The first day of school, Mr. P was bursting to tell me something when I picked him up. "Mommy! Do you know what?! At this school there are THREE RECESSES!!!!"
Three recesses. In a school day thirty minutes shorter than his Kindergarten day (which had just one recess, although possibly a slightly longer one).
There has also, so far, been NO homework. Unless you want to count the week-long, "decorate this paper doll to represent your ethnic heritage" family assignment. But I wouldn't count that because (1) it was fun (2) it was meant for collaboration and (3) it was very open-ended with pretty much no chance of "doing it wrong". I think Mr. P wouldn't count it as homework because it didn't require writing.
Did I even blog about the pain we went through over homework last year? It kind of looks like not, although I alluded to it in February and groaned about the class coloring rules before that (and was maybe more eloquent on the subject a bit later). But it appears that I lost my nerve over and over again when I was pissed off to no end and yet couldn't figure out what to say or whether my outrage was justified, because I can't find other posts I thought I'd written (maybe my memory for my own writing is just so bad that I'm using the wrong search terms; if I repeat myself, I'm sorry for boring you!).
Basically, Mr. P got homework every single day (except most Fridays) to follow up his 6.5 hour day of Kindergarten.
The homework was almost always what we used to call a "ditto sheet" and usually required lots of copying words and letters or numbers over and over again, properly. It would come back home after being turned it, comments written at the top (and who were those comments for, do you think, seeing as Mr. P couldn't read?). As would the work (very similar work) which he was doing in the classroom. Comments like, "Try to color more neatly! :)" and "We will work on only coloring, not adding extra lines to the page" (that was a sheet of mixed shapes, they were supposed to color only the circles and Mr. P had decided to draw lines connecting all the circles after he had colored them in). "Please color in the frogs," was another that still burns in my mind (on a math worksheet or some such, coloring had nothing to do with the assignment).
The thing is, Mr. P didn't like school. For a lot of reasons, but probably mostly because of this overwhelming one-right-way-to-do-many-very-boring-tasks mindset. He would come home at 4 and be on the edge of a raging fit and it was only a handful of times that we got through the homework without tears, screaming, or worse.
After the Newtown shooting, I inwardly said eff it, what's the point of life, anyway? and we stopped doing homework. Totally stopped.
I heard nothing from the teacher until about a month later when I was called in for a conference and told that Mr. P was "not progressing" and, although it was a pleasant conversation and I do believe the teacher wanted to help, I came away feeling shamed into trying homework again.
But I'm getting sidetracked here, sorry. Back to now: new state, new coast, new school, 1st Grade, and Mr. P gets no homework. And three recesses.
Furthermore, this is the extent of the classwork that has come home so far:
Note the delightful lack of commentary. Note the prompts which invite creativity. The picture frame page on the right (Mr. P tells me it is Jake the Pirate underwater with... something I didn't catch) comes from "The Anti-coloring Book".
I am so happy.
Mr. P is still anxious, but I think he's starting to unwind. It's been a bit hard to watch all these issues I didn't fully realize were such a big deal to him last year popping up as the days go by. Before school even started, he was a wreck. Finally said he was afraid there would be a scary music teacher with a scary face. Got past that and spent the first three days of school saying he was afraid of lunchtime because the principal was in the lunchroom (the teachers actually get a break, unlike his old school) and he's afraid of the principal. Why? Because three times last year he got in enough trouble to have to go to the principal's office. And because (trying to make him see principals in a friendlier light) I told him that principals were like headmasters, like at Hogwarts... and his brain went immediately to the "really bad punishments" that principals (ahem, headmasters) can give out. "L...l-like going into the Forbidden Forest." (Misremembering of the details of the story, there, anyway.) We seem to be past that one (we had a chance to briefly say hello to the principal on our way to the classroom last week and I introduced Mr. P and explained that he was scared of principals and the (very not scary) principal smiled and said hi and said she wasn't scary). Yesterday he told me he wasn't playing with anyone at recess because he just watches his teacher because he's afraid he'll miss the call to go back to the classroom and get left behind...
But he does seem to be winding down.
The point that I really wanted to make is that as much as I was hoping and expecting to find differences like this, I am still rather stunned by the cultural variation in something so seemingly basic as elementary school in America. To be clear, we did Kindergarten in a middle/working class small town school in the South and are now in a wealthy city school in the Pacific Northwest. You'd think we were in different countries.
One of the things I wonder most about is how much of the difference is regional culture vs. based in expectations arising from socioeconomic class. I was truly shocked at the first PTA meeting here to learn that the PTA pays the salaries of several teachers at the school (specialists, mostly). I have never been in a district where this could have happened (legally, let alone financially), but I guess it's standard practice here to make up for the anemic local funding of city schools.
It does have the uncomfortable (to me) effect of even more dramatically stratifying public schools, not just district by district, but school by school and neighborhood by neighborhood. To be clear, the PTA is pouring so much money into the school that the per-child fundraising goal is (again, to me) jaw-dropping. They're very nice about it and I think I'm going to feel ok about how it's handled even if we don't feel like we can cough up our child's "portion". But. I'm pretty sure that plenty of the city schools here do not have a population that could support that level of voluntary funding, and neither have other places we've lived. I don't begrudge the kids at our school the extra support, but I'm pained by how unfair it feels.
(And I'm kind of stunned that, even given all this, many families in the neighborhood send their kids to private school!)