Yes, I wanted them to be able to read and write and know at least as much math as I did – which went as far as multiplication and division and fractions but came to an abrupt halt shortly after cosigns and tangents, but I didn’t care how much Dostoyevsky they’d read or how many bones in the body they could name.
What I did want them to learn at school, besides the value of learning itself, was how to get along.
What to do when you have a demanding teacher. What to do when you get teased for being different. What to do when someone cusses in the hall. What to do when you don’t win the election. What to do when you have to choose between studying for a test and sleeping.
And while they were at school, I wanted them to try out sports and music and drama and dance and art and yearbook, and I was just as happy even when it turned out they wanted to start an environmental club.
And I wanted them to take part in the assemblies and the fundraisers and the fieldtrips.
And I wanted them to have to think. And to have to work hard. And to have to compete. And to sometimes lose.
And I wanted them to have one teacher who followed politics and another who wrote poems and one teacher who yelled at you if you didn’t practice and another who gave more homework than anyone was physically capable of doing. Or so you thought until you did it.
Demanding teachers become demanding bosses. Team losses become business setbacks. And life in school is preparation for life in the real world.
Truth be told, I think our current angst over the quality of education is misplaced. You can’t judge a school by its math scores so much as by the interests and abilities, the attitudes and the ambitions of its students.
Can they think? Do they want to? Are they their own person? Do they care about other people?
In public schools in two different states, my children learned about people and their characters, about challenges and how to deal with them, and about work and why it’s necessary, thanks to math (and yes, calculus) teachers and band directors and the kid in the desk just across the aisle.
There aren’t any tests that can measure that kind of education. But maybe there doesn’t need to be.