Cue Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out for the Summer,” or, if you prefer, that older ditty, “No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s nasty looks,“ which might be updated from my perspective to “no more laptops, no more iPads, no more helicopter moms and dads.”
In case you older readers don’t know, parents can now go on line to keep track of their darlings’ academic progress via an app called “net classroom.” We teachers must post grades from pop quizzes, written homework assignments, vocabulary quizzes, essays, and oral presentations to a site that parents can log onto to mark the progress (or lack there of) of their progeny.
In my 30 years teaching at a prestigious Independent School, I’ve noticed a significant change in parental ambitions for their sons and daughters, which may reflect a national shift from legacy to meritocracy. Back in ’85, before the curse of instantaneous messaging, back when we wrote progress reports by hand, bearing Bic ballpoints down to insure our “good jobs” made it through the carbons onto the yellow and pink sub-copies, parents, many of them laidback lifelong Charlestonians, took more or less a hands-off approach to their children’s education. They seemed to trust that we knew what we were doing. A “C-” here or a “C+” there wasn’t going to keep Drayton Rhett Ball Rutledge Manigault out of Sewanee.
In fact, in the ‘80s, I can only remember one unpleasant encounter with a parent, and I didn’t even teach her son. She was angry because they had missed a deadline for a trip we were taking to the Soviet Union, an unrectifiable problem given deadlines for procuring visas. The conversation seemed to go on for hours. It was like breaking up with a lover. We kept saying the same things over and over. My wife kept looking over and giving me the index-finger-across- the-neck slice, the universal sign of cut her off now.
The other parental interaction I remember was much more positive. A father, in fact a board member, came up to me and said, “I saw where you failed the boy on that Moby Dick test. Thank you! I caught him with those goddamned CliffNotes. Good job!”
(By the way, that rapscallion student, despite failing a major test that term, did manage to get accepted to Harvard, go to Northwestern for Medical School, and complete a post-doc at Yale).
Over the years, some parents have lost perspective on the weighting of grades. They seem to think that the tiniest assessment might make the difference between their replicated DNA’s attending Stanford or having to slum it at some state university. They seem to have forgotten that we can learn a great deal from our failures. (For example, you’ll never catch me again climbing an extension ladder with a couple of high-gravity IPAs sloshing around in my bloodstream). Anyway, these overweening parents squander their peace of mind by checking grades every hour (I’m not exaggerating) and probably blanch all of the joy of learning from their children who refuse to take intellectual risks because missing one question might make the difference between a distinguished medical career versus 60-hour shifts as an assistant manager at a suburban Sam’s Club.
When a student complains to me about such a parent, I suggest that she demand to see her parent’s high school report cards, which must be preserved given they had studded with A-pluses. Obviously, this suggestion doesn’t endear me to those parents.
But, hey, like I say, school’s out for the summer, so what the hell? Think I’ll put the top down, lay some rubber as I’m leaving the parking lot, crank up Alice Cooper’s anthem and gun it down Folly Road on my way home to the Edge of America.