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The Measure of a Man

What if you didn’t open the report card? What if instead, you relied upon their actions, on what you see before you, on what you know to be true? Would you know how your child is doing in school, at home, in life, in the world?

We need school teachers;  those who lift us up from where we are lying, who impart information and wisdom , who cause a shift in perspective, who teach us what we need to know and what we don’t want to hear.  We need teachers who reach out to a part of us that is inaccessible, hardened to the news, who cause us to open, to awaken, to move onward.

I am not convinced, however, that we need the report cards.

I never quite understood why report cards are so valued, considered so important.  Dreaded by many who don’t want to disappoint parents, report cards reflect if you are on par, how much effort has been made, how smart you are, how far you have come, what’s needed in order to ‘improve’. They reflect how you measure up, if you are like the rest, on track; ready for moving up or moving on. Celebrated by those who hold the highest letter grade, the best report cards somehow show you have learned it well, are smarter than the rest, better in some way, achieved, ready for the next phase.  Report cards are meant to show and measure progress.

When our children were small, I didn’t need a report card to tell me what they knew or how they were progressing.  I knew that our daughter understood the story we were reading, the message in the movie, how to measure wet and dry ingredients for baking cookies.  I recognized that one son couldn’t put the letters or sounds together, that he understood the concept of equality and justice, and that his frustration was difficult to manage but would later be seen as a sign of strength.  We knew that our other son who hardly spoke, knew the words, but was selective; preferring to say only what was meaningful, which meant being quiet much of the time.  We knew they could write because they created ‘thank you’ cards when appropriate, found the right groceries on the shelves, and recognized their name on the gift.  We knew they understood math, when they saw their height on the door frame, ran out of extra money, knew what time it was when the sun went down.  They could read numbers from delivering newspapers, understood train timetables from traveling, and discovered that one pair doesn’t last when you are away for a whole month.  We knew they understood; the value of friendship, what World War II meant to their grandfather, how to be compassionate when a sibling was in a cast.  They learned about sharing at the dinner table, about abundance from the garden, about scarcity from the food bank, about animals from watching pets live and die.  They figured out what it means to be first in line, last in the race, and the middle child.  They figured out what bullying is, what kindness is, what sorrow is.  They knew how to make a muffin, make a mess, make a difference. They learned about the world from going there, about science from building and biking.  They figured out what to wear by putting their hands out the window and their feet in the puddle.  They found out about honesty when things went missing, about love when someone died, about commitment when the team wasn’t winning.  They learned about sharing when they were hungry, about fear at the top of the slide, about physics while riding a skateboard. They understood that they grew taller with time, more knowing with experience, more enlightened as they opened up.

What I believe might be a more accurate measure of who our children are, is the way in which they walk their journey, interact with those with whom they share the road, and what they offer up to others along the way.

My thought is that we keep the teachers and throw away the report cards.  That we replace the reports with rapport, with a conversation that is meaningful, with an open and honest look at the progress of a person.  I don’t remember what my children’s grades were in grade seven English, Math or Geography. But I know they write me beautiful messages, can cook with the right amount of curry, and know exactly in what part of the world, their next plane is landing.  I know they walk a gentle and meaningful path in this world, are heart centred and spirit fed, and they measure their own worth, without input or grades but by sentiment and service. They are lifelong learners, figuring out what matters most, what’s worthy of their time, what no longer serves them; they are making their mark.

Boy on Shoulders

Photo credit: Andrew Chambers Photography (andrew.chambers@live.ca)

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