Monday, August 26, 2013

Long Suffering Spouse heads back to school in "the Year of the Parent"

Duplex comic by Glenn McCoy, image obtained from Yahoo! Comics.

The Chicago Public Schools are starting up today. Even if you're not in Chicago, you may have heard about this because of our school strike last year, the controversial closing of 50 schools this Spring, and the creation of alleged "Safe Passage" routes for CPS students to follow as they wend their way to new schools this morning. It's not surprising, perhaps, that policemen have been detailed to these routes, some of which traverse hotly contested street gang borders, but the City has also assigned firemen to these routes, and employees of Streets and Sanitation, and employees from other City departments, too. Oh, and there are 'paid volunteer' escorts -- an oxymoron on the level of military intelligence -- armed with government-issued phones. They can call for help if the gangs start shooting. Unless, of course, the gangbangers are shooting them.

And all of this -- somehow -- is supposedly saving taxpayer money.

Oh, to be a child again! Not that I'd be anxious to re-live my school days, mind you. Once was surely enough. But, if I were as innocent as a young child maybe I could believe such a ridiculous claim.

Meanwhile, some of the Catholic schools in these parts are also starting up this morning. Long Suffering Spouse's school opens for business today.

In the Catholic Archdiocese, this is Day One of "the Year of the Parent."

Now, you had better believe that parental interest and involvement is integral to the success of Catholic education. If all parents were as interested and involved as your typical Catholic school parents, there would be far less need for saturation of "Safe Passage" routes. There might not be any street gang borders to cross.

And parents of Catholic school children make a tremendous sacrifice to send their kids to Catholic schools. A determined parent can find less costly options for his or her child than a Catholic school. By many metrics, several Chicago Public High Schools (the 'college prep' schools -- North Side, Payton, Jones, Whitney Young etc.) are better than anything the Catholic high schools can offer. And there are some excellent 'magnet' schools for CPS students in grades K-8 as well. No, parents who choose Catholic education want a sound foundation in both intellect and character and they want their traditions passed along to their children.

So the Archdiocese had darn well better cater to the men and women who dig deep into their wallets to send their kids to the parish school.


You knew there would be a 'but,' didn't you?

Perhaps you read my Priscilla Pigdahl post earlier this year. If you didn't, maybe you could read it now.

Some well-meaning parents value success for their children more than real learning.

It's a terrible, terrible mistake. But young parents don't always understand that a kid who flounders now can flourish later. It's better for a kid to fail in 5th grade than to fail in life. We learn from our mistakes more than we ever do from our successes. So let's get those mistakes made sooner rather than later.

But it's easy for teachers and administrators to become cynical. It can happen to anyone. I certainly am cynical. Look at the start of this essay: I couldn't be more jaded. I think something similar has happened to the principal at Long Suffering Spouse's school. I'm speculating now about what's may be in her head:
Enrollment is the lifeblood of the Catholic schools. If enrollment goes down, the school fails. It closes. If it goes up, the school succeeds. Test scores don't really matter -- tests can be taught -- high school performance doesn't really matter -- the struggles of our graduates are not necessarily going to be blamed on us. Really, grade school doesn't matter. Pass everyone through, make them feel good about themselves and hopefully they'll learn something in high school when they're more mature.
Meanwhile, my wife teaches. She has standards. Some of her kids struggle. Some struggle mightily.

And then they go to high school.

The good ones, the successful ones, are placed in honors courses, a full year ahead of their peers. They wind up in AP classes.

Some of the kids who did just OK in my wife's Spanish classes breeze through their placement tests anyway and wind up in accelerated Spanish I or even Spanish II.

And the ones who struggled? Even the ones who struggled mightily? Those who start over in Spanish I find that it's easy; they were well prepared. They get A's and B's. My wife hears from them; they are grateful.

This should be the model in English, in Math, in Science, in History -- and it's not.

Because the principal gets complaints.

She hears complaints about Long Suffering Spouse from parents who have one child or whose oldest child is one of those struggling. If my wife gives a C to a student who gets (undeserved) A's in every other class... who looks like the outlier? My wife's principal doesn't hear complaints from the parents who have multiple children once their oldest begins succeeding in high school. But any complaint is one too many.

There has been friction.

No junior high kid is dreading the start of this school year more than my Long Suffering Spouse. The Year of the Parent? My wife feels she's in danger of losing her job because she's too good at it.

Some days, I just hate the world.