Math--not my greatest skill. Never was, might not ever be, I don't know. However, I vowed that I would try to make up for all the schoolin' I daydreamed through as a kid and try--really try--to learn everything my Kids do. To be honest, I figured it wouldn't really be a challenge until they got to algebra.
Imagine my feelings of worthlessness now that half way through second grade and I already have exceeded my mathematical abilities and have found myself struggling to keep up.
To be honest, I only half expected that I would live up to this parenting challenge. I kind of figured I weasel out of it and blow it off because Jill is the scholar of the family. Little did I know how much overarching pressure there would be to supervise the Kids' homework. At this age, so much seems to ride on how well Jill and I supervise and motivate them to do their school work. I imagine that my failure to help them get through second grade math will doom them to a life of minimum wage jobs in between their prison sentences.
On the other hand, I slept through my public school experience and I've managed to be gainfully employed and out of prison. So, is it possible that I place to much pressure on myself or the Kids? Maybe, probably, most likely.
As a sidebar, when I say I slept through school, I really did sleep through school. I had terrible allergies as a Kid and I took Benadryl every day. One big honking spoon full of this hideous bitter psuedo-grape flavored swill that my Mother got in gallon jugs from the Pharmacy (it wasn't OTC at the time).
Today, I know even a small dose of Benadryl puts me in a not particularly pleasant stupor for about 48 hours. Were it a pleasant stupor, I might not mind so much. As a kid, I remember being permanently drowsy in class and now know that Benadryl was the likely culprit. In addition, I was a lazy sod and wasn't particularly motivated for reasons that are a completely other story.
Despite all those challenges, I managed to get through public school, go to college and complete a B.A. and an M.A., get a job, learn a bunch of stuff wholly unrelated to my education then turn that into a career.
Perhaps my education and work history are merely a series of fortunate accidents, or providence or, more likely, that I ended up stumbling blindly into whichever fox hole I fit into. One way or another, here I am today, a job, a mortgage, kids, and a fairly bright future all without the benefit of a perfect grade school record or particularly good math skills.
What does that mean? Is book learnin' is over rated? Nah. I learned to read really well and that, perhaps all by itself, has saved me from complete disaster. As I tell the kids, "if you can read, you can teach yourself anything you need to know."
Maybe it means that K-12 is overrated or something. I never really learned anything until COllege and I'm not sure I learned that much in college.
Things I learned and where I learned them:
1. How to read. Did I learn this in school or at home? Probably more at home. In Freakanomics, Levitt says there is a positive correlation between the number of books in a home and how well the children perform in school, how much they achieve as adults, and lots of other things.
Of course, books don't magically cause anything to happen but the behaviors that cause a person to accumulate books--i.e. reading a lot--do. If the parents read, kids will automatically emulate that behavior. If parents read, they are more likely to understand the importance of education and provide the proper motivation for the kids to do well in school which, in turn, correlates to achievement in life.
No problems there. Our kids have quite explicitly figured these things out and like to read almost as much as Jill and I do.
2. How to rehearse: Taught to me by Donna Nance, Drama teacher, Hale High School, 10-12 grade. This is significant because the method and discipline of rehearsing a play is identical to rehearsing a band or rehearsing a presentation or any number of things which involve appearing before an audience. I learned this well and have, quite consciously used it ever since in ways far too many to mention or remember. Next to reading, this may be the most important thing I ever learned to do and perhaps ever the most important thing I ever learned in school.
My kids already know most of what I learned because we practice these things in learning our little songs for church. There aren't any more Donna Nance's but her legacy lives on in me.
3. How to take a test. I must have learned this as an undergrad because I always did well on the tests I studied for. I didn't really learn it as a systematic process until grad school. I learned that from being a Teaching Assistant in a Study Skills class.
4. How to read between the lines: By this I mean how to understand why things work the way they do. I learned this in my English Lit and flim analysis classes in college. I'm pretty good at figuring out how pop culture influences us and vice versa, how advertising motivates, how propaganda manipulates and all this I learned from studying literature and film. Like Dorothy discovered the not-so-mighty OZ behind the curtain, I often wonder if living in blissful ignorance is better to whatever I am now. I might be better off being ignorant, but too late for that. I'm pretty sure this is a good thing though.
5. How to research. I did my Master's in History. I learned to love archives, libraries, dusty places, and the ability to ferret out the minutia hidden in them in order to tell a story. I also learned it's better to change your story to fit your research than to change your research to fit your story. That's seems to be the opposite approach used by the folks from Texas, but then, what do you expect from Texans?
6. How to grow tomatoes. My Grandmother had a garden and I spent many summers helping her pick, prune, fertilize, and pray to Jesus that there would be no rats, snakes, or spiders hidden among the tomatoes, okra, melon, squash, black-eyed peas, onion, and other things she grew. I'm not sure why I was afraid of encountering those things, but I was and I never did.
My father had a garden where he grew most of the same stuff. I wasn't fond of gardening as a kid, mostly because of my irrational fear of vegetables and critters. Sometime in my late 20s, I developed this strange urge to grow stuff. I took a day off school and built a flower bed and planted tomatoes and peppers. We moved into a bigger house a few years later and I grew even more stuff. We had a drought and I moved to a smaller and partially shaded plot and soon was producing tons of yummy stuff.
So, of the stuff I learned growing up that seems useful, not much came from my public school experience. Most of the useful stuff came from home, from college, or I taught myself. Only how to rehearse came from school and since that wasn't reading, writing, or arithmetic and arts programs are being cut from public schools faster than you can sing "I build a path for Satan" backwards in your average Led Zepplin song, I'm not sure this counts as "book learnin.'"
The sum total of all this is that a person's K-12 experience might not really be an indicator of their success in life.
On the other hand, I know, without a doubt, is that NOT going to school is a sure method to guarantee failure in life.
So, while clearly important, maybe I put too much pressure on myself and Kids about this school stuff. Then again, the kids hate homework and it sometimes feels like I'm torturing them to make them do it.
Maybe this school stuff has a good side after all.