Thursday, August 16, 2012

Will Tweak and I Fail 3rd Grade?

In honor of National Rum Day (who knew?), tonight's cocktail is a watermelon mint mojito. The drink is sitting on top of the folder of summer worksheets the teachers sent home with Tweak in June (more on that in a moment). I muddled a handful of fresh mint with some sugar, muddled in a handful of watermelon chunks, added juice of 2 key limes, 3 oz. rum, and a splash of elderflower liqueur, shook with ice, served over ice with a splash (not much) of club soda. Very refreshing.

By the way, I know I've tended to sweet, fruity drinks this summer, but please rest assured that I have more in my repertoire than that. I just figure if you can't drink sweet, fruity things in summer, when can you?

I bet if I invite the teachers over for cocktails, this will all go away.
Tweak is going into third grade soon, with Tink following close behind in second. One of the unexpected shocks of shifting into the mom-of-school-aged-kids mode has been the realization that parental mentalities about children's academic performance are completely different than what I experienced growing up. I have a real problem with it.

Lest we think that I don't value education, my mother, her parents, and all of her aunts and uncles were teachers, and the only reason I didn't grow up in a trailer park in Appalachia is that my great-grandparents realized the only way off the hardscrabble farms and out of the mills and mines was to get an education by any means available. I share those values, and I worked hard in school and have a couple of fancy degrees from schools that seem to impress people. I work in a university. None of this makes me better than anyone else, but rest assured, education is very important to me.

The problem is this: my corner of suburbia is infested with pockets of crazy, status-obsessed people who seem hellbent on living vicariously through their children. Case in point. In second grade, they test the kids to determine whether they'll be automatically screened for "gifted" placement for third grade and up. When they announced last fall that the second grade testing was coming up, I encouraged Tweak in a low-key way to give it his best effort, made sure he got a good night's sleep and breakfast before the test, and figured it would be what it was. I didn't really think about it too much.

A few weeks later, Tweak had his birthday party, and I was talking to the mom of a boy who Tweak particularly likes. We discussed setting up a playdate for the boys, and the other mom said, "Yes, that would be great - we have a lot more time now that cogat prep is over." I smiled and nodded, because I wasn't sure I was hearing her correctly, and whatever cogat was, possibly an obscure religious holiday or medical condition, it seemed to be behind us.

An hour later, when I was driving home, I screamed "COGAT!!" and almost ran off the road. She was talking about the Cognitive Aptitude Test: the test the kids just took, for which the school specifically said it was impossible to study. This woman, after her child had just spent a long day at school and had other homework to complete as well, made him do drills for The Test. God forbid he should fail The Test. If that happened, she might as well start downloading brochures about effective panhandling techniques and trying to find the *best* methadone clinics for him to frequent in the future, because he'll NEVER get into Harvard, and everyone knows if you don't go to Harvard ... wait, I didn't go to Harvard, and somehow my life continues to have meaning. How could that be?

Apparently, this is the closest to Harvard I will ever get.
Anyway, as it turns out Tweak got into the gifted program, notwithstanding my negligent failure to turn him into a complete stress case about a test administered to seven year-olds. I honestly don't know whether Stepford Boy* got in or not, because we never have had that playdate.

If he hadn't gotten in, I had the perfect plan. While the other kids were doing their remedial reading, I planned to sneak him a copy of The Swiss Family Robinson to read under the desk, and his grandfather, a retired university math professor, could teach him number theory and theoretical physics on the weekends, and he'd be fine, except for the possibility that he might build an operational scale model of a coconut-powered Manhattan Project with Legos in his room.

As to the folder of summer work, it has sat, unopened. There is some kind of mystery prize in the fall for kids who turn in the completed packet, though I don't know whether it's good or lame, and Tweak doesn't seem to care. It's not as if he hasn't been engaging his brain this summer. He has been reading, learning a lot of new, thankfully non-profane, words, and asking very good questions about a wide array of topics. He has been writing in a journal and making up stories and games and burying himself in the sand and learning about orcas and and planets and asking questions about theology and history and politics and conservation that we have to research, because I don't know the answers. I didn't tell him to do any of that. He just did it, because it was interesting to him. They don't make a worksheet for that.

Besides, Tweak wants to go to Hogwarts, anyway. I bet Hogwarts doesn't have summer folders. Wait ... should I be researching test prep programs to make sure he gets into Gryffindor?

Suck it, Harvard.


  1. See, now I know why we are friends (well, I already knew, but you get the idea). We are about to enter the unfathomable world of KINDERGARTEN test prep season here in Manhattan. Yes, test prep for KINDERGARTEN admissions tests. And not just one test, but THREE FREAKING TESTS, just to see if your kid can get into the kindergarten of your - oops, I meant her - dreams. And there are services here that charge thousands of dollars to prep your 4-year-old for these tests. And plenty of annoying parents who actually pay for these services in the hopes that their kids will get into a school for which they'll have the privilege of paying $50k/year. And there are waiting lists just to get a tour of these schools!! You would seriously have a field day with the nonsense that goes on here. Please take the Acela up and bring me one of those fruity drinks to ease the pain...

  2. Being a math teacher, I'm on the other end of the madness. Did you know that my placing Johnny in Pre-Algebra in 8th grade will keep him out of medical school? How will he ever get to Calculus as a Junior in High School? WILL NO ONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!? Let's not discuss whether or not Johnny is ready for Algebra yet. You know, brain-development wise.

    Actually, a large part of the blame rests on those colleges you mentioned (and that you and I attended). The pressure to differentiate among students has driven the entry requirements to insane levels, and the colleges are pushing these agendas down the pipe line. It is actually the case that taking Algebra in 9th grade instead of 8th grade may have an impact on the school that Johnny attends. At least that's the message the parents get.

    1. What gets me is that these parents seem to think getting into Harvard (or someplace like it) will, in and of itself, make their children become happy, successful adults. So they push down all this pressure on their kids to make that happen without pausing to consider whether it's likely to yield the desired result. Work ethic, creativity, intellectual curiosity, persistence, empathy, compassion, humor, these are all far more predictive of success and happiness in life than going to a particular school or performing well on tests. If getting your kid into Harvard turns him into an emotionally stunted, Adderol-popping, anxious, risk-averse mess, it's not worth it. And at the primary grade levels, I've heard of no evidence to suggest that excessive homework and extra tutoring for kids who aren't having academic problems has anything to do with long-term success.

      Sure, I want my kids to perform to their potential and be competitive in the job market, but I just don't think this is the way to make that happen. Also, I don't personally need my kids to succeed according to some arbitrary indicia to validate my parenting. That seems to account for a big chunk of the crazy, at least in my area.


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