Why are we pushing children so hard these days? Why is our education system failing our children? Are these ideas related?
I have so many questions when it comes to schooling. Which is a terrible thing considering I studied education, got my degree in education, and proceeded to teach English education for nine years before staying home with my boys.
I’ll give myself a little leeway considering I was in secondary education and, to be honest, we don’t really mingle well with elementary education. I am really just used to getting angsty teens in my classroom freshman year, beating them to death with the idea that they’re adults and will be treated like adults, and then watching them flourish into sophomores that I can have real-life conversations with.
I never did understand why there was such a disconnect between elementary staffers and middle/high school staffers, but there was. And, there is.
And now, as a parent, I still don’t understand elementary schools and their need to push children so hard. But, I also don’t understand why high schools are not preparing kids for adulthood. So, even though there is a disconnect in many areas, there is one similarity between all grades: the education system is so focused on meeting ridiculous standards, that it’s failing our children at all levels.
When I was in elementary school, we read fun stories and math wasn’t too difficult. We had spelling lists and were tested on them weekly. We learned cursive and had times table races in upper elementary. Kindergarten was about learning through play, understanding emotions, and just learning how to interact socially. Standardized testing in elementary school? Not much, if any.
Things are always changing
I know things are changing. I know this because when I was in 11th grade, we read To Kill a Mockingbird. When I started teaching high school, this book was nowhere to be found. You know why? They moved it to 8th grade English. 8TH GRADE ENGLISH?! Have you read this book? Do you think 8th graders are ready for the themes in this book?! Do you know what other book they read in 8th grade in the last school I taught at? The Hobbit. I’m not knocking this book… I’m just trying to wrap my head around the fact that you’re expecting 8th grade students to read a 300+ page book. And then, you want them to read a shorter book, but have in-depth conversations about prejudice, hatred, moral education, and social inequality.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying our youth are incapable of having these conversations. What I am saying is that this is a rough age for kids. Middle school is the pits, and you’re over here trying to get them to talk about moral education when half of them are still stuck in the ‘innocence’ area of life and the other half have already moved into ‘adulthood’?
Anyway, if that’s not bad enough, we’re moving math concepts into early elementary school. We have a ridiculous amount of state testing in elementary school these days. We’re removing things such as cursive because, well, we don’t need to sign anything anymore unless it’s electronic. We’re expecting 5 and 6 year olds to sit through full day programs, read and understand books, and learn math. But these same kids make it to high school and don’t know how taxes work or how to write a check. They don’t even know what it looks like to live on their own. They think that money just happens and the bills get paid! They don’t have the social skills to hold a conversation with someone of a differing opinion, how to show sympathy or empathize, how to interact in a socially acceptable way. But, I digress….
I’m a firm believer that education starts at home. I think that children need to be children. They have their whole lives to make friends and do what they want, and I think it’s very important to spend those first years together. I do believe that it’s important that they are involved in social activities with kids their own age, but I don’t necessarily think it has to be ‘education’.
D is about 3 ½ at the time of this writing, and I will admit that we have him in preschool two half-days a week. We did this for a couple of reasons, but mainly for the social interaction. However, I have mixed feelings about this and we’re half-way through the school year. I think he’s made a lot of progress that he wouldn’t have had we not placed him in school. But, I also kind of regret not waiting one more year to place him in school. I felt a lot of pressure from outside sources telling me it would be extremely beneficial for him, and I let those people override my parental instinct that told me he really could wait one more year before beginning preschool. Aside from that, he has learned a great deal when it comes to interacting with others, and for that, I am grateful.
But, do you know how hard it was to find a school that allowed us this option? It was a nightmare. We made too much money to qualify for some programs and not enough to qualify for others. He was too young for other programs. We just wanted the kid to have some social interaction, and, living in a small town, we don’t have any parent meet-ups or anything like that, so this was our best option. It’s low-key. He is enjoying his teacher and his classmates, and he likes the time away. It also gives me some one-on-one time with J; which he doesn’t get much of with our crazy schedule.
