As I mentioned in my previous entry, my older child is starting first grade this week. Not having had any experience with elementary schools in nearly four decades, I'm surprised and not delighted by changes in school administration since I was carrying around a Scooby Doo pencil box. (Judging by my kid's school supplies needs, children nowadays won't even know what pencil boxes are.)
The school has helpfully assembled an eighty-five page handbook for parents. That's right. Eighty-five long, frequently single-spaced legalese pages of rules we parents are supposed to conform to. It is full of information about conditions leading to expulsion, mischief that requires an automatic five day suspension, the principal's right to transfer your problem child to another school within the same district or even kicked out to a different district. There are all sorts of scary words like "threatening", "weapons", "drugs", and "sexual harassment." Is this a school my child is entering or San Quentin state prison? We are to list emergency contacts in case something happens to our child. Fair enough. But they also want a long distance contact because, "Long distance service will be the first telephone service repaired...in the event of a catastrophic disaster." Talk about paranoia. The dire warnings make me want to lock my kid in a nuclear bunker.
Besides all this apocalyptic language there is the constant nagging. There are about ten pages requiring the written consent of one or both parents. One page confirming we had read and agreed to the terms of the handbook insists on the signature of the parents AND the student. How can a six year old child agree to the terms of this handbook? The school practices cover-your-ass legal defense like an ER doc. Then there is all the money grubbing. With dire warnings about increased class size, decreased arts and music classes, lower school morale, they are respectfully requesting hundreds of dollars in donations per student. This from a public school! They already want each student to "donate" $10 for teacher appreciation. Whatever happened to an apple?
I'm sure my parents never had to confront "weapons" and "sexual harassment" when they started me in first grade all those years ago. Through rose colored glasses of my distant memory, elementary school was all about finger painting, practicing writing, and acquiring math skills. Sure there were a few instances of bullying even at that level, but certainly not to the point where a handbook was needed to spell out conditions for expulsion. It's sad that the world's wealthiest country has an educational system that is so inane and destitute. How soon will we lose our preeminence on the international stage if our children's education is so marginal? Who will replace our technologic wizardry, artistic excellence, or medical innovations? I hear Chinese classes in school are becoming very popular now.