Let’s take it as read that the public schools these days worship a false idol of “safety,” trying so hard to be risk-averse that they often end up spoiling kids’ fun and making it harder for them to learn. I’ve subscribed to Lenore Skenazy’s Free-Range Kids for years.
At the same time, this morning I felt the briefest twinge of sympathy for the Toronto principal who banned all non-sponge balls from her school (via electricarchaeo) after a parent got hit in the head with a stray soccer ball. (No word on the parent’s form in heading the ball–was it a flick-on? A nicely driven shot?) The policy’s wrongheaded and should be rescinded. But still.
Reading the story, I was reminded of an incident about a month ago, when the 8yo came home complaining that recess wasn’t fun, even though the kids were playing soccer. This was shocking, because he’s soccer-obsessed, and normally the chance to play would make anything seem appealing. “They’re blaming me for things that aren’t my fault, and it’s not fun.” We pressed him about what he meant, and it turned out that some of the smaller kids didn’t want to play if he did, and a girl had scraped something getting out of the way of one of his shots (which, to be fair, didn’t sound like it was coming all that close to her in the first place).
A few relevant facts: The 8yo is a sweet kid, who wouldn’t know how to threaten someone if he tried. That said, as the picture above makes clear, he’s a bit of a giant: nearly 5′, and solidly built. Plus, he’s kind of awesome* at soccer. He plays on travel and premier teams, 50% as a goalie, 35% as a defender, and 15% as a striker. Thanks in part to his size, he has one of the strongest legs on his (pretty successful) U-10/U-11 travel team.
My wife and I reminded him of all this, and of the fact that he’s the only kid in his class who plays that much soccer, and of the fact that he’s by far the biggest kid in his class. And we asked him to consider, if the situation were reversed, whether he might be a little scared, too.
We talked it out, and he decided that he would not kick the ball when his friends played soccer, but would just dribble and make short passes. He put the plan into effect the next day, and within a couple of recesses, all was forgiven, and everyone was happy.
Which is probably the way it’s supposed to work, right? Kids should try to work out problems on their own, but when they can’t, parents should help find a constructive solution. So I can’t support banning balls in school. But I do feel for a principal who feels overwhelmed by dozens of similar situations every day, sometimes involving kids who actually do intend some malice, and sometimes with parents who are disengaged. It doesn’t excuse such an overbroad policy: The fact that you can see how anyone might feel driven to do such a thing doesn’t mean that you should actually do it!
* “Kind of awesome,” that is, for an eight-year-old who regularly wears a “Geek Kid” t-shirt, of course. It’s not like we think he’s the next Tim Howard, or are counting on this to pay for college, or whatever. And, yes, there are people we’ve met in travel and premier who are already talking about positioning their 8 and 9 year olds for college scholarships. I am prepared to agree with you that that’s crazy.]]>
Last week, the 6-yr-old’s school–the Holmes School for Science & Technology–had its first science fair. (I know, right? What were they waiting for?) Anyway, the boy was *super* excited about it, as you can see in this photoset on Flickr, and he did a project on whether a solution of sugar, epsom salts, or alum will grow the best crystals as they evaporate at room temperature. (Alum!)
We were a bit surprised at the fair to discover that the judges were evaluating grades K-3 together, using a rubric that included such items as a “lab report” and “three documented sources.” Now, we both know enough about the scientific method to know that good experiments take into account existing knowledge, but . . . documented sources? For kindergarteners? That sounds age-appropriate.
Instead of doing that, we opted for a project that the boy could do, and for a poster that he could design and make himself. He likes his participant ribbon just fine, and he and the *one* other kindergartener who participated both felt super-proud of themselves, as well they should have. (They also worked each other into a panic early on, because the instructions had said that judges would interview you about your poster before making a decision. That didn’t happen, but it took them a couple of minutes to catch on. The adults you see him talking to in the photoset are my dept. chair, whose younger daughter attends the same school, and the principal.)
He’s already announced that next year he wants to do a project on Darwin.]]>
The parent survey is labeled “Holmes Brand Survey,” and, after a demographic question about grade-level, the first two questions are . . . wait for it . . . these:
Holmes School focuses on
- Higher Order Thinking Skills
- Science and technology
- Global Community
Holmes School’s (motto/slogan/tagline) is:
- Raising Readers!
- A formula for success!
- Launching Leaders!
- Scholars at Work!
(The answers, for the curious, are “Science and technology” and “A formula for success,” respectively. And, yes, the fact that the correct answers have lower-case words is reproduced faithfully from the handout, as if it’s a tell.)
After these critical questions come more usual questions about whether the child’s being challenged, etc.
I hear the Connecticut State University system is redesigning and standardizing our student evaluations–I think we should look to the public schools! Start all student evaluations (sorry, student opinion surveys [!]) by asking them to correctly identify the motto of the system and of their particular university.* Because that’s what matters in education: maintaining your brand.
*Every single day it amuses me a little that my school’s slogan/motto/tagline (“Start with a dream. Finish with a future.”) is basically indistinguishable from my father’s community college’s (“From here, go anywhere.”). I’m *very* easily amused.]]>