Monday, March 23, 2009

Educated Idiots

J.T. is doing well in school. He even made the honor roll last nine weeks, an honor we didn't dream of early in his educational career as he struggled to focus and got a slow start learning to read. At the teacher conference on Thursday, we learned that he is a grade level ahead in math AND reading.

Grammar is still a struggle. Tracey's Apostrophe Man would be getting an exhausting workout dealing with our 's issues. Now that he has discovered the apostrophe, he wants to use it whenever he sees an s! The flexibility of the rules in grammar, all of the 'exceptions to the rule', confuse him.

The other chief topic of the conference was attention. He isn't paying any. He's not disruptive, hyper or struggling to stay in his seat. Instead of listening to the lesson, he is re-creating Star Wars battles, inventing new characters for his imaginary games and in general daydreaming. His teacher does a great job of prompting him, giving him cues and working with him to keep him in the flow, but it is a constant battle. I know how hard it is as I keep saying: "Put on your shoes. Please put on your shoes. Do you have your shoes on yet? We can't leave until your feet are inside a pair of shoes! Shoes, shoes, shoes. Now, now, now!"

For a child who is easily distracted or bored, the current state of our education system means we are absolutely dependent on lucking out with an understanding teacher. If J.T. doesn't have a patient teacher, we are going to be in big trouble next year. I have a degree in education and was trained to be as flexible as possible in dealing with students with different learning styles and personalities. Multiple-choice test was a dirty word and worksheets were avoided like the plague.

Our government, regardless of party, thinks that standardized tests like the CRCT are the only and best choice for assessing skill mastery. Portfolios, group assignments, projects, experiments and other forms of applied learning have fallen by the wayside in favor of memorization and worksheet after worksheet. Instead of teaching a few things at a time and teaching them well, teachers are expected to juggle multiple concepts at a time, moving forward after minimal achievement. J.T. has worked on addition, subtraction, double and triple digit addition and subtraction, geometric shapes, quanities, multiplication, area, estimating (concrete thinkers, which means most 2nd graders, find this very, very hard to understand), measuring, etc. For the most part, there has been a total of one week instruction per concept... not enough for this age group.

It frustrates me that these 'smart' people cannot grasp that memorization isn't learning! Merit pay for teachers doesn't work!! No one gets into teaching for the money... it is insulting to think that politicians assume that test scores are falling because teachers aren't working hard enough. Are there bad teachers? Yes. Bad policy is what is strangling our educational system. Shoving facts in and asking them to be regurgitated back out in the form of an a, b, c, or d test shouldn't be considered shooting for the stars.

I am working on plans for hands-on, thinking activities for the kids to do this summer. The feeling that we must desperately supplement their learning gnaws at the back of my brain. I'm very concerned that a generation is coming along that won't have been given the best opportunities to develop their talents and knowledge into satisfying life and career choices.


M said...

First, I have a low attention span child so I get you there. Ask him to brush his teeth and 15 mins later find him playing Star Wars with the toothbrush and paste.

Second, estimating. Bleh.

Third, have you read Freakonomics on the subject of teacher reward? Interesting.

Great post.

Stomper Girl said...

JT, Padawan Learner and Climber are all cut from the same cloth. But suddenly this year Climber has hit a bit of a stride and is concentrating and performing; I think this is due to a combination of my getting in league with the teacher last year and tackling the distractability / dreaminess, and his having a teacher this year who is strict and doesn't put up with mucking around. But as you say, his scholastic fate is in the hands of his next teacher. Which is a scary thought.

fairlie said...

I find your observations on the US education system fascinating. I could be wrong, but I don't think our curriculum is quite as regimented as yours sounds. Although we have moved towards standardised National benchmark testing once a year for years 3, 5 and 7 - which does incorporate those multiple choice tests.

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