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Children in Crisis; The Asphalt Flower

August 18, 2010 1 comment

Between the Asphalt and the Paver

I have a very small 4’ x 5’ garden between my front door and my garage. I always plant Impatience there in the spring. They thrive in the shade and don’t need much water. I love their colors and happy faces. This year a seed must have blown over from the garden and landed between the asphalt and garden wall. Moss is growing in this small in between space with very little soil. From my perspective, a desert for flowers as the car is always pulling in and out with its exhaust fumes settling on the hot asphalt and concrete of this space.

A miracle occurred! I looked down today and saw the most wonderful flowers flourishing in this tiny unlikely place. I smiled in wonder. I thought to myself that if a flower could grow here, in this alien place, why couldn’t children flourish anywhere if their teachers and curriculum engaged their real curiosity? It isn’t the place or the amount of money that delivers information and education to the open minds of children; it is the fertile seeds we spread in their imaginations that engage their curiosity and lure them into learning. The human mind is a wondrous thing. Once it connects to an intriguing idea it doesn’t let go. Children are tenacious!

The worst possible disease for a young mind is boredom. Are we boring our children with information that is no longer applicable to their realities? Are our teachers bonded to curriculums that even they find irrelevant in our “Technological-Information Age”? Are we teaching subjects to children that offer no solutions to the problems they face? Let’s look at what we require them to learn in our public educational system and where they usually are mentally at each of these stages:

PRIMARY SCHOOL: Kindergarten age 5, and age 6 to 11 – grades 1 through 6

When children arrive in primary school they usually have a fixed classroom and one teacher for the entire day. The major goals of primary education rest in achieving basic literacy and numeracy for all children. These are important things; we have to read, speak, and calculate. It is also structured to establish a foundation in mathematics, science, geography, and history. As we all know, the priority of various matter and methods used to teach them are of considerable political debate.

This is the time in a child’s life when they are exploring their world. They ask a lot of questions and want to experience everything they imagine. Children love color. We should have them in huge rooms with lots of paint buckets, brushes, and huge pieces of paper, foam core board, or canvas so they can run amuck expressing themselves with vigilant assistance. They love music, but they love better to make music. Anything will do, old wooden sticks banging on pots, spoons banging on glass jars semi filled with water, or combs covered in tissue that make a harmonica. They will invent their own band with their imagination. They love bugs, and frogs, and worms, and bees, and butterflies. They love tinkering and dissecting into things. They love splashing in streams, gathering rocks, running in fields, and climbing trees. They love to build forts and hide out in them. They especially love to plant seeds and impatiently wait for them to grow into beanstalks! How can we fit these wondrous curiosities into their Primary School curriculum?

Brain studies prove these are the best years for a child to learn a foreign language but we don’t introduce this to them until Junior High School. What a waste!

MIDDLE SCHOOL: Generally age 12 through 14 – grades 7, 8 and 9

Upon arrival in Middle and/or Junior High School, students begin to enroll in class schedules where they take different subjects from several teachers in a given day. They move from room to room for instruction. The classes are usually a set of four or five core academic subjects. This core course includes English or “Language Arts”, Science, Mathematics, History or “Social Studies”, and in some schools a Foreign Language. They may also have two to four other classes, either electives or supplementary or remedial academic classes. When they complete Junior High School they will have had 9 years of core subjects in English language, 9 years of Mathematics and 9 years of Science.

This is the time in a child’s life where they are becoming aware of the other gender. Girls are interested in makeup; boys are strutting about like peacocks. They are curious about their bodies, their moods, their social structure within the group, and their appearance. They are experiencing puberty, a complex of emotional chemistry, and some frustrations. They have questions they don’t know how to ask and so they remain silent or talk amongst themselves. They love music, technology, games, and the outdoors if it doesn’t blow their hair in a mess.

I have often wondered why we don’t include courses during these years in Human Anatomy, Personal Hygiene, Social Manners, Communication Skills, Debate, Nutrition and Health, and Personal Grooming to name a few. Wouldn’t this ease their path into young adulthood?

