Pages

November 19, 2008

LOCAL HERO: Danville mom tries to apply sanity to the craziness of our contemporary education system


Kerry Dickinson of Danville is one of my local heroes. She’s smart, dedicated, and passionate about restoring sanity and thoughtfulness to the many debates raging about how to educate our kids, how to prepare them to be reasonable, caring, and responsible citizens of the future.

Not only is she the parent of two sons, she also has a teaching credential and master’s degree in reading. She makes herself as well informed about research and current thinking on the hot-button issue of homework and other education controversies as any professional working in education. Her claim to fame, if you will, was in pressuring the San Ramon Valley Unified School District to address its policies on homework.

An account of her challenges to the policies of the San Ramon Valley school district, one of the largest in our East Bay suburban community, was documented in Diablo magazine. I’m on Kerry’s email list. She is constantly scouring for the latest cutting-edge information on education research and is making contacts with major players in education reform movements. She also attends Bay Area-wide meetings on homework and other education issues—meetings that a lot of us don’t have the time to attend because of work and other commitments.

She is generous with her time and her willingness to share that information with us. Anyway, here is an excerpt of her latest email blast.

We are reminded this week of the Jonestown tragedy 30 years ago, when 918 died in the largest mass-murder-suicide incident in US history. The slogan “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid” came out of this event which has become a pop culture warning against blind obedience. I’ve heard this reference twice recently in regard to how we are raising our kids in today’s world.

We have gone from a culture that was once adult-centered (when we were kids) to a culture that is child-centered (now). And the irony of that is when we lived in an adult-centered world, we were free to do whatever we wanted when the adults weren’t looking. Now, with our children the constant focus of our attention and time, we don’t let them do anything unless we know exactly where they are at all times.

While we are providing them with so many opportunities, we are unwittingly taking away their childhoods from them. It’s easy to get wrapped up offering our kids everything possible, to “drink the Kool-Aid” so to speak, by over-scheduling their lives and living in constant motion just because everyone else around us is doing the same.

At some point though we have to take a step back and slow down or we may see some harmful unintended consequences. The documentary film we viewed Friday night, Slipping Behind [a film by Lafayette filmmakers at Reel Link Films] showed us many children who looked great on the outside and performed really well, but who suffered many unintended consequences from this kind of fast-paced, competitive, child-centered lifestyle: suicide, anxiety, anorexia, cheating, ulcers, cutting, drugs, etc…

Another way I see us “drinking the Kool-Aid” is in our attitudes about our kids’ education, and specifically about homework. We treat homework like the weather, like something we just can’t do anything about. We accept the fact that state mandated standards must be appropriate for our kids.

We accept the fact that the homework assigned must be good for our kids simply because it was assigned by a teacher. We prepare a healthy snack and well-lit place for them to do their homework each night, yet don’t look at what’s being given to them to complete. We worry our kids won’t get into good schools and colleges if they don’t do many hours of homework each night. We complain to each other when we do fear homework is inappropriate, but then don’t schedule meetings with teachers to try to plan a good strategy for our children.

So, what can we do about it? How do we slow down and start to give our children their childhoods back? Here are 16 tips:

1. If you can’t afford an activity, don’t sign your kid up.
2. Don’t sign your child up for more than one sport at a time. (This is difficult because many sports are almost year-round.)
3. Even if your friends and your child’s friends are doing it, it’s ok to say “NO.”
4. Don’t sign your child up for academic tutoring unless they are in jeopardy of failing a class. (i.e., don’t pay for a tutor to boost a “B” to an “A”.)
5. Take the summer off from structured activities (or at least 1-2 months of it) and just hang out with your kids (if you don’t work) or let them just hang out with a caretaker and/or friends (if you do work).
6. Don’t ask your kids about grades or homework for 1 hour after school each day. Give them an hour of down time.
7. Don’t focus on grades, but on the content of the subject. (Instead of “What did you get on the test?” say “What did you learn?”
8. Plan, prepare, cook and cleanup meals with your child.
9. Have your child do chores – lawn mowing, sweeping, cleaning toilets, dishes, dog walks, etc.
10. Don’t yell at your kids during homework hour; you are not the homework enforcer.
11. Set up a meeting, a phone call or an email with a teacher if your child is spending too much time on homework and it is cutting into your family time.
12. Don’t go to every scheduled sports game of your child’s. He/she should be participating for the love of the game, not because she/he wants you to be proud of them.
13. Take a walk or bike ride around the neighborhood or into town with your child, or, if he/she is old enough, let him/her go with a friend and no adults.
14. Send your kids out to play in the yard or on your street while there is still daylight. We have only a couple hours now before dark, and they need to get outside after being in school all day.
15. Don’t talk negatively about junior colleges or about choosing not to go to college. Not everyone is cut out for a 4-year university or state college, especially when the requirements are increasingly more difficult each year. There are over 2000 colleges in the US and Canada and many thousands more career options.
16. Enjoy your spouse. Your children’s lives are not your lives. One day soon they will be gone and you will be left staring at your spouse.

2 comments:

Carol said...

Thank you for writing about her. I have known her for years and years and she is one of the most wonderful, caring and thoughtful human beings I have ever had the pleasure of coming into contact with.

Anonymous said...

Wow - she read my mind. The thing that kind of surprises me about so many of the other moms and dads that I come into contact with is that when discussing the excessive activities, and the juggling, carpooling and expense associated, they can say things like "well, just remember, it's all about the children" without even a tiny rolling of their eyes. We all love our kids and want to help them to have the best childhood possible, but really, is it ALL about the children?