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[Susan notes: Here's a letter that's a breath of fresh air: school as a garden where each student flourishes in her own way.]

Published in New York Times
03/26/2014

To the editor

Long ago, a wise second-grade teacher told me to leave my daughter alone -- to stop hovering and worrying, to just let her be. Among all the pieces of advice well-meaning people gave me over the years, that was unquestionably the best. It's advice more parents need to hear and need to take.



It is a given that all parents want what they see as best for their children. But now, especially in New York City, that natural desire has devolved into a battle to secure a spot in the schools that seem to have the best chance of hoisting children, rung by rung, up the ladder to the pinnacle: the Ivy League.



Parental involvement used to mean support for both the child and the school -- attending parent-teacher conferences and making cookies for P.T.A. bake sales. Everyone assumed that there were different spheres of influence; parents stayed home and educators ran schools.



But at some point parents began to see schools less as places for children to learn and grow and more as incubators for college applications, places for studding resumes with unusual sports (fencing rather than soccer), unusual instruments (French horn rather than violin), honors classes even for kids who can't handle them or don't want to. We have fallen prey to an epidemic of galloping expectations.



Singular parental demands are undermining the purposes of a foundational institution of our society. It is past time for parents to be reminded what education is: not a ladder to some far-off plateau of success, but a garden where each student is helped to flourish in her own way and develop in his own time.



Elaine Yaffe


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