Ask Not What My Child Can Do For You…

My daughter is a talented cellist. I knew from the moment she first held a bow that she’d found her instrument. She started playing two years ago, but to hear her play, you’d think she’s been studying music for much, much longer. She’s talented, yes. More importantly, she’s passionately committed to mastering her instrument. She practices for at least an hour every day after school, and she works with her private teacher every Saturday. I occasionally have to remind her to clean the cat’s litter box, but I never have to remind her to practice her cello.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’re probably aware that I am new to parenting. I’ve been a stepmom for about three years, and I’ve only been a full-time mom for a little over a year and a half. Although it’s been quite a challenge to get a handle on being a parent, one major advantage I think I have is that I’ve not been completely desensitized to the dysfunction of our public education system. Most parents I know are resigned to the fact that their children aren’t getting a solid education. Those who are fully engaged in parenting try to fill in the gaps where they can, but so many more parents just send their kids off to school and hope for the best.

My husband and I have taken a more proactive approach to our daughter’s education. We’ve gone so far as to relocate to another city just to get her into a particular school that we feel will give her the best opportunity to achieve her full potential. It’s a charter school with a classical approach to education and a rigorous curriculum. Unlike our current public school system where the bar is set so low that no child can possibly be left behind, the standards at our daughter’s new school are set so high that even the best and brightest will have to stretch to hit the mark.

I may be new to parenting, but I am certainly not new to teaching or learning. I’ve trained dogs and people for decades. I’m also a self-taught jewelry artisan and a life-long learner. It’s been my observation that, whether you set the bar high or set it low, any student (quadruped or biped) will almost always hit the mark. So, why not set the bar high?

That said, I’ll get back to my original point about my daughter’s musical ability. We had an unusual experience at her recent solo and ensemble competition, and it’s been bothering me for weeks. This was her second solo and ensemble competition, and (just as we expected) she did extremely well. She received a superior rating for her solo. Last year she also achieved a superior score for her first solo, and we were able to collect her blue medal on site after her score was posted.

Being in a different school district this year, we weren’t sure how or where she would get her medal as there were no vendors present at the competition. So, we stopped one of the district orchestra conductors in the hallway and asked him how our daughter could get her medal. He explained that the district buys the blue medals for those students who received superior scores, and that parents could purchase medals online from the vendor for lower scores. I mentioned that our daughter achieved a superior score, and then I watched the man transform, right before my eyes, from helpful educator to hard-core recruiter. He immediately started grilling my daughter with questions about where she planned to go to high school, and then he pitched his high school to us.

I could sense his frustration when I informed him that our daughter would be transferring to a charter school next year, and as that she would be completing her secondary education there (the charter school serves students from sixth through twelfth grade). I get it. Public school teachers hate seeing their best and brightest transfer out of the public education system into charter schools and private schools.

It must be incredibly disheartening for those teachers who love to teach to lose the few students in their classrooms who love to learn. But as a parent, my only concern is for my daughter’s best interests. She’s a straight-A student at her current school. She’s in advanced classes across the board, yet she’s not being challenged academically. Frankly, the bar at her current public middle school isn’t set high enough to stretch our daughter’s mind or her imagination. She readily admits that she’s not challenged, and this is where I think the public education system is truly failing our children. The commitment to leaving no child behind is admirable and well-intentioned, I’m sure, but it comes at the expense of smart kids like my daughter.

The talents and intellects of our best and brightest aren’t being challenged in public schools because of a bizarre national obsession with leveling the playing field. As parents with an obligation to prepare our daughter to face the real world, where the playing field is most certainly not level, we’ve opted to raise the bar considerably when it comes to her education. I’d much rather see her struggle to get Bs and Cs in calculus and Socratic seminars than watch her get straight As in her current school’s curriculum with little to no effort.

My daughter already has a strong work ethic. I see it every day in her commitment to cello practice. Her work ethic alone will take her far in life, but imagine how much further she can go with a strong work ethic and a great education. Our public education system is irretrievably broken, and I understand that that’s not the fault of the teachers alone. I’m weary, though, of seeing teachers greedily eyeing my daughter as if she’s some sort of solution to the deficiencies in their classrooms. The same education system that is failing to challenge my daughter desperately wants her to remain in that system–not so she can be educated, but so she can elevate test scores and win awards and scholarships that will reflect positively on the school.

Again, I get it. But my job as a parent is to make sure my daughter is adequately prepared for a future that, frankly, is looking pretty bleak given the current political state of this country. I’m not at all interested in boosting the ego of a high school orchestra conductor by allowing him to lay claim to her musical talent and prodigious ability. Nor am I interested in boosting the test scores of a public school by allowing my daughter to languish in an unstimulating environment for the next six years.

Education is not supposed to be about what our kids can do for the system. It’s about what the system can do for our kids. My daughter’s new school understands the difference, and it’s committed to doing precisely what public schools have failed to do: educate the best and brightest by providing a challenging environment and maintaining high academic standards.

 

 

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