Friday, August 28, 2009

Advice for Government School Kids and Their Parents

*Note: This post will strive to be kid-friendly for my conservative Christian readers, because otherwise they might not let your children read good advice despite issues with specific words. Thus the censoring in the second paragraph.

For me and for many, if not all of my bechildrened readers, school is back in session. Besides the quiet (and the ability to nip off for coffee and croissant), it brings me back to the subject of government schools. Now while there are some of my readers that have not put their children through this (home schoolers, and maybe a private school or two), most, if not all of us, have not only done time in government schools, but have our children in one now.

As for me: Both of mine are doing preschool through the government system, and will go to government school when they reach that age. I spent eight f***ing years in Catholic school before going to a government school, but I don't hate my children, so with the limited choices inherent in living in rural Ohio, the government gets them.

One other thing that hasn't escaped me is that, except for real young kids, most kids think school sucks (I was disillusioned by the 4th grade). But as I've gotten older, I've discovered learning, as opposed to cookie cutter school, is fun. So with that, and the idea that any kid can become more than he or she thinks is possible, I present some ideas that you might find helpful.

For the children:

First, let's dispel all myths: School sucks. No amount of well-intentioned lying is going to over come the fact that you have to sit for hours in a classroom with people who may be smarter than you and others who are assuredly dumber than a toaster oven listening to a range of people, from the idealistic and inspired to the ones that are apathetic and are filling in the hours until retirement. And by the time you graduate, two thirds of your life will have been eaten up by these hours you could have been doing something fun.

The point is that surviving this trial of dronery is a part of life. If you make the best of it, then pursue what you really want to do with zeal, then you can succeed. So here's how you survive school:

1. Take time to learn. The fact is that there are a gazillion things out there to learn, and it can be fun. Occasionally, this will occur in school in an actual lesson, but more often than not, you'll have to do the real work yourself.

And outside the classroom, this is where you will learn the most important things, from fellow students, older kids, parents, other adults. Find out something new every day, even if it has no bearing to the real world. Recent examples of things I've passed on were the numbers of legs on insects vs spiders and the number of magic rings in Lord of the Rings (3 for the Elves, 7 for the Dwarves, 9 for Men, and the One Ring to rule them all, if you wanted to know). Also, period and war movies (and WWII FPS games) have history in them, so there's stuff to learn while vegging. And there's always Wikipedia (I look up one thing, then spend the next hour just following links).

2. Take advantage of the teachers that really give a damn, or who really push you. I can remember a few teachers who expected better of me. Sometimes, I even worked harder in their class for that very reason. And one of those for me was of the ancient variety, even. Those are the teachers that may see something in your face despite the myriad faces that have passed through their class and they know you.

Sometimes they don't even have to be good teachers. My first English class in college was the perfect example of this. The professor was a moron, but he knew his stuff. My papers in that class came back, initially, with more ink form him on the page than mine. With that kind of a response, I had two choices: Mutter about how much he blows (the trumpet, you dorks, the trumpet), or step up my game. One of the results of my choice is is the blog you read now, so you can guess which option worked best.

3. For teachers, classes, and classmates that suck, keep your head down. You will run into people that need hit all your life. But the key in these situations is that you don't let it escalate to a situation where you have to fight someone constantly, whether it is physically fighting fellow students or a battle of wills with a teacher that wants to make you conform. Once you can get away from these soul-poisoning subcreatures, their effects on you will diminish. This one is especially significant to me after my school years (the reason for the expletive above in fact). I spent two years fighting classmates AND a teacher, and probably only graduated because they didn't want me to come back for more (spending more time out of the classroom than in does nothing for your grades, I tell you).

4. As you get closer to the end of your school years, figure out what you'd like to do after school and pursue it with zeal. While this may change over the years, you'll come to find things you naturally gravitate toward. For me, computers, music, and writing seemed to come easier. I went to college to get into business, however, and probably put a dent in those plans. And while I learned some stuff, most of the things I really needed to learn came after school. Plus, a specific skill is easier to pursue than being all over the map. The sooner you get heading in the right direction, the better you'll do. If not, it's a lot harder (this I know).

5. Let it go. In the end, school forces you to sit with people you don't always like and do things you don't want to do, with no input or control until you graduate (or drop out and get your GED (not getting it is not acceptable, period)). So just roll with the punches, don't get in big trouble (committing crimes or violating zero tolerance laws), and get past it. And then keep in contact with the people you don't despise, even if all you do is add them to your Facebook or Myspace friends.

For the parents:

Just because the government is "teaching" your children doesn't mean you get off (except when they're actually in school) with not having to teach them stuff. Because one thing I've learned, especially from both my own experience and watching my children learn what they have learned so far, is that no two children learn the same way (yes, I got in trouble for not learning the right way). Your job is to fill the gap between the prescribed "learning" (indoctrination) and what everyone needs to learn to succeed. This list, of course, will be shorter (because you kind of already know it), but I'm going to write it as a reminder (and so your kids can know you're messing up too).

