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My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Do you want to go back to middle school?

September always brings cooler days (thanks), kids back in school (super thanks), and homework battles (thank you, I'd rather not). Last week, each of my older kids had what we used to call "Back-to-School Night". Here, it's called "Curriculum Night," and, at least at the middle school, parents are given their kids' schedules and go from class to class (10 minute versions), listening to teachers describe what is expected and what they accomplish during the year. The whole thing is even complete with actual bells to remind us if we're tardy. (I was, to one class. Shouldn't room 603 be next to room 604?)

If I ever doubted that I'm glad I'm no longer in middle school, going to curriculum night solidified that belief. You'd better not have to go to the bathroom between classes (you'll be tardy and your parents will receive an email AND a telephone call about your attendance habits, and the teacher will think you are up to no good). You'd better not have trouble with your locker for the same reason. You'd better not forget your book, or have to sharpen your pencil during class. And please, don't have the audacity to misfile that assignment in your school notebook because the teacher wants it NOW and you should already know exactly where it is (which means, you should have put it WHERE IT SHOULD BE).

I'm all for organization and discipline; I strive for both with my kids on a very consistent basis. And I am fully aware that my progeny did not come with innate talents for organization. Still, the preciseness with which my child is expected to comport herself during a school day is -- well -- eerily similar to the military (which I have absolutely no affinity for, even if I recognize it's a necessary evil for a country).

But my kid is not a country, she's a kid. With rather creative ideas, a funny sense of humor, an appreciation of literature, a ton of energy, a love of messy projects, and a pretty good knack for writing. Yet, there is little room in her day for creativity -- or even humor, it seems. A few of her teachers seem like fine folk but a few of them seem...like dorks. Yes, I am using middle school lingo to describe middle school teachers. It must take enormous amounts of self-control for an entire roomful of 12 year-olds not to burst out laughing at some of their teachers. No wonder, when my kid comes home and I ask her how her day was, she simply says, "fine." Reality? Formal school is B-O-R-I-N-G and frustrating and the emphasis on organization zaps kids of energy and enthusiasm for learning.

Her favorite class is art (no surprise there). She does very well in it, and she likes the teacher and the teacher likes her. Her least favorite class is social studies -- not because she doesn't like history (she actually does, quite a bit) -- but because the teacher somehow doesn't click with her, and she's gotten in trouble for being late (locker trouble) and for not turning in her assignment quickly enough (it was misfiled in that folder). I met the teacher, who told me she's terribly worried about my "super-depressed" daughter, describing her as sitting slump-shouldered and "hiding behind her bangs" and not talking to the other kids. I was very alarmed when I heard this and asked other teachers if they perceived my child to be in need of therapy. One teacher laughed at my question and said, "If I made a list of kids who I thought needed therapy, your daughter wouldn't even be in the top 20." Another teacher said to me, "Girls this age act like that all the time; but she doesn't actually do that in my class." Seems she only acts depressed in the class she truly HATES and in all the others, she is simply "quiet" (except for art, where she is TOO HAPPY). In all classes, she is doing A-level work.

So, I had a little chat with the girl, telling her she should consider ACTING a little more upbeat, even in classes she despises. Think of it as an acting challenge, I told her. Do your best Emmy work. Wow the teacher with your enthusiasm. Smile while you learn trivia about the middle ages. Cheerfully complete that map of Europe! Do that crossword puzzle about the plague!! She rolled her eyes at me, sighed and said, "OK."

Good lord. I am SO glad that I'm not in middle school. I'd be sitting slump-shouldered and hiding behind my bangs too.

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