So, we’re getting ready to sign him up for three half days of preschool next year (because, you know, it’s January and if you don’t sign them up now, all the spots will be filled and your kid won’t get into the right school, and you’ll be chastised endlessly for life), and most of the programs are 4 full days. That’s ridiculous to me! You’re pushing these four year olds into the classroom already?! There are no other options. You can’t pick and choose the days you go or if you want to go full or half days.
My son’s school posted some updates the other day that the kids in Kindergarten through 8th grade were taking their midterms. Excuse me? Did you just say Kindergarteners are taking midterms?! I mean, WTF? Why are we allowing these standards to be pushed upon our children? Why aren’t our children allowed to be children? Why is it so dang important to move many of these elaborate concepts from higher grades down to lower grades? Does someone actually believe this is the problem with education? Do people actually believe that our youth are failing because we’re not cramming enough information in their brains?!
From a teacher’s standpoint, there’s nothing we can do. You’re given the state curriculum and you have to meet the standards. These standards, by the way, can be absolutely ridiculous. From a parent’s standpoint, there’s nothing we can do. We can try and help our kids, but things are so different from when we were in school, we can’t even begin to understand Common Core math to help them with their homework! (To be fair, as an English teacher, I didn’t even understand how CC got the answers to some of the grammar questions in our workbook and I’m about 98% a few of them were incorrect anyway!)
You want to know why our kids are burned out? You want to know why our education system is failing our children? You start them in a full classroom setting at 3-4 years old, they go to school in a full classroom setting until they’re 17/18 (sometimes older), graduate, and then you expect them to go and get a four year degree? You don’t understand why kids are taking a year or two off after high school. Or, even worse, you can’t figure out why kids just simply aren’t going to college.
How about the fact that you expect them to sit in a classroom for ~15 years of their lives! And, unfortunately, as I have seen, much of a child’s education begins in the classroom and ends in the classroom. Our society is constantly moving and isn’t slowing down, and parents aren’t able to slow down for their children. There is a huge disconnect nowadays. It’s a ‘raise yourself’ mentality that has been adopted. I’m not saying this is right or wrong. I’m just saying it. I’m just putting it out there.
I fully believe that you should embrace those first years of your child’s life. Allow them to start school when you are both ready. I’m not over here thinking I can’t let my kid start school because he’s so young and I can’t let go. It’s not like I’m crying, “Oh, he’s growing up too fast and I need to hold on to my little boy.” No, I’m thinking, from a teacher’s perspective, I don’t want my kid to join the ranks of so many kids that hate school by the time they get to middle or high school. I want to cherish this family time because you never know where your kids will end up when they’re out on their own. So, why push them to grow up faster than they already do?
Ultimately, it’s your choice. You may send your child to school whenever you would like to as long as they’ve met the age requirement (compulsory attendance laws). My husband and I have already decided that D will start Kindergarten at age 6. Like I said, it’s not to hold on to that idea of our baby getting older. It’s because we both come from a background in education: I in secondary, and he in elementary. We both know that boys mature slower than girls. We both know that with where D’s birthday falls, we have options. And, we have decided that starting him at 6 will give him the best advantage when it comes to his education. This decision is not so that he can be at the top of his class or to better his chances in sports. It’s solely based off the understanding that he will be more mature and better suited for the amount of learning he will be required to do when he reaches Kindergarten.
We’re so quick to just jump on board with whatever others deem appropriate for us. But, take a step back and listen to your parent intuition. It will let you know what’s best for you. You make decisions based on you and your family, not what the education realm deems ‘justifiable’. Yes, education is ever-changing, and not necessarily for the better. But, you have options. Do your research. Take your time. Give your children the best shot at their future.
(Note: I know that making this decision is a privilege that not everyone has due to state laws, life situations, or many other factors. I am grateful to have this privilege, it is not taken lightly, and I am just sharing my thoughts on this topic.)