Saturday, August 26, 2000

Back to school

Parents' pledges for success

        There is something amusing about the media rush to cover back-to-school. Journalists embellish on the theme every year. As opposed to a tornado or stock exchange plunge, children returning to school is a neatly predictable phenomenon. So the game has become to squeeze out every possible angle.

        Sadly, what we journalists often miss are the simplest, most essential stories.

        Sending our children off to a wonderful school year requires more effort than choosing the right kind of lunch box. It takes time, consistency and a level of ethical consideration of others that exceeds what most of us commonly give.

        I suggest a parents' pledge. As we ask more of our schools this year, let us also ask more of ourselves.

Ready to learn
        First, the basics. Our children will have a better chance of succeeding if we send them to school rested, fed and calm. It is hard for the school to reach into our home every evening and tuck our kids into bed before 11 o'clock. Teachers may not see the toaster pastry and sugary juice we pour into our kids in the morning, but they see the results. Energy drops and irritability increases about 10 a.m., prime teaching time.

        Further, I promise to never again send a child off immediately after full-blown warfare over the condition of her room or backpack. An angry child is hardly a helpful addition to a classroom.

        Next, may we promise not to enrich our children to the point of exhaustion. To be well-rounded, a child does not have to be inflated to the point of rupture. When our children — even the small ones — come home to a “second job” of daily after-school practices and lessons, things have gotten out of hand.

        And let us finally make our peace with homework. Shuffling it around everything else we do — and allowing our kids to complete it on the couch, upstairs, in front of the TV — brings two awful results. First, it will be poorly done. Second, it will be a source of conflict for us every day of the year.

        And may we be wise enough to keep a sick child at home.

Respect teachers
        Then things get complicated. So let us start with a simple truth. Our children will give their teachers only as much respect as we do. We may second-guess our child's teacher in front of our spouse if we have to, but not in front of our child.

        May we also remember that everything we say at home carries into the classroom. Thoughtlessly passing on gossip, intimate information about a classmate or, at worst, racist or sexist attitudes is a terrible burden to our children. It will only result in their misery.

        If we are wise, we will love our children into achievement this year, rather than demand achievement before we love them. And may we know our children well enough to recognize when they are giving their best. And may we be satisfied with it.

        This year, let us deal with a problem as a concern before it becomes a complaint. May we take our concerns to the teacher first, before we speak with an administrator or the neighborhood telephone loop. When our concern is addressed, may we say thank you and bury the hatchet. When it is not addressed, may we be fair but relentless advocates for our children.

        May we seek our children's good this year in the context — and never at the expense of — the good of every other child in the classroom. And may we not only be parents who are proud of our children, but parents who do our children proud.


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