Sunday, April 17, 2011


NOTE: This post is intended more as a rhetorical question, WTF kind of thing. It's not aimed at parents, children, or teachers. If you're one of the handful of legislators who decide children's curricula in this country, then yeah, feel guilty or insulted, OR THINK ABOUT THIS. Otherwise? We're all stuck in this system together and my intention is not to insult anyone. Particularly not children.

I'm - well, WE'RE - in an odd sort of limbo situation here at my house. PA Cyber, the home schooling outfit we use, is in fact considered a charter school in this state. If I were to switch the Goober over to brick-and-mortar school, it would be treated as a transfer between two school districts, not a fresh enrollment. When I DID enroll the kid, it was done in person, with all the stuff (vaccine records, eye tests, you name it) that goes along with other public school admissions. We follow the same mandated state curricula as every other public school in Pennsylvania - we just do it at home, on the computer. The Goober has an official teacher with a degree and certificate and it is not me. I do not know how other states do this. I do not know how other home schooling outfits do this. I'm sure some home-schooling parents pull it out of their ass; I'm also sure that the majority of them follow a set curricula like I do, one way or another. I'm also sure there is HUGE variance between different public schools, private schools, home schools, and even classrooms across the hall from each other.

That said, because I'm home-schooling (sorta), I'm more intimately acquainted with what the Goober is learning than most parents probably are, whose children are in more traditional schools. (I AM NOT SAYING IT IS BAD OR GOOD, I'M ABSOLUTELY NOT IMPLYING ANYTHING ABOUT MYSELF OR OTHER PARENTS. IT JUST IS.) We're chugging our way through, and the Goober surprises me regularly, with what she knows and how fast she learns new stuff. She's reading well and learning to write and having a fine time. But I keep thinking one thing.


The stuff they're expecting these kids to learn is completely ridiculous. I understand reading is fundamental and writing is right behind it on the scale of importance. BUT THIS IS BLEEDING KINDERGARTEN.

They've got these kids doing illustrated journal entries, BEFORE they formally teach them writing. This is stuff I didn't do until second grade, thirty-five years ago. Today's science lesson involved first learning what a chart is, drawing one, labeling it, then sorting animals into it by habitat. ONE SUBJECT. ONE DAY. Social studies seems to be concentrating on traditional kindergarten-level stuff like what a family is and conversing without being irritating. Science is going on ad nauseum about what makes a thing living or 'non-living'. Fine. But then they've got the kids reading and writing with no real lead-in.

When I was in kindergarten in the mid seventies, we spent the year learning social skills, basic counting, colors, shapes, and letters. There were three of us in the entire school district who started kindergarten knowing how to read, and they didn't know what to do with us and basically ignored us for the year. (We played and hung out with the other kids. No drama from administration or us.) Now? Kids are expected to know all of that going in. ALL OF IT. This was explained to me; apparently the kids are supposed to learn all that kindergarten stuff in preschool.


Kindergarten was invented in the 1800s to basically acclimate kids to the idea of school, what to do in a class room, and lay the foundation for starting real school - FIRST GRADE, AS IN ONE - the next year. Now, what, they read War and Peace in first grade? Yes, yes, I know there are all sorts of psychological and educational justifications on why we're dumping all this shit on five year old children. I've read it all, while researching home school vs. formal school. They've certainly worked out their reasons and excuses.

Meanwhile, the problems children have in school here in the US are skyrocketing. Behavioral problems, developmental problems, anxiety, depression, you name it. Depressed five year olds. Statistically it's worrisome. No, it's horrifying. (Also, these charts with "unknown factor"? YEAH THANKS FOR THE HELP. Good gourd.)

But I wonder. (Of course I wonder. I think too much.) Is the problem really the kids, or the curricula? Imagine, it seems no one has done a study on this! Shock! Yes, some kids have problems. No, I am not claiming to know specifically what an exact cause for an exact child is. But here's a thought. Maybe so many kids are having problems, because we're pushing them too hard? Sure, some kids have always been able to read early, have been great at math early, have been skilled artists early. But is it fair to expect ALL THE CHILDREN to live up to that? Mozart wrote chamber music at age five. Should they expect all kids to do that?

