Saturday, June 16, 2007

"Any Fool Can See"

This is a great article from the San Francisco Chronicle called Let Children Be Children: Is your 5-year-old stressed out because so much is expected?, by Penelope Bevan, a school teacher. An excerpt:

I was watching one of my second-grade girls try unsuccessfully to tie her shoes the other day, and I thought, "This is a person who is supposed to be learning plural possessives?" I think not.

We've just finished test time again in the schools of California. The mad frenzy of testing infects everyone from second grade through high school. Because of the rigors and threats of No Child Left Behind, schools are desperate to increase their scores. As the requirements become more stringent, we have completely lost sight of the children taking these tests.

For 30 years as a teacher of primary kids, I have operated on the Any Fool Can See principle. And any fool can see that the spread between what is developmentally appropriate for 7- and 8-year-old children and what is demanded of them on these tests is widening. A lot of what used to be in the first-grade curriculum is now taught in kindergarten. Is your 5-year-old stressed out? Perhaps this is why.

Primary-grade children have only the most tenuous grasp on how the world works. Having been alive only seven or eight years, they have not figured out that in California there is a definite wet and dry season. They live in high expectation that it will snow in the Bay Area in the winter. They reasonably conclude, based on their limited experience with words, that a thesaurus must be a dinosaur. When asked to name some of the planets after he heard the word Earth, one of my boys confidently replied, "Mars, Saturn, Mercury, Jupiter and Canada!" to which a girl replied, "No, no, no, you gotta go way far outer than that."

[ . . . ]

The result of this has been a decline in math scores at our school, because the emphasis is on getting them to read and there isn't enough time to fit in a proper curriculum. Early math education should rely heavily on messing about with concrete materials of measurements, mass, volume and length, and discovering basic principles through play.

There is no time for this. The teaching of art is all but a subversive activity. Teachers whisper, "I taught art today!" as if they would be reported to the Reading Police for stealing time from the reading curriculum, which is what they did.

Apparently, not "any fool can see!" At least not the educrats.

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