HIGH SCHOOL: Generally age 15 through 17 – grades 10, 11 and 12

Upon arrival in high school a class period is the time allotted for one class session. The courses a student signs up for are arranged in a certain order to fit his or her individual schedule and generally do not change for the remainder of the school year, with the exception of semester courses. A period may vary in time, but it is usually 45 minutes long. There is wide variance in the curriculum required each year but many American high schools require the core courses; English, Science, Social Studies, Mathematics. The majority of high schools require four English credits to graduate. Generally, three science courses are required; Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Usually only three math credits are required for graduation; Geometry, Algebra I, Algebra II, Trigonometry, and Calculus are offered. The Social Studies include; World History, U.S. History, Government and sometimes Economics and Accounting are offered. Two to three years of Physical Education are required. There are also a number of electives allowed depending on where a child attends school.

During this time in a teenager’s life they are interested in and confronted by a host of challenges: Drugs, Alcohol, Tobacco, Sex, Family Upheavals, Peer Pressure, Emotional Stress, Image Building, Ego Wars, Obesity, Money Management, Family Financial Problems, and many other subtle influences. This is the time in their lives when they are searching for knowledge that may help them solve their existing or impending life issues.

The most important personal decision a person will make in their life is who they select to marry, for that is the person with whom they have and raise children. The most important significant financial decision a young person makes is the first house they buy. This commitment creates a lifelong debt.

Shouldn’t we be offering courses of instruction which include dating, courtship, engagement, marriage, pregnancy, childbirth, child rearing, family structure, childhood education, and more? Shouldn’t we be offering instruction in financial matters such as; money handling, personal banking, savings accounts, checking accounts, balancing a check book, personal loans, budgeting? How about offering real estate courses; how to buy a home, financing options, real estate agents and real estate contracts, real estate laws, home inspection, closing costs, taxes, recording documents, home construction, or more?

Do you remember when you were doing these things for the first time? It was a little unnerving!  Some preparation would have helped to make better and more informed decisions.

Above all remember that by the time a student graduates from high school they will have had 12 years of English language, 12 years of Mathematics, and 12 years of Science. Why is it our children are unable to speak the English language articulately, compose a well written paragraph, prepare for a job interview, balance a checkbook, develop and manage a budget, understand the principles of nutrition, health, body balance in chemistry and biology, and other life enhancing, essential behaviors? To prove my point, ask your child to write a story, or tell you about vitamins and minerals that are indispensable for the body and good health, or create a budget and a financial plan for the month. Try it.

These are the things I think about when I look at my impatience growing on the pavement next to my garage.



New York Gifted Kindergarten vs. New York Academic Progress

August 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Don’t take away my chance to succeed.

Now this takes the cake in light of the previous post on “Gifted Kindergarten” testing in New York.

Here are these New York parents vying for placement for their 4 year old children in the “Gifted Kindergarten” program and a report comes out in the July 29 edition of the Wall Street Journal, which says, “Erasing years of academic progress, state education officials (New York) on Wednesday acknowledged that hundreds of thousands of children had been misled into believing they were proficient in English and math, when in fact they were not.”

Now where does this leave these gifted 4 year olds who have worked hard in weekend “boot camps”, while giving up their childhood, so they could gain entrance into these New York public schools. This leaves them, with their childhood in ruin, attending a public school system that fails to educate them to acceptable standards. It is a system specializing in fantasy.

The Journal states, “The huge drops across the state raised questions about how much of the academic gains touted in the past several years were an illusion.” State officials were careful “…not to assign blame for the previously low standards, saying that the tests had become too predictable and tested too narrow a range of knowledge, thus becoming increasingly easier year after year.”

Isn’t this nice, State Officials, the Mayor, the Chancellor of the State Board of Regents, and all associated officials are careful not to offend or to place blame. If no one is to blame for the loss of proficiency in English or math in grades three through eight, Who Done It?  Maybe it’s the kids? Maybe they are too dumb to learn? Maybe it’s the parents? Who Done It?

The real tragedy is the social class who suffers from these deficiencies. It is always the defenseless, innocent children. They have no champions! According to these latest revelations, “The losses were also more pronounced for minority children. The number of black children proficient in English in third grade through eighth grade was cut nearly in half, to 34% from 64%. Among Hispanic children, 65% proficiency in English turned into 37%.” Who speaks for these children who are doomed to poverty without a proper education?

WHO SPEAKS FOR THEM? Is it the Mayor? Is it the Chancellor? Is it the teacher’s union? Is it the State officials? Is it the parents? How about the teachers, what do they have to say? Where are the champions for the children?Dear Lord - be good to me...Dear Lord, be good to me…

As a last statement on this pathetic situation in our educational system, I was told that most of the kids in the “Gifted Kindergarten” program attend private schools. They can afford it. They want a good education for their sons and daughters, not a public education.

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