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Recently, I fell down an Internet rabbit hole and found myself, against my better judgment, clicking on a pretty mundane back-to-school survey—will it be skinny jeans versus boot cut or granola bars versus apple sauce. It did get me thinking, though, what if Marcel Proust was still around and had penned something a little more inspired?
What would Proust’s Questionnaire reveal about parents’ state of mind at the start of a new school year?
Hmmm... interesting. In the tradition of uncooperative survey respondents I think I’ll answer this question with another question: What if I asked for your idea of the perfect mother? It would be cringe-worthy, right? We know there’s no such thing as a perfect mother, or father—or a perfect anyone—and expecting a teacher to be perfect is just as unrealistic. Next question, please.
Which talent would you most like your child’s teacher to have?
I would like my son’s teacher to have the patience of Job combined with at least a few super-powers: think Mother Theresa meets the bionic woman. After all, she will need to keep calm and carry on in an age of unprecedented hostility towards educators.
I can’t imagine having to deal with multiple sets of parents who’ve got bellies full of nails for “the system” who are ready to spit them at me. Whether teachers, doctors or nurses—it doesn’t much matter—we, the people, are guilty of behaving quite badly these days with frontline professionals.
What do you consider the most overrated aspect of the education system?
This is tough. Can I only pick one?
Well, the first thing that strikes me as way overrated is the creative classroom configuration and the constant rearranging of desks. It’s popular, I know, and it helps to prevent cliques from forming, and gives students new friends and fresh perspectives. But I’m nostalgic for the militaristic, eyes-forward, tidy little desk-rows of my youth, which teachers could patrol while students recited multiplication tables.
Training tomorrow’s workforce using yesterday’s techniques is probably a horrible idea, but who can resist the undertow of the good ol’ days?
And since I’m already fantasizing about ancient history, I’d also like to say that photocopiers are totally overrated. Not only are they expensive, but they’ve virtually eliminated the greatest perk of being an over-achiever: skipping class to be the unofficial school secretary.
Why not bring back the spirit-filled ditto machine so that smart kids can relish in their academic superiority by getting high on methanol in an unventilated room, churning out reams of solvent-impregnated paper for the entire school. For God’s sake let’s give these kids something to strive for!
If you could change one thing about your child’s school, what would it be?
Without a moment’s hesitation I would demolish the portables. I wouldn’t even need a wrecking ball to flatten these Improvised Education Devices. I could roll onto the property with a mini-excavator and have the job done in an afternoon. They may be necessary evils, but portables are proof, at least to this parent observer, that school infrastructure planning is the worst kind of administrative after-thought.
How many students have to be in classrooms outside the school, with no washrooms, before the higher-ups decide to build a new school?
What is your greatest fear for your child’s education?
My greatest fear for my son’s education is that I’ll be so busy being afraid of everything—from whether or not lunch meets code to below-average EQAO results—that I will overlook the fact that learning is also supposed to be fun.
I’m afraid I’ll forget that public education is a citizen’s privilege that comes with a set of responsibilities and not a consumer commodity for which I’m owed my money’s worth.
Most of all, I’m afraid of being assimilated to the prevailing worldview that going to school is about competition, economic output, and success in the global marketplace. This is why we have full-day Kindergarten, folks, why babies are carrying backpacks— such is our obsession with getting ahead.
If you could change one thing about “the system” what would it be?
If schools have a tendency to “ghettoize” some kids I would fix that right away. Every student should get a new pair of shoes and a clean slate. Maybe the slate metaphor is on life support in a post-chalkboard age, so I’ll put it another way: Let kids return to the main menu where a world of possibilities is still at their fingertips.
Too many kids suffer for the labels they’re given and the boxes they’re put in. Why not truly embrace the notion of a fresh start to the school year, instead of simply paying lip service to it?
And, speaking of lips, I would definitely get rid of the bad math without wasting any more of our kids’ time while the suits at Queen’s Park try to figure out which shade of lipstick looks good on this pig:
“Liz, we can’t decide between Jezebel, Paparazzi Pink or Spicy Cinnamon?”
“What about Plumtastic? Have you tried Plumtastic?”