Saturday, September 14, 2013

Schools, Bake Sales, Volunteering

Amanda Ripley, writing in Slate, proposes that we "Ban School Bake Sales". That anyway is the title: the text of the article suggests low or no correlation between parents volunteering and children learning more.

When I was very young, I would have voted for banning bake sales. We were in the heart of the baby boom, the school had 50 children to the classroom, and there was always somebody with a nervous stomach. Invariably, on bake sale day, some child would vomit on his desk. The janitor would come, clean up, and spread sawdust on the floor. Ammonia and sawdust made up the characteristic smell of bake sale day. I did not look forward to it.

When grown, I did now and then volunteer for activities at schools, and now and then was volunteered by my wife. We did not do this because we thought it enhanced the offspring's learning, but rather because a) somebody asked us, and b) I had the time. Almost none of this had anything obvious to do with education. I

  • Called other parents to ask for donations.
  • Took tickets at the fall festival moon bounce.
  • Made popcorn at the spring "Family Fun Day".
  • Directed traffic in the parking lot during the open house.
  • Tied Christmas trees on to cars a few December evenings.
  • Made sure that students who had promised to serve as guides at the open house remembered their promises.
There certainly were parents who volunteered less, and there were those who volunteered more. Some of the latter seemed odd, for they did not confine their involvement to the bake sale category. There was the fifth-grader's mother who badgered a teacher about her daughter's grade on a quiz. There was the dad who had reservations about the way Latin was taught, and and raised them on 7th-grade back to school night.

To the student between about 12 and about 17, any parental activity can seem odd. He will have a very sharp eye for the behavior of those in authority, and more or less skill at detecting absurdities. Often he will prefer not to be reminded that he has parents, and will much prefer that his friends not be reminded that he does. Socially if not academically, the helicopter parent will be a liability.

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