WHAT DID YOU LEARN IN SCHOOL TODAY?
When I was a kid, this was the “dreaded question” at the dinner table. And, we knew it was going to be asked every night! As we prepared for our evening ritual of dinner, right after “Walter Cronkite and the CBS News”, part of my (and my siblings’) mental ritual was to think about the day and what clever answer we could give my parents. We knew, early on, that “nothin’” or “I don’t know” ( or a commentary on the quality of lunch) was an unacceptable answer to such a question about how we spent (at least) 7 hours of our day. So, aside from a little bit (and, oftentimes, a lot) of homework, we also had to REFLECT on our day and think about which class activity was most meaningful. The (unsaid) expectation was that we describe something we learned and, perhaps, what was meaningful about what we learned or how we learned it.
As I think back, it is this trivial evening ritual that formed and impacted my understanding of the purpose of school. School became, because of this question, a place where I WAS TO LEARN! My parents were (or were very good at pretending to be) very interested in what I learned in History, or English, or Math, or Science, each day. They wanted to know what I might be learning in music or art. It is through these conversations that they learned of upcoming school events and activities (from me, not from sifting through emotionless papers in a back-pack). I was expected to TELL them what we were preparing for in the program or school event. If I said we were learning a cool song, I was asked to sing that song? If I said we were “doing multiplication”, in math, I was asked to provide a few samples/answers, by my dad, such as, “What’s 2 x 4” or “3x9”.
I remember, at times, my parents would get creative and ask me what I might know about the lesson my brother or sister had shared, that evening, about their learning experiences at school that day… Wait! What? You mean, I have to listen to the rest of the conversation and contribute my thoughts on it, too? Yes, that was the expectation. Family time and conversation was a short, precious commodity in our home, as all of us played a variety of sports, participated in music or other activities, joined church or other youth groups, hung out with friends, and were, in specific terms, kids. We valued these times, not inherently, but because we were brought up to value them and they became important to our relationships and growth.
As we got older, these family table times got harder to maintain….but, we did it. Even if it was just mom, dad, and 1 or 2 of the kids…even when I, as the youngest, was the only one left at home! The funny thing is, as much as we dreaded the “preparation” for our answers, we always enjoyed the conversation. Mom and Dad never made us feel that our answers were inadequate. They never allowed us to NOT LEARN SOMETHING from every school experience we shared. Most of all, this question, “What did you learn in school today”, taught us that the onus of learning was ours and no one else’s!
Thanks, mom and dad, for teaching me through such simple means to take responsibility for my actions, my thoughts, and the events of my day! And, in the long-term, for teaching me to be responsible for my life’s result, which was the greatest lesson of this simple question!