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If you think school isn’t hard enough, go to kindergarten

Submitted by on Friday, 3 September 2010 No Comment

I’m confused. Genuinely perplexed, as opposed to the fake puzzlement I sometimes try to pull on the guys. As in, “I just don’t understand why you thought it was a good idea to cut gaping chunks out of your hair.”

Part of it’s my usual back-to-school fog that stems from being whacked over the head repeatedly this time of year by those who view our children as a slothful, spoiled, school-hating generation.

But most of my befuddlement comes from the incessant, migraine-inducing drumbeat that more time in school would cure all the country’s problems.

“When you compare the quality of education that students get today versus what they could get with additional instruction – not to mention what our international competitors are already doing — it makes a compelling case for this drastic change,” Michael J. Wilson, national director of Americans for Democratic Action, wrote today.

I don’t know how it is in Mr. Wilson’s house – actually, I know little about Mr. Wilson’s house except that he does have children, which gives his position a little more credibility with me than those of random critics who try to “fix education” without having been near a classroom since they graduated.

But I can tell you that in this house there’s a 5-year-old who comes home from his extended-day kindergarten beaten to a mental pulp every day. He’s learning – at a far more rapid clip than I did when I was his age or even than his brother did two years ago – but it’s exhausting.

He’s doing well, thanks in part to two fabulous preschool teachers whom I really should send a dozen roses each. Possibly Godiva chocolates, and maybe a gift certificate for a day spa, too.

Could he be doing better – as well as those kids among the educated elite in China or the 65 percent who can actually read in India? Maybe, but here’s the little secret that you don’t know unless you’ve actually been around a school in recent years.

They’re already learning tremendous amounts – so much that it threatens to bury the far too many students who enter unprepared. Horridly unprepared in some cases, as in “can’t hold a pencil” or “can’t cut with scissors.” Even among parents who try to do the right thing by sending their children to preschool or working with them at home, it’s hard to be adequately prepared because most kindergarten readiness lists are hopelessly inadequate.

Maybe that’s because they focus on listing the bare minimum, as opposed to what children need to know to excel.  Identify some alphabet letters? Kindergarten starts now with learning words in the first week. How can a kid who knows only some letters begin to learn to read?

Maybe it’s because some teachers focus on “give me the tools, and I’ll teach them.”

Whatever the reason, the lists and advice don’t go nearly far enough in helping parents make sure their kids know what they need to know academically. I still feel guilty over that one with Big Guy. Yes, he “knew” all the letters and their sounds, but he couldn’t recall them out of alphabetical order. Which means he didn’t really “know” them at all.

And if parents who try are thrown massive curve balls, what about the children of those whose parents don’t? Yes, those children might benefit from more time in school, but at that age I wonder if their little brains and their little butts can handle more than they are already.

A great number of these kids will eventually “catch up” – some are “behind” simply because their bodies and minds aren’t ready yet.

I fear that under our current system, though, some never will. Yet I equally fear a system that thinks chaining kids to desks for more hours a day is the answer.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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