Your job is to know your child well enough to make a good call about whether he can manage a particular situation. Will you stay up worrying? Probably, but the child’s job is to grow, yours is to control your anxiety so it doesn’t get in the way of his reasonable moves toward autonomy.
This past week, the Minister has announced the website which collates and publishes all of the national standards data which primary schools have submitted. The print media have joined in with rather withering attacks against the education sector, including this from the NZ Herald and from the Southland Times. They serve the purpose, as most editorials do these days, to inflame opinion and cause long threads of commentary for justified indviduals. Which in this day and age, is a win-win for the advertisers whom these media outlets rely on.
In the midst of reading and being slightly depressed by the state of all of this - I stumbled upon this excellent read from Madeleine Levine in the New York Times, ostensibly about what it is to be a useful parent. It's great reading for parents, but it's also fantastic because it sums up the difference between learning and education.
"Think back to when your toddler learned to walk. She would take a weaving step or two, collapse and immediately look to you for your reaction. You were in thrall to those early attempts and would do everything possible to encourage her to get up again. You certainly didn’t chastise her for failing or utter dire predictions about flipping burgers for the rest of her life if she fell again. You were present, alert and available to guide if necessary. But you didn’t pick her up every time."
Learning is lifelong. As a parent you don't just celebrate the success of the toddler walking. No parent has a certificate commemorating "Achieved walking 5 steps unaided" on their wall. Every parent has stories, memories, and possibly hours of video of the efforts their child took to master this seemingly simple thing. Parents celebrate that learning process with their children. Constantly and devotedly. It's part of parenting.
As a teacher I must legally report the outcome - the measurable thing - the standard. But if I don't celebrate the process that the student went through to create the work, figure out the problem, manage the issue - then I rob that student of the very purpose of engaging in the process. If I don't share that process with parents I fail to share the very vitality and frailty that is at the heart of their son or daughter.
We have formal ways to do that sharing, called a midyear conference or an end of year report. We have informal ways of doing that. Catching up and chatting to parents is part of what I do. Emailing parents, calling parents when I can is part of what I do. That hasn't stopped as a result of national standards, and for me it won't.
But national standards focus on the outcome - and devalue the process. The website is going to show outcomes - league tables will show outcomes - media outlets will measure schools outcomes against each other. The public discourse becomes one of outcomes.
Yes, an education system should have outcomes. Yes, we should be accountable for what we do as teachers. But the language and spirit of standards and the rhetoric as evidenced by the editorials and the comments absolutely ignore the value of the process. And the process is where the learning takes place.
When the education system values only certain outcomes, as a measure of educational achievement - by definition it doesn't value that which isn't measured. And the current measures are in reading, writing and mathematics. As any parent will tell you, the whole of their child is far more than the sum of those three parts.
As a politician, and as a newspaper editor, it pays to measure outcomes. Outcomes allow you to say you've taken a stand, done something, been bold. That leads to winning votes, and getting your paper read.
But as a society, is this what we really want - to value only outcome? Don't we want a society that values process, and values learning?
As a society, do we honour only those who win, or do we celebrate all those who take part?
Lest I be taken for just another hippy teacher, consider the Olympic athletes who've graced our screens for the last two weeks. Every single one of them have earned the right to be there. Do we devalue them because they didn't all finish with a medal?
As a parent, a teacher and a human, I will value the process over the outcome. I always will.
The process is where real, rich life and learning takes place.
Parents also have to be clear about their own values. Children watch us closely. If you want your children to be able to stand up for their values, you have to do the same. If you believe that a summer spent reading, taking creek walks and playing is better than a specialized camp, then stick to your guns. Parents also have to make sure their own lives are fulfilling. There is no parent more vulnerable to the excesses of overparenting than an unhappy parent. One of the most important things we do for our children is to present them with a version of adult life that is appealing and worth striving for.