Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Why the public school system doesn't work

When kids are babies we are always told by our Pediatricians, our mothers, our friends that "they will do things at their own pace".  Some kids will crawl at 6 months, some wait until 10.  Some will be walking at 8 months, some won't toddle until well into their second year.  Some, like my daughter Hailey will be speaking full coherent sentences by their first birthday, and some are just sputtering their first mama's and bye bye's.  And everyone will tell you that's ok.  Even child development experts will calm your fears by telling you that sometimes when a small child is working hard mastering a skill, such as speaking, their large motor skills will seem to lag behind for a while.  And that's ok too.

So why suddenly when these kids become school age is it suddenly crucial that they all learn the same things at the same rate?

I got a letter home recently from a teacher who works with my 1st grader Jacksen.  She was strongly recommending we enroll Jacksen in a remedial summer reading class, as his reading skills aren't up to snuff.  She included a graph that showed where Jacksen should be and where he was, his line is a smidge lower than the other line.

His primary teacher says he's doing well this school year and should have no problems in 2nd grade (this teacher and I share a lot of the same opinions on education it seems), but this other teacher is very concerned and didn't hesitate to point out in conference in front of Jacksen how he was lagging behind and "the gap is widening".  Well according to the chart I got in the mail the gap has stayed the same, but whatever.

The more I think about this the more irritated I get.  Jacksen is a kid who does VERY well in school despite the fact that he has Sensory Integration dysfunction.  Put it this way, we didn't know if he would EVER attend public school a few short years ago and now he is 100% mainstreamed with zero interventions.  He does get frustrated very easily, he does get overwhelmed and agitated more quickly than other children.

Now am I simply defending a child who really, for all intents and purposes shouldn't even be doing the things he's doing but he is and goddamnit I'm happy about that?  Sure.  I call Jacksen my little poster child for Autism intervention, we worked VERY hard to give him every chance to beat this, and he is doing better than I ever dreamed.

But there's something more than that ruffling my feathers.  Jacksen LOVES to read.  He reads all the time and for the Accelerated reader program often chooses 3-4th grade level books (and passes the exams I might add).  He enjoys getting sucked into a book and learning something new and reading to Nathan.

So yeah, I have a problem with this.  How would any of us feel if there was something we enjoyed and someone (especially someone who is suppose to know a lot about it) says we aren't too good at that.  Would we have a lot of confidence to keep doing it?  If I told you tomorrow you weren't that great at your job, would you want to return to it tomorrow?  Some of us would, some of us would take it as a personal challenge and take a "no one is gonna tell me I'm not good enough" attitude.  But some of us wouldn't, some of us would feel like WE weren't good enough, and it doesn't take much to make children feel that way.

It's not the recommendation for the remedial class.  I think EVERYONE can benefit from extra help with anything.  It's the fact that these kids are put in little good enough or not good enough boxes.  We don't consider that a child who enjoys reading and does it often will become better at it in spite of what we do, we don't consider that sometimes enjoying something and feeling confident about something is the most important step in becoming better at it.  And we most definitely don't consider that none of these children became good at walking, talking, or riding a bike at the same exact age.

No, we sit across a table from a 7 year old and tell them they aren't good enough.  And then wonder why they suddenly don't want to read the books they had been enjoying before.  Wonder why he says "I don't want to go to that summer school class, I'm just stupid anyway".  Because this is the way it's done.

We could learn a lot from toddlers.  Instead we are too busy trying to teach them things they will learn anyway, but we never will.

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