Most of all, is it fair to the kids to have no fallback plan when they can't live up to it?


irisphnx said...

You're entirely right on with this. Kids needs haven't changed much over the years but our expectations of them have for no good reason.It made me nuts even more while I was working in preschool. All the "best practices" in the world won't please a parent who wants their two-year-old to write their name. Check out for work they've done on preschool kids actual needs.

Louiz said...

Hmmm. Interesting to think on. And as a possible data point for you: I went to an American Kindergarten on a US base outside the mainland US. (I was 4, so I don't know the details. If anyone is interested, email me!) I could read and somewhat write. The teachers assumed that my unusual level of reading was due to being European, and was ignored. They certainly weren't set up for pre-school readers. That would have been the school year starting Autumn 1976. I know here in the UK reception (kindergarten) children are not expected to be literate, although they are expected to be familiar with letters and they spend the reception year learning to read. Or at least, that's what my daughter has done at school.

Louiz said...

Meant to add, and I'm sure that American and UK 4 - 5 year olds are not that different! And that there hasn't been that much change since the 1970s.

Ellen said...

I was able to read when I was four and my parents had to have be tested by a school psychologist to see if I could enter kindergarden early (1969) - I wasn't allowed to!

My youngest daughter could read when she was four and she was promoted to whole-day kindergarden when they found out (1997) - she had been in a preschool situation before that.

Whatever they were looking for in school then and now - some how what was bad then became desirable now. Crazy.

Alice said...

I used to work in a daycare and do some teaching assistance for kindergarten classes.

This was about five or six years ago, but I remember being SHOCKED when I walked into the daycare/preschool and working with TWO YEAR OLDS, and they had a curriculum to follow that included teaching them how to read little things (Dog, cat, apple, etc) on flash cards.

In the kindergarten classes I helped out with, those kids were doing very basic algerbra. I was surprised they were doing math at all, let alone problems like 2 x _ = 6

Yes. They were multiplying. In kindergarten. I didn't learn to multiply until the third grade.

It's kind of scary to think of how much people expect of kids these days. Like when I'm a mother, my kid's going to feel stupid for being average, because I haven't taught them how to read, write and do sums by the age of 3. Yeeesh.

Ms. said...

There is some research on this, but it's mainly in the field of gender differences (I'm a high school science teacher in IL, and as a woman and a scientist, gender differences in learning are a hot button for me). Just be glad the Goober is a girl -- statistically speaking, girls are doing FAR better with the current system than boys are. There are more girls than boys graduating high school, college, grad school, etc, and they have FAR fewer behavior problems in school. (The only places boys still outnumber girls significantly in college is math and physics, chemistry is borderline, more girls in biology.) Boys should be starting school 2 YEARS LATER than than girls if we want the two sexes to preform equally in school. Under the old system, boys had that two years before they were expected to learn to read and be able to maintain that level of attention. Now, they do not.

What the consequences are for girls, I can't say.

The concern is that we're falling behind other countries, but my personal opinion is that with the older kids, the school year should be lengthened by 2-4 weeks, and vacation restructured to be in equal shorter breaks throughout the school year (2-3 weeks off between each quarter).

Anyway, I don't have any good answers for you, but you could look at the gender differences data to get some more ideas.

Good luck with the charts. My high school kids still find them hard . . .

Shoveling Ferret said...

Wow. My kindergarten (25 years ago) was focused around learning to read, tell time, etc., etc.

I can't quite fathom how the extra load is helping.

tuscaloosa108 said...

Speaking as a college instructor (liberal arts) who chooses to home-school my own children, I am sometimes asked "If you could only home-school for one year, which is the most important?" I always urge people to keep there children home for the kindergarten year if they can. Even if the child has been in preschool. That age sees so many connections being made, it is wonderful for them to have 1)enough sleep,
2)enough time, and
3)a supportive environment to work it all out in. And it is still very easy to find enough group activities which do not require a school affiliation to meet the peer-play-desires at that age.
Have fun--the Goober is lucky :-)

Sarah {The Student Knitter} said...

