That may explain everything

I was doing my usual “I find public school distressing” rant to a neighbor, when she caught me up short. I had acknowledged, as I have done here, that my children’s teachers are very good at going through the curriculum, and my children are definitely learning. I complained, though, as I do here, that I can’t get away from the feeling that these women aren’t real educators, because they show such appalling ignorance when they’re unanchored from the curriculum — something that’s going to happen in even the most closely regulated classroom. My neighbor, who is kind and sympathetic, explained to me that I was putting the emphasis in the wrong place. The top goal in our school district is not education, it’s “nurturing.” What?!

Turns out my friend is absolutely right. If you go to the school district’s “Mission Statement,” you discover that the district’s top goal is to nuture the child, with education coming in second. I’m apparently appallingly old-fashioned to the extent that I believe it’s my job as a parent to nurture, and that it’s the school’s job to teach.

Feel free to weigh in with comments, given that I’m still scraping my jaw off the floor.

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  • Heather

    You didn’t know that that’s what’s going on these days? This nuturing philosophy has been a problem for years. In my college ed classes, the refrain was, “Of course, you need to know your subject area, but _____. ” Fill in the blank with “loving your students is the most important thing” or any other similar hooey you can come up with. I was in secondary ed, so at least I did have a real major with those awful ed classes tacked on the sides. I cannot comment authoritatively on the state of elementary ed, but I have a feeling that the problems of uneducated teachers are much worse there. You may find your kids’ teachers are more knowledgeable when they get into the higher grades. Middle school is iffy, as some teachers there are el ed certified, and others are secondary ed certified. Teachers in middle school are also frequently asked to teach classes outside of their subject area. One year, I was “forced” to teach a seventh grade science class, and it was a farce. I tried my very best to learn the material, but anytime the kids had a question that strayed away from the text, I was in trouble. They were smart enough to know that the French teacher would not normally be teaching a science class. So imagine a parent was mad about his child not having a good science teacher. Whose fault would it be? Not mine. I didn’t major in science, and told the principal that I didn’t want to do it. I made no false claims. I was never hired to teach science. I suppose I could have resigned in protest (one week before the start of school), but that would not haved helped the kids. Perhaps I should have joined the union, and then the situation would not have arisen. But wait – aren’t unions the source of all educational troubles, according to a few people who comment on here? But I doubt it would have mattered in my case.

    You have just touched on an a major issue in education today; although most outside of the field (ie., parents) are not aware of it. NCLB tries to address this problem by requiring a “highly qualified” teacher in every classroom. Obviously, that is easier said than done.

  • Trish Olsen

    I had wondered what your peers (other parents with kids attending the same school)were thinking… Unbelievable!

  • helenl

    The most important element of education (grade K-12) is the classroom teacher, not books, not equipment, not curriculum. When teachers are stripped of autonomy (told what to teach when), you get less rather than more.

    I was taught (in teacher education classes) that “when a bird flies in the window, it’s time to study birds.” In other words, to be flexible. Sadly, too many parents see life as compartmentalized. Life is so full of unpleasant events that we do not have the luxury of being rigid. Sometimes we cannot wait for the parents to nurture; sometimes the parents are the reason the student needs to be nurtured.

    In loco parentis does not mean the parents are crazy; it means they are not present, and a responsible teacher must act in their stead. If news comes of two airplanes flying into the World Trade Center, do we still analyze the characters from a Charles Dickens novel? Or do we nurture?

  • Danny Lemieux

    HelenL, your comparison between birds flying into a room and planes flying into the WTC is so completely over the top that I truly hope it was tongue-in-cheek. My spouse is a teacher (and a damn good one at that). She nurtures, alright – by telling her middle school students to buck-up and shape-up. They love her for it. Admittedly, in many cases, it is because these kids’ parents won’t do it, so maybe HelenL has a point.

  • Bookworm

    Helen: I like your idea of flexibility, and I like your idea of nurturing when the situation calls for it. A school that places nurturing over educating is in trouble. In any event, considering the schools’ obsession with tests — to the point that I got a report card that provided no other information than that my child was in range that would pass the test — it’s just as disingenous for them to claim nurturing as educating. They’re really not in either business. Schools have morphed into Stanley Kaplan style teaching, where it’s all about test techniques. I think SK’s techniques are wonderful, in their place, put a school that has teachers who are uneducated and who fancy themselves a combination of child therapist and PC morals police is a very dangerous place indeed.

  • Ymarsakar

    I think Bookworm is both a good teacher as well as a good nurturer.

  • Bookworm

    Thank you, Y. What a nice thing to say.

  • Ymarsakar

    I certainly learned a lot here.

  • Ymarsakar

    So, I think any thanks from you simply fills in my debt ; )

  • JJ

    “Too many PARENTS see it as compartmentalized??” Could I possibly, after the last two weeks of postings here, have read that right?

    I wonder what world you inhabit, Helen. The most regimented, do-it-by-the-book, follow-the-syllabus; imagination free zoned people on the planet are public school teachers.

    The discussion here the last couple of weeks has centered around the fact that they are so unable to deviate, they can’t even be bothered to correct their own spelling or grammar.

  • Earl

    “Nurturing” appears to me to be a substitute for requiring anything the student doesn’t want to produce. If being required to learn accurate spelling makes a student upset in some way — or his complaints makes the parent upset – then the “nurturing thing to do” is to back off on the requirement!

