sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

January 31, 2012

Registering to Vote and Study and Other Adventures of a Pre-K Mom

Filed under: education, parenting, politics — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 5:44 pm

I registered to vote at the DMV where the clerk barely glanced at my passport, even though I have an accent.  I later found out there was quite a bit of fraud going on at that office.  When I went to my polling place, my name, address and party affiliation were posted at the door.  Poll workers don’t require an id to vote.  When some college age kids asked what’s up with that, the poll workers explained that the presumption is that if you are a citizen, you are honest.

Evidently our School District doesn’t presume any such thing.  To register my daughter to attend public kindergarten we are required to submit valid photo identifications of parents along with two utility bills, letters from the doctor and the dentist and a detailed application that includes a second language questionnaire.  We are required by law to state our children’s race, and “mixed” or “other” boxes are not provided.  I can’t fill out the application online, which would had save the taxpayer money.

I checked out a local Catholic school.  They put up billboards that described experiments students conducted in labs.  The elementary school classrooms were filled with sculptures of animals and drawings of ancient Egyptian tombs.  Teachers pinned essays by middle school students on the walls.  The essays were fairly long and well-written (or re-written on the teacher’s instruction).  Then I walked into the math classroom.  Colorful paper mobiles were hanging from the ceiling.

“How is it math?” I asked.

“Well, students have to calculate how to hang the weights on the mobiles so that they are balanced.  It’s more fun than your usual paper and pencil assignment.”

I can feel my Russian readers getting flabbergasted.  In the teacher’s defense I can say that she perhaps felt pressured to show something visual for the open house.  But this is not what math is.  Math is abstract; mathematical equations can be quite elegant and solving a problem can be a delight.  A good math teacher will show her students how to have fun with math.  For a real math lover, crafty projects like mobiles are a destraction.

I went to a school that was heavily invested in theory.  Labs were rare, in part, I guess, because acquiring supplies was out of the question but also because the stress had long been on theory.

More thoughtful and high-minded people in the Soviet Union loved mathematics because of abstraction.  There was beauty and logic to it, and equations were true or false regardless of what the party decreed at the time when literature and history were utterly perverted and even botany was politicized.

In the late ’80s, my school was the only one in the city area that had a computer lab.  From time to time we had students from other schools come in for a tour.  We had computer science a few times a week, but only one hour of lab.  Our teachers understood that computer code is an abstraction, and that if we learn the abstraction on paper, we can easily type it up.  The physical presence of a computer is desirable but not necessary to learn programming.  I’d say about half of my classmates are now in the US, either as refugees or on H1B visas, most working in programming.

For some reason it’s a standard for American kindergarteners to have computer lab time at school.  In the meantime my 80-year-old father-in-law received an offer to return part-time to his engineering position at Lockheed-Martin because they can’t recruit in China for jobs that require security clearance.

I was most impressed with the Catholic school’s lockers, and I’m not being facetious.  They were sparkling clean — no graffiti, no scratches, no stickers.  Maybe the lockers were recently installed, but more likely discipline is not an issue at this school.



  1. I was surprised how quickly I had to deal with things like saints and purgatory in the Catholic school setting. Still, it’s better than trying to un-indoctrinate secular garbage from public school.

    And yeah, the crafty projects will drive a practical lady crazy. It’s not just the Russian in you. You find yourself asking, how the heck does balancing mobiles teach math? I found myself asking, how the heck does a “clothes hanger book report” (don’t ask) teach writing and reading comprehension?

    In today’s educational world, the distractions are more important than the underlying basics. Which is, of course, one of the main reasons I’m homeschooling this year.


    Comment by nooneofanyimport — January 31, 2012 @ 8:02 pm

    • I’m not really bothered by the conflicting religious doctrine. I am a bit concerned about the ritual because my child will probably feel excluded, no matter how accommodating the school is.
      A teacher’s job is to show that things that seem boring at the first sight are actually exiting when student puts some sort of an effort to understand them. California education in particular is not doing it.

      Comment by edge of the sandbox — February 1, 2012 @ 11:33 am

  2. Catholic schools do get a lot of noncatholics attending them, especially in areas in inner cities that aren’t in the best neighborhoods . They are generally safer and better disciplined.

    Comment by Infidel de Manahatta — February 1, 2012 @ 1:17 pm

  3. And asking a voter for a picture ID is somehow racist. I never understood this. I went to Protestant school we never had to deal with saints and the like.

    Comment by Harrison — February 1, 2012 @ 11:19 pm

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