Public schools think children are imbeciles with egos so fragile they cannot withstand any criticism. I know for a fact that this isn’t true, because my kids thrived for years in a school that treated them with respect, that assumed their native intelligence, and that demanded quality work from them.
I went to Little Bookworm’s open house. Here’s what I discovered:
There has been absolutely no improvement in his work since the day he started at this school in August (although his handwriting, once very beautiful, has deteriorated to illegibility). The only “skill” he’s mastered, because it’s required of him, is to write more. Not better, just more.
His spelling, which was solid for a youngster, has deteriorated. Turns out the teacher doesn’t correct spelling, except on rare occasions. Apparently those fragile little egos can’t handle being taught to do things right. At home, I always correct spelling: “Honey, this is a great guess. It’s very logical. Unfortunately, English isn’t a logical language. This is how you spell it.” What the teacher’s approach means, of course, is that (a) if you can decipher his illegible writing, you still can’t read the damn thing because it’s so riddled with spelling errors and (b) he’s learned nothing.
I happen to know that, in Montessori, after the child got to write an essay from the heart, the teacher gently led him or her through it, teaching each child how to improve the ultimate, which the children did. The children wrote fewer pointless essays (“If I were a tree,” “If I were a squirrel,” “If I had a hundred bucks,” “If I were five inches tall,” “If I were seven inches tall” — each essay preparing him for nothing more than an interview with Barbara Walters), but each essay saw the child learn. The ultimate work product was always beautiful and the kids were not only proud, but had acquired useful skills. There is nothing to be proud of here. It’s crap.
Arts and crafts trumps all teaching. The room is filled with repetitive arts and crafts project, ostensibly allied to some educational goal. There was Little Bookworm’s name appended to a paper plate “person,” that had typewritten next to it: “This is Jo-Jo. He stands for cleanliness.” I discovered (a) that Little Bookworm hadn’t done anything but glue some of the curly paper hair and (b) he had no idea what “cleanliness” is. Or how about the “forest” project, where he proudly pointed out to me all the leaves he’d cut out, but had absolutely no idea what the content was? No surprise there, of course. The content was a paralyzingly boring and pointless bit of material, copied from an internet site (and misspelled), identifying a pine tree that grows in China.
And on and on. Endless essays, notable only for their ever increasing length as pressure is put on the kids to meet some “words per minute” requirement for some stupid test. Otherwise, they’re distinguished by their spelling errors and profoundly disorganized thought. This isn’t only Little Bookworm’s problem, of course; it’s endemic to all the work littering the classroom. And once the essays are done, multiple iterations of crafts projects, with “facts” copied (and, it seems, invariably misspelled) from some government sponsored text or web page. Query the kids, and they have zero understanding of the content, but they’ll boast about their scissor work.
All of this is demeaning. It assumes kids are incapable of learning, it assumes they’re incapable of being taught (both because they’re too stupid and because their egos are too delicate to withstand, not criticism, but correction), and that they’re too weak-minded to master meaningful information (as opposed to random factoids that are constantly stuffed into them).
No wonder parents in my neck of the woods spend a fortune and burn up their kids free time (after busy-work homework, of course), sending them to places such as SCORE!. SCORE! is a business. It doesn’t care about whether the kids are emotionally tender. It cares about providing the paying customers (that is, the parents) with results (that is, better academic performance). Surprisingly, the kids not only do well at SCORE!, they like it! In other words, the kids consciously or unconsciously don’t appreciate being treated like incompetent cretins at school, and very much appreciate the assumption at SCORE! that they can perform and perform well.
UPDATE: Thinking about it, it’s really not the teacher’s fault, because the system is set up for quantity, not quality. Because of the damn tests, which require the kids to produce essays, no matter how meaningless, instantly, the school’s ethos is that it’s better to write 10 essays a week, rife with uncorrected errors, then to write a mere 2-3 essays, but to do them right. And the reason the teacher doesn’t correct all the stuff the kids churn out is because no one can reasonably correct 200 essays a week. So the kids just produce and produce and produce and produce, with the poor teacher reduced to standing by and cheering on the academic effluvia that flows out of them.
UPDATE II: For an interesting take on what happens to this delicately educated generation, read today’s Best of the Web.