Candy Canes, Christmas Cards & Little White Envelopes.

It’s that time of the year again. The time where we bake and wrap gifts for the beautiful people who taught our boys. Where we give out candy canes and cards and promises of holiday play dates as we stare down the barrel of Christmas insanity.
It’s also the time of the year when a small white envelope sits almost ominously in our sons bags telling us how our children performed throughout the year. I dread that envelope, not because there is any surprising or particularly terrible news in it – we know our sons well, their strengths and the areas they are yet to develop in. I dread it because I don’t value what it stands for. 

All over social media we see parents proclaiming how awesome their children’s reports are (and they are right to be proud of their kids) but I’ve also noticed what I like to call a lot of “white space”. The gaps around these joyful pronouncements of genius where other parents are saying nothing and feeling like they have somehow failed to do well for their “average” (or perhaps a little less) children. 
I know that reports can be a good indicator of how many learning outcomes a child has attained in a set number of subjects but when we, as a culture, hold a report up as proof of “smartness” or otherwise, we are narrowing our view of giftedness to a ridiculous level and teaching our kids that only some skills matter, that only some learning, some character development has value.
So I don’t like their reports and I’ve come to wonder how useful it is to know how well my sons perform in relation to 24 other kids.  I want them to grow into successful adults, so I know academics are important, but then I look around me and I ask myself; who are the people that I consider successful in life? And here’s the thing, good at maths, English, science, PDHPE, history and HSIE don’t appear anywhere on that list.

My list looks more like this;

  • Has integrity.
  • Is compassionate towards others.
  • Is resilient and optimistic.
  • Willing to work hard at the things that don’t come naturally.
  • Reliable.
  • Can laugh at life.
  • Faithful.
  • Courageous.

I could go on adding traits to the list. These are things that I look for in my children – these are the things that I want to see them develop and excel in. What’s more; I don’t want to know how they perform those things in relation to 24 others I want to know how they perform them in relation to the demands of their conscience.
So this year we did something that no good parent would even consider. We took the little white envelope and put it in a drawer and when our son (the perfectionist) asked us why, we answered like this…
“You told us that this year you did your best and we are so proud of you. The truth is son, that your report will only ever tell us who you were at one or two very distinct points in one or two very distinct areas and we already know you better than that. Your report will never tell us all that you had to overcome to perform the way you did. It will never tell us how many good and right choices you made daily. It will never tell us what greatness is growing inside you and thankfully it doesn’t have to because you let us see these things every day, so this year we have put your report away.”
Don’t get me wrong, I want my children to do well in all areas of life and I know that assessment is part of work life too but until their report actually measures all areas of life I refuse to hold it up as an indication of any human beings value so in the drawer it will stay.

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4 thoughts on “Candy Canes, Christmas Cards & Little White Envelopes.

  1. Kayleen

    Interesting POV Siobhan, thanks for sharing it. I especially like the part about the marks/grades can never indicate what a person had to overcome to achieve them, and being a Uni student it can be extremely stressful when you focus on the marks alone, rather than learning and having fun doing so.

    Reply
    1. siobhanhewson Post author

      The push for marks at university level definitely makes it hard to stay focused on the reason that we undertake the study in the first place doesn’t it! I hate that at the start of the degree I want to change the world and at the end I just want to survive it and not fail.

      Reply
  2. Katie

    This is such a wonderful thing to read!! As a Education student I’ve seen so many examples of what happens when students are only looked at as a statistic to be measured, counted and compared. Your boys are so blessed to have a mother such as yourself who makes the decision and takes action to demonstrate that they are worth more than a report card! 🙂

    Reply
    1. siobhanhewson Post author

      Thanks Katie 🙂
      It’s difficult to imagine schooling without reporting but it would be great if we could find a way to do it that didn’t just reinforce hegemonic values at the cost of true character. Glad you enjoyed reading my thoughts. 🙂

      Reply

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