Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Small Rant

I try to support my kids' schools, I really do. I have volunteered at fundraisers, donated money, donated time, and--especially--overseen homework projects even when I have some questions about them. I never once asked why Nick should make a biography "cube" with six facts about his subject on the six sides (silly gimmick?); I sat with him while he researched women mathematicians and scientists well into the night (good idea; not enough direction); and I coached him through the "Christmas shopping" project so he found things on sale and calculated the reduced prices, figured the sales tax, and kept within his budget (great project; he just procrastinated on it). But lately I've been pushed close to my breaking point.

The culprit was the project on identifying clauses. OK, fine, he's learning to identify different kinds of clauses. I'm all in favor of that. But did he really have to write each one out on a separate piece of paper, rather than just marking them in the article? Maybe he did. But did he really have to separate out the adjectival and adverbial ones? OK, fine, it's important to make distinctions, and he really does seem to have figured something out here about how to modify subjects and verbs. But did he really have to make a graph of the ratios of adjectival to adverbial clauses? And independent to dependent? Ah, yes, math across the curriculum. All right, I can live with that, too. And then writing a paper on his process? Well, fine, reflection is good, even if his process was mostly "Mom, I think this one is an adjective clause, right?" (Actually, it did get better than that...) I'm not sure I would want to read a paper on this process, but I'm not the teacher. If she wants to read these, more power to her. The fact that he was doing the project mostly over the snow days, and that there seems to have been some missed communication on the due date, well, these things happen. I guess that's OK, though if you tell a kid in an e-mail that a due date has changed, and then change your mind, well, you can expect some angst, right?

But it's March, and as far as I can tell, he hasn't yet read a book in this class. I'm not sure I can forgive that. If language arts is all labeling parts of speech and making graphs, I think it may have lost its soul.

[edited to add: Nick is 11, in sixth grade. The projects in the first paragraph were in elementary school, except for the "shopping" one, which was just before Christmas.]


  1. Great rant! I bet it's hard as someone who understands how WONDERFUL the world of literature is to see your own child assigned exactly the kinds of activity that turns kids "off" of language and literature early on, right? Sigh.

  2. Yes, sigh. I rant like this sometimes, too. Gifted "language arts" classes help my kids, but what can we do for the poor souls in the "regular" classes who think it's all drudgery?