Tuesday, June 8, 2010

You Are Not Alone

(This was written about three weeks ago, as a prelude to the letters I am writing up for the Schulamts in Boeblingen and Baden-Wurttemburg. You'll get those too. Positive actions arising out of my anger!)

I tried to reassure Killian's mother that there was really no rush to pick up her son. The boys really do play well together and it is gratifying to be able to give another mother the afternoon off every once in a while.

But she looked worried.

"You know they've got that math test tomorrow, right?" she asked.

Of course I didn't know. It would explain all the little scraps of paper I have recently pulled out of the bottom of Andrew's school bag. Seems like they are learning the multiplication tables. And being tested on them regularly.

How gratifying to find out about it weeks later from another parent.

Andrew is teaching himself the multiplication tables. Or picking it up at school. Or maybe was just born knowing them. How lucky for him.

But Killian's mother had tears in her eyes. She and Killian are doing their best to help him in school, but.....he had missed a week due to illness and had fallen behind when the teacher hadn't noticed that he was adding everything instead of subtracting. In a class of 32, she just hadn't noticed that he had never picked up subtraction.

This is a child- and a mother - who are trying desperately to learn. And getting no help whatsoever. Sound familiar? Killian's mother finally went online to try to figure out HOW to best teach her child the multiplication tables. And taught HERSELF about flashcards. How far would this family go with just the slightest little bit of help from the school?

She was almost embarrassed to tell me all this. I'm not sure why she did. Lately, people have been opening up to me more and more. Could I be getting a reputation? Or is the positive energy really working? In any case, I put her on my mailing list.


It's interesting. People have an entirely different viewpoint of me depending on which child they know. The parents of Andrew's friends assume everything is hunky dory over here. I must be doing something right. Which right away, in our twisted little German minds, translates into "what am I doing wrong?"


The first step must be to find a common voice. We all want what is best for our children.

What we need is a voice in the school system. This means staying actively informed on our children's education.

1. We need written, concrete goals and expectations for our children. Where should they be? When should we worry?

2. We need more than one parent/teacher meeting every two years. (No, I am not kidding you. I have had ONE face-to-face meeting with Andrew's teacher, in January, since he started school almost two years ago.)

3. We need programs in place to identify when children are not meeting expectations. We need programs that identify the problem and focus on correcting it, so that EVERY CHILD is able to reach his/her full potential.

We need a lot more. We need more money for teachers and teachers' aides and for special education programs. Teachers need a lighter workload so that they can focus more on individual children. We need to integrate mildly learning disabled children into the mainstream. (Nils should not need special ed.) I won't even get into the outdated Hauptschul/Realschul/Gymnasium system or the possible benefits of a longer school day.

For that we need money and a radical change.

But we can start small. With flashcards.

1. What exactly ARE the schools' goals for our children? Don't give me this PISA crap. Tell me what Frau Schmitt, here in Altdorf, expects from her first graders by January.

2. What shall we do - together - if these goals aren't being met?

The most radical change would be changing expectations. We need to EXPECT the teachers and schools to actively - and willing - include parents in their children's education. Schools and parents need to communicate openly and regularly. Parental involvement - and working together - needs to be the norm. It IS a cultural thing; Germans work alone, their concept of working together is not the same as what I've seen in the USA, in France, in Africa, in Haiti. We need to LEARN HOW TO WORK TOGETHER; parents, school, teachers, communities.

Why are we fighting these battles alone? Why are we fighting at all?

The system is here to serve us, not the other way around. (Something Germans really really REALLY need to learn as well!)

Let's find a way to communicate - positively - and get our needs met.

Killian's mom, and too many like her, should not be struggling alone to raise the very children that are our brightest hope for the future.

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