Not The Pencils, But Damned Close

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If you read my “concerns” (I like that word better than “rant”) about the amount of pencils needed to make a 4th grade successful, brace yourself for more “tough love” (again, a nicer term than “bitchfest”).

And this might be long and scatterbrained, so go get a drink and accept my semi-sincere apologies.

So I went to Parent Night and you’d be proud to know I did NOT raise my hand politely and asked where the 1800 pencils were stored in the classroom.  I did, however, note that my son’s desk only had one pencil in it, but again…Soviet-style collectivization, I’m aware.  The teacher began in on classroom rules and all parents were nodding their heads about signing agendas each night and reading to our children.

Then she pointed to the side of the room that appeared to have 30 makeshift pockets on the wall with…what was that?  A pencil sticking out of each pocket.  And as I squinted, I could tell each pocket had a kid’s name on it.  She explained that the students have their pencil and if they lose their pencil, they can take the one out of their pocket on the wall…for a buck.  Not real money, mind you, but the paper “money” they get for good deeds, all homework in this week, etc.  And that no, the kids don’t get that buck back if they find their original pencil.

WAIT JUST ONE MINUTE.  Are you telling me that you are trying to instill a sense of responsibility into my kid regarding a PENCIL?  After I went off on that rant about 21,600 pencils?  That you are, without saying the words or knowing that I said them, agreeing with me about the ridiculousness of my son needing 60 pencils?

Holy Elementary Teachers, Batman.  I like this gal.  Who, by the way, has been teaching for over 30 years, so maybe she has seen what I’ve seen.

Enough about the pencils.

A few minutes later, going over school nonsense like background checks for field trips, signing five more forms, weather alert procedures and so forth, she brought up the school’s Parent Portal.

You know what a Parent Portal is, right?  It’s the way you can Big Brother not only your child, but your child’s teacher too!  You can log in and see their gradebook in real time, and you can not only see when Spawn#1 doesn’t turn in an assignment, you can also pull out every paper in his folder and verify that the teacher plugged in the correct grade.  Every.  Flipping.  Day.  If you choose to.

I remember that this was introduced when my daughter hit 7th or 8th grade.  I dutifully got my parent login and I dutifully logged in and looked it over.  Like maybe five times.

And then I pretty much forgot about it.

I’m sure the junior high will remind of this on the upcoming Parent Night (yay!).  And you know what?

No.

Just no.  This is getting ridiculous.

Look, I don’t have the time each day to log into yet another section of life to verify my spawn is doing what he’s supposed to do at school.  It’s one more thing to do, and quite frankly, I don’t want to make time to do this each day.  Don’t tell me “it takes, like, 2 minutes” because:

  1. If I log in and see that my spawn hasn’t turned in two assignments, I have to then make the decision whether or not to deal with it. If I choose NOT to, I’m a bad parent and my spawn are lucky to be alive.  If I choose to deal with it…
  2. I have to track down said spawn, which could take a few more minutes depending on where they are located (room or outside or annoying a neighbor). Then…
  3. I have to ask “why didn’t you turn in this paper?” Then…
  4. Said spawn will blankly look at me and go “what paper?” Then…
  5. I have to read the name of the assignment to which the spawn will either yell he did turn it in or claim he has no idea what that paper is. Then…
  6. You see how this “2 minute” action turns into a 400-page version of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” right? I don’t need to continue this scenario for 400 more pages, right?

Also, I don’t want to get agitated.  Okay, more agitated than I am most days and I do my best to avoid the things that agitate me. Like reading the comments under shared articles on social media or walking near the PTO table at Back to School Night.  Or trying to figure out what wine pairs well with Why Didn’t You Do Your Worksheet (it’s boxed cabernet, bee tee dubs).

And, I genuinely feel bad for the teachers.  I imagine the helicopter parents are all over them regarding a missing point here and there.  And if they’re not, I’m sure the teachers are nervous anyway – the Parent Portal allows for a parent to jump all over a teacher for a human error immediately.  That’s a lot of pressure for a teacher who already has to learn Common Core math at age 55.

“But it’s an opportunity to bring the parents into the education of their kids,” some will try to say.  And to that, I just roll my eyes and flip the bird to no one in particular.

Because is it really about bring the parents in to help?  No.  It’s about preempting parental screaming matches at report card time when Spawn#1 has a C instead of the A we all know he deserves for simply breathing.

And while this Parent Portal is a technology probably meant to ease the teacher’s burden as well, the cost is a fraction of student responsibility being tossed aside.

