Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A letter to Joshua

Dear Josh,

Tonight you made a few comments that made me think maybe you weren’t feeling so confident about yourself.  Nothing huge, but you seemed to think that maybe you aren’t in the “smart group” in math and that maybe you can’t succeed academically as easily as someone else can.  Of course, you made the remarks as if you were joking, but at the risk of sounding like President Obama, I want to be clear about a few things.  There is so much more to you than the grades on your progress reports or your math test.  (Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re going to let you get away with a half-hearted effort; we will demand the best you can do, because not to do so would mean we were not doing the best parenting we can do.)

Josh, there are some thing s that are easily measured on report cards.  Things like this:  Does he know how to multiply?  Do long division?  Can she spell?  Can she memorize the parts of a plant?  Can he name the state capitals?  Memorizing and understanding those things comes easily for some people and not-so-easily for others, but they have one thing in common.  They are easy for teachers to evaluate. 

Other things are not so easy to put on a test in school.  Like how much a person loves and values nature and being in the outdoors.  How good he is at building something out of random objects other people would throw away.  Like how fearless a kid is when he faces a challenge and how he jumps in with both feet to try new and dangerous things.  Tests cannot show how a person will spend hours searching for something in the woods without giving up and how he sees the beauty in every piece of nature he finds.  A test can’t prove how good a kid is at finding a snake every. single. time. he goes in the woods in the summer or how he finds and preserves turtle shells that no one else would have even noticed.  No test can reveal how strong and agile and coordinated is a boy who (just for the heck of it) climbs a tree to see if he can get onto the roof like the cat does . . . and then he does it.  (Of course, when that same boy thought it would be fun to ride his scooter on the roof, he was also obedient enough not to.)  Let’s don’t forget the boy who tried tenaciously to perform tricks on a scooter and then set up an obstacle course for himself out of baseball bats and sneakers just to see if he could master it.  (And he did.) No teacher will ask on a test if that same boy a few hours later built a fire in the backyard and made scrambled eggs and bacon over it with nothing but a stick.  If a teacher tried to come up with a test that revealed how many times in this boy’s life he had asked his mother, “What would happen if . . .,” well let’s just say she would be working on that one for years.  (The truth is I haven’t known the answers to most of your hypothetical questions since you were about five, but I try not to let you know that.)

Josh, you have amazed me since you were just a toddler with your love of the outdoors and your sense of adventure.  You long for adventure, and if no one will provide you with one, you invent one for yourself.  That is a trait that can’t be taught in a classroom with a book.  It is the innate way God made you, and I absolutely love it about you.  When other people see some sticks and duct tape, you see a pirate ship waiting to take shape.  When I say it’s too windy to build a fire, you spend hours building a snow shelter to block the wind.  That is problem-solving and ambition of the highest degree, but it won’t appear on your PSSA’s.
Never let the world or the classroom convince you that you are any less smart or gifted or able than any other person on the face of the earth.  You are uniquely you, and until the school system finds a way to measure tenacity, ambition, curiosity, creativity, imagination, and adventurousness, those things aren’t going to show up on your report card.  But they show up every day in the person that you are, and I see them.  I see them.  Make sure that you always see them, too.

With more love than you could fathom,

Ps.  You still need to bring up your math grade, but only because I know you can.  Sorry, kid.