This post is a continuation of my series about some things going on in our family right now. Those are posts are:

On Tolerance, Part 1

On Tolerance, Part 2

On Education Rankings, Part 1

On Education Ranking, Part 2

The pictures are a continuation of my trip to Disneyland with Chic for her 5th birthday.

For the most part I am opposed to school awards. It somewhat ties into the same reason I am opposed to allowances for very young children or for children who do chores around the house. To me, every family member has work to do in a house, and giving my children money to do their share of work teaches them that they should be paid for everything. When my children are a couple of years older, I will start with allowances in order to teach them money management, but it will not be tied to chores.

Similarly, it seems to me that school awards have often devolved into awards for things that should be expected, not for anything truly meaningful.

At the end of last school year, Chic’s school had an awards ceremony. As the art teacher, I was instructed the day of it that I needed to give awards for art class. I asked what the criteria were. “Whatever I want.” With so little time, I gave awards for “Excellence in Artistic Ability” and “Excellence in Attitude.” Not more than two people in each class got an award.

One of Chic's favorite rides was "Dumbo" because she could be in charge of what happened to it. (My stomach was better if I was pointing the camera at fixed objects.)

But many think today that everyone needs an award. Awards for showing up to school. Should everyone not be expected to show up to school? Why would there be an award for that? (This only translates to people thinking they need special treatment later in life at their jobs because they did the job for which they were hired–the one they were expected to perform.) So I cannot think of a reason why I would support the idea that “everyone wins.” If everyone wins, it takes a lot of the steam from the person(s) who really won, and in my opinion does nothing to promote initiative. If everyone must receive something, I am not entirely opposed to getting recognition for participation, but an award is extreme.

So back to last year’s awards. Before the event, I talked to Chic’s teacher about it and asked her how she meant to handle the awards. My reason for this was that as a first grader, Chic was ahead of everyone in her classroom (including the second graders) in reading, spelling and math. From my dealings with parents or art class students, I knew that if Chic got awards for all the areas in which she excelled, other parents would be angry. A large part of me does not care about that, but that anger comes out in their kids at school. So I asked. Her teacher, (from now on, Ms. J) said that she gives awards for all kinds of things, not just academic performance, which assures that everyone is included. I did not discuss this further as I thought that would satisfy the masses (even though I do not necessarily agree with it).

This ride made me so sick that when Chic wanted to do it again, we had to find some people who would go with her. Her stomach is made of sterner stuff than mine!

So awards night came. Chic got four awards: Presidential Physical Fitness, Principal’s List, Science and Art (Excellence in Attitude. I realize it seems like I was favoring her, but I am not kidding when I say she has the worst class for behavior in the whole school. She absolutely does NOT cause any trouble in art class and always has a nice attitude. I gave the award to one other girl who was rotten all year but really improved the last month.) The first 3 awards were completely objective. The first two were from the school, and the third one from the Science teacher who apparently awarded it to her top students. But Chic got no awards from her everyday teacher.  As I listened to the awards being listed and students going up, I was shocked. Yes, the teacher gave awards for spelling, math and reading, but Chic, although ahead of the grade above her in all of the subjects, got none of them. Then the teacher made up awards to cover the less studious people which included things as irrelevant as “nicest smile” (SO not kidding), and  Chic got none of those. But get this, some of the other students got multiple awards from Ms. J.  I was taken aback, but decided I was not willing to address the issue. I will discuss this teacher at length in a later post, but the short story is that it is difficult impossible to have a coherent conversation with her, and because I knew I would have to deal with her at least one more year (Chic’s 2nd grade) and possibly another 3 years (also Chicklet’s 1st and 2nd grade), I did not want to anger her.

This was on a 25+ - minute boat ride. Chic found a friend right away.

But Chic noticed. She asked why her teacher did not give her any awards. Although I knew the answer, I thought she might not, so I asked, “Were there not other children in your classroom that did not get any awards from the teacher?” “Only Hunter,” she said, “but I know the Ms. J does not like him.” To me those are profound words coming from the mouth of a 7-year-old. I personally knew Ms. J did not like Hunter because I had heard her complain bitterly about him (I personally like him. He had some issues, but was willing to try and learn, and he was kind.), but for my daughter to notice that was quite another story.

So what was I to do? My daughter wanted to know why her teacher did not see fit to give her any awards. I lied. I said she probably was so busy she just did not remember to include everyone.  I will admit it is not the first time I have lied to my daughter about what goes on in her classroom. She has never once complained about her teacher, but she has asked questions on several occasions or told me scenarios that make me realize she is quite astute at assessing situations. I want her to respect her teachers, so I lie because if I tell her the truth, there is little room for respect with this teacher.

