To whom it may concern,
I hope this letter helps explain why my son and daughter were absent from school yesterday. They were living history instead of reading about it in a textbook.
A ticker tape parade. A jubilant gathering at the stadium. The Giants won the Super Bowl and we took our place in celebrating this bit of history.
I didn’t think twice about saying yes to letting them skip school.
My older children whine, “You didn’t let us go to the Giants celebration four years ago.”
What changed? Am I burnt out and a more lenient parent for these children? I know I am older, but I think also a bit wiser for my change of heart.
Like the lifelong learners I want my children to be, I have learned that textbooks and lectures are important but life lessons are just as valuable.
In the family movie Dolphin Tale, the main character is withdrawn, lonely boy struggling in school. He spends his vacation enrolled in a summer school class. Soon he begins skipping school after he meets a marine biologist and volunteers helping care for an injured dolphin.
The mother sees her son excited, engaged and learning science by actually doing, touching, seeing and exploring. It is a shining example of differentiated learning.
Mom asks the teacher to let her son seize this opportunity and let this experience become his “class.” She promises he will produce a research paper and presentation. The teacher says no — it's outside the box — untraditional.
Mom takes the risk and let’s her son continue his studies in a “real life classroom.” In the final scenes of the film, we learn the teacher will indeed give him credit for the class. Movies have happy endings.
My school system now has a policy of one field trip a year. When my children first entered the district students were taking upwards of three trips a year. We live in the New York metro area and have educational and cultural institutions that are revered worldwide yet our students remain tethered to their desks.
When I travel to Europe, I marvel at the school children I encounter in museums learning firsthand about artists and sketching their own interpretations of masterpieces. They visit the Eiffel Tour and learn about architecture and math. They are learning about history on the streets of Brussels.
One November I took my children out of school days before the scheduled teacher’s convention break. We were taking a family cruise. I remember feeling guilty breaking the rules and having them miss school when the kids weren’t sick.
I confess the vacation was fun and created family memories but it also provided valuable lessons. We visited tropical islands where we learned about nature. We learned about business and the local economy touring a nutmeg plant. We met local people and observed cultures different than our own. My children practiced their table manners and expanded their culinary tastes each night in the dining room. They were learning outside the classroom and could bring back the experience in the next writing assignment.
Do I have any guilt that they have extra homework today to make up the class work they missed?
Not at all.
In between helping them with the English essay I will be checking out the date for Yankee’s Opening Day. See you at the stadium.