Back to School: With a Purpose? What!

Okay, so you’ve bought your kids the indoor shoes, the outdoor shoes, the new backpack because the old one wasn’t in anymore, the lunchbox, the cool markers, “no-not-those-ones Mom!”, or, if you have a teenager you bought them a new cell phone, upped the service plan to include data (they do that in school now, don’t they?), maybe even an ipad, and everyone has back to school clothes from the mall, and back to school supplies from the big box store, right?

This is what it has become to go back to school.

The frenzy I have seen this last week in the eyes of parents pumped full with Starbucks dark blends, back to school supply lists spilling from their pockets, kids falling behind while texting their friends who are doing the exact same thing, in some nearly exact same store, to fill the needs or wants (or whatevers) of nearly the exact same back to school list.

The first week of September has become the second coming of Christmas shopping. Sorry. That’s a tactless way to put it, but you know you feel it too. Something has gone wrong. We should be enjoying the last days of summer weather, but instead there were more flyers in my community newspaper this week for Target, Walmart, London Drugs, this store, that store, another store. And, wow, here we all are. In a line up.

In 1976, when I went into my grade one classroom, I arrived wearing my slippers. I wore them outside and in – I really liked them. I guess my mom thought it was just a silly stage (she was right). I did have a new dress on. My mom had sewed it, but no other back to school clothes were purchased in the creation of this grade one kid. Things were eventually bought, or borrowed, and handed down, as needed. I had the same lunchbox I had in Kindergarten. It was red. Just red… no TV shows or characters smiled at me while I ate. Sure, we didn’t have much money because my Mom was a single mother in a time when single mothering was shameful and therefore, extra hard, and we often had to buy second-hand, but what my mom gave me year after year, after year, of going back to school was a good ol’ fashioned pep talk. Nothing fancy. Nothing long-winded. But, her plain message has stayed put and dug right down into me.

Tara, school is important. You need to work hard, and try your very best. Your teachers have things to teach you, even the grumpy ones. Pay attention. Be respectful. Work hard.

My grandfather, too, used to make sure all his grandchildren knew about the value of education.
I can still remember this oft mentioned mantra of his: School is your hardest job, but it pays the best. Work hard and you will be rewarded.

I always listened to them both. Maybe, we should all listen to them, and to all the men and women of our collective past, who pushed us to be serious, work hard, and, dare I say it, CARE about getting an education?

I am a teacher. I work with teenagers. I like it and, I am one of the good ones. I believe in them. I push them. I ask them to be better people. But, I also find teaching desperately sad, some days. Why? Because the majority of students who show up to school, show up only because they have to, and not because they have a reason, and certainly not because they care. I think the why varies from home to home; sometimes kids were raised by the family TV, sometimes they have a parent who hated school so they teach them that teachers are jerks but you have to go, sometimes they have never had to work hard at anything so the very notion that school requires some effort is kinda horrifying, sometimes kids are just broken by the broken people that are raising them, sometimes they just want to get away and go play that MMORPG. Whatever the situation, they just don’t care about school. It’s just a pointless hoop they have to jump through. No amount of blended learning, personalization, or any other fashionable words from the songs of the education-innovation-revolution will make school better.

Glum, huh? What’s a post-consumerism, back-to-school parent of the mobile generation supposed to do?

Go old school. Talk to your kids. Slow life down and ask them, and yourself, some tough questions:

·         Why do you think we send you to school? (Figure out what your family’s values are when it comes to education)

·         Why is an education important?

·         What would you be like if you never went to school? (If you decide, that your child would be better off, start googling “distributed learning” or “Home-schooling.” A public education does not fit everyone perfectly.)

·         How many people do you think cannot go to a school? In Canada? In the world?

·         How well you do you think Canada ranks amongst education systems?

·         What will you make your focus, your intention, this year at school?

I think my mom had back to school down. She sent me to school with a purpose.

We can do this too. We don’t have to buy in. We can do back to school season, differently. Instead of shopping incessantly for things that really do not much matter, let’s help our children to realize that education matters. Simple chats about school and what it is there for might just help.

Learning matters. Working hard matters. Doing the best you can do matters.

“Education is teaching our children to desire the right things.”
― Plato


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One Response to Back to School: With a Purpose? What!

  1. Paul W. Bennett September 2, 2013 at 6:35 pm #

    A most refreshing approach, Tara, and a welcome respite from the Back-to-School advice columns for parents in The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star.

    Judging from the recent outpouring of Back-to-School news clips and articles, today’s parents are bombarded and inundated by professional experts and well-intentioned elementary school educators dispensing advice. The videos posted on The Globe and Mail website tell the story. The titles speak for themselves: “Why jittery kids feel stressed this time of year.” “Getting gadget ready for school.” “Is your kid a picky eater? Try packing these lunches.”

    My favourite recent advice piece, Kate Carraway’s “A letter for your locker,” is an aunt’s idea of what it takes to survive and thrive in the veritable jungle of the Middle School. It ends with this honey-coated line: “I want you to have an incredible life, but more than that, I know you will.”

    You provide a more grounded, philosophically nuanced antidote. You seem to suggest, in quoting Plato at the end, that we are losing our moral compass.

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