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Before our kids began school, I had a fairly good idea of the type of education I hoped our kids would have. Naively, I was also fairly certain of the diet they would maintain, the books they would read, and the moral compass we would do our darndest to instill.

Of course, few to none of these preconceived notions we held came to be. In fact, parenting, from the onset, has been a hike through a dense forest without a map, our gut instinct our only guide. There have been times we’ve been so lost, we’ve questioned ourselves; thankfully, those darker times have been offset by moments of pure clarity and light.

I recall the kids going through pre-kindergarten and us staring in disbelief as teachers informed us our children were “required” to read a minimum of 50 sight words by “graduation.” They pressured us to prepare our 3 and 4-year-old children for kindergarten so they would not fall behind.

Primary colors, the ABCs and 123 is the stuff of 3 year-olds we were told. So, we found ourselves diligently drilling our toddlers through the nuances of purple, lavender and lilac, and somewhere in between, we feverishly hoped our kids could keep up with their peers.

Today, our kids are in 2nd and 4th grade. They are students in a neighborhood public school which by all accounts, is supposed to be quite good. The curriculum is a one-size-fits-all program devised to create super test takers whose sole purpose is to not merely pass, but to excel in the FCAT (Florida’s Comprehensive Assessment Test). Why all the fuss? For students, schools and teachers, the FCAT is a high stakes exam where if a student does not meet a minimum passing score, he or she is not promoted to the next grade level. Higher scores = Higher pay & subsidies for schools and teachers.

But, where does this leave our kids? Unequivocally, it leaves our kids with hours of homework. While Miami-Dade district guidelines specify a daily total of 60 minutes of homework for 4th grade and 45 minutes for 2nd graders, that is hardly the case.

In our home specifically, it has us sitting at the dinner table 6 days a week, a minimum of 3 hours (on a good night), and longer on most days.  It doesn’t matter what the district guidelines are; schools need the funding which in these lean years, cities are decreasingly unable to provide due to budget cuts. So, in pursuit of high FCAT score incentives, schools burden teachers, kids and parents with excessive tests and homework to ensure the funding afforded by high scores.

In the cross hairs of this dilemma lies the well-being of children and their families, the ability to study and finish homework within a reasonable amount of time, and the time for kids to just be kids.

The other night I sat beside my 9-year-old daughter as she struggled to find a synonym for the word “delicious.” She was writing a practice FCAT essay for school, and it was after 10 p.m. on a school night. As I offered her word choices, she shook her head and repeatedly stated the choices I gave her sounded like “4-grade-words.” Then she sobbed, her thin shoulders shaking, and stated she needed “college words” otherwise her teacher would fail her for turning in “bad” work. We got through the moment, but I have to say, that I find myself assuaging their academic fears a lot earlier than expected. I only felt that type of academic pressure when I was in high school, certainly not 4th grade!

As I watch my kids struggle I recall my own elementary school days. Funnily I don’t remember the school work in as much as I remember lugging my tennis racket, reading my books and playing with my friends.

I wonder what our children will most clearly remember of their childhood?

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