I think it's crazy how fast we're falling behind other nations in high school literacy and graduation rates. It's also crazy how we need a bachelor's degree for entry level jobs these days.

I don't know what the answers are, but I think I know why more is being expected of students. I agree with the writer above about lengthening the school year and spreading out breaks more regularly, though.

Alwen said...

It's been a bunch of years, but one of the reasons we used Michigan's "school of choice" thing was that our school district had full-day kindergarten, and the closer school still had half-day kindergarten.

I knew my kid, and I knew he would not last out a whole day at that age.

Now, I've been both a full-time working mom, and a full-time at-home parent, so I am not ragging on anyone, either. I've been in both situations.

But full-day kindergarten is basically an all-day daycare for working parents. It's not because it's necessarily good for the kids or because they learn more. And I think for some of the kids it's disastrous.


Yeah, hot-button much, me?

Catie said...

From a PhD candidate (I don't have one yet, and am not saying that anyone or everyone in my field shares my point of view) in cognitive development's point of view - I think you are completely bang on. I've picked up a few books on the topic for "fun" reading but haven't gotten to them. I don't know what science legislators are using but they sure are ignoring the big names in child development.

Same poor idea as eliminating or reducing recess - school isn't just academics it is social learning too. I think that those in charge of curricula are getting too focused on test scores.

amy said...

This is actually discussed quite a bit in certain circles. I hs'd my oldest through first grade. I didn't use any sort of curriculum at all for his kindergarten year, as I thought it completely inappropriate. I don't know the law in PA, but here, kids aren't legally obligated to be in school (or approved for hs'ing) until age 6, and kindergarten isn't required. So you can legally skip kindergarten and start a kid in first grade. But at any rate, I didn't have to inform anyone of anything for his kindergarten year. And lots more parents than you probably think pull it all out as they go, because one of the biggest benefits of homeschooling is the ability to tailor what you're doing, day by day if necessary, to your child, and most parents I know of who are homeschooling (vs schooling at home with a distance school) do just that.

I would have liked to skip kindergarten for my second, too, but we were wary of giving up his lottery space in the charter school. It was a hard, hard decision. His k/1st teacher is wonderful, the classroom environment is so gentle, and his k year was a lot of what I'd have been doing with him at home anyway, but with 15 other kids to play with, but it was an adjustment. On the other hand, I think I was probably the only parent at the start-of-year conference who said, "I don't care if he's reading by the end of kindergarten. I don't want it pushed this year." I think his teacher and I are on the same page on a lot of academic issues, but she's getting increasingly hog-tied by standards.

kris said...

I'm assuming you've read David Elkind. If not, pick up The Hurried Child.

It's unfortunate but true that we were having these same discussions back when I was getting my degrees in early childhood development, more than 25 years ago. There was the same concern about the pushed-down curriculum, the death of kindergarten, etc. I'm still trying to figure out how things have grown worse in the intervening years instead of better.

We are very lucky: our kindergarten is still half day, and there are no expectations for kids to have a lot of academic skills before entry. The teachers stress over and over that the best way to prep kids for kindergarten is to let them hang with other kids, teach them to listen to adults, and read, read, read. But I know we are an anomoly,

NeedleTart said...

Sadly, you are right. I've seen first graders who turn off in September because they are already behind and labeled(or self-labeled) losers. I've been in high school the last few weeks and way too many of them want out now, because school is not a fun place to be. (Except when I'm in charge because I love to subvert the system. Heh)

Knittermom in SF Bay Area said...

I'm a homeschooling mom in California (I register as a private school and homeschool how I see fit, although a lot of homeschoolers do use charter schools), and I would disagree that most homeschoolers use a set curricula, it goes against why we are homeschooling in the first place, which is to let our kids progress at their own pace, have a childhood and escape some of the less desirable social elements of schools. Do I use a math curricula when my kids are ready for it? Absolutely, after many hours of research and playing with it to make sure it fits my child's learning style, and more importantly, is in his zone of proximal development (Google Len Vygotsky if you are curious). I almost never use one curricula from start to finish as "required", but substitute and jiggle other learning activities as needed (except for those curricula that are exceptional and perfectly suited to my three boys). Anyway, still struggle with feeling I am homeschooling my kids "correctly", but as long as they are avid bookworms (check), interested in all sorts of subjects (check), and seem to be happy (mostly a check, I have teens and pre-teens!), I feel like we will be okay.


fiberholic said...

