Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Please don't do your child's homework -- it's OK to fail in 5th grade

Today's installment of Zits, by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman.
Obtained from the Chicago Tribune Comics Kingdom.

Today's Zits cartoon struck close to home.

We all want our children to succeed, of course.

The parents who send their children to the parish grade school where my wife teaches want their children to succeed so much that they're willing to pay dearly for the opportunity. Tuition is incredibly expensive -- even if my wife's salary is less than half of what she'd make in the public schools.

And therein lies the problem.

No, not my wife's salary.

I'm referring to the young parents' need for return on investment.

We're Americans, darn it, and we're used to short term gains, instant gratification, quarterly dividends.

Going to a real restaurant takes too long, so folks go to McDonald's for fast food.

But even going to McDonald's takes too long for many in our impatient era -- so we have drive-thru windows.

Kids, however, are not hamburgers.

Kids learn in fits and starts and sometimes the window is open and sometimes it's closed and all the parents' wishing and hoping and praying can't make that change.

So kids will sometimes screw up.

Parents: It's OK.

My wife doesn't want your kids to fail. Honest. Even I don't want your kids to fail and I don't know who the heck you are.

But for young, impatient American parents, that's not enough. Conditioned to immediate results, they want their sacrifices to result in A's and B's for their kids -- surely nothing less, lest their investment be in vain. The greater the investment -- the greater the sacrifice -- the more urgent this need for an immediate return becomes.

Now we go from the general to the specific.

Long Suffering Spouse is the school Spanish teacher. But, this year, in addition to those duties, she's taken on a section of 5th grade history to help out a colleague who's going through chemo right now and needs to throttle back a little.

My wife gave her 5th graders an assignment to prepare a report on particular explorers -- it's similar to the projects she gives her junior high kids who have to do reports (in English) on particular topics on a couple of different Latin American countries they study in Spanish class.

These reports are written and then presented by the kid to the class.

Especially with the younger ones, my wife works with the kids for quite awhile in class, showing them how to look up facts, how to organize the facts, how to make sure they hit each of the points necessary to complete the project assigned. They have to bring in new facts each day for a couple of days, then a rough draft -- I didn't go into great detail with my wife about the details -- I just let her vent -- but only finally does the big day arrive.

One young scholar was particularly uninspired by the task. He spent most of his class time doodling or chatting with a neighbor. He did, with considerable prompting, complete a rough draft, but -- said my wife -- it was awful.

But then the day came for his report.

And the transformation was stunning. The written report hit every point on the rubric (that's teacher talk I've picked up along the way) and more. And the writing? Well, let's just say the vocabulary and sentence structure were both far beyond fifth grade standard -- pretty much all the way up to fifth grade mom standard, actually.

The kid could only read his report; he couldn't answer any questions about it or even quickly find confirmation of something he'd just read. It was almost as if... almost...

Well, let me tell you a story about my years when the boys were in Cub Scouts. Every year we had the Pinewood Derby. And we had Pinewood Derby kit cars and the boys were supposed to make the cars and paint the cars and decorate them and whatever. And every year we had a little contest, before the races, where the kids could oooh and aaaah over all the cars and vote for the snazziest looking. Invariably there'd be one little boy who, in an Irish whisper, would ask his father, "DAD, WHICH ONE OF THESE IS MINE?"

Let's just say I don't think this young 5th grader could have picked "his" paper out a stack either if the names were concealed.

Long Suffering Spouse is less subtle than I am. She not only concluded that the kid's mom had written the paper for him, she called her out on it.

The mother's responding email was defensive, denying everything.

Parent-teacher conferences are tomorrow. She'll be coming, probably loaded for bear. But my wife will be ready for her.

It's OK to botch a paper in 5th grade. It's OK to mess up in school. The D or F the kid would have earned on the project -- had he been allowed to do it -- wouldn't have ruined his grade for the trimester; it certainly wouldn't be the only thing to keep him out of Harvard. And he might have learned from the experience.

What does that kid learn from his mother's doing the paper for him?

I wouldn't recommend what the mother in the comic strip offers to do either. I would have suggested telling the little brat to cut his whining and get the job done. But, then, I didn't bother my kids' teachers (or coaches) when they were little, not unless absolutely necessary. There were a few such times. But there are exceptions to almost every rule.

1 comment:

Jeni said...

And a big high five to your spouse on calling the kid's mother out on this! All that parent is teaching that child is how to weasel out of doing some necessary work! And she should be thankful for a teacher who actually gives a rats behind about honesty and workmanship -good, bad or indifferent -but the student's OWN work!