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A Daily Act of Faith

Today I went to my son’s school to have a meeting with his teacher. It’s his first year at a new school, and the first time he’s been at a school that I haven’t been involved in on at least a weekly basis. So my situation with my kids right now is an exercise in opposites: he goes away for the day and I trust that he’s learning, that he’s happy there, and that he’s happy with his friends there. She stays home every day and I know exactly what she’s learning, when she’s happy, sad, frustrated, or excited, and who she plays with and how they get along.
We chose his school because we had always planned to send him there… someday, when he was older. But as we searched for the right place for him, someday because tomorrow, then today. His teacher painted a portrait of his days at school that didn’t surprise me: he’s an avid learner, fits in well, and can be very emotional. No surprises there – we chose the school because we thought it would fit his personality.
In the academics, though, she did surprise me. As of last year, his two most disliked subjects were writing and math. His dislike of math was created: a teacher mistook his grasp of concepts, which is well beyond his grade level, for a mastery of skills. These are two different things. My kids are great at concepts. But doing the work to master skills depends on their interest. Once that teacher put him in a math group with kids a full year ahead of him in skills, he struggled. He could have kept up with them on concepts, but he didn’t know how to do the stuff on paper. So he decided he was no good at math. His teacher last year spent the year trying to undo that belief and fill in the gaps in his skills. This year, he no longer talks about being bad at math, but he still seems to hold a grudge against it, as if math had been a bully last year and he doesn’t quite believe that it wants to be his friend this year!
Writing was something he always struggled with. I recognized his struggle. When I taught writing to adults, there were always people who reacted to my suggestions in the same way: Why should I describe the car I was driving? Why would anyone care what Aunt Sophia was talking about? They were the people who just couldn’t understand that it is the details that make writing come alive. “One day I got in a car accident with my Aunt Sophia” is not a story. But if the car has personality and history, and what Aunt Sophia was talking about before the accident creates an emotional connection, and if the writer can tie it all together in a way that gives the reader that “aha moment,” then it’s a story. Some people don’t get that, ever. Some people can learn it. Some people seem to know it instinctively.
This year my son got it. It started with the fact that his teacher let him choose a subject and he chose to write about computers. He adores computers. He likes computer manuals for bedtime reading. He talks about computer software like the kid who is obsessed with dinosaurs or Star Wars or horses. He can go on and on for paragraphs, so he did. He saw that he had a subject he was fascinated by that his teacher admitted a lot of ignorance about. He knew that it was the details that he’d have to use to catch her. So he put them in. It was the longest piece of writing he’d ever done.
Once the spark was there, he could apply that lesson learned to other writing assignments. His teacher showed me a pop-up book he made about the life of a sea turtle. The writing was detailed and full of imagination and liveliness. He took obvious care with the creation of the book. When she told me that she thought his great strength was writing, it was surprising, but not surprising. He has a teacher who is able to impart what is beautiful about creating a work of writing. She’s also being successful in helping him see what is beautiful about learning math. Teaching is the process of uncovering the beauty of learning for each child. And for each child, the beauty is different.
Sending a child to school is such a different experience than homeschool. Sending your child away is an act of faith in other people, that they will recognize your child for the beautiful person you know he is, whatever faults he may have. Keeping your child at home is an act of faith – in yourself: faith that you can see your child’s strengths when what calls out to you are the weaknesses, and that you will be able to show her the beauty in each part of her learning that will inspire her to go on.
Education itself is an act of faith. By educating our children, we are making a statement that humanity has created an important body of knowledge. That it’s important to pass it on. That our children will have a world still when it’s their turn to pass on the knowledge and skills. It’s really hard to believe in doomsday when your kid has just learned to write down his thoughts. You just have to believe that those words are there for something, that our thoughts will endure.

Posted in Education, Parenting.

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