I'm a teacher----I don't agree with how Kindergarten is set up these days (greater emphasis on academia) but it is treated as a pre-first-grade/academic class because of the need to "race to the top" and to "leave no child behind" and ensure that all kids learn to read blah blah yeah, they can all read but not socialize.

Donna Lee said...

Gone are the days when Kindergarteners strung macaroni on yarn and played games outside. I was amazed to see that our local school had textbooks for kindergarden. My girls were the only ones who hadn't been to preschool but they could read site words and knew colors and numbers and were ready to learn just from being around the house.

A lot depends on the environment surrounding a child at home. The goober has an advantage since both of her parents are smart, curious people and love to learn. She picks that up from you.

z. marie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roxie said...

I administer college placement tests and GED tests. The homeschool kids do significently better on both, and are willing participants in the process. Parents who invest time and interest in a child's education are the most valuable teaching tool.

Do kids have to learn too much too soon? I think the capacity for learning is not being overtaxed, but the subjects may be inappropriate for the individual student.

Corlis said...

Kindergarten was introduced in the US as a reform of the traditional rote learning. The idea was that children learned better through play. In the 1980s an alarming paper called "A Nation At Risk" showed that we were falling behind our international counterparts on international tests. By the early part of this century, legislators reasoned that in order for us to compete in international tests, we had to have more structure, standards, and highly qualified teachers. Schools without those would be penalized. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was passed. Because education is left to the states by the Constitution, "structure", "standards" and "highly qualified" were never quantified by the federal government.

You mention the curriculum requires illustrated journals. Be on the look out for "inventive spelling." If a teacher wants it, just say no. It's easier to create the correct neural pathways now than it will be to rewrite them later.

Everyday Math, or the Chicago method, should be avoided. They teach less arithmetic and more algebra. The kids don't learn the basics that make algebra easier to understand.

I'm looking forward to your posts on her social studies textbooks and what they have to say about Hawai'i.

Leah said...

We didn't have kindergarten when I started school. The teacher was teaching everybody from immegrant children struggling with English to people like me with university educated parents. We all did well in the end. We had good teachers in a well functioning system. I am gratefull.

Virginia said...

Seems to me one of the reasons we're falling behind is because we're pushing our children to do things they aren't able to do yet. My daughter is soon to graduate from a (public) high school where over 30% of the students in her class aren't going to graduate. Something is seriously wrong in education today.

Anonymous said...

I have my kids in a predominantly Chinese school and it's striking how different the expectations of those parents are. Most of my kids friends will enter Kindergarden with an additional three hours of Math, english and Chinese added to their full day school schedule because the parents pay for afterschool tutoring. The kids find the schedule tiring but they adjust (for the most part) and because of the additional practice, they end up doing better in both Math and English and know a second language (reading and writing in addition to speaking Chinese). My kids have done well in that environment and pick up the material as it is presented - which makes me wonder, what are we doing in kindergarden, wasting so much time NOT teaching kids stuff while these other kids, thanks to the additional efforts of their parents learn so much more. It's very American to wring your hands over too much homework or kids being expected to do too much but as a college prof, I just didn't see that as much of a problem. Kids were held back more by their expectation that school should be fun than by an excess of academics (in my experience).

Carol said...

I agree with everything you wrote Julie. I am raising my granddaughter (Peanut) who I got custody of when she was almost 6 yrs.
She was already in Kindergarten.
She had never gone to preschool or been put in daycare. I think daycare, unless absolutely needed so a parent can put food on the table should be avoided.
Who is raising the little kids all day? I want it to be me, the parent. I want to instill the good values and morals. I want to teach her to speak without a trash mouth. I want to feed her healthy food made by my hands.
School comes fast enough and will go on for year.
I am mostly sorry to see the absences of ART, MUSIC,Dance and many creative activities. In the upper grades I'm sorry to see the absences of Sewing, Cooking, Woodshop, Autoshop etc.
I am a creative person and without art and music in school it would have been like being in hell.
I remember nap time in Kindergarten and I was 1/2 day. Blocks, sandboxes, painting, singing and story time.

