you know harnessing that kind of chat could give T&TEC competition.

But, I had to reflect. Were they just words or whole sentences? Did I ask her yes or no questions, or did I ask questions that required full conversation answers? Do I really know if she hears well in both ears? Did I really ever pay attention to her eyesight? Because most parents are busy, tired, multi-tasking and preoccupied with being broke, even conscientious ones may not notice everything. Children also adapt and learn to compensate, making up words, pointing, choosing silence, reading lips and so on. Plus, they are usually moving so much and so dizzyingly that, really, watching them is like feeling warm and fuzzy about a loud, overly exuberant, endlessly awake blur.

I love that the school tries to teach parents. Some may know all this stuff from raising siblings or from having prior children or just from having it together. Not me. I know about books, rivers, vegetarian food and rhyming. Oh, and feminism. That’s my skill set. Stone knows about DJing and music. The rest is all aha moments we didn’t expect. So, I find myself learning about parenting, schooling, developmental stages, and both tough and tender love as Ziya moves through each term.

What’s nice is that such learning can bring parents together too. I whatsapped Stone, who was home on shift with Zi, throughout the whole morning parents’ session, though I figured that the principal probably looked askance at my bad example of texting through class. When I got home, Stone and I sat like two tired people assessing the steepness of the terrain ahead. We worked out how to join forces, compared notes and different perspectives, and sorted out who would be better at what.

Although Ziya doesn’t start school until tomorrow, I feel like I covered a whole syllabus today. Surviving morning traffic for the next term feels like just the opening challenge in the labour and lessons of life-long learning.