Academic Trials and Tribulations One Week In

It was an emotional afternoon. First I probably shouldn’t have clicked on that link to Jon Stewart’s first post-9/11 show, because it left me a sobbing heap at the computer. Not, like, teary-eyed. Shoulders heaving, wah-wah stuff. It was just stupid of me to even watch it. About an hour before the girls arrived home from school I’d had one of those parenting mini-attacks, in which I became overcome with remorse that I hadn’t even mentioned that it was September 11th to my kids. Probably because my Google Reader was popping up a bunch of posts from mamas who had led sensitive discussions about this anniversary with their children. Because they are conscientious and thoughtful, and I suck. I know that I’ll get weepy, which will make them roll their eyes, and then I’ll get annoyed. And I won’t be able to explain, anyway.  And all of those Facebook status updates with “Never forget” and all I can think is, I don’t want to remember, so please shut up already. And then I feel like a scumbag and an unbelievable whiner, because it’s not like I suffered anything at all. And wouldn’t the world be awful if people who actually suffered actual hardships and pain didn’t tell their stories to make the world better and kinder and more compassionate? I was imagining that my cowardly angst was earning a future that would include some sort of an after-life smackdown in which Elie Wiesel and Waris Dirie and others would just kick my ass for being such a baby. Not that these people would actually be remotely interested in kicking people’s asses. They’re too good for that. But, just so you know, that was my internal monologue about an hour before the girls were due home. Which is why I should probably just go out for coffee more often, so I can have sane conversations with other adults instead of filling my hours with  counterproductive self-flagellation. I realize that.

In any case, I settled on dragging out my front section of the September 12, 2001 New York Times and the Vanity Fair photo-essay supplement to leave casually on table. Because actually telling the girls I want to talk about something is much less effective than piquing their interest and then answering their questions. Then I foolishly watched that video clip and sobbed. As it turns out, there was no discussion of 9/11. The girls had their own fish to fry. Later, as J approached with something messy and I rescued my historic artifacts from the table, I asked M, “Oh, or did you want to look at this before I put it away?” “No, thanks,” she answered. “Too depressing.”

Too depressing, indeed. Maybe I’ll do better next year.

After I composed myself and just before the girls arrived, I got a call from J’s teacher. They’d been doing the reading portion of their state testing today, and I guess she sort of lost it. Our school system is using the NWEA. It’s a computer-adaptive test, which means, in theory, that kids are supposed to feel okay about it, because the questions get harder if they’re doing well, but if they’re answering wrong, the questions get easier. So in theory, they’re not subjected to abject  failure. In practice, this means that if you happen to be a hard-on-yourself, perfectionist child who always does well on tests, this is uniquely designed to make you feel terrible about yourself no matter what. They tried this kind of test for the first time last year. My first grader was doing so well on the math portion that they started hitting her with multiplication and division problems and symbols that she’d never learned. No amount of explaining could convince her that this was a sign that she’d done very well. She cried to the teacher at school, she cried to me at home, and she was upset for days. According to the teacher, today’s reading test was very challenging and  J was one of several test-related meltdowns since school’s started. I am ready to go picket somebody at this point. There is no way that any sort of measurements or accountability could be worth giving second-graders a soul-crushing experience to kick off the new year and make them believe that school is a miserable place.

Years ago, I was a museum educator at the Dyckman Farmhouse, and I had several classes from the local public school that would sign up for as many programs as I’d offer. There was a basic tour and others incorporating different crafts and topics, and it was a great deal for them, because it was walking distance and we only charged $1/kid. And honestly? I was good. That was before all of my patience and enthusiasm was sucked into the Parenting Vortex, leaving me a hollow shell utterly incapable of interacting with children in an educational capacity. But, anyway, one day, we’d finished the tour, but this class was just on fire. They were so engaged and interested, and they kept coming up with question after question. And after they were way behind schedule, the teachers finally said, “We have to go back and do our test-prep.” And there was a collective groan and slump that was profound. I’ve never seen a group of kids deflate so quickly. So I already hated testing. But now that my little J’s in misery. I hate it even more.

And in the process of linking to the farmhouse, I found this note under educational programs:

We are currently unable to offer any guided education programs in 2012. We hope that if staffing and funding can be increased we may be able to bring back tours in 2013.

Ugh. So now all of those kids will have more time to prepare for the additional tests, I guess. It’s pretty much impossible to measure the worth of churning your own butter or dipping a candle on a sunny farmhouse porch.

Meanwhile, M was also grumpy. Last year we’d pulled her out of the “advanced” math class, largely because of how things were going with that particular teacher. She was excited when the Powers That Be bumped her back up to the “high” math this year without us even asking. Yesterday she gloated that she’d done all of her math homework with no help from me at all because she had a new teacher, not like that other teacher. Today, she needed my help. It irritated her. She would like me to help by pointing her to the answer without actually giving her the answer and also not explaining any concepts at all. So I am doomed to fail in my role of Homework Helper. Meanwhile I’m coddling her younger sister because of her test trauma, and next thing you know we have a 5th-grade snapping turtle in our midst.

Oh! And one more school-and-testing complaint. On Friday, M got results to some science test, and she did well. Looking at the results, I said, “Sounds like you should consider becoming a rocket scientist or a biochemical engineer.” And she answered, “Oh, no, I can’t. I didn’t get picked for the math and science Explorers [our school’s accelerated/enrichment program].” Now, I’m willing to concede that she might have been yanking my chain a bit. But if she feels like that in spite of general success, how do all those other non-Explorers in her class feel?

And at this point you might be wondering why I don’t just screw it and home-school. A quick review of the post: aversion to discussing recent US History. . . current Parenting Vortex sucked all my patience. . . failure as a mere Homework Helper. These teachers do it way better than I ever could. And when I go to my first Back-to-School Night with a new teacher, I’m sure that I’ll be back in my Happy Place. But for now, I’ve got to go find some ice cream.



  1. @Maggie, probably your daughter just doesn’t complain about it as much! 😉
    And the only reason I knew it was called the NWEA was because the teacher named it when she called to tell me about J’s test sorrow.

  2. June

    Stop being so hard on yourself. You’re a great mother. As one who is on the other side of the parenting vortex (wait, is there a side to a vortex? I think not) let me tell you that all of these minor traumas fade. Although I might decide to go fight the school. Wait, I’ve done that. A lot.

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