Tag Archives: No Child Left Behind

Fixing Education Part 3: Taking Back Kindergarten

Educators and legislators need to look back at their own education and try to remember what they did in Kindergarten. Once they do, they need to take a long hard look at what Kindergarten has become.

Kindergarten Is The New First Grade

When I was just starting out in school, Kindergarten was fun. As a child I looked forward to finger-painting, playing with blocks and learning all about numbers and the usefulness of the alphabet. I remember learning to print my name and I remember learning to count to 100. I still have crystal clear memories of the accomplishment of reaching 100 for the first time. That number was such a foreign concept to my 4 year-old mind (yes…4 years old) that I had honestly thought that it would take a week to get there.

So we spent the day coloring, tracing letters, learning numbers and understanding what they represented. The teacher read stories to us and I learned to fall in love with Dr. Seuss and, by extension, reading. She showed us how to draw and paint and I learned to love art. She showed us how to carefully craft our letters so that they could form our names and I learned to love writing. We also played with toys and each other and we took naps and ate graham crackers and milk. I checked with my mother. There was never a day when I refused to go to school. Kindergarten was fun. But it was so much more than that.

Learn By Playing?

It took me a long to time to appreciate the depth of the education I received during that first year of school. I thought we were messing with paint. Turns out we were learning about colors and aesthetics and even cleaning up after ourselves. While we thought we were playing house, we were actually learning how to interact with other human beings, all about gender differences and equalities, and about fair-play. While we were playing with blocks and toy cars and stuffed animals, we were also learning how to share, how to resolve our own problems and how to deal with conflict. Everything we did, learned and experienced had one simple outcome. We learned how to learn. The lessons were simple but lifelong. And they are sorely missing in today’s education.

Getting my son to go to school everyday was a chore. Every day was a battle. Every morning was filled with tears and pleading to stay home. It took me a while to figure out why my son was so against school. His school had taken the Kindergarten lessons and tossed them out and replaced them with a 1st grade curriculum. It might have been my fault he wasn’t totally prepared but an hour of homework a day in Kindergarten is just wrong.         ~Georgia Mother

If we refuse to acknowledge the importance of play-based learning, we may never reach all of our students. And instead of figuring out how to learn and to love learning, we set our kids up for failure at a very early age. Putting five year-old behinds into seats to teach them through traditional lectures flies in the face of everything we know about education. Children at that age just don’t work that way. Children learn by doing and through experience. David Elkind, author and psychologist wrote, “Learning teaches us what we know, play makes it possible for new things to be learned. There are many concepts and skills that can only be learned through play.” Social skills are first on the list.

So, instead of well-rounded eager students, many of us are getting frustrated, burned-out students who lack social skills, impulse control and simple conflict resolution skills. Instead of students who read for the sheer joy of it, who write because writing is fun and who can slog their way through Algebra and Trig simply because they can add, subtract, multiply and divide, we get students who can barely read, can’t form a sentence and can’t do simple two digit multiplication without a calculator. It is not the fault of the students. It is not the fault of the teachers. It is because of a system that has been redesigned over the past decade, not at the hands of educators but at the hands of politicians.

Fitting Into The Plan

In order to save our high schools we must start in Kindergarten. In spite of what politicians want us to believe, kids aren’t failing because their teachers are bad. They are not failing because they have failed the system. They are failing because the system has failed them. The system is flawed and it places too much emphasis on quantitative data and not enough on qualitative data. Sure, a kid could be terrible at math but that same child could grow up to be a great author or songwriter or artist. We will never know if that same child learns, in Kindergarten, that he or she just doesn’t measure up. And that would be the real failure of our education system.


Fixing Education: Part 2

Of course the education system is not easy to fix. Of course simple solutions can’t possibly work. Of course because the world is a modern, technologically driven, globalized community, nothing is simple anymore. But that won’t stop me from offering a simple solution. Now…where was I?

Step One: Write Off The High Schools…For Now.

In certain circles, I can offer this bit of advice and people will look at me like I have grown a second, evil head. I am proposing that any plan that seeks to “fix” the educational system of the United States of America should leave out our high schools. Is it harsh to say that by a time a young person has reached his or her teens, the damage is done? And, for that matter, do they require “fixing”? I would have to say no and yes.