    That gets the teacher out of the position of having a kid (or a roomful) upset at her in the short term, even if they’re handicapped over the long term. Life is easier….and most parents aren’t screaming to the administration about how awful you are……

    AND, it has the added advantage of eliminating the “problem” of not really knowing a subject well — since “learning” isn’t the prime directive, and all the “nurturing” dolts can train and hire on as our elementary school teachers! I know that sounds terrible, but there is a LOT of it going on, if the product of our schools is any indication.

  • Lulu

    All good teachers nurture as well as teach. They encourage. They recognize and assist kids when they are having difficulty. They guide. They mentor.

    A good teacher does not replace a parent, and the truly blessed children are those whose parents are nurturers who also guide and teach and whose teachers can nurture a love of learning and confidence. As we all know, teachers can aslo destroy a love of learning and confidence.

    A lot of parents drop the ball. They don’t guide their children sufficiently. Schools are increasingly becoming not just centers of learning, but general social service institutions. A lot of kids, particularly the children of illegal immigrants, teen parents, kids from violent or substance abusing homes, and so on, come to school ill-prepared to learn, often emotionally troubled, and too often receiving little guidance or support at home. Schools are becoming society’s de facto parents, for better or worse.

  • Rachel

    I must say I am not at all surprised at the school situation you find your child in. Perhaps you’d like to meet a fellow blogger – The more I hear about public schools, the more determined I am to keep my children (when I have them) OUT. Public schools weren’t great when I went through, and they certainly haven’t improved much if at all. Perhaps homeschooling isn’t something you can do, but then again it might be. Or private schooling. Or is this a private school? I don’t recall you saying. Regardless, the school is clearly failing your standards. What are you going to do about it?

    I wish you the best.

  • Don Quixote

    Hi Lulu,

    Yours is a lovely and thoughtful comment, but if you are right it is much for the worse. The schools are poorly qualified to serve as parents. It’s like asking policeman to build roads or religious leaders to fight fires. Perhaps the greatest problem in our society (although I know the competition for that title is pretty stiff) is that parents have quit being parents. The schools are no substitute, the churches are no substitutes, the politicians are no substitutes, you can’t use a village to raise a child. The only people who can properly raise a child are the child’s parents, both of them, pouring their hearts and souls into the job. And, while it is possible for a hard-working, dedicated single parent to properly raise children, it is very hard, and the process work infinitely better with two united, dedicated parents.

  • Yaakov Watkins

    I was the stay at home parent for three kids. The youngest is 20. Here is what I learned. Parents are responsible for what their kids learn. Require learning standards that you believe in. We required good writing. My children were allowed to write to either professional standards, or they could write to their teacher’s standard. They ended up writing to their mother’s professional standard because they wanted to do a good job. They can all read well. The ability to read well ranks just after toilet training and just behind shoe tying. They all can do basic algebra.

    The teachers usually helped. Sometimes they hindered. In all cases I treated them as junior partners in my children’s education. If you depend on them to teach, you will be sorry.

    If your children need teachers to nurture them rather than teach, you need to hug them more often.

    Expect more of your children and provide an example to them. Take an correspondence course instead of watching TV. The sight of you studying for a final is the best education they can get.

  • Ymarsakar

    Yaakov’s last paragraph must be intended for your husband, Bookworm, heh.

  • auntie

    I just don’t think that nurturing equates with low standards. Isn’t it more nurturing to guide one’s charges to the correct path than to allow them to wander off into the wilderness?

    I’m in graduate school and more than one professor has said something like, “I just have never been a good speller” – as if spelling correctly is an antiquated affectation. Of course, the same professor would never use bad syntax when programming. A person on my program, one who already holds two masters degrees, insists on inserting an apostrophe in front of every letter “s” that appears at the end of a word. Or should I say, “appear’s” at the end of a word.

    I gnash my teeth.

  • Earl

    I agree with auntie — nurturing does NOT equate with low standards. In our house, the kids were nurtured and they were expected to meet OUR standards, which are anything but low.

    The problem is that schools have large numbers of children for each teacher (and 15 is “large”, believe me) and the purpose of their getting together is EDUCATION! Learning to read, write and figure is hard work and if it’s to be done well, everyone must concentrate on the task at hand without a lot of distractions (one of the reasons that “mainstreaming” kids who aren’t ready to learn is such a disaster).

    A teacher who takes time to cope with disruptive behavior in a “nurturing” way, as currently defined by the people who run education schools, simply stops teaching effectively. S/he “nurtures” her charges best by showing them that actions have consequences, and visiting the negative consequences on the disrupters with dispatch, with consistency, and with as lose to even-handedness as is humanly possible. All in the service of “teaching” — reading, writing, figuring, and citizenship.

    That’s how the best of my teachers (lamentably few) did it.
    I know for a fact that it’s possible to say “Go to the principal’s office” in a loving way that leaves no doubt that there simply isn’t any choice in the matter. More of our students need to hear it these days, and to know that the principal isn’t going to wimp out on the teacher (and the student!).

  • Earl

    Well, that’s supposed to be “close to even-handedness”!

    Can’t you put an “edit comment” tab in here, BW? For us aging ones, at least!