I really do not want your stale bread
Picture this. You’re at a dinner party, the host is serving bread with a beautiful meal. The basket makes its way around the table, you politely take a piece, and pass (to the right of course). As the meal begins you sample the bread; which looked beautiful in the basket, had obviously been tended to with care while being made, and upon sample was stale.
Like, really stale. Maybe even prop-food for paintings or television shows kind of stale. Looks great, completely inedible.
You deal with it with manners and grace, hoping that you don’t have to utter the words, “No thank you, I really don’t want your stale bread.” Your goal is to appreciate the awesome meal before you and look past the shortcomings of the bread. You’re trying to be nice. Making every effort to be polite and respectful (it is after all just one part of the meal that is being served for the guests).
But then the host says, “You have to eat the bread, there just isn’t another option.”
What do you do? Break your teeth or stand your ground?
Now imagine you are a parent of a child attending elementary school. You have raised your child to respect teachers, do as they are told, and be kind. Your child comes home with an assignment and asks you, “Why do I have to do this?” You respond with your typical, engineered enthusiasm that you keep in your stores as a parent. Responding, “Your teacher has asked you to do it, it looks like you can handle that, let’s get it done!”
But then your child says, “No really, why do I need to do this?”
And you are stuck. You’re sitting at the kitchen table, stacks of laundry to fold, dogs to feed, and lunches to pack. The only thing you want is for this homework time to go quickly and for your child to focus on the task at hand. There is no time tonight for argument, tears, or frustration. So you take a breathe, close your eyes, and muster the parenting ninja cheerleader living within you. “You can totally do this, let’s get it done and then we can build some legos.”
Silence. Dead silence. And then, “I really want to know why, like what am I supposed to learn?”
You call out the parenting ninja cheerleader again, because when you look at the assignment you honest to God do not know what the purpose is, what they are supposed to learn, and if it is worthy of the pointless frustration that it is causing your child. So you go with a standby and say, “I don’t think it’s about learning. To me it just looks like your teacher wants to see what you can do. And you can 100% do THIS!”
Then the bullet. “Mom, I can do this a bunch of different ways. But this way? Nope not going to happen.”
You think. “Yes, child of mine, yes you can do it a bunch of different ways. It is 2018 you are in a 1:1 technology program, you are reading above grade level, and you love to be creative. Yes I know you can do it a bunch of different ways. But I really, really, really wish you would just do the five minute assignment and not be such a thinker.”
Then at that very moment your internal parenting ninja cheerleader comes out and kicks your ass. Why? Because you just silently supported your child doing bullshit work for one reason; to learn to comply, learn to just do as they are told even though it is fairly daft.
So what do you do?
Just like the dinner party and the stale bread, you are trying to be polite. Trying to enjoy the fact that your child loves school. But this assignment is literally that stale bread, and the declarative message that it must be completed in the same way by every child is like that nutty host telling you to eat your bread, regardless of how stale.
So what do you do when you are in a position to question authority and speak up on your own behalf? More importantly what do your children do? And what you do as a parent when the stakes are higher than stale bread?
Do you tell your child not to worry about it and recycle it? Do you contact the teacher and ask for an answer to the “why” question? Do you make your child suck it up and do it? Do you let your child come up with their own assignment that has some kind of personal value, yet demonstrates the same skill?
If it’s stale bread or bullshit student work, maybe it’s okay to stand up and question “why.” You can be respectful and ask questions, can’t you? You can differentiate assignments and still have the same resulting understanding of student skill, can’t you? You can give a kid a chance to come up with their own how, can’t you? You can discuss (understand) rather than argue (decide who is right), can’t you?
I don’t have the answer.
What I do have is a child that thinks critically about purpose and meaning. I have a 21st Century digital learner who wants the school experience to be about more than developing skills. I have a child that wants to have a school experience that is about developing skills, doing things that are engaging, and contributing to life, helping those in need, or understanding passions and interests. I have a child born after 2005. My child isn’t unique; my child is one that has grown up with personalization and purpose around every corner.