A few events in my recent life have made me think about the aspirations we create for our children and the way parents push in an effort to have their kids be the best and the smartest. Even public school admission has gotten competitive, toddlers and pre-schoolers take lessons and classes, and there are tapes for babies so they can read. Our babies can’t be babies because we have to worry about them getting ahead.
I see this all the time with some of my tutoring students. It’s not bad enough that in school high stakes testing have reduced the curriculum to test prep and not critical thinking skills. Part of the reason I get paid is to make sure that students pass numerous state wide tests. Pero that’s not enough. I have some parents who push their children into taking iq exams so they can place in gifted and talented programs or be placed in a fast track in school. My main goal with the students is to teach basic skills and more, pretty much everything they lose when they are practicing filling in bubbles. Also, given that nearly all of my students are young women or color in mixed status immigrant families, part of what I do if offer safe space for them to discuss other parts of their lives they normally don’t. For example one junior high school student was being sexually harassed by a school mate. Another was the victim of ethnic and religious slurs. It’s one thing for these girls to speak to their parents and school administration, it’s another thing to give them space to discuss how it made them feel and how they can become empowered after dealing with such things.
Pero some mom’s push. Push their kid into taking tests they aren’t ready for and prepping for advanced placement tracks the kids don’t really want but adopt because they have to. What I have seen happen is that students neglect their “real” school work so that they can put in extra time on the special classes, meaning they get even less skill practice. Additionally, these children become so stressed and so obsessed with being the best that they will do anything, even if that means lie and cheat to maintain the illusion that they are doing well. I have a third grade student who went from being a sweet and very smart young girl to being a stressed out wreck who lies to me all the time and is failing. I’ve told her mother that I think the fast track classes are too much for her but I am ignored. After all I’m just a tutor who has been working with this student one on one for four years now. And I worry because I see this young woman shutting down emotionally in many ways, becoming less communicative.
I’m already looking at high schools for la Mapu and I have to remind myself that this is her high school experience, not mine. I’ve been there, done that. We went on out first tour of a high school yesterday and I suddenly found myself turning into an old critical vieja. I checked the skirt lengths of the girls and how much makeup they wore. I listened and counted grammar mistakes when they spoke to parents. I was visibly disgusted when the computer department explained, with pride, how they do a project which focuses on the difference between going to an ivy league college vs a state college. These differences included going to Europe or staying in your hometown, buying a car or buying a metrocard, being sophisticated or being well, not. And what did that student mean when she said anyone could be in the honors program? What the hell kind of honors program is that? And no art class in the first year? Then I had to step back. La Mapu loves looking at art pero she’s not an artist. I rolled my uniform skirt up to my boxer shorts’ hem in high school. And so far I think I’ve done a good job at discussing and exploring class issues and the economy with la Mapu so she knows that your college or even lack thereof is not a direct measurement of your intelligence or worldliness.
No se, I think my job as a parent is to respect each child’s natural talents and inclinations and support them the best way I can not push them into some model of success as defined by the mainstream education system which really strikes me as cold and uncaring especially of the whole child. My job isn’t to make my child do anything but rather help my child become strong enough for her to decide what she wants to do for herself. Our children come from our lives but they are not be raised in our image, rather they are raised so that they can create their own.