Wednesday, May 2, 2007

I wonder -- jcarolek

“Dad, the teacher said we have to watch Jonathan Livingston Seagull on the TV tonight as an assignment. We have to write about it for English class.”

I was in ninth grade when my teacher made this assignment. I know her intention was good, and she never stopped to think about the unintended consequences of such an assignment. I was, as far as I know, a member of the only family in Bowie, MD in the 1970’s who did NOT have a TV. Dad did not believe in them and felt the country was raising a generation of children whose babysitter was the TV. We, on the other hand, were not so encumbered!

I knew Dad would be angry. I’d been through this several times already and I always ended up having to take that carefully written, “How dare you presume my child is allowed to watch television, that I own a television, or that I would allow my child to disrupt a neighbor’s evening by allowing her to watch their television, to satisfy your assignment? In the future, when you feel compelled to make such an assignment, please see that you have an alternative assignment, such as actually READING the book.”

I was not disappointed. Dad went on his usual rant. Out came the pen and paper to scribe yet another chastisement to the teacher, and off I went to read the book. I was dreading the next day in school, but knew I must be prepared to discuss the story, even if I had not watched it on the “tube.”

This scenario did not stop with Jonathan Livingston Seagull, nor did my father change his tactics for dealing with these teachers. As I got older, I was better able to explain the problem to my teachers beforehand, thereby getting the alternative assignment…which was always reading the book.

The Christmas of my senior year in high school, my father, under significant duress from my mother, purchased a TV for the family. Though my four younger brothers were still in school, they were allowed to watch TV, though the adults had the choice of the shows.

When raising my own children, married to a TV-aholic husband, my children enjoyed a fair amount of TV watching. And yet I cannot recall a single time that my children were given an assignment to watch a TV show.

When my son was six we purchased our first computer and he was a whiz on it from the start. By the time he was in third or fourth grade, he was getting assignments that required a computer. I was fine with that. However, we did not have the Internet, and when, in about sixth grade, he started being required to research on the Internet, I got a little hot under the collar.

With my pen and paper in hand, and my father’s example to guide me, I penned my “how dare you presume” message to the teacher. At the time, the Internet was not available free of charge anywhere, even at the library. I suggested that, should this be a required assignment, and researching on the Internet was the way of the future, she ought to provide the children that opportunity in the classroom, and when eventually the service was something I could afford, and something I wanted my children to use, I would be happy to comply with her assignments.

This is exactly what happened, and my son and others who also did not have the Internet service (there were no local numbers for AOL) stayed after school in the “technology” club….We finally got the Internet in our house when my son was in ninth grade.

I wonder what teachers are presuming all kids have in their homes these days. I wonder how many parents write those “how dare you presume” notes. I wonder how many kids READ like crazy, so they do not miss a beat, when state of the art technology is not resident in their homes.

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