Whenever I relate these facts, people are shocked. Why? Because academically speaking, I ended up becoming a highly functional adult, culminating with a doctorate in the brain, behavior, and cognitive science track from Queen’s University and a triple appointment postdoctoral fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard Medical School. Prestigious grants from the National Institutes of Health paid for my degree and fellowship.
The juxtaposition of this history — as first a mediocre student and then a really good one — has led me to approach my kids’ educational experiences with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I have a fairly simple educational belief structure. I believe in public schools. I want equitable opportunities and resources for all kids, whether that’s related to technology or a meal in the belly. I want my kids to try their hardest. I believe that teachers should earn all the money. But I bristle against modern — notably, privileged — parenting norms. I don’t believe all homework is good homework, especially when it requires significant parental involvement. I think parents should be less helicopter-ish and let their kids struggle a little more to develop resilience. And I’m actually kind of proud that I don’t know how to log into the school portal to monitor academic activity.
Add a pandemic and remote learning to these mixed feelings and I am left with two seemingly opposing conclusions: My empathy and appreciation for educators and administrators has soared to new heights, while my expectations about academic achievement have completely bottomed out.
Yes, you read that correctly. This child of Korean immigrants who used to pore over flashcards and multiplication tables, and who collected academic accolades like precious gemstones, has zero expectations this year when it comes to grades and standardized tests. Let me be clear, this is not a reflection on my kids’ teachers or school administrations; their efforts have been herculean. Instead, I believe that our kids’ current experience is so far afield from normal that carrying on with academic evaluation and standardized tests per usual feels ridiculous.
I recently interviewed Jaynay Johnson, a licensed marriage and family therapist whose practice (teentherapytalk.com) focuses on teens, about teen mental health on the AMAZE.org podcast. When Johnson said, “We want our teenagers to still excel and thrive at the level they were pre-pandemic, and that really is unrealistic,” I silently fist pumped the air. What has nagged me through this pandemic school year was best summarized by her comment, “The expectations should not stay the same if the circumstances have not stayed the same.”
Certainly, the challenges are not the same across the board; besides the issues that face kids who learn differently, many factors — socioeconomic, parental employment and marital status, adversities such as domestic violence and mental illness — impact a family’s ability to meet, or even consider, academic assignments and milestones.
Do I still want my kids to put forward their best effort and be active, respectful students? Yes, but I don’t care about the metrics. Instead, I’m focused on how my kids can become stronger through their non-school life. I look for small moments where they can level up their life skills. I support their pursuit of what lights them up and where they find self-direction. I try to help them develop a deeper understanding of what is happening in the world despite our inability to actually move much in it. And I’m not alone.
I connect with thousands of people every week through social media on my blog BostonMamas.com, podcasts (Edit Your Life and Hello Relationships), and other professional endeavors. I took this opportunity to ask parents on Facebook and Instagram where their kids are finding self-direction and joy during the pandemic. I received an incredible range of responses. Like me, many acknowledged that our worlds are tremendously limited right now — yet that has led many kids to find joy and independence in at-home activities such as baking, woodworking, gardening, mastering home haircuts, and even car repair and restoration. These life skills should not be trivialized; they will help kids become functional, creative, independent adults.
Many kids are exploring classic games, like chess, and crafts — crochet, embroidery, drawing — some of which are proving therapeutic. A parent from Newton shared: “What started as a curious interest [hand lettering] has turned into an evening outlet on stressful school days.” Some projects require supply costs, but others — like the building of marble runs from household materials — do not.
The pandemic has shown us that not everything is going to turn out the way our kids want, and while painful, those limitations and disappointments can be learning experiences, too. A couple of years ago, I worked on a project with the Centers for Disease Control Injury Center and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and learned from Dr. Andrew Garner that joy — and finding things you are passionate about — is a crucial lever to mitigating stress and preventing toxic levels of stress hormones that can lead to negative changes in genes and brain form and function.
- Education notebook – Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
- California – Ravenwoode: Offering appreciation to health, education officials – Lake County News
- Education News – Texarkana Gazette
- US Department of Education Releases “COVID-19 Handbook, Volume 2: Roadmap to Reopening Safely and Meeting All Students’ Needs” | US – U.S. Department of Education
- The more you learn, the more you earn: education and poverty alleviation in Thailand – UN News
- Dep’t of Education issues emergency order waiving test requirement for seniors, series of adjustments – Florida Politics
- D.C. mayor proposes boost in education spending as she calls on schools to fully reopen in the fall – The Washington Post
- Faculty invited to apply to General Education Scholar Program | Penn State University – Penn State News
- US Department of Education Announces More Biden-Harris Appointees | US – U.S. Department of Education