"It takes a village to raise a child."
Who has made you who you are? The current political scene is in favor of tying "accountability" of a child's learning to test scores and then to the classroom teacher, who is supposedly solely responsible for how that child fared on the all important exam. In reality, many have a role in shaping a child's life and that child's ability to learn and no test can tell you the whole story about a child, can't tell you about the child's heart or their passion, their character or their talents. Yet this one measure can lead a child to feel like a failure, make or break teaching careers, can lead to school closings, can somehow deign a teacher worthy of "merit" pay and big bonuses. Can any one adult really claim to be responsible for one child's success or struggle?
Why isn't the village accountable? What about all the adults, from the very beginning, who have a stake in a child? Did the mom go to her prenatal doctor appointments and was there a partner to remind her to take her vitamins? Were alcohol and other drugs avoided? Did they sing to the child, talk to the baby, show him/her books from the start? Were there trips to the library, visits to the farm, opportunities to build language at the grocery store? Were there regular well visits and dentist visits and was the child kept healthy? Did the child get an opportunity to go to preschool and learn about the structure of school prior to starting kindergarten? Is there a caring adult who helps the child do his/her homework and makes it a priority?Does an adult read to the child each day? Do the adults in that child's life, separate from the classroom teacher, help that child feel safe, secure, and special? Has our government supported policies and structures that help families spend time together from the start, that allow for mothers and fathers to get paid and take time off to be with their baby? Are quality childcare experiences made available for all citizens and not just the ones who can afford it, leaving the rest to find less stimulating and safe childcare? There are so many factors and influences that go into shaping that little student who comes to the school door, but then all of that is forgotten and doesn't count when "accountability" is passed down.
It would be very difficult for me to assign my growth or development to any one teacher or person. I've been beyond blessed to have been born into a family that wanted me, prepared for me, loved me, provided for me, gave me access to language and books and set me up for success. There were many adults in my life whose love and influence helped me in my development. Today, I want to particularly honor my Grandmother, Eleanor Brigante, who celebrates her 89th birthday on this day.
One of my favorite pictures is Grandma reading to me, when I was about three. With barrettes in my curly hair, wearing a very 80's looking corduroy jumper, my eyes are on the book she reads and we sit, side by side. Beyond reading to me, Grandma used to tell stories to me and my sister, creating characters named "Good Gertie", "Bad Betsy" and "Sweet Sally." As you might imagine, Bad Betsy was always doing fresh things but Good Gertie made it right in the end along with her sister, Sweet Sally. These stories were so special to us that, as young children, we both ended up writing and illustrating our own versions. (Wish I kept these!)
My grandparents were just a couple of towns away and were huge influences on my childhood. Grandma and Grandy were always there to help when our parents had to work but someone needed to watch us. On half-days, they would take us to Burger King as a treat or come meet us from the bus. We always looked forward to sleepovers at the "hotel" as we called it, really Grandma's den with the pull-out couch. Some of my best memories include my grandparents taking us to dinner at a Chinese restaurant, then coming back to their house and getting cozy in the pull-out bed and watching "Golden Girls" on a Saturday night.
Every school concert, every awards night, every graduation, they were there, with flowers for us and cards and gifts and pride. When I was in college, my Grandy became sick and spent a summer in the hospital before passing away. Everyone was working but me so I was able to drive my Grandma each day to the hospital so she could visit with Grandy. It was a very sad time, but I was glad that I could help her have those visits and give her back some of the kindness she showered me with always.
After Grandy passed away in 1999, Grandma impressed me with her courage, her grace, and her desire to make the days happy even though it was terribly hard to go on without her best friend. While Grandy only had the chance to see me just out of my teens, Grandma has known me as an adult- been there as I graduated college, became a teacher, became a wife, became a mother. In my early days of teaching, when I was single, Grandma and I had a date every Wednesday. I would come over for dinner and each week she prepared something different and delicious. My friends at work couldn't wait to hear what she made and see my leftovers at lunch. We had a lovely routine of eating dinner and then watching cooking shows or game shows or sometimes Seinfeld repeats. It was a chance to spend some time together each week and it was so nice to be fussed over and made to feel special, even as an adult in my twenties.
Grandma's stories of raising three small children alone in Tennessee when my grandfather had to travel always remind me how gutsy she was and is. As a wife and mother, I've appreciated her insights into making your life happy and keeping it all together when you feel like you're losing it a bit. Grandma is someone I can laugh with, someone whose love for her family shines through everything else. Her influence on me has been profound, unmeasurable, and her love for me has been a gift in my life.
Our lives are all connected and a person's influence on a child's success is quite impossible to measure. Instead of pouring billions into an industry assigned to label us all while holding us "accountable", I wish we could create more opportunities for children to have safe and secure homes and high-quality early experiences that build in them trust, esteem and language. I wish parents could spend more than 6 weeks with their newborn. I wish some of those testing billions could be spent getting books into people's homes and promoting resources like the public library. I wish we were all accountable to each other, not on a test, but in our hearts and minds, knowing our fates are all linked together and we are only as strong as the weakest among us. I wish everyone had a Grandma like mine, who was another loving, stable presence in my life and has given me years of attention, stories, laughs, love and really delicious pasta.