5.19.2011

Busy Work, Reading Logs, and My Middle Finger

Dear Educators,

I hear all the time about how the standards in our education system aren't high enough. Students in American public schools are performing woefully in the areas of math and science. And as demonstrated by many protest signs I see on the Interwebs, literacy rates are equally appalling.

I used to wonder why this was. And then I had a couple kids of my own and sent them off to school, only to learn that what was truly appalling was how unproductive their time was during those six hours they were gone every day. And I don't mean that they were doing nothing while they were at school. Oh, I know they're doing stuff. Their bags come home every day packed with the evidence of it. Myriad worksheets with myriad scribblings of numbers and letters. The occasional writing assignment here and there. Sometimes I find the barest indication of kinesthetic learning via an art or science project. I sure wish I could see more of that. But I'm sure there are things like time and budget to consider.

So no, I don't think the lack of productivity is evident in the volume of work I'm seeing done. It's rather in the IMPACT of that mountain of worksheets, and how, to make up for that lack of impact, kids are carting home more and more work to do after hours. This, I find fundamentally unacceptable.

I'm sure there are many teachers who understand that busy work does not equal learning, but I have met surprisingly few of them during the course of many parent-teacher conferences. I guess in the quest to make sure no child is left behind, they must tug them along on a sledge made out of worksheets and reading logs.

And let's talk for a minute about those reading logs. Without a doubt, I find this supposedly simple form intended to constitute a "partnership" between parents and teachers to encourage child reading is nothing more than a meddling, micro-managing ploy by educators to turn reading into a chore for kids who should by all rights be learning how to read for pleasure. By turning the log into a source of failure and stress for a kid, which will be naturally associated with the act of reading over time, these logs are having the opposite effect they're intended to have. And how exactly is this a partnership when, regardless of my stance on the issue, my child is punished for not cooperating?

Where exactly is MY say in this "partnership"?

This morning, I signed my last reading log. I won't be enforcing that sheet at home any longer. My kids have enough to do when they get home, the most important of which is spending time with their family in the relaxing and warm environment my husband and I have created for them. One that has made them the easy-going and intelligent kids they are today. If they would like to spend that time reading a book, I am more than fine with that, but drilling it into them like a kettle ball exercise is not how I intend to foster that most excellent of habits.

I won't subject them to the tedium of writing down what pages they read. They know these things. I know they know these things. I'm a writer. My husband I are both avid readers. Words and the reading of them are big priorities around here. Somehow, that feat was accomplished without having to submit weekly proof of said reading. Our love of words is evident in my kids' vocabularies and their reading comprehension levels, which have been consistently at least a grade ahead since they started attending school, and I lay absolutely ZERO of that credit at the feet of the Reading Log God.

In fact, I think reading logs are an invasion on the way I choose to run my home. And my new policy is that I'm no longer going to be a "partner" in something that's really nothing more than a form of coercion endorsed with my initials every day. Now, instead of my signature, you're going to be getting my middle finger.

If you want kids to live up to a  higher standard as they make their way along the educational path to success, stop putting so many tacks in the road. Make better use of a kid's (and a parent's) time by giving engaging and memorable assignment rather than things designed only to keep them "busy." Enough with the agendas, logs, and worksheets. Stop turning my kids into paper pushers and encourage them to actually LEARN something.

As for those reading logs, when they come in next year, I'll be encouraging my kids to do what any kid would do with a useless piece of paper: