Thursday, May 31, 2012
This year my daughter Tess graduated from elementary school. This is our second elementary-school graduation, as my daughter Emma graduated a few years ago. When I tell people about this, some folks seem perplexed. Elementary school graduation? What?
Everything is so different that when I went to elementary school. We never had graduations from preschool or elementary school. At first, I thought it was kind of silly. And in truth, our school district is in such bad fiscal shape that I had to wonder if the funds they used for this could have been better spent. But, I have to tell you that there was a real sense of accomplishment and pride among the fifth graders as they walked across the stage to gather their diplomas and hugs from teachers. So, in some sense, it was worth every penny the school district spent.
We are losing 17 teachers district wide this year because of the tight budget. It’s a sad situation many schools are finding themselves in. I don’t remember school budgets being a big deal when I was a kid. But what kid really pays attention to that kind of thing?
Some of the other marked differences in elementary school then and now is that parents pay several hundred dollars each year for very specific school supplies. When I went to grade school we were given everything we needed at school—tablets, books, pencils, pens, art supplies, and so on. But now in the middle of summer, parents of public schoolers get lists of supplies we are responsible for purchasing.
As a parent who volunteered in the classroom, sometimes on a weekly basis, (also not done when I was in school), I was also shocked by the numbers of assistants and specialists in and out of the classroom. No longer is there one teacher, and one teacher alone, responsible for the whole classroom. They have assistants come in and help with everything from reading groups to cleaning and grading papers.
The other big change is the amount of homework. My daughters had homework every night. Some of it mattered. Most of it was just busy work. But it did help develop a little discipline in them, even if they just breezed through it. Mostly, it brought a lot of unnecessary papers and angst in the house.
I’ve been a firm believer in the public school system for many years. I think your education is what you and your family make of it. But when you look around and see the lack of support from local and state government, it’s difficult to keep flying the flag. Parents and teachers are being pushed to their emotional and financial limits. None of it makes sense. If you care about the future, you should care about education, give our kids the best experience. Sounds cliché. But some clichés are there for a reason.