In the last post I gave my position statement. I am writing this series as a parent. A parent who also happens to be an adjunct at one of our local state Universities. From where I stand, I am simultaneously seeing both the elementary ed system we have and the result of it. And, as many other parents are discovering, this system, for a lot of kids, has significant flaws.
Sunday was a powerful Facebook day. Parents I know in person, who I’ve actually hung out with face to face, were discussing something radical. Two sent me private messages asking me for resources, one posted to her page. All three are parents with kids in well-regarded public/magnet schools. All three are thinking of or in the process of pulling their kids out of school to homeschool sometime between last month and the start of the next academic year.
Why? They all feel their kids’ needs are not being addressed effectively. For many who have had a kid in school and have removed them, it is a combination of factors both academic and social. If it were just one or the other, often parents feel they can cope with the fallout that may result. When it is both, it often becomes too much. For many, when one area becomes enough of a mess, there is spill-over into the other area.
When children show us the flaws in the system in elementary school, they are rarely offering verbose critiques. They show us, instead, with their own lives, their own, often deeply-felt struggles. The daily school experiences of children who don’t “fit in” academically reflect both the surface flaws and, perhaps, shine a light onto the deeper issues too.
The superficial flaws, the practical-level, daily issues faced by students who are a poor fit with the system often result in similar experiences, even when the root issues are different. My child and one of her best friends both find school frustrating, boring and they complain about it. My daughter’s last report card showed “Exceeds Grade Level Expectations” in every single category. Her buddy’s report card indicated that being held back is a strong possibility. My little one is having a much better year, but her speech issues have shown me first hand that kids who have any special needs, developmental delays, spectrum “disorders,” medical conditions, learning disabilities often end up in an emotionally similar place to my elder child and her friend. It doesn’t get any easier for kids who cross categories, soaring in many areas but need a *lot* of help in one subject (or vice-versa). These situations can add various social pressures to kids who are already struggling/bored in class. Sometimes, these situations are enough of a stress that they can *create* issues in the group dynamic.
By way of example, let’s look at my older child for a moment. She is “cuspy” simply by virtue of the fact she was born on January 2nd (seven hours after the cut-off date), and, for whatever luck/blessing/fate/chance/nature/nurture combination, she’s very bright. And she is now struggling to do her homework. Struggling because, in her words, “it is too easy!” She hates the reading work because the stories are not engaging enough, the vocabulary is very limited, and compared to the chapter books she enjoys which tend to be between 100-180 pages long, they are dry and pointless. She’d rather be reading “real books” than doing the homework assigned to her, which, in theory, is intended to be more challenging to her and the one or two other students who are advanced for the K/1 classroom she’s in. I have been working since May to get her promoted to second grade. This is at her magnet school. The answer there has been much the same as the one I got years ago in town. They simply frown upon “promoting” students past their peer group levels. And the worst part of my daughter’s situation is that she is beginning to resent her teacher for “not giving any homework that is hard! It’s like she doesn’t know I can do more!” She is getting indignant and frustrated and, now, she’s seeing the cracks for herself. At seven.
The policy against acceleration is commonplace, as it turns out. According to the National Association for Gifted Children’s recent publication, there is a huge body of research supporting academic acceleration for gifted and talented students. According to this publication, there exists something of a cannon of studies and so forth for the past 30 years or so. And yet, many districts, including the one my daughter is in and the district we live in, feel that there are “social risks” of advancing a student beyond their age. These concerns sound caring and gentle-hearted, until you read some of the research and find out that the social arguments are *not* evidence-based. They are not scientifically supported, they are not borne out by the studies that have been done on this subject. The institution of school, where many parents are sending kids will hopefully learn some critical thinking skills, some research skills of their own, it turns out, is not based on evidence in several respects. My daughter’s experience highlights just one of them.
My elder child is one example of a person who’s caught in the cogwheels of a system that is trying to maintain a one-size-fits-all approach, to the best of its ability. Kids like her, kids like my younger daughter with her speech issues, kids like these clog up the assembly line because they won’t fit into the boxes they’re expected to be sliding into. This can cause a great deal of confusion in a system continually trying to reimagine itself into the well-oiled machine it seems to dream of being. Kids are falling off the conveyor belt, getting stuck in the cogs,some trying to run the other way, and some are quietly sitting at their desks, keeping their struggles to themselves. Others are not struggling at all, by that same combination of luck/blessing/fate/chance/nature/nurture, there is a group of kids who fit perfectly into the system, more or less. I don’t happen to have those kids in my family.
It’s like Hotwheels -- some cars not for use with some sets. For elder daughter in particular, her skills are her car. They are simply too far outside the range of “normal” to fit on the track of the classroom she is in.
Next post: The Private School Dilemma