Here’s something that’s been bothering me for a long time: What has been and is happening with education in our great nation?
Several years ago, when I did some student teaching I was amazed at how much had changed since I was in the classroom (and that wasn’t that long ago at the time.) Now that I’m the parent of an elementary aged child and preschooler I’m even more involved and more opinionated with all the changes. It’s not all good or all bad, but it sure is different and there are big strikes on both sides for me.
The good thing is education for adults is growing, people are being taught to be more aware and think more about kids and how they learn, etc. The bad thing is this education is coming at the cost of losing touch with reality – I dare say even the basics. It has turned into its own profession and with that comes research and studies that bring on an avalanche of “experts” with programs and solutions even though their expertise is actually studying and researching NOT in teaching. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised, it’s always been easier to say than do.
The result is bringing on a great deal of frustration for everyone – at least in my experience. Consequently, we are seeing more and more homeschooling, specialized and charter schools, etc. Fundamentally the whole system seems to me to be bleeding out the sides all over the place, having lost the ability to function as a complete, whole unit with a single purpose and defined conductor.
Teacher’s are frustrated that they can’t teach anymore, they’re told what, when and how and spend hours documenting the proof of their efforts to satisfy the “system.” Students are frustrated because the world around them keeps crossing lines and signals, screaming to them to conform but none of them in harmony with each other, they are told to learn but only prepared for tests. Parents are frustrated that their kids are getting lost in the system, coming home with MOUNTAINS of homework to keep up with the many new and improved programs, and are just as confused as we are about the whole thing. It makes feel ADHD myself!
What happened to the days when teaching was about helping a student learn? Now it’s about learning how to be a good student and test well. At what point did we throw common sense out the window to implement one of a hundred or more programs for teaching and testing?
Case in point, two years ago my daughter’s public school suggested retention for 1st grade. This is an entire story by itself that I’ll delve into at another time. Suffice it to say, that 100 hours at Sylvan learning to read was the best weapon we had to help her, and thanks to them at the end of the summer she was reading at her grade level. The school was still pushing retention which seemed a bad idea to us and her tutors given her attention issues already. They said the best they could do was have her re-tested before school began. When I asked her how it went she said, “Oh mom it was so easy, I’ve already taken that test so it was a breeze.” I knew we were sunk and sure enough she did worse on that comprehension test than she did the first time. I was told by the principal that she would have to repeat. I told him that wasn’t the right move for my daughter – she was reading and she’s one of the oldest in her class. He replied that if she’s reading she doesn’t show it – all the evidence shows she’s not getting it so she needed to repeat 1st grade. I asked him if ANYONE sat down to read with her or listen to her read anything. This seemed to surprise him. He answered that no they just handed her a copy of the comprehension test. I pushed, “So no one here really knows if she can read or not.” He repeated the refrain of if she’s reading she’s doesn’t show it. That day I pulled her from the school and enrolled her in a performing arts charter school.
In days gone by teacher’s had students of all ages in one classroom. Each student learned at their own level and each student learned all the skills necessary to be “educated” and be productive members of society. It was a privilege to attend. Teachers KNEW their students. They listened to them, they personally observed them to access their absorption and understanding of what they were being taught. Today it’s all about equalizing everything – kids the same age doing the same things and all supposed to learn/master the concepts at the same level (which is totally warped because so many children are being raised in structured day cares now so they’re getting 3-4 years of kindergarten before kindergarten.) Teachers teaching the same stuff the same way, too bogged down with requirements and programs to be able to teach anymore! And wishing won’t make it so. My daughter’s teacher shared with me a few weeks ago how grateful she was for those moments that remind her why she keeps on in this growing rat race (And by the way I’m forever thankful that she has because she’s the BEST thing that’s ever happened for my daughter.) She shared her frustration at wanting so much to just teach but not having two seconds to rub together for it. It’s all she can do to keep up with the “orders.” To see her classroom, the schedule and the amount of information is proof of this.
I’m an “educated” adult and I can’t make sense of most of what my child brings home. As a child, I remember learning concepts in groups and orders. I remember readers with phonic sounds that repeated them until I mastered the concept. I remember the tan mat, Tim on a pin, etc. I learned all my math facts in groups too – I learned all my 1’s, then 2’s and so on for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Since first grade, my daughter has brought home materials that I scratch my head at. Spelling lists that combine all or many phonetic sounds, math sheets with a variety of problems, etc. and I swear the stuff she’s been bringing home were concepts I wasn’t doing until at least two three years ahead of where she is now. As if it’s not hard enough to begin mastering the English language she got barraged with the broken rules – those many words that are “exceptions” right from the start. I kid you not, in first grade she came home with a spelling list that included read (as in I read a book) and read (as in I read the book), and lead (as in I lead a band) and lead (as in lead based paint.) I was flabbergasted for her – she was only 6!! I spent a lot of time corresponding with the teacher trying to find out exactly what concepts she was supposed to have mastered by year’s end. I still don’t know.
But I do know that first grade marked the a disaster starting point for my daughter. She is a square peg in a system of round holes. She doesn’t conform. If a child can memorize and repeat they can ace today’s education system. If they can’t do either without understanding they are hosed. I’m a rebel in this regard. When all my high school buddies were out cramming for SATs I wasn’t. I wanted to take that test without cramming. I wanted to know what I really knew, not what I’d crammed and would brain flush right after. I got straight A’s in school, but I can’t tell you diddly about some of the classes I aced. I scored right where I expected – just above average. I’m confident I could have scored near the top – but what would that have really proved?
We don’t need more experts, programs, tests or government regulation. We need more touch with reality. We need the “experts” to simply observe life in the classroom and at home to see what’s really going on. We need to come back to the basics. Contrary to popular belief I think we need the simplicity, security and basics of Dick & Jane.