Monday, January 7, 2008

Warning: giant RANT to follow. try to keep up...

I don't usually answer the phone at home in the mornings, especially if I am spending time with the kids. This morning, though I welcomed a call from a friend while we were struggling through our first day back to "serious" school work after the busy holiday. The call was on another matter altogether, yet somehow the conversation turned to this friend's interest in how things are done in our house, as far as school is concerned. I have made no secret of my feelings on worksheets and workbooks as learning tools - I hate them. Yet somehow, at least a few times a year, I find myself torturing my children and ultimately, myself, with them. Why do I do this? This morning was one of those times. It didn't strike me until later, how ironic it is that she should call and express an interest in learning more about our different way of doing things and I had just spent three hours begging, issuing empty threats, and delivering one ultimatum after another, including no outdoor time, no scooters, no park trip - how very stupid of me, it's 68 degrees today!!! Why why why???

This is not how children learn. This is how children come to need to be convinced that "learning is fun". That may well be the lesson we learned this morning: how to kill a child's natural love of learning. This is how teachers keep kids busy and how they make a paper trail and how they maintain accountability in the face of a very demanding bureaucracy which in turn is driven by tax payers who rely on the school system to babysit their children while they go pull in their double salary and try to eek out a living on what the government doesn't forcibly take out of their paychecks. Aaack.

As I write this I realize, I may have been nudged into this worksheet torture by the pending testing issue we may have to deal with if we stay in Virginia till the end of the school year. We have the option of having a private evaluator/assessor come to our house (at our expense) and review the children's progress in lieu of standardized torture... I mean, "testing". But without worksheets and workbooks and assignments and projects as proof, what will they evaluate? We are researching our options, but may not even be here at the end of the school year.

The redemption...

This morning Simon was supposed to be doing this jokes page in code, solve the math problem, reference the letter in the key, put the letters together and it spells the answer to the joke. By the end of the morning, it dawned on me what he was doing to solve these, for example: 8+7, he would go find an 8+6 that he had already solved, see that it was an H, go to the key, find what number goes with H, then add 1, find that number and its letter, then fill in the answer. I excused Simon from the last coded joke on the page after I saw what he was doing. If he can make associations and perform complex transfers like this to solve a math problem, then I think he is okay. I mean, come on, he's five. Other kindergardeners are learning how to stand in line and raise your hand and wait your turn and give up your property rights and accept the teacher's arbitrary authority on what basis? that her parents paid for her college degree? This little guy would rather play with the window cling number stickers that he found in the math workbook with his three year old sister. It may be his individual learning style, but he does better with things like math bingo and a game called "math path" that we made from a file folder and some index cards (roll two dice, draw a card which shows you either a plus or a minus sign, perform the operation on the two numbers on the dice and move forward that many squares, cost all of 50 cents to make it and the kids helped, so they love it even more.)

And where do they get off thinking that the skills we need to live our lives have to be taught in a classroom? These couldn't possibly be learned, oh I don't know... while... living... life, could they? We don't teach babies how to walk, or talk, or eat, do we? We don't hand them a worksheet on proper technique and balance, hand out stickers if they get it right, and red marks if they need to improve. What is going on here? It's total arrogance.

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