One night a few weeks ago while I was tucking my 7 year old son into bed he got all fidgety and bent down from his bunk to wrap his arms around my neck. I was anxious to get him to sleep after a long day so I patted him and tried to pry him off of me but he clung tight. “Mom, I don’t want to go to school tomorrow. I wanna stay home with you.” This tugged at my heart. I teach 3 evenings a week and don’t see my two sons very much on those days at all. I thought he was just missing his mamma, so I gave him another squeeze and explained that we all have places that we have to go and things that we have to learn and that we’d spend lots and lots of time together over the weekend. But that wasn’t what was on his mind. “But I have a clock test tomorrow and I don’t wanna take it because I keep getting bad grades. I can never get A’s. I keep getting 50’s and I wanna get an A. I’m so bad at clocks.” Ah. There we go. He’s learning how to tell time at school and the test was the next day. I nuzzled him and told him how proud I am of him and that whatever grade he gets that I love him. That seemed to placate him and he laid down with his pillow pet and went to sleep. But now I was worried.
Sure enough, two weeks later he came home with a packet of graded papers and as I flipped through them plastered on the top of each paper was a 50%, 54%, 60%. The poor guy. He didn’t even want to show us. And I felt this enormous pang of guilt, again, that it was my fault. That I am abandoning my son who is struggling in school so that I can teach college students poetry and writing. My husband is diligent with our boys’ homework. They get off the bus, have a snack and hit the books. Math, social studies, sentences, sight words, and the occasional project. They get an hour or so to play before dinner but then it’s showers and 20 minutes of reading before bed. And still 50’s on tests. For a 7 year old kid, this all seems so maddening to me.
And all of a sudden the guilt fell away and I started to get mad. But lets bring this essay into the present tense for the sake of transparency. All of a sudden my guilt falls away and I am mad. I am sitting her mad for my son. I’m angry typing. Why in the world a 7 year old is tested so vigorously that he’s anxious and nervous and fearful of bad grades is beyond my understanding. And the most infuriating thing about it all is that at home he can do his work. At home we give him time and space to figure out the answer. There’s no pressure. No rush. No fear of a bad grade. He can make a mistake and not be slapped with a 50 F. Oh, sorry. A 50 E. Whatever the hell an E is. It’s an F, okay? Changing a 50 to an E doesn’t change the fact that it’s a failing grade.
Phew. Sorry. There’s that anger. When I get angry it comes out all cynical and snarky.
So, it leaves us with some homework of our own. I’ve gone to the school and talked about some reading remediation, some psychological testing, as if being a 7 year old is cause for psychological concern. But not much has changed. He’s borderline… whatever, whatever. He doesn’t qualify for an IEP, at least not yet. Well, that’s because nothing is wrong with him. He’s a 7 year old who’s self esteem has been so trampled that he’s fearful of even taking the tests, let alone do well on them. How do you write an IEP for that? You don’t. Because then the responsibility is no longer his or mine but the school’s. And isn’t that where the guilt comes in? He’s my son, shouldn’t I be responsible for his education and not the school? Shouldn’t I step up and recognize the problem? Get him tutoring? Spend more hours drilling him with flashcards and books? Well, no. Not at all. Because to me, if a child is spending 6 hours a day at school he should be learning. Something should be sticking. To me, a 7 year old having to come home and spend more hours on work is absurd. To me, if that’s what has to be done then the 6 hours spent at school isn’t working and something is wrong with them and not him. Especially when we do sit with him and work with him and read to him and encourage him. And let’s not forget that our kindergartner is reading at a first grade level. He’s excelling and doing great. All of that testing doesn’t phase him at all. But I don’t want to compare them. Not ever. They’re different people with different likes and abilities. And they’re both coming from a home that values their education and their well being.
Here we are. Right in the middle of this. I saw all of those grades last night when I got home from work. I’m calling the school again today to see what else we can do. How can we help my son to want to do well?
Remember that change that I mentioned in my post yesterday? Well, against everything that I believe and value, I’m considering homeschooling him next year. I’ve always been a big proponent for public school. I am a product of public school and I loved it. I had a great experience with learning and my education. But that was before standardized testing. It was before sight words. We worked on phonics and did projects and played games and I didn’t start homework until 4th grade. And look at me. I’m well educated and smart, though slightly cynical. Okay, a lot cynical. And I love school. So much that it hurts to see my son struggle so deeply. If there is not much more improvement this year, which we’re in the 4th quarter already, we’re going to seriously consider him staying home with me to give him a project and phonics based education as opposed to a test based education. He’ll have room to make mistakes. Ask questions. Wiggle. Squirm. Stand. Play. Explore. You know, be a 7 year old. I don’t know if it will work. I don’t know if I can do it. I’ve got the support of family and friends and a hoard of teacher’s who are much smarter than me who are encouraging me. Because I gotta tell you, I don’t have a degree in education or early childhood pedagogy or reading skills, but I am a mom and I see my kid struggling in a system that is broken. And I’m going to do what needs to be done to fix it. You can count on that.