Baltimore Sun’s BEST party in 2 weeks

Middle school is not the time or place to put kids in charge of their education


THERE IS a reason why we don't let 11-year-olds drive. Or vote.

It is the same reason we don't let 11-year-olds cook a turkey or handle the family checkbook.

That reason is as plain as the dirt on their jeans. They are not ready for that kind of responsibility. Any parent will tell you that.

But many of those same parents will put those 11-year-olds in charge of their own education.

About middle-school time, these parents remove themselves from their child's academic life as suddenly as if they'd fallen through a hole in the floor.

Homework? It's the child's responsibility. Tests? It's the child's responsibility. Long-term projects? Class rules? You are 11 now, son. School is your job.

These parents are convinced they are doing a good thing, the right thing, not a lazy or uncaring thing.

"Parents know the kids can't handle it, but they cut them loose anyway because they think they have to. 'It is middle school. You're on your own now. Sink or swim,' " said Janice Hubbard, who teaches study skills at night in libraries and cafeterias all over Anne Arundel County.

"You have to give kids responsibility. But you have to give them skills first, or they won't be successful."

That's what she does. Petite, dark-haired and with a voice that outstrips her size, she bounces in front of bored, resentful children with the animation of a Saturday morning cartoon character. Like Snow White with a tough New Jersey accent.

"If your parents are nagging you all the time, you have a problem. They are not making it up," she tells them. "Let them help you. It makes them feel good."

She tells kids the same kinds of things we might tell them -- we have told them -- but she is just their size, and she strides up and down the aisles preaching as if she were at a revival meeting. They can't ignore her. When they try, she snaps them back by reading their thoughts.

"You don't want to be here, but your parents made you come," she says. "You don't think you belong here, but your parents are making you come. Let's start from there."

She teaches kids how to map time for homework in their busy lives. How to organize notebooks and keep track of assignments. ("In middle school especially, how organized you are matters more than how smart you are.") How to break down material before a test. Strategies for taking a test. ("Do essay questions first. They're worth more points.")

But the most important lesson she teaches is for the parents whose attendance she makes mandatory: Our daily, detailed involvement in our children's school work is the surest predictor of their academic success. It has greater impact than all the computers, lab equipment or teacher aides school taxes can buy.

"I had a student tell me that his notebooks were his private business and that his parents had no right to inspect them," Ms. Hubbard said.

She was waving the chalk she held in her slender, polished fingers. It was, for four nights, very hard for even the most reluctant student to daydream.

"Are you crazy?" she said, her voice pitching up an octave. "Do you eat their food? Do you live in their house? Do you expect to some day drive their car?

"Backpacks, notebooks are not private property. This is school, mister.

"Parents," she said to us, "nip this idea in the bud."

Parental involvement is the big selling point for the private

schools now flooded with those families disaffected with public education. But we are not talking here about the attendance levels at PTA meetings and fund-raisers. We are talking about sitting down after dinner, when you are tired from work and your child is tired from soccer, and checking off his homework assignments, one by one.

"That's why, when I teach my course, it is mandatory that parents attend. You can't send your kid to me and tell me to fix him and send him back. You can never learn too much about how to help your child. It is a rare opportunity to sit with your child and learn with them.

"Think about the message you are sending: 'Your schoolwork is so special that I am going to spend six hours learning how to help you do it better.' "

By the end of four evenings, her once-resentful students are bragging about the changes they have made in their study habits.

"You turned off TV? And you are still living? You are a changed man!" she says.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad