A few weeks have passed, so now perhaps we can have the discussion like reasonable adults. I may be the only parent saying it, but I’m not the only one thinking it. It’s time to give new consideration to an old problem. Problem may be too strong a word. But just because we’ve always done something doesn’t mean we must always continue to do it. I’m talking of course about Back-to-School Night.
Here’s my thinking. I’m not going back to school, my kids are. And I already know they’re back in school because that’s where I’ve been dropping them off every morning. At night I see the hand-turkeys and best listener awards brought home by the little ones, who apparently are to classroom listening trophies what U2 are to Grammys. Nor do my kids wonder where they are, as their days now are short on Sharks and Minnows and long on George Washington Carver. They’re back in school – we get it. Do you see me hosting a Summer Kickoff for teachers at my house each June?
And let’s be honest. There’s not much change in the message year after year. I’m not blaming you; the fact is not much has changed in the classroom. Sure, there’s more focus on technology, my grade school exposure to which consisted of knowing number sequences that looked like dirty words on inverted calculator screens. But from what I can gather, the place still runs on homework, quizzes and tests. Will their little minds get blown when they read The Lottery by Shirley Jackson in the coming months? As sure as night follows day.
Maybe it’s me. I always go into these things with great expectations, only to feel let down upon arrival. It’s like your wife calling you at work and saying dress like a fireman tonight, and then all she wants you to do is rescue a treed cat. But I try to remain hopeful. You want some constructive criticism? Here you go: teach long division so it’s accessible to children not sired by Stephen Hawking. I recall taking in that lesson in third grade like a Louisville Slugger to the head. Addition and subtraction? Fine. Multiplication? I’ll dance to that. But long division? Witchcraft, plain and simple. And the domineering tone. Can’t divide by zero? Can’t, or won’t? Ah, can’t it is, you say? My bad.
The evening is not entirely without its charms. Once dragooned into duty, I amuse myself by getting a make on the kids based on the questions their parents ask. Can my Miles read ahead if the class is moving too slowly for him? Danger, Will Robinson – Todd Marinovich Alert! Any kid being pushed that hard in elementary school is bound by sophomore year to discover Fantasia for all the wrong reasons. Speaking of, what has replaced jeans jackets? I don’t see anyone in the denim tuxedo anymore.
The truth is I’m thinking about you teachers when I ask to sit this series out. I shouldn’t be at BTS Night precisely because I don’t want to wear out my welcome with you. Let’s be frank: come late November it will be me, not my kid, putting the finishing touches on the tidal wave science project. And who will beg for leniency when the night before it’s due the dog does something unholy to our Popsicle Stick Globe Theatre? Not junior over there.
I’ll tell you one thing it’s nice not to see in classrooms anymore: dioramas. As you probably know, in Greek diorama means to render something already dreadfully boring even more so by depicting it in a small box. So they’ve finally been put out to pasture, yes? It’s about time. If you’re not picking up what I’m laying down, I’ll give it to you as clean as I can. It’ll be a cold day in hell before I make miniaturized rostra for a Lincoln-Douglas debate. This means you, Mrs. Abernathy.
Don’t even get me started on time capsules. Shame on you all for letting kids think centuries from now someone will give a rip about what is put in there. With much fanfare I buried Mr. Feathers, my kids’ dead bird, in the backyard a mere nine months ago, and not even I have the faintest idea where that grave is. You’re just setting them up for heartbreak and disappointment, and why bother? High school is right around the corner.
Look, we all make mistakes. Between Anne Rice and Anne Tyler, I can never remember who does marital angst and who does vampires. But please, let’s not make the mistake of scheduling another Back-to-School Night next year. Do that for me and I’ll tell you the dirtiest number sequence of them all for your calculator. It’s 5318008.