Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ganztag, The Critical Mom and the Criticized Headmaster

Are we the only faintly normal parents around here?  Is what I ask my husband at the elementary school, where we are due for a meeting with the headmaster, who has just extended the school day by several hours, including a supposedly unrequired, and yucky, lunch, which does our eight-year-old daughter no good, since I want to pick her up between 12:30 and 1:15, if not at 11:30, take her home, give her lunch, let her do her homework at leisure and climb a tree in our garden so she can toss pebbles or pine cones at the construction workers next door, before we zoom out on our exhausting and exhilarating round of afternoon activities, namely, ballet, recorder, and violin.  Oh, and maybe tap, too, if we can manage that.  Now that the headmaster insists on several teaching hours AFTER lunch, we're sunk.  In Germany, "Ganztag" or all-day school is supposed to be a free choice.  But you can't avoid Ganztag if you can't remove the kid before lunch.  The lunch is tacitly required. Having combed the laws of my particular Bundesland (state) I know it ain't supposed to be so.  But again--nobody's exactly up in arms.
Besides, the other parents, two thirds of whom, at a conservative estimate, are single and on the poverty line, love it that they can dump the kid at school by seven in the morning and grudgingly take it home at five.  Most parents want this.  99% of parents want the kid there at least until two, so the school has now structured the day so that one cannot remove the kid from school during lunchtime, unless one is prepared to charge home in a taxi, serve the kid a preheated grilled cheese sandwich, and then throw it back at the school for another hour before one is allowed to pick it up again.  All of this appears to be not exactly legal but no one is complaining.  Except us.
The typical German school day for children in grades 1-4 ends between 11:30 and--at the very latest--1:15.  But a school providing a "ganztag" or "all-day" service tends to be popular among the majority of parents in our neighborhood--our neighborhood being a cross between Riverside Drive and 113th and Lexington Ave and well, East New York.  Or is Dumbo more dangerous now? The kind of neighborhood where you look over your shoulder at night and even in the late afternoon.  I look around the schoolyard when I go to pick up my daughter.  There's the dad with so many tattoos that I can barely see his skin, plus stark black earrings curling--no, jutting--out of his ears like lighting trained around curlers.  His wife has the same earrings in pink.  Hairdo by electrocution.  Punk chains and black boots.  And a baby carriage with an incredibly adorable pink occupant who will doubtless follow her sibling to the all-day plan.  Then the massively obese moms shift from foot to foot discussing How Many Windows They Washed or Stress.  I am the only human being carrying a book; I can't go ten minutes standing on a tram platform or waiting to pick up a child without a book, but I know they find me antisocial, so I do say hi.
Well, the headmaster.  We got ourselves an appointment, told him we wanted to take our daughter home at 12:30 every day, listened to him discourse on how wonderful a his program was according to a psychologist, told him what we'd heard about him from other parents ("If you don't like this program you can change schools;" "If you don't pay, your child won't get lunch.")  He insists that he had no idea why anyone would say such things.  He never said any of this.  And I guess that he is 
(1) Unusually forgetful
(2) Lying
(3) A victim of a personality disorder, which is a nicer way of saying (1) and (2).  So there we remain with our increasingly exhausted eight-year-old who would like to come home and see Mommy and Daddy and have lunch but who doesn't want to be the only one leaving early.  So we're stuck, at the moment.  Any recommendations, out there in Blog land? And a postscript:  Our pediatrician, my colleagues who teach students who are training to become teachers, and even one of those students, have all weighed in with their opinion of how things are going:  in a word, badly.  My twenty-year-old student is currently employed as a "Betrauerin," or babysitter, caring for the children after lunch and throughout the long afternoon for those whose parents cannot pick them up before five o' clock.  She is often alone with sixty children in three rooms, running laps between rooms to make sure no one is killing anyone else.  She tells me she is "not allowed" to help them with their homework at all--they ask her to explain directions, or clarify them, and she is supposed to say she will not do so.  A recipe for disaster.
The headmaster sent us another bill for lunch.  We are ignoring it.

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