Singing The Blues At The School Music Recital

So, as a musician, I am very passionate about encouraging performing arts programs for kids. What I am not passionate about is going to see these performances. My older child has just started Junior High, so while I am holding out hope to see some improvement with school orchestras in the future, so far, the best way I can describe the performances I’ve seen, is ‘plodding along tunelessly’.

Probably my least favorite performance so far was the one I saw this weekend which was comprised of everyone in the class getting up and doing solos. Yes they are adorable, but once they put bow to string it’s almost as if Satan has condemned me to a life of eternal damnation on earth.

And if there’s anything I’d rather see than my kid going up and butchering a classic in front of a hundred people, it’s someone else’s kid getting up and butchering a classic in front of a hundred people, oh yeah, times about 40.

Now I know you’re all thinking what a horrible person and mother I am for being down on kids who are trying to perform and learn art, but talk to me again after you’ve heard about 20 different kids butcher ‘Ode to Joy’, an excruciatingly slow version of ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ played on stand up bass, some tuneless attempts at Jingle Bells (in February no less), and, oh yeah, a version of ‘Wrecking Ball’ on cello, which sounded nothing like the original but may have actually been an improvement.

Now I understand that many of these kids are just learning their instruments and to those I say, hang in there, don’t give up, it will get better. After all, I know how it was when I started out, believe me.

But there were some kids up there who, unfortunately, had no hope. I know it must be awfully upsetting to try to encourage a child to take up an instrument and then realize you have made a terrible, terrible mistake. I would persuade you to nip this in the bud as soon as possible before any further suffering is endured.

There are many approaches you can take with this. First there is the Simon Cowell method where, you very bluntly tell your child, “I know that you have practicing, and working very hard, but your father and I feel it would be a great service for violins, ears, and humans everywhere if you were never to go near a musical instrument ever again in your entire life.”

Or you could be a bit more subtle. For instance: “You know there are so many great musicians, but someone has to be a fan. How about you?”

Or just simply: “Wow that was a really great performance. How about next time we try origami?”

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Waving the White Flag?

Well it’s been a long hard road, but I may have finally come to an impasse in my battle with homework, teachers, and all things related. I would like to be able to conclude, to seal things off with a nice little bow, where there is, if not a victory, then maybe a sense of closure. But instead of this nice neat little bow, I’m afraid it’s more of a fraying cable and my neat little package is, in fact kind of bulging all over the place, it’s contents threatening to come tumbling out everywhere.

I did have a meeting with the Principal, the Showdown at High Noon which was more of a “What do you want me to do about it? Talk to the teachers.” I explained to him that the teachers were no longer returning my emails and he did, at least, open a line of communication, I think…

Anyway, I should give him some credit because he did actually meet with the teachers who did nothing more than blame my son and his habits, most of which he has since corrected, for their own shortcomings. It is sad that they feel the need to defend themselves at the expense of their students. I think it is appropriate here for me to include the letter I sent to my son’s math teacher last night:

Dear Ms. Teacher,

I believe the last time we communicated was when you made a recommendation that Jesse leave your class to take Math 6. (her answer to my complaint of over-homeworking – take a simpler math class-Ed.) I was grateful for your communication. It made me realize that perhaps Jesse was weak when it came to his multiplication tables and that he was taking a challenging class.

 

I asked Jesse at that point if he wanted to continue on in your class and he did. This meant that Jesse, with the help of myself and his father, needed to concentrate more on what he was being taught. I grilled Jesse on his multiplication tables and he got out of math boot camp and his grades have come up in your class and I hope they will continue to do so.

 

Jesse also needed to hunker down more as far as his work habits go. He is now beginning his assignments in class when given the opportunity to do so and I know this because I see the work he has done. (This in response to a false accusation she made about my son.-Ed.)

 

I do want you to know that although Jesse’s work habits have improved along with his comprehension, the homework assignments continue to take him a minimum of 45 minutes, and often an hour. When I check his homework, although I use a calculator, and have Jesse’s homework for reference, it can take me anywhere from 20 minutes to a half an hour.

 

Thank you for your time.

This letter, by the way, is a completely watered down version of what I would have liked to say, but I felt the need to hold my ‘tongue’. It is, after all, a long hard road that leads to end of my son’s semester. And, by the way, I did not get a response from Ms. Math Teacher, so perhaps the roads of communication are still hopelessly blocked. But then again, what was she supposed to say?

I’ll tell you what she was supposed to say! How about “I’m so sorry Mrs, Bergen, that I love to torture 11 year olds with an inappropriate amount of homework and potentially ruin their young lives and I’ll never do it again!!” But she did not. So I guess we will just agree to disagree. #peoplesuck

So Then This Happened…

So while I,  Rock N’ Roll Supermom was out trying to stop Homework from eating up our children, other Super Villians were taking advantage of my situation and attacking from the other side. I was blindsided by… The Teachers.

