Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The most awful time of the year

Nothing makes me crankier than the start of the school year.  There's a myth that mothers across the land rejoice at the first day of school, but I am convinced that this is mostly bullshit.  For the next nine months, I will be prey to the demands of the school system:  sign this, buy this, bake this, bring this, supervise this, attend this mandatory meeting, make sure your kid is at this mandatory out-of-school activity-that-we-scheduled-at-an-impossibly-inconvenient-time.  Seamus will come home from school today with a thick packet of paper forms which I must fill out, with the identical information that I put on the same paper forms last year.  I will have to sign insulting parent "contracts" about promising to make sure my child shows up for school on time every day, and does his homework, etc.

I say "child" because this year, we have just one child in the public school system.  Grace has asked to be homeschooled--something I had been seriously considering anyway.  "Public school is bad for me," she said, stating what I have been thinking for years.  Last night, I gave her some assignments to work on and she told me she was excited about actually learning something this year.

One of my many complaints about our school system is the dogged belief--despite zero supporting evidence-- that exposing kids to electronics will somehow make them better prepared for a competitive job market.   As a result, ridiculous off-brand tablets were distributed to every student in grades 5-12.  These were going to make learning fun and prepare kids for careers.  All testing would take place on the tablets, homework would be submitted wirelessly (despite significant student population with no home internet access) and we would move together into a glorious new future.

The tablets were mostly a big headache, and both Grace and Seamus reported that they didn't use them very often, because their teachers didn't like them.   That didn't stop the schools from releasing a PR "news" story* several months after the tablets were distributed about how great they were.  Included in the list of accomplishments that kids had mastered was "performing google searches."  The article included an enthusiastic quote from a "technology coordinator" but no remarks from actual teachers.  Meanwhile, the technology director--the guy responsible for acquiring the tablets-- for the city schools resigned.  A friend told me about this after the high school open house the other day.  I don't have a link to support it, but I did look him up on Linkedin and his profile shows that he is now working as an independent consultant.

I'm not a luddite.  I program software, for crying out loud.  Part of my job involves supporting physicians who are having trouble using an electronic medical record.  Believe me, you can be very successful and have no clue how to use a computer.  Indeed, I was hired for my current job even though I had no experience with configuring software.  A general familiarity with Microsoft Word is handy, but it's ridiculous to claim that constant use of a tablet computer will somehow give anyone an edge, and the electronic distraction almost certainly does more harm than good.

I seem to have gone off on a tangent, when I meant to write about the first day of school.  Seamus is now up and nearly ready to go.  I had to dissuade him from bringing his ipod, as it would certainly be stolen.

*I am trying to provide a link directly to the article, but the Daily Progress website seems to be down right now.  I've instead entered a link to a discussion about the story, with a link to the exact article.


  1. This is a pet peeve of mine. What child on the face of this earth needs extensive training on how to use basic technology? We didn't give our older children access to the computer (and then only limited access) until they were 12. It took them approximately 3.9 seconds to become better at using it than I am. When I needed to learn how to use a touch screen, I consulted my 13-year-old David, who had never used one either but seemed to know all about it. Technology in schools is a joke. Why don't they spend the money on getting all those start-of-the-year forms online instead?

  2. Ugh. Back to school! Luckily we are past that.

    I wonder how many spiral notebooks, glue sticks and colored pencils the school system could have purchased for the kids instead. Odd how they still need those items...

    And with all the vounteering they expect, one might as well be homeschooling.

    "Believe me, you can be very successful and have no clue how to use a computer."

    Oh, I believe it all right. I just found out that when I asked my dentist to transfer some digital dental x-rays to another practice she sent them printouts on paper. Guess who is driving a Jaguar?

  3. What dismayed me at open house the other day, was the huge number of textbooks I saw in every classroom -- more so than last year, which was BEFORE the students got their tablets. If either of my daughters will be expected to schlep both a tablet and a heavy pile of books back and forth, I'll be calling the principal to discuss this.

  4. Bummer about your school system. I have to admit to being one of those moms who is ecstatic that her daughter is back in school :-) We had a great summer, but it's nice to have some structure back in our lives for a time (I started teaching this week too).

    I totally agree with you about technology (and what Suburban Correspondent said). Smaller class sizes would enhance learning; sticking technology into classes and expecting it to enhance learning just by being there is such an incredible waste of money.

  5. Completely agree about the over-hype about electronic gadgets at school. Teach the basics simply at first, then move on. And I'm the head of computing at my school, so I'm not exactly a luddite.

  6. I am unreasonably terrified about the demands schools make on kids and the possible low return for the child. I know this is unreasonable because I only have one child and she is two. Tell me there is a way for me to start steeling myself for this inevitable circus. Please.

  7. countingchickens, look into Waldorf schools. For real. My daughter's school has no technology at all, no homework, and a huge focus on PLAY in the early years. In the later grades, they don't have textbooks - they learn in more interactive ways and then write their own 'textbook' with writing and drawings from what they learned.

  8. I don't think I learned very much in school, generally, but I was fortunate to have smart parents who loved books and learning. One of the books my mother gave me to read during that time was, ironically enough by Ivan Illich and was entitled, "Deschooling Society." It was considered quite controversial in its day. It can be read online here:

  9. Well. I remember spending time in fourth grade learning how to use the Reader's Guide To Periodical Literature. Learning how to navigate the Dewey Decimal System. Writing a report with footnotes and a bibliography and the correct use of "ibid." I think I might have liked a tablet...

  10. Annie, LOL about the jaguar. So true.

    Jen--I heard they weren't ready to put textbooks on the tablets yet, due to contracts, etc, but I don't see why there must be more books this year.

    TSB--thanks. Like you, I have no problem with technology itself, just the notion that owning a tablet will somehow make you easier to educate.

    Counting Chickens--sometimes you just have to make yourself say no.

    Laoch--I had similar parents. Definitely a blessing to any child.

    Murr- true, we learned a lot of useless things. I remember hating the Guide to Periodic Literature. it was so unwieldy. One of my pet peeves is when a modern public library (such as my city's) still uses the Dewey Decimal system. I worked in a library all through high school and college. Still, it's maddening to hear our high school principal blow hot air about how the tablets will somehow transform education as we know it. I'm not buying it.

  11. I haven't had to deal with the tablets yet, but I do want to bitch about how ungodly early school is for 5-8 grades. Yes, I'm spoiled - my child has always been a most excellent sleeper and has always slept late on her own. To wake her up at 6:30 every morning, which is at least an hour earlier than she has ever woken up on her own, kills me. Also, she's a horrible wake up and at that hour with the tween hormones running full blast, well, it just sucks.
    That is all.