I found this paper on the floor of my six year old son Bruce’s room today, and at once recognized my husband’s handwriting. Clearly this was the debris of a “teachable moment” they had shared between the two of them.
As a wife and mother, it really made me happy to find this, but as a former teacher it made me sad as well. Here right before me was an example of the Haves and Have-Nots, of education begetting education, and of some kids (like my own children) being set up for future success while other kids are lucky if their dads come home at all. My husband is a Stanford educated engineer, and my children are going to get a myriad of mini-math lessons across the span of their childhood that other children will not receive.
When I was little, my dad (an English major from a state university), never talked to me about math, but you better believe he taught me how to write when I was in high school! I never turned in any essay that I hadn’t revised at least four or five times with my dad’s guidance in writing, and my mom’s help with spelling.
Even at the time, I could see a great disparity between the levels of help students were getting in my own circle of friends. Some of my friends from blue collar families weren’t getting any help at all, while other kids were even luckier than me because they were also getting help in math. I still remember being shocked when I heard my friend K’s dad quiz her about her pre-calculus class. Her dad was a captain in the Coast Guard and was fully capable of keeping up with K in math, whereas my parents were not.
When I was at Stanford I did know several people who were “Legacy” students, meaning they were the children or grandchildren of Stanford alumni. To the uninitiated, Legacy status seems really unfair because it does, supposedly, give you a slight advantage into getting into a university. But I never once met a Stanford Legacy student who wasn’t brilliant and highly educated. In fact, they very often seemed a lot smarter than I did.
Now it is pretty clear to me why this was the case. Education begets education. Those kids had 18 years of “teachable moments” from some of the smartest people in the country. They probably had parents who could help them in English, Math, Science, French, and nailing the SAT. Their families probably had dinner time conversations that made the ordinary discourse of the rest of us seem phlegmatic.
It’s not fair that some kids have educational advantages and some do not. That’s why parents from all backgrounds need to rise to the occasion. Teach your children what you know and are good at. Then seek out help to do the rest. That’s the lesson my dad taught me every time he turned off a football game, slashed through my latest essay with his revisions, and then handed it over to my mom to double check our spelling.