So why are awards so important? What is gained by them? Does the person who was doing just OK in spelling but got the award have an incentive to do better in spelling? Does the person who got the “nicest smile” award have any incentive to do anything better? Does my daughter have any incentive to excel in her own classroom? Seems to me not a lot of incentive was generated on any front.

Note:  This year we have a new principal who has a different view of awards. There will be specific criteria based on having maintained a certain grade for each of the first three quarters of school. I am grateful for this change, but I do believe the other award mentality is more prevalent among most of the other teachers (excepting the science teacher) and definitely among most of the other students and parents. What a battle we seem to be fighting almost every single day.

Chic was only 5, so we did not stay for the fireworks every night. The night we stayed, the weather did not allow them to go, but they made it snow for us instead. I would love to show you the picture of Chic's face full of wonder catching the "snow," but I do not post such pictures on the internet. It was beautiful.

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For Part 1, go here.

So I have a theory. New Mexico is always in the bottom 5 in education rankings, and it is not because they have poor teachers. How does a state so beautiful with amazing weather (most of the time) attract the worst of the worst? I do not think they do. Why is North Dakota always in the top ten (usually higher than that)? All the good teachers want to spend 6 months of the year bundled up requiring block heaters and remote starters for their cars? Probably not.

My theory is (maybe this is not a theory at all and I just have not read it anywhere) that teachers have little to do with the academic achievements of their students. I am not saying they have NOTHING to do with it, but to blame the teachers for educational rankings is not where the answers lie. I believe it lies with the parents and the homes. Parents in New Mexico do not have high academic expectations for their children. They not only teach their children values that have nothing to do with educational success (but have a lot to do with materialism and vanity–much time and money goes into these things), but send them to school and expect the teachers to give their children A’s and B’s for mediocre performance. I fear they might be teaching their children that educational success is not important and that “bookworms” like my daughter are social misfits. This is something I cannot prove, but the evidence would support my theory.

Private schools and homeschooling are prominent here due to the low educational rankings. I doubt that every stellar teacher is in a private school here. But I am guessing there are more stellar parents of private school students here. This is not about parents who have more money, but about the way they choose to spend it.

So why isn’t my private school like that? Another theory here. Because it does not cost enough. It is subsidized by my church and a few other churches. If I am a member of one of those churches, I have a significantly reduced tuition expense. (People who come from the community have a higher rate, and I must admit most of those kids are better to deal with than the many of the ones from the churches. Although sometimes the ones from the community are using our school as a reform school, so that is a different scenario.) Not only do most of our students get a significantly reduced rate, the majority (I would say about 3/4) get tuition assistance (roughly half of the reduced rate) from the church. So the majority of the students from my church are barely paying anything to send their children to this private school. Furthermore, of those receiving additional assistance, none of them attend church regularly.This post is not about my opinion of this policy, but more how I think it supports my theory. (And I am certainly not making statements here about church attendance and related behavior. I could do a whole post on things I have seen to make make me understand why many hate Christianity and Christians, though I am a Christian. My point here is that these “church members” are not attending church and are getting their school tuition heavily subsidized. I am not among the those with additional tuition assistance. Also, I am not completely opposed to tuition assistance, but I grew up believing that Christian education requires sacrifice, and that is how I still approach it. Our family does not have piles of money that the others do not have; we just spend our money differently. We would not be able to justify asking for tuition assistance so we could live a more extravagant lifestyle. )

So what are teachers to do when they have a classroom full of students that are for the most part completely not motivated, and neither are their parents? There is no room here to address that, but I will in an upcoming post. It just seems to me that when taking off school for a manicure does not exactly send the best message to one’s kids about academic importance. It also seems that when a child barely does the minimum to get through a class because s/he is spending his/her time socializing, watching television or whatever, and the parents get irate that an “A” or “B” was not received in every class and fight the teachers as well as tell the child how poorly s/he is being treated, that the general attitude will result in poor educational rankings. Just a theory.

Notes:

Many of your comments on these posts have been that you want to see where all of this goes before you comment. You are probably the wise ones. I appreciate all the nice comments I have received, but I fear the ones who have told me what a great parent I am will gasp from shock and think I am not a fit parent when I get to the end of this mess.

These posts take a lot of time and energy that I do not have (especially in the holiday season) to write, but they are timely for us, and I need to get through them. I will attempt the next installment which I think might have to do with school awards next Tuesday/Wednesday. (Time permitting, and often when I start writing, the topic changes, so we shall see.)

Note: The pictures in this post have nothing do do with the text. Chic turned 8 the day after Thanksgiving. These pictures are from her 5th birthday when her gift was a trip with me to Disneyland (including California Adventure). I think I can safely say it was one of the most fun times in both of our lives–just her and me. (Chicklet and Prince Charming are doing a trip for her birthday this spring.)

This is part of an ongoing series that has to do with some serious things going on in our family.

The first part is  On Tolerance, Part 1. The second part is On Tolerance, Part 2.

