Today’s guest blogger, “FedUpMom,” had been advocating for homework reform in her daughter’s public school in suburban Philadelphia. This school year, she decided to try private school for her fifth-grade daughter; she is having more success in getting the school to respond to her concerns. This is FedUpMom’s fourth post; you can read her other entries here, here and here.
A Private School Listens
by FedUp Mom
We fled the public schools last year and enrolled our kids in a private Quaker school with a reputation for being nurturing and child-centered. When my daughter visited the school last year, the teachers were concerned that she seemed withdrawn and depressed. I was hopeful that they understood the issues in her case.
Everything got off to a good start until the beginning of the second full week of school. When I picked my daughter up, she told me that she had been held out of recess because she forgot to do part of her homework! I was furious.
A couple of days later I brought my husband along and had an impromptu meeting with the principal and the school psychologist. I explained that I was terrified that we were walking right down the same path that led to my daughter’s depression last year, which started when she was held out of recess for neglecting to get our signature on a test.
The principal said, “We all want your daughter to be happy.” I said, “You know, I believe you want her to be happy. But the principal back at the public school said the same thing, and I believed her too. None of that matters if we don’t get change on the ground.”
My daughter had one of my least-favorite homework assignments, writing out definitions. I said at the meeting, “This sets up an adversarial relationship between the student and teacher. The only reason to write the definitions out is to prove that you looked at them. The message is that the teacher doesn’t trust the child to do the work. Couldn’t the assignment just be, ‘study these words’?” The psychologist, of all people, said, “But some kids need more structure than that!” I said, “Fine, so give those kids more structure. But let my daughter do what feels comfortable to her.”
The next Monday when I picked my daughter up after school, she told me that her teacher had announced a new policy; they wouldn’t hold kids out of recess for unfinished homework anymore (the new policy is that after three incompletes, they contact the parents.) My daughter’s new homework assignment was “study these words…”
I wish I had a magic formula for successful negotiations, but I really don’t. In my experience, it’s just about impossible to negotiate with people who have no intention of listening to you. You can try to be polite, you can start off with a compliment, you can have the best diplomatic skills in the world, and it will get you nowhere if the people you’re talking to think they can afford not to take you seriously. On the other hand, it’s not that I did such a fabulous diplomatic job with the folks at the Quaker school. The difference is that they really wanted to hear me and help my daughter.
And of course, we haven’t reached Paradise yet. There’s still more rote homework than I’d like (I’d really be happy with zero homework). But it’s still an improvement over where we were. Whenever someone mentions the public schools in my daughter’s presence, she says she never wants to go back.