First came… The Math Teacher. My son had an assignment and, because he was able to figure out certain problems in his head, and didn’t show his work, he was deducted 50% from his assignment. 50%?? Really?? Come on!! I wrote to the teacher to tell her that I happened to know my son was able to figure out these assignments in his head but was met with stony silence. I guess I am fast becoming one of her least favorite customers after accusing her of doling out excessive homework assignments. Anyway, I know ‘Not Showing Work’ is a big one, and choose your battles, right? I guessed I would leave sleeping dogs lie as far as that was concerned. But then…
The Science Teacher cometh!! So on this occasion, Mrs. Science Teacher decided to deduct an entire 10 points on my son’s test score because he forgot to write his last name on the test bringing him from a 90 to an 80. Really?? 10 pts?? Come on!! He’s an 11 year old boy! That’s what 11 year old boys do!! I’m sure when he’s 30 and a CEO of a huge company signing contracts he will be including his last name, and if he’s 30 and forgetting to sign his name on welfare applications, we have bigger fish to fry.
Anyway, the thing is, I am meant to understand that school funding, which is so precious in this economic climate, is based on student’s grades. I am constantly being bombarded by letters and emails asking parents to help bring student’s grades up. So how can we do this?…how?…how? Oh here’s a good one…how about we tell the teachers TO STOP BEING SUCH HARD ASSES ON OUR CHILDREN…HUH? Anyway, excuse me for losing my temper a bit on this one. Where was I? Oh, yes.
Anyway, an update on the homework front..
I wrote again to the man at the school district who did not respond to my second letter asking him how we can enforce homework guidelines when teachers are underestimating the homework load.This time he did write back. One thing he advised is that I have a face to face with the principal. I’m not sure if this will do any good since the principal is already aware of my problems, but I did email him to ask him what he thought, and if we do meet and anything interesting comes of it, you will be first to know.
Slightly more interesting though, is that he recommended an article to me that had recently been published in Atlantic Monthly on homework. There is a lot on it I have already seen and read but a good read none the less. However, one thing it discussed was how one of the reasons the U.S. assigns so much homework is to be competitive with other countries as far as student grades go. First of all, this is stupid because study after study proves that giving students more homework doesn’t improve grades but beyond that… Isn’t it enough that our children can be sent out to war when they are 18? Isn’t it enough that the U.S. is a superpower who can blow most countries to Timbuktu? Isn’t enough that America is the land of the free, home of the brave, give us your tired, your poor? Fuck the other countries! Let their children be miserable!

Open Letter to The Principal Pt II: The Saga Continues

Well thank you all for your outpouring of support on the ‘too much homework’ subject. I really don’t know how many of you might be chomping at the bit to hear some follow up, which really wasn’t much, or terribly exciting, but I would feel remiss if I didn’t let you in on some of my findings.

1. Well miracles never cease because the principal did respond to me, but only to refer me to someone else, or as the case may be, quite a few someone elses. He told me to talk to someone who worked at my sons school district and also to consult the teachers. So….
2. I wrote to this someone at the school district (same letter pretty much) and maybe miracles never do cease, because he wrote me back as well. He said that the policies of how much homework was being given to the students were recently reviewed and currently, students in my sons school district, should be receiving 4-8 hours of homework a week. He also suggested contacting the teachers re the homework. So…
3. Now actually the teachers for me are a bit of a touchy subject. As I mentioned before, my son was missing some assignments and the teacher’s had been very helpful to me in helping him catch up so I thought it might not be the best time to completely piss them off. However, I could not resist writing one of my famous strongly worded emails to his honor’s math teacher who is a constant culprit of over-homeworking.
This particular letter was brought on by a pre-algebra math sheet that nearly brought my husband and I to tears and took about 2 hours to complete, including corrections, causing my son to stay up 15 minutes past his bedtime completing assignments. The result of  the letter  was a very angry teacher who denied that the homework assignments were so time consuming and suggested that my son request to transfer out of honors math, which he does not want to do.
4. I did also write back to the man at the school district to tell him that I did actually consult one of the teachers regarding the homework policy, and that the teachers seem to be underestimating the homework assignments and I asked him how, exactly the current policy was being enforced. This time the man who seemed so open and helpful to my questions and correspondence did not get back to me, so I guess miracles do cease.
As for me, I will continue fighting the good fight and, if anything interesting comes of it, I will let you know. But what I am really dying to know is, why kids do have to rewrite entire text book questions when all that is needed is the answer? Seems excessive to me. That’s one for the social studies/science teacher, when the time is right, unless any of you know… thanks.