March 1, 2014 in Washington Voices

Front Porch: Software can interfere with kids’ learning

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Thanks to technology and Web-based software like Home Access and PowerSchool, moms and dads have a password-protected way to become brothers. Big brothers, that is.

As long as I have Internet access, I can monitor my kids’ every move, mistake and achievement at school, 24/7, viewing grades on every assignment, lab, quiz and test. It’s the online equivalent to having eyes in the back of my head, which my kids will testify, I do.

I can see, for example, if a child participated in gym class and how well he did on the push up and curl up mastery tests. Frankly, this merely makes me glad I don’t have to prove my own mastery of these exercises, especially since my stomach muscles went on strike during pregnancy and haven’t returned.

With Home Access, I can also ascertain how many points my various children have earned on night vocab, the distributive property test, food-borne illnesses and the WHAP timeline, to name a few grade book entries. Most of them baffle me.

Night vocab sounds like it would interfere with sleep, something I’m sure my kids need to succeed in school. Perhaps distributive property is an object lesson on socialism, although I’m not sure they do that in math class. If they do, this might explain why at least one pair of shoes and countless lunchboxes have gone missing.

As for food-borne illnesses, I hope that assignment wasn’t hands-on learning responsible for the latest digestion-related illness experienced in our household. If it was, I want to WHAP someone, because WHAP sounds an awful lot like something that should be against the student code of conduct.

Clearly, I’m not in touch with the ins and outs of assignments and assessments in the K through 12 educational system.

That’s because I haven’t been K through 12 since 1989 and Home Access offers a level of parental omniscience I don’t really want.

An important part of growing up, I believe, is having enough space to make and learn from mistakes, without a parent micromanaging every move. And I’m an admitted control freak.

Along with daily academic progress, Home Access lets me examine a lot of other things, such as which days and which periods one of my kids may or may not have been tardy.

I’m really glad my parents didn’t have Home Access. They’d have wanted to WHAP me. But some of the natural consequences I experienced caused me to adjust my choices, no parental involvement required. My parents read this column, so I’ll skip the details.

According to the CVSD website, parents get Home Access because “research proves that students do much better in school when their parents are actively involved in their education.” Supposedly this tool will help parents be “more effective partners in their children’s education.”

Quite a few parents I know use Home Access or PowerSchool for this reason. They’re great parents who want the best for their kids.

I just don’t agree it’s best for our three kids if Curtis or I are privy to every detail of their schooling and I don’t believe becoming a helicopter parent is the best method for us to be involved in their education.

That’s why I look as little as possible and Curtis, who teaches high school in another district, doesn’t even have a password-protected account set up.

I’d rather be a parent than a partner. Partners are buddies, cohorts, or associates. In business, a partner is someone who shares the financial risks and profits. The risk and potential profit here is raising uneducated children who don’t have the skills to leave home and become self-sufficient.

In my view, micromanaging their schooling increases this risk, the way continuing to hold on to the bicycle seat while Junior learns to ride makes it more likely he’ll fall.

But we’re the weird parents who, from as early as kindergarten, didn’t help with homework unless there were tears involved, in part because helping with homework was likely to make me cry.

We don’t cut, paint, color or glue three-dimensional science projects. We don’t dictate ways to make a tri-folded poster board display look more professional. We don’t do Internet research, help them write essays or stay up late making sure an assignment gets completed on time. We don’t even make their lunches.

We provide supplies and offer feedback when asked, but expect our kids to manage their own schoolwork with as little parental help as possible because they’re capable of learning and accomplishing a lot on their own. It’s their education and they have the power to create their own success. We believe that’s what’s best for them.

As a result, the projects, papers and assignments they turn in at school look like a kid completed them. Somehow they’ve always managed to do OK when compared with projects that obviously had more active parental involvement. I often wonder what grade the parents earn on those projects.

Yes, this hands-off approach increases the odds our kids will have bigger report-card consequences. But I’ve found over the years that our schools still have excellent teachers who contact parents if they’re concerned and kids are capable of making course corrections. In essence, they can learn, which is kind of the point. No WHAPing required.


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