This past weekend while visiting family out of state there was a friendly argument discussion about retaining children if the parents feel like the child is not “ready” for the next grade. How did this topic even come up? A friend of mine announced to us (at a BBQ) that she decided to make her 6 year old son repeat first grade because she felt like he did not grasp the fundamentals. I was astounded, disgusted and bewildered.
Trying to be “politically correct” I asked her for her reasoning. Did he have a disability? Did he miss a lot of school due to an illness? Did he have a horrible teachers? She answered no to all of my questions and instead listed off all of the classic reasons a parent would think it was done in the child’s best interest such as:
1. He did not retain the proper knowledge for the grade.
2. He was not a strong enough reader.
3. He was not as mature as the other children.
4. If he repeated the grade he would get a second chance to learn the info.
At the end of her reasons she said the doozy…since she made him repeat this year he was making all As. Still astonished, I sat quiet. (Heck I would make straight A’s if I was given the material twice..in the same format.) She knew I am working on my doctorate in education field. So I did what I usually do not do..I sat silent and listened to everyone congratulate her on such a hard decision. As the evening progressed, the conversation shifted back over to school and our kids and I mentioned the difficulty my son had in the first grade at that without proper interventions he would of failed. Everyone was shocked.How could “ole righteous me” have a child that almost failed? Well I did.
First grade was a beast and it was all MY fault that my son struggled. I took for granted that all because he did well in kindergarten he would be ready for 1st grade. I knew that everything he was taught in Preschool was taught over in kindergarten but I did not push for him to move to another class. When first grade hit it was like a storm, quick and deadly. Before school started, I met the teacher, bought his school supplies, packed his lunch and wished him well. He almost immediately began to receive Cs and Fs on his classwork. I was indignant so I marched right up to the school ready to give this teacher a piece of my mind. Sitting at the table with the teacher (a 40 year veteran) I had finally met my match. Her defense of him getting those grades…he could not read. I was floored he knew his “sight words” and could playfully point to words he knew as we read. Still she said he could not read independently; therefore he was at a risk of being retained if he could not demonstrate mastery. I left the conference feeling like a failure–this was just September.
When I got home and began to think about the class, my son, his strengths, my weaknesses and I realized something very important…I was the parent…my son’s destiny was in my hands. As I told my story, I could see everyone looking at me and judging me but I stepped on my soapbox and took this opportunity to let them know that retaining a child is harmful to a child and really only benefits the parent. I continued (despite my friend’s shamed look) for my reasons why I will never retain my child in a grade…
1. Students (ones without disabilities) fail because of parents lack of being in the know. During that one month of school, I did not visit the school and classroom as much because I assumed anything I needed to know would be sent to me.
2. There is free supplemental educational materials available to me as a parent all over the Internet, community centers, etc. A lot of kids fail subjects because there is not enough reinforcement of the material. Instead allowing kids to play all evening, give them educational games, drill practices, flash cards to enforce the skills.
3. African American boys who are retained are more likely to drop out of school and/or read at a lower reading level compared to their Caucasian counterparts.
As I finished, everyone wanted to know what happened to the rest of the year? Was he retained? Did I have to go to jail because I jumped on the teacher after my son brought him another F? None of the above occurred. Instead, I decided to devote all of my attention to filling in the “gaps” for my son. I read with him, made him read to me, we did fun games, I let him pick books that interested him. I met with the teacher at least once a week so that I would know what was going on before it happened, I joined the P.T.A., I celebrated small victories of my son like we had won the lottery. At the end of the year, he passed and ever since then he has been a “beast” about his education. Five years later, he is an honors student, Beta Club member and all around “Rock Star” in (and outside) the classroom.
As I left for the night, the mother, who I had eloquently argued with we called a truce. She did was she thought was best for her child while I did the same. You weigh in…would you ever retain your child? Why or why not?