Most people, including educators, don’t know what’s important about schools. We inaccurately talk about and measure that which is least important.
So what are the important things about schooling? Here’s some things more important than test scores:
Walking to and from school with friends every day.
Being in classes with smart kids, not so smart kids, troubled kids, and kids of different socio economic and cultural groups. Being in classes with kids with special needs.
Practicing making decisions in a safe place away from parents. Learning to work with others. Learning to accept disappointment and relate to teachers and adults.
Learning the value of routine, of striving, and accepting responsibility.
Learning to self regulate behaviour and effort.
Getting turned on to a special interest, sport, activity, or subject.
Having fun in school and enjoying the experience.
Learning to be a good citizen, tolerant and supportive of others and willing to contribute to a group goal or help individual kids learn.
Being kind, thoughtful, and empathetic.
Learning to be calm, happy, challenged, and unafraid of life.
These are the most important things that public schools, with support, offer.
None of these things can be measured except through continued, subjective observation by parent, student, and teacher.
If school gives my child these things, I don’t care about high marks, standardized test results, uniforms, discipline, or keeping them away from the riff raff.
The competition, and the various sorting strategies we use to classify success in school don’t encourage kids to learn – only to win.
Tests, tough discipline, competition are the simple things that we cling to when we don’t understand or appreciate public education’s real mandate and contribution.
We seldom talk about these important things.
Instead, we analyze literacy scores, Math awards, best athlete, honours classes, IB, and test scores – anything to measure success and feed our need for vicarious triumph, when high scores are actually the least important thing public schooling offers children.
We mistakenly believe academic performance has something to do with wearing a school uniform. We think it important enough to pay big bucks, drive to cross town learning academies or preparatory colleges.
We think academic rigour important enough to pay to keep our children away from public school riff raff, be they special needs, a different religion or (gasp) no religion at all. Some think their children learn better when kept away from students of different races, socio economic classes, or academic abilities.
If your child likes her school, if she is happy there and likes her teachers, she is likely doing just fine. Leave her and the school, alone. Share her successes unconditionally. Let her own her schooling. If you see a problem, quietly find out from the school what’s happening and work with them to make it appear as if your child has solved the problem herself, rather than having mommy or daddy fix it for her.
The most important thing we can do for our children is to let them go to a neighbourhood school on their own terms. They are learning to be their own person and they need to practice without our manipulating each bump and difficulty.
Everything we do as parents should be supportive of getting our kids to take charge of their own schooling and enjoy their school days – they have plenty of time for mortgage worries and scrabbling for success.
Once they do take responsibility, you have only to sit back and cheer.
That’s what schools offer our kids, and it’s a huge contribution – especially if we let it happen, instead of obsessing over competition, results, test scores, and strict discipline.