In 2007 New Mexico was ranked at #49 in academic achievement. When we moved here in 2002, I think it was ranked #51. (D.C. counts in these rankings, and they seem to try to keep that #51 spot.) This was really a good thing for me at the time because until we moved here, Prince Charming was adamantly in favor of public education, and I was adamantly opposed to it. When we moved here, he decided private (parochial) school or homeschool would be a good idea.

Homeschooling was never something in which I was really interested. In my little Southwest Missouri bubble before moving here, I was not impressed with most of the homeschooling parents I met. But when I moved to New Mexico, I changed my tune. I still did not really want to do it because my life is extremely active and busy, and I was pretty sure homeschooling would put a huge damper on that. However, I met several homeschoolers and their parents, and I could definitely see some benefits. The “they get no socialization” complaint is usually a bunch of garbage. There are plenty of ways for homeschoolers to socialize. What I liked about it was that the socialization can be more selective. I had homeschooled, teenage babysitters who listened to the same classical radio station I did and whose favorite books were similar to mine including many classics. It is not that this cannot happen in public school, but once kids go to school, it seems to me they become a product of their school and peers more than their parents. Homeschooling also allows great freedom in scheduling (trips and general life), and that appeals to me.

But alas, I did not choose to homeschool my children. Why? Mostly my schedule, but also because I believe strongly in my children having a Christian education (which I could provide, if needed).  But this also means I believe in the others of my faith having a Christian education, and if I chose not to support the local school with the enrollment of my children, that could be perceived as a knock against the school. So Chic started Kindergarten two years ago at the local church school and is now in second grade.

In the previous posts about tolerance I discussed the problems Chic is having because she is ahead of her class. Now let me be clear that I am not a “mama bear” type of parent. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I that is just not me. I am the type of parent that diligently tries to train my children to behave and be kind and be helpful, and if I hear a complaint about either of them, I ask them why they were not doing what they knew was right. I am also not one of those people that did not analyze everything I could imagine about being a parent before I did it. I never thought it would be “fun” or just something to enrich my life. I waited so long to have children because I knew the responsibilities would be great and my life would never be the same. So when the ridicule of Chic started coming up, I was totally unprepared for how to handle it. How can I explain to her the idiocy of fellow human beings and keep her humble and tolerant of those people? She was 7 when it became a strong problem. I have told her that sometimes people are jealous of those who appear to be more successful than themselves, but I really try to not put down the other children in the process so she will not think less of them. I do not really want to tell her that often people are afraid of those who seem superior in some way, so they try to bring others down. How can she care for her fellow human beings if I start telling her these things so young? (Sometimes I wonder if I am totally wrong in this approach.)

What I am learning, however, is that I do not think anyone is jealous of her. It never occurred to me that someone who is bright and successful in school and mostly well-behaved and extremely kind would be treated with disrespect. I noticed it early this school year on field trips. I am the only parent in Chic’s class that drives for every field trip. (Our school is small; we do not have buses.) This means my car gets crammed with 5 kids (including my two–Chicklet is not yet in school.) One of the extras pairs off with Chicklet, and the other two pair off together leaving Chic as the odd girl out. She doesn’t pout or whine or complain. Never a word, but I can tell it bothers her. She is not the type to force herself into a place, and her friends do not even pay attention to her. When there are even numbers of students, Chic has a friend, but when there are odd numbers, she is different and is the one left out.

How is she different? For one thing, she is not raised on pop culture. PLEASE understand I am not judging or condemning anyone who chooses to raise their children differently than we raise ours. We have to raise our children to the best of our ability in a way that works for our families. And I realize we are not “normal” in that aspect. We do not watch television. None. Not even the news. OK, this winter the girls and Prince Charming have watched a little football (gagging here), and sometimes when I am working in the evening, he will watch The History Channel with the girls. But that may be a twice-a-year thing. The girls do watch videos periodically, but mostly the television is not on. My girls know who Hannah Montana is, but that is from their friends, not from seeing her in our home. The same with High School Musical and whatever other similar movie was the latest one. Chic has no aspirations for being a reality TV star, but at the moment wants to be a marine biologist. (I really do not know from where that came.) So Chic might play somewhat differently than the other kids. But in my opinion she is quite imaginative in her play and would be fun. But she is different.

She is also different scholastically. She could read before she got to Kindergarten. (She picked that up on her own. Another reason I did not want to homeschool was that everything I tried to teach her seemed to fail dismally. But she later picked it up on her own.) At the beginning of second grade, her reading level tested at 6th grade level. No one else in her class is even close. Math is the same. (Not 6th grade, but way ahead of her class in ability to understand the concepts being taught.)

So I think about this and wonder why is she so far ahead? Is she really THAT smart? And why if she’s so advanced do the kids not like that?

To be continued on Friday…