This afternoon I spent a couple hours with #2’s class. Her class is learning about ancient Greece, so I offered to design a little project so they could calculate the size of a ball, the same way Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the earth 2,200 years ago. The reason for my visit was and remains unimportant. What mattered to #2 was my being there.
My visit wasn’t a surprise to anybody. I had been working with the teachers for a week or so putting things together. #2 knew I was coming and, as the day approached, she grew increasingly excited, asking each morning: “How long until you come to my class?” Nevertheless, when she saw me today her smile bloomed across her face and she ran over to hug me.
Fathers seem to be excluded, or to exclude themselves, or not to be interested in their children’s education. I see mothers around the school with some regularity—certainly mothers dominate the drop off and pick up, as well as the field trips and parent morning. Despite the changes in parenting that we rightly celebrate, fathers remain an endangered species at school. Arrange with your child’s teacher to spend 30 minutes in class. Read the class a story. Share with them one of your hobbies. Tell them about your work. Just go play with them.
I am lucky, my career allows me flexibility during the day. I can rearrange my day to spend an hour or two at #1’s or #2’s school or to accompany a class on a field trip. Do whatever it takes to get a morning or afternoon free so you can visit your child’s class outside the obligatory “back to school” morning or special assembly.
Go because you will enjoy it. Go because it will make your child’s day. Trust me.
Postscript: When the sun retreated behind a thick blanket of clouds all shadows disappeared, preventing us from doing our little experiment. Alas. We’ve rescheduled for next week.
Yes, Eratosthenes measured the circumference of the earth. His method used simple geometry and produced a reasonably accurate result. Like the overwhelming vast majority of educated people throughout recorded history, he knew the earth was a sphere. No. People in the middle ages did not think the earth was flat (there are perhaps, maybe, three people in recorded history who might not have thought the earth was a sphere—you probably haven’t heard of them because nobody paid any attention to them). No Columbus didn’t prove the earth was round. In fact, Columbus and his detractors knew of Eratosthenes’ result. They disagreed on the value—Columbus’s book included an error, so he thought the world was much smaller than everybody else. Inexcusably, most kids continue to be taught that people in the middle ages thought the earth was flat. More disturbingly, prominent political leaders (e.g., the current U.S. president) and educated scientists continue to traffic in this myth. ↩
As I write this I realize how much like my father I have become. His career had a flexibility that allowed him to come to my school on a regular basis, at least as frequently as my mother. As a kid I didn’t understand the larger cultural forces at work. I just thought it was strange that other kids’ dads didn’t come on field trips or pick them up from school. ↩
My underlying point about parents spending time with their children at school applies equally to mothers as it does to fathers. But there are plenty of blogs and magazines out there urging mothers to do these things. I am more interested in urging fathers to step up and do more. ↩