December 19, 2009


What if a stranger from a strange land showed up to challenge everything you are doing right now?  He is the same age as my son.   Both children study another language.  One is nearly fluent.  One is just scratching the surface.  One has spent his life behind a desk, head bent to rigor.  Even  his vacation time must be pressed into hard use.  You can point to value, vocabulary words, the ability to almost talk to a new continent of people.  That is not a small thing.

The other has never been forced to study at all.  And he loves to read.  He can't wait for the moment when he gets to study more.  He uses his own money for text books he chooses.   He does not suffer unwillingly for knowledge.  This is the child who told me he prefers not to eat or drink too much, because it creates too many interruptions.  All the chewing, swallowing, going to the bathroom.  Who has the time when they could be reading something? 

Parents from Korea call.  They want to know how the children spend their day.  They want proof.  Is this child they put on a plane alone and mailed across the world to land in an unknown place with unknown people, is this child learning enough to justify their money, expectations, and their need to point to excellence?  They want to know if I am teaching him enough. 

He is here to gain fluency in English.  He is living here five days and nights a week.  We never ever fail to speak English.  We are really good at it.  We never lapse into Latvian, for instance.  I say this; we are practicing all day.   The response is doubtful.   And I suspect it doesn't look rigorous enough.  Because he isn't suffering in that classically schoolish way, is he?   I think they must have no faith in this child's own innate intelligence.  I suppose, that is the one very thing that has never been taught or tested, has it?   They don't know what it looks like.  They don't know what it needs.  They don't know how to point to it.

What an oddly mixed message, no?  Here is the experience of a lifetime.  Now sit down and do these worksheets so we can prove you were here.   Do any of us do much better, sending our children off to their various schools?   Why do we persist with the idea that knowledge must be seared into children?  It only works in a superficial way.  You can press vocabulary words, any facts really, into them with a branding iron.  You can do that.  But the branded mind rarely chooses books over cookies.  And it is the choosing we are all anxious to see in our children.  Is it not?

Dear Ms. OurReportCard, have you given our son enough worksheets to prove that we can count on him to continue choosing worksheets for the rest of his life?  Are your worksheets of such quality that our child will continue to choose quality worksheets for himself when he is grown?  Have these worksheets taught him to be the perfect communicator?   Our son is well branded.  But we can't trust him to play with other children in a foreign language. No, he must work next to other children working in a foreign language.  Because work is what all the smartest children choose.   So, please, force our son to choose to work hard learning. 

Isn't that exactly what most parents are really asking when they send their kids off?

6 comments:

Cecelia (CC) said...

There are so many many famous people who when asked about where they learned the most answer, "Not is school". My favorite recent moment was on NPR when some African American women were doing a show about staying is school to succeed and then interviewed successful AfAm Women, who, one by one, said it was mentors not content that changed their lives - - even the panelists said so!! To me, they were undermining their purpose and affirming yours and mine with aplomb. Perhaps you can send soem of those quotes on to the parents, or, better yet, perhaps you can ask them, "Where have you learned the most in life, my beloved? Yes, yes, we are teaching him well, in the newest American model."

Hillary Mac said...

Didn't they want him with a homeschooling family? I don't get it.

Katherine said...

Jeepers, Hills, maybe they chose a homeschooling family because they thought we would work through the holidays? Who knows. Its difficult to tell, in any case, since we don't speak Korean, they don't speak English, and eleven year old boys never say too much regardless of the given language.

val said...

Oh katherine, how i love you. The last sentence had me cackling right out loud here in my room. How very true.

I think he's learning lots of English, and another week or so will really see it take off, once he's through the adjustment stage.

Plus we all wonder how someone can send such a young kid around the world, just trusting in goodness and okayness....he landed at YOUR house for a REASON and I don't doubt this at ALL.

If my kid went around the world and landed anywhere...your house would be at the top of my list. I wouldn't be worried at all anymore were my child with you. He's lucky.

The kids were telling us on and on and on tonight about Sponge Bob. I don't watch this. I hear things like, "Mother of Pearl, there's a fire on the poop deck!" and I roll my eyes and leave the room. But they're picking up jokes and subtlety and layers of hilarity in the content... when someone would swear, instead of bleeping it, they'd do dolphin sounds... good grief. The kids know all about dolphin sounds and do dolphins swear??

All to say, learning and happiness occur in weird places, places we don't expect. He will leave your house speaking English, I have no doubt, and feeling loved and happy too. love you, V

Heather said...

I think it was perfect how you mentioned your son spending his own money on books. We say we want our kids to be smart and value knowledge and succeed in life, so we push them into this system of forced learning in order to help them reach that goal. But look at your son, reading just because he *likes* it. THIS is what we really want, isn't it? And this system we use to attain it almost always has the opposite end result, doesn't it? I can't even tell you how often I hear adults say they "don't like to read" for goodness sakes.

How better to learn English than immersion, no? So, he is learning what they sent him to learn. They can drill him in their usual fashion once he is home.

Bart said...

"This is the child who told me he prefers not to eat or drink too much, because it creates too many interruptions. All the chewing, swallowing, going to the bathroom. Who has the time when they could be reading something?"

This is starting to sound like a Law and Order episode. When this kid snaps, stay away from the bell towers!