Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Back to School -- by Cara Meyers

I always loved the “newness” and anticipation of going back to school when I was young! Fresh, crisp notebooks! Perfectly sharpened pencils! New pens and pencil cases! Even the annual shopping trip for my new school “wardrobe” excited me! That is until I realized that it would be 85 degrees the first day of school and I wouldn’t be able to wear that perfect pink and burgundy wool dress with the pretty ruffles, matching tights and coordinating shoes!
But the anticipation of the new school year is no longer the same for many children and many families. Yes, a trip to Staples can not only prepare you with eighteen types of different highlighters, 6 types of rulers, every type of pen, pencil, crayon, marker, and dry erase implement manufactured. For many children, though, the new school year will bring stress.
Almost an insurmountable amount of stress.
More and more school systems are trying so hard to improve their national “ranking” that I truly feel that the individual student becomes morphed into part of a statistic. And to make matters worse, there is increasing evidence that public schools, in general, are becoming, to a greater extent, geared towards girls. Rough and tumble is sadly discouraged in the classrooms. Even as early as Kindergarten, children are expected to read and write almost fluently. And two hours of homework is almost the “norm.”
Interestingly, more books are being written about how and why boys are not meeting the “standards” set by their schools. At my bedside I have books titled, “Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men”; “The Trouble with Boys”; “When Labels Don’t Fit”; “Raising Cain.” Why is all of this emphasis on boys? And why is it that these books suggest that either boys must conform to the rigidity of their school system, not conform and risk failing out of school, or try to reach that one teacher in probably a thousand who is willing to go the extra mile and try to pull the male students back into the curriculum through innovative techniques?
Let’s face it, school curriculums are now designed for girls. Girls who will sit still and take notes and disrupt less. Girls who are more attentive. Girls who have the ability to sit for greater lengths of time. In the 1970s, more than 60% of boys were the ones going off to college. Today, 70% are girls. What is this telling us about how our national school system regards boys?
I’m not looking forward to the start of school this year. I have a son who will be entering first grade. He will need special speech and language services to help him get through the year, but will that be enough? Will he still be falling through the cracks even though he is as smart as a whip in his knowledge of science and math? I don’t know. What I do know is that I will be working very hard as his advocate. Going to meetings, playing phone tag with people who see my son simply as part of a “statistic.” And making darn sure that he gets all that he deserves to prove he can be the bright, vibrant, successful individual I know he will be! But first the start of a new school year. New backpack, new folder, markers, pencils, pencil case... sans the excitement I once enjoyed and embraced.

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