Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sheeple factory: when public school just isn't cutting it

As a self professed bleeding heart liberal, public education is near and dear to me. There has never been a public school bond measure or levy that I have voted "no" on whether I had kids at the time or not.

We were in West Seattle when we found out that our kid wasn't necessarily assured a place at the neighborhood school and may very well be bussed across town for Kindergarten. Alarm bells went off for both of us; perhaps explaining the exodus to Vashon Island by the time Molly was 2 and Shea was just a wish and a prayer. We chose Vashon for the excellent public schools; often times described as "quasi-private".

Now that I have been at this a while, I realize that public schools although legally supposed to serve all children, don't always. How can they when education funding has been cut left and right? It's abysmal really and pains me to acknowledge this.

I met a woman recently who had a son who is on the autistic spectrum and was dealing with many of the same food allergies that Shea is facing. We chatted gluten-free products and recipes and then jumped into the fray.

"How is it going at school?" I asked. She got a pinched, frustrated look on her face and replied, "Not well. They were very concerned with wanting him to just hang up his coat then sit down and shut up. He couldn't draw or cut paper the way he wanted to. It was very frustrating."

"Was?" I think. She told me they decided to pull him from the public school system and do home schooling which so far had been working fine for them. I asked about her 2nd child, a typically developing girl, "No, we won't send her to public school either."

This exchange has really stuck with me. First, no matter how you feel about public education, you make educational choices individually for each kid. If one thing is not working, you try something else. But, I was sad. One bad experience with an overwhelmed Kindergarten teacher chased this family away from our public school. Sometimes that's all it takes.

I see it as the bell curve. The majority of the kids get served pretty well, although that is always debatable. The kids that happen to be on the edges? Not so much. If your kid is on the edges, that can be a very frustrating place to be.

It reminds me of this trend to create "gifted programs" or "accelerated learning" in elementary schools. It seems parents just love hanging this sort of tag on their kid. We went through a period here, where there was a lot of pressure to start tracking and testing as early as Pre-K! We already had testing at 3rd grade to divvy the kids up for math in 4th & 5th grades but now they were pushing for more! The whole shebang! Let's test their little personalities right out the door and label them at 6!

Needless to say, I was really, really, REALLY against it. This is a big topic but in a nutshell; testing is not and shouldn't be the prime designation on determining a child's skills and attributes. Can't we let the kids just be kids for a while instead of shuttling them off into a category? "Here Johnny, you belong in the smart class! Bobby you belong in the below average class!" Does anyone else see the self fulfilling prophesies this much be creating? Not to mention the self-inflicted stresses labeling can cause.

I remember one of the arguments to pursue a gifted program was to give the smart kids appropriate work to do. By all means, go for it. Teach to the highest skills in the class and watch some of the others come up too. Create more opportunities for individualized instruction so that each kid can reach as far as they can. Give the teachers more professional development so they can recognize and work with a child who is gifted. All of the above probably just equate to more money needed; lower class sizes and more investment in our teacher's training. Don't hold your breath.

Maybe the new administration will take a long, sober look at No Child Left Behind and see if there is anything salvageable there. We can only hope.

1 comment:

Stef said...

My son is autistic and finding food that he can enjoy during the holidays has always been a nightmare. After a recommendation from someone in one of my support groups, I found out about a Nutrition Coach named Rose Cole, I went to her site and found loads of great gluten free recipes. Please make sure to check it out! http://www.RoseCole.com/HolidayCookBook

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