Musings of a Father, Elementary and Secondary

[Image from “The Heart & Mind of Victor”, a blog by Victor L. Stanley]

Not to brag, or anything, but my son just received a Mathematics Award at his middle school. My loving wife received an email notification, and we juggled things around to make sure we were there to see him receive it. Nobody wants to get a math award…at least that’s how I gauged the situation. Standing in front of the entire 7th grade class, holding a certificate, waiting to be allowed to just sit back down on the bleachers. His joy was…subdued. Polite clapping by everyone (meaning parents, teachers, and 7th graders forced to watch).

I was excited, though. Math is a good thing to “win” these days.

Perfect attendance awards were given. One student hasn’t missed a day in 7 years! I know of one district that gives a Rolex to anyone with perfect attendance K-12.

Most students received no award.

The middle school is large, about a thousand students in three “grades.” It feels like thousands more. I grew up in South Dakota and attended (arguably) the largest high school in the state–about 1000 students in 3 “classes.”

Don’t ask my why they started high school in 10th grade there. I don’t know. That’s important to consider, though. Today’s ceremony follows another from yesterday at my daughter’s elementary school. It was an awards ceremony for fifth grade.

My daughter called it “graduation.” She has “graduated” three times so far–preschool, kindergarten, and now this. She received a medal and a pile of certificates. Everybody received recognitions. They have a bilingual class, which announced their awards in Spanish. To me it was “[NAME] blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…y programa DARE.”

Everybody graduated from D.A.R.E., it seems. I guess that means the War on Drugs is over. Unless…

Among the other awards issued by classroom teachers were the “Tells the Truth Award,” the “Neatest Worker in the Whole Wide World Award,” and in one heart-wrenching story, a “Most Improved Award” was given.

This was followed by a slide show of pictures set to the music of Rent (Seasons of the Love–The “525,600 Minutes” Song). Here are fifth graders standing. Here are some other fifth graders being wacky. Here are some other fifth graders…

Yesterday, students were honored with the “A-B Honor Roll.” Today, at the middle school, you needed all A’s to get a certificate…and the accompanying humiliation.

It’s amazing to me how we treat students–so similar in age–so differently. We do this in schools, but we also do it in society, and we also do it personally. I noticed while typing this that my son is in 7th grade, while my daughter is in fifth grade. Just instinctual typing indicates how differently we view things once the kid turns, say, 11.5 years old.

There isn’t enough room to discuss the actual work of God who just became a high school junior today. She’s hanging out with friends, frustrated that she doesn’t speak Spanish better, and quick to worry about things before celebrating her Academic Award, a spot on the varsity tennis team, that she has friends like hers. Or just the fact that she wears my nose and her mother’s hair so as to embody parental pride with every move she makes–how special it felt yesterday in the doctor’s office each time I got to write the word, “Father” in the blank for “Relationship to Patient.”

…It terrifies me to think we may have “taught” her that kind of focus.

We are shocked if gang violence, drugs, bullying, or other “adult” issues end up in the elementary schools, and we should be. We work to protect them. They are children, for Pete’s sake.

Then June 1 rolls around, and they’re suddenly thrust into a world where they are mini-adults. Rules seem to assume they’re going to be broken. Crowd control is an obvious goal. Praise, motivation, and awards become more “internal.” Preparation for high school–which is focused on preparation for college–becomes the focus. Suddenly, a child is supposed to think about 11 or 12 years in the future, even though they’ve only lived 11 or 12 so far.

Today is the last day of school for the first-ever kindergarten class at my daughter’s elementary school; this is the first group to go through the entire K-5 years in this building. For those teachers who witnessed the school’s opening in 2006, today is part of history. Tears of joy and sadness were shed by children and the adults that work to love and try to teach them. My daughter walked out of her childhood under a sea of balloons–courtesy of a PTO that also has kids’ carnivals, sock hops, and all kinds of fun things that will now disappear from her life as she moves from fifth grade to 6th grade.

My son, well, he got a ride home from somebody. I know that because he’s downstairs playing video games, unaware of how proud he should be of himself.

Until I get down there…

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About Paul T. Henley, Ph. D.

http://www.nitle.org/about/bios/henley.php
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3 Responses to Musings of a Father, Elementary and Secondary

  1. Sweet meditation, Paul. I admire the way you move from details of your children to the broader social issues, and back again.
    These are weird, liminal spaces for parents.

  2. Pingback: Ahead and Behind | Thinking Again

  3. Pingback: An Unbelievable Shining Moment | Thinking Again

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