I'm 40 today. Just the other day, I read in a magazine that 50 is the new 30, so I guess that means I'm 20. I've been dreading this day for the past year, but now I've been 40 for a whole thirteen hours and I can say it's not too bad. I know several women in the forties who are fabulous and youthful and attractive, so maybe my life isn't over yet. It hasn't been a birthday sort of day, which is fine.. I went running and visited the recycling center and the library. I cleaned a wad of gum out of the dryer, I treated my living room for fleas and Mad Scientist and I have just finished putting the first coat of paint on my dining room. I could have done without the gum or the fleas, but overall it hasn't been a terrible day. Jon is working all weekend which sucks, but what can you do?
But I'm not writing today to talk about my birthday. I thought I'd describe the meeting I went to at Charlottesville High School. There's a new principal this year, so this was a sort of meet and greet, question and answer type thing. I had been having a terrible, horrible, very bad day and I arrived at the meeting in no mood for dealing with anybody. The meeting was in the library, or “media center” as they call it these days and soon after I settled into a seat, two women sat next to me. They noticed the powerpoint set up and groaned. “Are you the parent of a 9th grader?” the one next to me asked. I told her no, I had a 10th grader, and they told me how they'd already seen this powerpoint at the 9th grade orientation. I gathered they didn't want to see it again. One woman approached the principal to ask if he could talk first and then give the powerpoint, since they'd already heard it and the other said to me, “I'm sorry you got stuck sitting next to the grumpy troublemakers.” Are you kidding me? Considering the mood I was in, the only person I didn't actively want to punch in the face was a grumpy troublemaker. At last, a group I can identify with.
Alas, it was necessary to begin with the powerpoint, and the grumpy troublemakers were right: it was pretty lame. It started with a list of random facts such as “In China, their students at the top 25% in IQ number more than all American students together. China has more honors students than we have students.” More facts followed, mainly about China I wondered how all these facts related to students at Charlottesville High School specifically, but no explanation was forthcoming. The focus changed to rapidly changing technology, we need to prepare kids for jobs that don't even exist yet, yada yada. “Our kids are content creators!” thundered the principal, at which point a parent sitting behind me burst into a frenzied outbreak of applause.
Next came the question and answer portion of the meeting. A parent sitting behind me—I suspect she was the applauder—spoke very earnestly about something. She was so afraid of using language that might offend that she couched her remarks in a way that made it very hard to understand what she was saying, although I think the gist was, “We need to get the poor parents more involved in their kids' education.” Finally, frustrated at the limits that middle class guilt put on her ability to express herself, she burst out, “I'm passionate about caring.” The principal looked relieved and everybody in the room assumed grave expressions of acquiescence. It appeared we were all on board with caring about Caring.
Other parents asked questions. I asked about the overcrowded honors classes. Apparently, some kids will drop honors and go down to advanced, and the classes will be less crowded. (Later, I passed this fact on the Drama Queen and she said, “Are you kidding me? There are more kids coming into the classes every day.”)
The principal spoke enthusiastically about differentiation—grouping kids of different levels in classes together with the teacher meeting the needs of all the students simultaneously—and a few parents spoke up and described a mixed level Chemistry class from last year as a disaster. I think Mad Scientist was in that class.
One parent wondered if all children should be in honors classes. Her remarks were complex, but I think her point was that all children would benefit from honors-type instruction, and I think she's probably right, although if you started an initiative like that in high school, it would be much too late. The “Quest” program pulls gifted and “high potential” children out of the classroom for special enrichment activities, but, even though all four of my children have participated in Quest, I think it's ridiculous—borderline criminal—that these activities are withheld from the other students. If anything, a child functioning at a lower level might benefit more from the enrichment activities than a gifted child who probably has parents who are enriching his life at home on a daily basis.
Another parent said that it was unnecessary to worry about changing technology. Give our kids a strong foundation in math, science, and literature, and they will adapt to new technology as it develops, he said. I wanted to burst into a frenzied outbreak of applause, but I didn't. The principal agreed and then said fatuously that he would include “critical thinking” and “team building” right along with math, science and literature as fundamentals that must be taught.
Team building? Are you effing kidding me? And why does everybody want to teach critical thinking? Doesn't every single person of average intelligence use critical thinking every day? Am I crazy for thinking this? I can't think of a moment when I'm not using critical thinking. And I was taught by nuns. They didn't hold with any new-fangled notions. The nuns' message was “You will learn this, or you will die.” These nuns could teach a stick to read. With a stick. So, we thought critically and realized that if we didn't want to die, we'd better learn what we were taught, and that was that. Being taught how to think was like being taught how to eat.