Got a Gripe?
Get a grip. Send your rant — no more than 500 words, please — to: [email protected], with a subject line of your last name, followed by “Complaint Box” and the topic. Detailed instructions are below.
Sometime soon, for the fourth time this school year, my children’s grades will appear here at home — via e-mail, the postal service or maybe one day soon, cellphone app.
You know, I’m not so old, but I liked it when kids handed over their own report cards — proudly or with sheepish foot shuffling — and their marks didn’t just exist somewhere on the Internet or in a heap of junk mail.
For one son, a junior at a private high school, there is only an e-mail noting “end of quarter grades have been posted.” My husband and I can easily view them on a portal at the school Web site, providing we remember our user name, parent code and password, which we haven’t used for three months. For our public-school seventh grader, a plain white envelope arrives via postal mail, looking much like notices for fund-raisers and vaccine updates.
In neither case are we required to sign anything or acknowledge receipt, nor are our children required to return anything or in any way prove that a parent ever saw it.
Yes, I understand that the e-mail saves trees and postal and printing costs and that the snail mail circumvents the risk of entrusting young children with the safe transport of an important paper from homeroom to locker to backpack to home to kitchen counter to parental hands, and then again in reverse. I get it.
What I don’t get is that while protecting the environment and cutting costs, or just ensuring communication, we’ve also wiped out a landmark ritual in child-parent relations, taking with it a vital part of the at-home education conversation.
I know that in some households, handing over the report card would inspire dread instead of positive interaction. I have mixed memories myself. My father paid for A’s and dressed us down for anything less. I loved the dollars and liked to believe they were more a reward than a bribe, since even then I understood that paying for grades shouldn’t be necessary.
Still, there was something correct about the student bearing his or her own good or bad news; the transaction occurring from student-child to parent. Now, everything is reversed. Johnny is summoned over to the computer or mail pile, and the parent, “report card” on view or in hand, weighs in on Johnny’s merits (or lack thereof) before Johnny even knows what it says.
There might be advantages — when my 16-year-old earned his first C, I swore at the screen, kicked the radiator, and then, four hours later, settled on something constructive to say when he walked in the door. Yet the opposite reaction — grinning at a pixilated row of A’s — just doesn’t compute. That initial, spontaneous pleasure with a child’s efforts ought to be aimed, directly and immediately, at the child. I want that moment back. I think our children do, too.
When kids sneak peaks at report cards before parents, they are forced to decide what to say and how to explain (or exclaim). Now, instead of that personal, real-life interaction, you’ve just got more mail.
Lisa Romeo, a freelance writer living in Cedar Grove, N.J., teaches creative writing at Rutgers University.
If you wish to submit a Complaint Box essay, please send it as an attachment and in the body of the e-mail to [email protected], along with your name, address, phone number and e-mail. In the subject line of the e-mail, type your last name, followed by “Complaint Box” and the subject of your complaint. Essays can be anywhere from 100 to 500 words. Because we receive so many submissions, we can get back only to those whose complaints are being considered for publication. If you do not hear from us, thank you anyway, and feel free to submit it elsewhere.