Every generation has its “These kids today” moments. When my parents were young, they couldn’t watch Elvis from the waist down. The holders of morality for that generation were afraid that Rock-and-Roll would destroy a generation. Post Elvis, there was the Beatles and their “long” hair. Along the years we experienced the Rolling Stones, Blondie, Grandmaster Flash, Devo, and about a thousand others. “These kids today” of every generation survived the onslaught of Jazz, Rock-and-Roll, Rhythm and Blues,  New Wave, Hair Bands, Grunge, Alternative, Hip Hop, Rap and everything in between. They survived the movies, television shows, comic books, concerts and Playboy and emerged on the other side as fully formed adults who broke the sound barrier, flew to the moon, and invented everything from microchips to Velcro. They became artists and doctors and rebels and politicians as well as plumbers and masons and electricians. They raised families and watched their kids do better than they did.  And we look at today’s “These kids today” (TKT) and weep for the future. Why? What has changed?

The Blame Game

It is easy to blame the media but it is unfair to blame any one medium for the ruination of this year’s graduating class. But when a child is walking, talking, media showcase, how can his teachers compete for his attention? I have six students in here with me now. They have an assignment and they know what to do and when the deadline is. All six are either on a computer or sharing one. From here I can see two screens are on Facebook and the other two are playing games. (Might sound like bad classroom management but part of the assignment is to meet deadlines and then, if the deadlines aren’t met, to analyze and problem solve the breakdown of the group dynamic.) I see two cell phones out and texting and I can hear another one vibrating in a pocket. All six kids have headphones on and are listening to their MP3 players. It’s not one medium that is making it hard, it’s all of them.

Yes. I understand that my kids are breaking the rules and wasting their time. Yes. I know that I should march up and down and gently reinforce the importance of education and cajole them into getting back on task. I should know each and every one of them by name, understand their home situation, know what each one wants to be when grown and make damned sure they have the tools they need to get there. But I’m tired. I am tired because I know that after the bell rings and I return from a half-hour of bus duty, I have another hour’s worth of work to do, a long commute home, a family of my own to engage, dogs to walk, papers to grade, lesson plans to rework, bills to pay and errands to run. I can’t get my own kid to decide what she wants to be when she grows up and she is already in her first year of college. College that she is only able to attend because of scholarships and grants. All of this and I am still expected to care more about the education of these six kids than they do or their parents do.

But I can’t compete with iPods and TV shows and Facebook and Video Games, all of which are now available in portable form. When I was one of “these kids today”, my music was on 12″ vinyl records or eight-tracks that required a player the size of a cinder block. My phone was attached to the wall with a 12 foot cord. The school’s computer required punch cards and Video Games were as exciting as…uhm…Pong. But they did require more of a commitment because I had to drive to the mall to play them, a quarter at a time.

But I Digress

I am not suggesting that we actually write these kids off. They are, for the most part, good kids who did not get our best collective effort. There were too many boutique math options, too many feel-good moments and too many politicians involved in their education along the way. All of these chefs worked this stew and no one ever questioned if they knew how to cook.  The result is a generation of kids who were sent mixed signals, alternating curricula and tested to the brink of distraction. They were told to succeed by people who no idea what success should look like. They have been trained to memorize but not to think and, as a result, they require their education to come in concise, easy to memorize facts and figures and they become flustered and uncomfortable when asked to reason or infer. It’s not their fault but we have to help them graduate the very best that they can, fill out their FAFSA Scholarship forms and hope that their colleges and universities and employers can sort things out.

But in my solution, the fix begins in Kindergarten. Not high school.


How to Fix The Education System In 4 Easy Steps

Don’t worry. This will be short.

It seems that everywhere I turn, someone is teacher bashing. It is all over the news and the yahoos who post in the Yahoo News comment section love to teacher bash too. It’s fun.  But take a look at just about any school that was failing and taken over by the government. The teachers have all been switched out. The administration has all been switched out. And yet, the school is still “failing.” Why? Because of the one component that can’t be switched out. The student population.

The educational system has been interfered with for years. No Child Left Behind all but gutted any chance teachers had to succeed. So I decided to fix it. Ready?

Step One: Write off the high schools…for now.

Step Two: Put the Kindergarten curriculum back into Kindergarten where it belongs.

Step Three: Teach math.

Step Four: Everyone reads at grade level or no promotion.

OK. That’s pretty simple but every step can be explained and broken down into more detail.

Just ask.


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