Monday, June 06, 2005

Reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic

Saturday morning was the last German School class of the school year for my son, followed by skits and the like performed by the students and their teachers. I always enjoy watching the performances, both by the younger kids and by the adults who are studying German as a second language. My son performed his part well and for the first time I realized that his voice is changing. He'll be thirteen soon, so I guess it's time. He also got his report card and it confirmed what we already knew. He is not taking the classes as seriously as his mother and I would like, but is nevertheless skipping grade 8 and will be going directly into grade 9 German in September.

None of this likely means anything to anyone except to his moderately proud parents. Still, bear with me, I'm heading somewhere with all this.

Where? Read on.

I was surprised to be told, several years ago, that many of the kids who are learning German on Saturday mornings, come from families with no direct German connection. Some parents don't speak German themselves or have any German ancestry. Still, they drive their children to school every Saturday morning while the kids' peers are at home watching cartoons, or playing video games. Why would the parents do that?

I have to admit that I have two motives to send my son to German School. One is to give him context. I was born in Germany and my parents, who were both born in Poland, always thought of themselves as German. There is a lot of Germany history, good and bad, that I want my son to know.

The second motive is to make him work. In an increasingly complex world, slackers are going to fail. His generation is not going to have access to the same social support system that we have today. His health care and pension prospects don't look promising. The system is bankrupt. The more he knows, the better is his work ethic, the more he will be able to compete and succeed in the work marketplace.

I think that is also why other parents send their kids to our German School. It keeps them away from Saturday morning cartoons. It makes them think. It gives them new skills and knowledge. It helps them make friends outside the peer group of their regular school. I think the parents are looking out for their kids. That is what parents are supposed to do.

I don't trust the regular public school system to do the job. I have no major complaint with my son's school, but do have issues with the curriculum and how it is presented. I'm one of those three R's guys. In order to function, people need to be able to read, 'rite and do 'rithmatic. That is paramount. And we all need to know the history of the world. We need to know both the glory and the ignominy. We need to know which mistakes not to repeat. We also need to know the geography of the world. Where is Germany? Where is Iraq? Where is Afghanistan? Where is North Korea? We need to know arithmetic. We need to know how much of our paycheque goes to the taxman. We need to be able to count to ten so that we don't respond too quickly and inappropriately when someone baits us.

I am amazed at how much time kids in our public school system spend working on co-operative projects with other students. The thinking is, I guess, that everyone should be able to work 'together.' Sounds good, doesn't it?

Does this co-operative approach help or hinder our kids? As an employer, I assign projects to individuals, not teams. I learned long ago that one person usually does most of the work anyway. I also learned that if the team itself assign various members to specific tasks, parts of the overall assignment will at least be lacking in coherence and at worst will be basically useless. Who will I take to task if a team project is poorly executed?

In my son's case, I know that on several projects his partners didn't do much of anything. I also know, that on several other projects, my son went along for the ride and didn't contribute as he should have. The marks for each project are mostly based on the contribution of the one student who did most of the work. Why bother with this grossly inefficient system? Give the kids projects to do individually. If they do well, give them a good mark. If they do poorly, fail them.

Our kids are facing a much more competitive and complicated world than we might expect. Don't believe me? Let's compare notes twenty years from now to see who was right.


  1. Very much enjoyed this post.

    I will not be sending my daughter to public school, either. I had this decided before she was born and have taken steps to ensure that she become aware and appreciative of what a better education can do for her if she works for it. Opportunity is my job, perseverence is hers.

    Lets hope we are right, right?

  2. Yeah. Let's hope we're right. My son does go to a public, French immersion school during the week. It is pretty good, mostly because the parents who send their children there give a damn and make sure that the kids learn something and take the time to help them if necessary. On Saturdays, he goes to German School. Were his regular school not up to our expectations, we would look for private alternatives. It sounds as though your adventures in schooling with your daughter are on the right track. We'll all know for sure about our choices when our kids are grown.