Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Parents' Night

We just had Parents' Night at The Boy's school.

I know I'll get inured to these, but the first one is surreal.

First of all, every elementary school in America was built at the same time, with the same floor plan. You've seen it – squat, low-slung brick, with high windows that open out on the bottom; vertiginously long hallways with bathroom tile on the walls; every inch of space covered with construction paper. (Strangely, the standardization occurred without the savings of standardization.) Parts of the school are newer, and parts have been converted from their original use (a gym) to something else (a cafeteria). Other parts haven't changed since the school was built. The coatrack in The Boy's classroom looks like a perfect 1956 mass-production unit, sullied only by rust and God only knows how many germs. The drinking fountains are the regulation twelve inches off the floor.

The staff was overwhelmingly female, with an average age, guessing by appearance, of about 12. The contrast with the college was hard to miss. The principal was about my age, but she didn't stand out as especially young. The principal addressed the parents in the new gym, making sure to mention that the school had made progress in all 40 of the No Child Left Behind categories. What she didn't say was that the bordering districts, which are far wealthier and snootier, haven't done that. To her credit, she refrained from saying 'nyah, nyah.' I probably would have.

(Did you know that they have 'writing across the curriculum' in elementary schools now? She mentioned it by name. When she mentioned 'writing assessments,' I nearly fell off my folding chair.)

After the requisite brief talks by the various support staff (my favorite was when the school social worker told us that we should ask our five-year-olds how they negotiated their feelings today. Uh, no.), we were adjourned to the individual classrooms.

TB's class has 24 students in it, which strikes me as high for a kindergarten. Probably 8-10 kids' parents showed up, the Moms in jeans, the (fewer) Dads in office attire minus the ties. The teacher walked us through the kids' routines. The parents objected that the kids have far too little time for lunch, to which the teacher agreed and mentioned that the curriculum is far more demanding than it was even five years ago. As she wrapped up her presentation, the teacher did a brief 'how to prepare your kid to succeed' talk, in which she mentioned that the best way to prepare a kid is to read to him every day. She singled us out, saying “I know (TB) loves to read.” We nearly exploded with pride. Had it not been terrible form, we would have done the end-zone dance on the spot.

As we marched back to the cafetorium (is there any other institution, besides public education, that would even coin a term like 'cafetorium'?), we ran into the principal, and I asked the first of what I expect will be thousands of questions over the next few years. This one was about introducing Spanish to the kids, which they do now through occasional videos. I asked if they'd do any 'live' Spanish speaking. The principal assured me that the videos are interactive (“there are puppets involved.”). Since a significant portion of the school population speaks Spanish at home, I'm guessing that some Spanish interaction will occur anyway, but I still don't see the point of waiting until junior high to introduce a language. Every study I've seen says that languages are easier to pick up at earlier ages. I figure, start them when it's easy, so by the time it's not as easy they've already got the knack. But then, I'm one of those 'elitist liberals' who would rather spend tax dollars on language instruction than wars of choice. Alas.

I'm sure many more questions will follow, and the principal will eventually learn to hide when she sees me coming. That's okay. I won't look for special treatment for TB. I just want the school to be worthy of him. Is that so much?

And so it begins...