Balance and Harmony


Yard Art

Image by mirsasha via Flickr


The Parent Imperfect is not quite ready for it, but the first term of the school year at the nation’s oldest public school is almost over. He and Liz have given Vince much more freedom to organize his own schoolwork this year, on the condition that all would be up for reconsideration when the first official results are in. Given all of the PI’s historical pontificating about the uselessness of grades, this is just one more irony of imperfect parenthood.

Unlike last year, Vince seems to like all of his teachers this time around, and is even guardedly enthusiastic about a couple of his classes. None of this year’s teachers seems to be consciously humiliating him on a regular basis, which makes it much easier for him to drag himself out of bed each day at 6AM. That said, Math and Latin continue to give him a very hard time. By all accounts, this is true for a good part of his cohort, especially the boys.

In response to pressure to provide a more supportive learning community, the school now offers a couple of different options for students to receive extra help with their studies. There are after school help sessions offered by older students and the school also runs a Saturday Success School on Saturday mornings, beginning each November. In addition to these options, many people opt for pricey private tutoring, especially in Math and Latin.

Last year, Liz and the PI thought about these options all year and talked a lot with Vince about them. For all of the talking, extra help never really happened, except at home. This took a toll on both parents and on their relationships with Mr. Vince. This year, they really want to pursue another option, but Vince shows no real interest in anything that requires him to put more time into his studies. This conversation will come to a head in the next couple of weeks as the drum roll builds to the release of the first report cards.

As the puzzled parents go round and round about this with each other and their son, a discussion appeared on the school’s community list-serv suggesting that they are not alone. A new parent sparked the debate by innocently asking, “Why do so many students at the school need outside tutoring?”

What followed was a fascinating set of responses that suggest what parents think of themselves and their child’s school. Some parents want to believe that students at the nation’s oldest public school don’t require any more tutoring than at any other school in the city, but most know better.

Selection for the school is based on the student’s grades in grades 5 & 6, as well as their performance on the standardized test used for admissions to the nation’s private schools. A teacher at the school suggests that this admissions process does not measure “intelligence” and is, therefore, not a good predictor of who will do well at the school. As a result, many gain admission who are not prepared to do well there.

The PI agrees, in part, but it seems a little odd to say that those who don’t do well at the school lack “intelligence.” A good percentage of students at the school do not thrive in an environment in which teachers are under pressure to take a large number of students through a demanding curriculum without time to give attention to the needs of individual students. Hence, the need for “extra help.” A lack of “intelligence” (whatever that is) might be one reason why a student doesn’t respond to this environment, but there are certainly others.

Reflecting on all this, one parent offered a particularly thoughtful observation to members of the mail-list. Speaking particularly about new students at the school she writes:

They  (and us) were shocked by the volume, pace , strictness and demands for the organizational skills which very few at their age may have acquired. As a result they are not “doing so well” as they (and us) are used to. It is upsetting, embarrassing, stressful, threatening etc. I am not sure who feels more uncomfortable, the kids or the parents. I also considered tutoring after school in Latin, but I am deciding against it at the moment. Can we and should we overcompensate for the new demands in presentation, organization and life skills? What are your kids mostly struggling with? I doubt that it is the content. My family’s intention now is to make sure that all of the elements of life which were important to us and created balance and harmony are returned and remain intact, in spite of the homework I hope that the vigor that is making everyone so stressed will take on an intellectual quality, only then the school deserves its reputation.

Amen (as the PI searches for old recommendations of a Latin tutor).


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