1. Teaching your children is 24/7. You teach them everything you know, from domestic duties, to pen and paper work, to your job, to the world around them. You also get to teach them how to drink, smoke, curse, and find stuff they're not supposed to see (excluding adult movies). Even the more negative stuff, if approached properly, can yield a lesson or two.

A related thing is to know more than they do. On everything. Especially if it involves any media. Double especially if it involves the Internet. To paraphrase from the uncle of a wallcrawler: With great freedom comes great responsibility. You are in charge of the information that streams into your house. This means passwords, parental control filters, locks. As they get older, you have to keep upgrading. And if you're not the master of your computer, your little darling computer geek will be trying to Google feminine funbags and turning the hard drive into something that would make Larry Flynt blush. And I won't even get into the perils of MySpace (hint: you have to be on their friends list).

2. Teachers are in charge, but you are responsible. This means that, while they have to fight the battles with other students, it's up to you to level the playing field if the teacher is the problem. If the rules are not being applied fairly, then it's up to you to fight. If your child breaks the rules, then they get punished. If they break school rules that are ALSO your rules, then it's double the punishment. Being that I only have preschoolers (and one that just started), I really haven't had to deal with this much, yet. But I have, on the few occasions it was necessary, applied this principle.

3. There is no right or wrong thing for them to aspire to. This also means you may have to spend a little money to find out the hard way. Or at the very least, support some stupid things, like getting them a guitar, for example (my parents bought me one when I was thirty (my 12 string); I bought my first guitar a decade earlier, after I left school). This is not so easy (as the available options keep appearing and changing, constantly) and only gets easier to see after you've been though the process. So while encouraging them on any activity is guesswork (me, sports, social interaction, HA!), discouraging the ridiculous (especially without some reasoned discussion) is a quick way to destruction.

4. You suck as a parent, according to your kids. I only get this a little so far, as only one of them voices the sentiment (the other just throws whatever he's holding and screams like a girl). But I'm sure they'll kick into full rebellion mode eventually. If I'm lucky, they'll be like me and rebel in their own mind (less chance of real trouble). If not (which will be the case), I'll maintain. Since I'm not quite there, my plan is to maintain consistency. If they know what to expect, it makes the important decisions (not piercings and tattoos) easier. At least that's what I've heard works best.

Okay, that's all I've got. I'll have to look this post up a few years from now and see where I'm at.


rockync said...

"A related thing is to know more than they do." THAT can be a sticky whicket! Especially when you have a brainiac taking honors anything - if you are not in that kid's league, best to be VERY busy at homework time!
Good points, though. WE are responsible for what our children are learning and what they are doing. I probably caused much angst amongst their teachers by encouraging them to question everything. "Don't believe it just because they say it's so, make them prove it."
I had four boys and that can lead to all sorts of situations in school which have nothing to do with academics.
They were warned that if they got into a fight and I found out they started it, they had better be VERY afraid! But, if they tried to avoid the confrontation and were just defending themselves, then I would stand up for them. And I always did.
I never gave them a free pass on the old "my grades suck because the teacher doesn't like me." But I did have one instance when it was true - my straight A student got an F in English; one of his favorite subjects. Turns out the divorced, female teacher had many complaints against her on this front so, much to the horror of my quiet, academic son, I marched into that school and raised hell!
Funny, it would be only a few years later I would be marching back into that school to have a few choice words with the guidance counselor and this son and his friends were lined up in the hall, waiting for the fireworks!
It's a lot of work, raising children to be responsible adults.
Bottom line, if you are not prepared to put in the time and effort, don't have kids.

Satyavati devi dasi said...

I tried like hell to find something to argue with here and I got nowhere.

Thanks for suckin the joy outta my life, man.

Satyavati devi dasi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beth said...

I would suggest you not use Wikipedia, you should know better, Patrick.

BB-Idaho said...

Dang good advice...

Satyavati devi dasi said...

Wikipedia? What's wrong with Wikipedia?

TRUTH 101 said...

The trck to being happy with kids is knowing how to use them. I wanted a new guitar a few years ago so I told Mrs. Truth our son wanted one. It was easy to convince him he wanted one. Being the good dad I am, I took him to the music store and picked out the guitar for him.

No pats on the back are necessary folks. Just a dad doing his job.

Patrick M said...

Rocky: I think we think exactly alike on this subject.

The only thing I have to comment on: I wasn't prepared to put in the time and effort. The important thing is that you get ready, because there's no other responsible option.

Saty: Slurp, slurp.

Beth: As long as you pay attention to the controversial stuff (trust but verify), Wikipedia is the best option out there. What would you suggest instead?

101: Well, if it involves a guitar, it can't be a bad thing. although I suggest a little brainwashing so the kid can ask for it himself.