Each (school)year at Noah’s middle school is divided up into four marking periods. At the end of each quarter, test and project scores are tallied and averaged and a report of a student’s grades is sent to his or her parents. This year, unless otherwise requested, middle school parents are receiving their child’s report cards (though I think they are technically known as ‘progress reports’ these days) via email. Gone are the days of crumpled yellow envelopes in backpacks and a teacher’s perfect script cataloging tardies and sharing comments about lunch room antics. Gone is also any kind of suspense or doubt. I receive automatic updates of Noah’s “progress” via email bulletins each and every week, so his end-of-the-quarter grades are hardly a surprise.
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Through a parent/teacher/student information portal system called Powerschool I have 24- hour access to Noah’s permanent record. I can log onto his account at anytime for an up to the minute report that details his attendance, math quiz scores and whether or not he turned in his homework that day. Teachers are required to upload, in real time, a child’s attendance each period of every day, mark off every single completed (or incomplete) homework assignment and post test scores as soon as they are available. Very brief commentary is included from time to time.
I feel conflicted about this data-sharing system, which feels big-brotherly in both its reach and its anonymity, because it supplies parents with some useful information, too. To be sure, Powerschool provides an efficient way for parents and teachers to stay connected to one another and to the quantifiable elements of a child’s education. Middle schoolers are notoriously surly and secretive and sometimes “fine” is the only response you can coax out of one of them on the walk home from school. To be able to determine, ahead of time, that their crankiness might be due to a poor science grade or a forgotten current events assignment or an upcoming test can help bridge the ever-widening dialogue gap that can begin to form between adults and adolescent kids. It can also help parents spot subject areas that might be more difficult for a child and determine points of concern before they turn into full blown problems.
Checking a kid’s “progress” too often, though, knowing too much about what might be going on in another person’s life, also seems a lot like stalking. I rarely log on to Noah’s account because, even though he knows I have the password–his TEACHERS have the password–I always feel like I’m breaking some kind of trust pact with him when I do. I want Noah to understand that I am confident in him. That I know that he will to talk to me when things get to be too much for him to handle on his own (he typically shares the good stuff right away). I also want him to know–to feel–that he has ample time and space to learn, to assess situations, to figure out ways to fix things that need fixing and then determine how and when to talk to me about them, without me breathing down his throat (armed with reams of data, no less).
If Noah wasn’t such a talker to begin with (and not such a momma’s boy) I might not be so insistent about this self-sufficiency business regarding his grades. But, to me, the most important elements of an education (i.e. character development, collaboration, reflective practices, finding inspiration, starting to recognize who you are) can’t be recorded on a data program anyway. All the kinds of learning that isn’t quantifiable, like negotiations in the locker room and playground politics and which table to sit at (or avoid) in the lunchroom, Noah has no other choice but to manage on his own. If he thinks I’m constantly monitoring his every action, if he’s waiting for me to notice when he’s off track and then correct his course, how will he ever learn to navigate the world on his own? How will he ever understand that he must learn listen to himself above all else?
If anything I’m a hovering parent. I’m not good at risk taking (or watching my kid take them) but with each passing day–as Noah continues to talk to me and share moments of his life: that he got a 98 on the science test and that he was chosen first for the four square tournament and, yes, that he forgot to hand in his homework because he was too busy figuring out the brackets for the four square tournament, I’m reminded that this child of mine isn’t really mine. He’s mine in as much as it is my responsibility to help him become the best, most Noah he can possibly be, but my role isn’t loitering around every corner of his life. My job is to helping him stock his toolbox with the very best implements, demonstrate everyday kindness and instill in him faith and hope and the certainty that I believe in him. No matter what the data says.