People who know me would say that I am a very non-confrontational person, sometimes to a fault. I am a fixer-of-things, and a mediator. I prefer to look for the painless solutions, the ones you can reach with a minimal amount of emotional outpouring, or ugly exchanges, or hurt feelings. I also prefer to do battle on paper, and to outline my thoughts in writing before having a face-to-face discussion.
It's an unfortunate fact, though, that sometimes in life you have to get your hands dirty. As a parent, I’ve learned that there might be many times when you have no choice but to roll up your sleeves and do battle. You might find yourself being that parent, the one who is always stepping in, rocking the boat, being a nuisance, or a complainer. You don't want to be this person, but you have no choice; love and protectiveness, and a strong sense for justice and a raw, almost visceral need to make things right for your child often overrule any squeamishness you might have about stepping into the shoes of that parent, the one you didn't think you'd have to be.
But I'm here to tell you that it's okay to be that parent sometimes. It really is.
I was very upset about the multiplication sundae event last week. I spent the weekend googling the activity and discovered that L.'s school is not unusual in using ice-cream parties as a motivational tool. However, I did discover that many schools wait until the entire class has reached the same level before offering an ice-cream part to all the students. I still don't think the activity is a good one no matter how the "rules" are interpreted by any school, and although everyone we spoke with outside of the school agreed with us, Scott and I felt very alone in our objections.
Until, that is, a fellow parent, launching her own google search of the activity, came across the post I wrote last Friday. She called me up, upset too, and feeling alone, and looking for a plan of action. She had researched multiplication sundaes too, and the more we talked about the event the more outraged and upset we got over this practice. And, because the pen is mightier than the sword, we drafted a list of our objections:
1. The activity as it was carried out violates the privacy of a student by publicly humiliating him/her in front of peers and parents who were volunteering that day;
2. It establishes a situation in which food is withheld or threatened to be withheld from a student, regardless of hard he/she might have worked—at his/her own pace and commensurate with his/her own learning styles—on the multiplication tables;
3. It creates an unhealthy connection of academic accomplishment to a food reward;
4. It reinforces feelings of alienation and low self-esteem in students who may not have achieved the same mastery of math facts as their peers achieved;
5. It creates an atmosphere in the classroom which permits students to think that thoughtlessness and alienation of peers is an accepted practice and one that is even encouraged by teachers and parents.
I'm putting these down here because I hope that other parents will raise these same concerns if this activity is used at their children's schools. When I was talking with my mom this weekend about my concerns she mentioned that it reminded her of school Valentine's Day parties when I was a kid. Back then there were no attempts to require students to give Valentine's to all their classmates; as a result some kids received only one or two (or none, I suppose), while others had their boxes stuffed filled to the brim.
Maybe my concerns don't seem a big deal to some, but I think activities like the multiplication sundae event take us back to the days when schools were less thoughtful, less caring and nurturing places. We've come further than that, I think--I hope. A good, safe, happy, enriching educational experience is something each child on this earth deserves--it's an investment we all should hold as important, for our future success depends on it.