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.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
My older child starts first grade this week. My how time flies. Sniff. The school has helpfully provided a list of school supplies they recommend our child should bring to class. All the stores were madhouses today with back to school shoppers. Target was a total disaster area. There were stuff on the floor, piles in the wrong bins and racks, and generally they were out of the things on my list. Staples was crawling with parents and kids. I managed to snatch the last box of Crayola 24 ct. crayons off the shelf. Thank goodness for Office Depot. Not so great for them because their business seemed quite light, but good for me since I was able to finish my shopping list there.
And what a list it is. I wonder if our school system gets kickbacks from the Crayola company. Very clearly, in no uncertain terms, they only want us to buy Crayola products. They specifically mention a competitor's name as one to avoid. Hmm. Heaven forbid my kid should be the only one to have a different brand crayon. There were stacks and stacks of competitors' crayons at cheaper prices but because the school specified Crayola, these were nearly swept clean from the aisles.
Let's see what else is on this list. They want fifteen glue sticks along with a bottle of glue. Fifteen? I thought it was usually one or the other. Why have both glue sticks and regular glue? And why that many sticks? And why specifically Elmer's? Another kickback? They also need four dry erase markers, again brand specific. Do first graders really need all this? This feels very different from when I went to school eons ago. In fact all this stuff won't fit into the cute little backpack we got; we have to go buy a bigger one, just for first grade. Wasn't there a study about increased incidences of childhood back pain in association with these massive backpacks kids wear nowadays?
After looking through this list and checking it twice, I realized there is something missing. Looking at the picture can you tell what's not there that is fundamental to education as I remembered it to be? Any guesses? That's right, there is no requirement to have No. 2 pencils for our child to bring to school. There is a demand for a set of headphones to use with computers but not writing instruments to learn basics, like maybe penmanship and writing. How times have changed.