But stop for a moment and think about this.  Like the pencils, we are taking the responsibility of schoolwork away from our kids.  These little responsibilities are the building blocks to adulting successfully down the road, with things like managing money, holding down a job, doing said job well and so forth.  Let me give you an example here.  Back in the day, we had a card catalog in the library (they still have it, in case you’re wondering).  When we needed to find a book, we had to come up with (in our brains!) the topic to look up.  Then we had to find the card with said topic, and write down with a pencil the potential books.  If there were none, or we wanted more, we then had to think of cross-references to look up.  After all that, we had to go find the books themselves.  Nowadays, the computer based catalogs skip several steps that you and I grew up doing. It might sound silly to you, but those tiny building blocks set the stage for us to look at a problem at work and figure out five different ways to solve it.

Still not on board with me?

I have a 20-something adultish child and I’m currently seeing the results of the Everyone-Gets-A-Trophy generation.  I also teach college and in the past decade, we’ve had to begin including all sorts of specifics in both the syllabus and the classroom that we never had before. Because these kids are struggling to deal with life and cannot function without very specific directions on things such as what to do when you miss class. They no longer seem to have the ability to figure out that they should check the syllabus for the rules and/or simply let their instructor know and/or touch base with them the next class period, and (no “or”) accept the consequences.  I kid you not.  These are college-aged kids, and yes, they are still kids, who have little critical thinking skills.

I could give you a ton of examples, but here’s one that came through my email the other day…

Actual Email: “AHHH I am having a minor panic attack, the discussion thing won’t let me copy and paste what I typed in word SOS! what do I do?”

Translation (if you don’t speak Millennial): “I am panicking because I wrote my discussion post in Microsoft Word and it is not allowing me to copy and paste into the forum online.  Help! What else can I do?”

This is a student who is smart enough to do his/her work ahead of time, in a program to catch misspellings and so forth, and yet at the first sign of trouble with pasting into the forum, flips out.  I did reply with suggestions and zero snark (pinky swear).  But these kiddos are supposedly the tech generation as well…so…what’s that saying in overall terms?  If the tech generation can’t figure out how to solve a problem within their techy world, where does that leave them?

I wanted to name this article “Hillary?  What Happens When the Village is Fucked Up?”  Because I’m all about the whole “it takes a village to raise a child” theory.  I believe in it, I truly do.

But seriously, what happens when the village is screwing up by not teaching the basics of responsibility, out of fear that someone might cry?

The pencils.  The damned Parent Portal.  How are our kids learning responsibility when the simplest things, like turning your school work into the red file caddy on the teacher’s desk is no longer THEIR responsibility?

Segue: I have deleted most of my rantings about everyone getting a trophy even if you never won a single game.   Do not get me started on that topic (as I glance over at the shiny plasticky trophies my elder son has “won” for being on teams that never won a single game).

The village is no longer raising kids to be adults.  And this bothers me to no end.  My husband and I constantly are looking at our 20-something and going “did we do something wrong?”  And truth is, no we didn’t (overall).

The village has a stronger voice and we were drowned out in so many preparatory things.  For example, I flat-out refused to bring homework or books up to the school when she forgot them because we took the stance that she either remembered her stuff or faced the consequences.  Sounds like “good parenting,” right?  But did she face the consequences?  NO SHE DIDN’T, because the Trophy Generation also gets Infinite Chances and Redos.  Our “good parenting” DOES NO GOOD when the village says “oh, bring it tomorrow, no biggie, don’t cry, I don’t want your precious feelings hurt.”

The Parent Portal is just one of many things that has taken away responsibility from our children.  If my kid’s teacher has a late policy, and I check that portal every blasted day and remind my kid every blasted day “you didn’t turn in your homework yesterday, get it done so you can turn it in tomorrow,” then my kid is going to be a 20-something who still expects someone to remind him each time he needs to get something done, either in college or the workplace.

And this is what we are dealing with at the college level.  I am not joking when I tell you that we now have a 14-page syllabus that includes things like “how to call if you’re going to miss class.”  Colleges across the nation have been responding to the workforce which is saying “your graduates can’t function” and it is downright scary.  For years, you’ve been listening to people whine about how the Millennials are lazy; they are not lazy, they are ill-prepared for life as an adult.

The village is failing them.  At the college level, we have gone from teaching higher education classes to teaching them how to get from Point A to Point B without a map.  We no longer focus on the content of the college courses we teach, because we are now having to teach basic survival skills for adulthood.

All things that should have been taught in elementary school.

So no, Parent Portal, I’m not logging in and checking my spawn’s grades on a daily basis.  Not happening over here.

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