Also going home for lunch in 1st. grade.
I went to Kindergarten in 1961

Anonymous said...

i totally can't relate. i grew up in japan and even in 1st grade when we moved to the usa it amazed me how far behind usa kids were. that was in the 1960's. the usa schools expect absolutely nothing and are totally dumbed down, imo. my kids do public school strictly for socialization and learning how to deal with jerks in life without getting violent. i would never rely on a school to "educate" my kids.

Amy Lane said...

Hallelujia and preaching to the frickin' choir, sister! So, the kid knows how to read at five-- WTF THEN? No-- and the shit they expect kids to STAR test in are fucking insane-- and remember, I was a frickin' English teacher, and I beLIEVE that. We want kids to graduate from high school able to GET a degree or GET a job skill-- not WITH a degree. No. I get what you're saying, and it makes me fucking crazy. When my kids were in Kindergarten, we LIED OUR ASSES OFF about homework. Why? Because a five year old should come home and fucking play, THAT'S why.

The thing is, the US keeps comparing itself to other countries and not looking at the COMPLETE DIFFERENCE in school systems. Sure, our test scores suck next to, say, Japan's--but by sixteen, the kids in Japan aren't going to University aren't GETTING TESTED. Why should they? But no-- we force our kids into university prep--every fucking one of them--and then don't understand why kids, some of them TOTALLY FUCKING BRILLIANT IN EVERYTHING BUT BUREAUCRACY blow the tests off, or, worse, drop out of school because all they hear is blah blah blah blah blah and NONE of that blah relates to them trying to get a fucking job!

*funk* Now I'm pissed off.

Georgi said...

I so agree with you! Kids are pushed way too hard now and not allowed to be children for long enough.

Solitary Knitter said...

And it is only beginning I have 3 daughters 2 are now in college and 1 still in High School. The amount of homework involved starting in Kindergarten boggled my mind years ago and then we switched to Home Schooling. Then youngest daughter wanted to try regular High School overall she was about a year ahead in her classes so as a freshman she was taking some classes that are normally taken as a sophomore but then some classes such as Freshman English had no alternative to basic Freshman English no honors, no AP Class, no testing out to Sophomore etc she sat in Freshman English for a year and did nothing overall the amount of work she did in her class amounted to maybe 9 weeks worth of work the rest of the class was a complete waste of time same with her history class she really wanted the High School experience but here we are planning her Junior year and because of the school cutbacks everywhere she may not be able to take her next science class which should be Advanced Biology will probably be dropped and so for her yo complete the science requirement she will probably have to drop back to Freshman Science class of Earth Science she has already taken College Biology, and Honors Chemistry so in order to have the right amount of credits in the right subjects she will have to take a class that she basically completed in Junior High just to be able to graduate. No Explanation to fix this one unless we pull her back out to Home School. Still trying to figure out best way to solve this one without her just sitting in class picking her nose because she has finished her work and still has 40 minutes left of her class time. Good Luck working this out hope you figure out your mess I think we are pretty much at the mercy of the district till she graduates.

Alacaeriel said...

I learned to read when I was around 3, and went to pre-school, simply because I come from a single parent family and Mum worked. I started at a private school, then changed to a public school in year 2. The entirety of year 2 at the public school? I was bored witless. I was seated with a boy who was behind the rest of the class, and I was being used as a teaching aid because I had done all the work before. The funny thing? I remember having nap time in year 1, I remember the teacher singing Puff the Magic Dragon on his guitar, I remember being taught spelling, but I don't remember being told that I was doing year 2 work in year 1.

Experimental Knitter said...

You are 1000000% correct (yeah I know the math).
Five year old kids, brilliant are some of them are, just are not DEVELOPMENTALLY READY to sit all day. They need to DO stuff, run around, make noise, get dirty, use their hands, zonk out a bit, play, listen to stories (beyond their reading capacities), tell stories they make up (hopefully with props they make themselves). You'd have far fewer ADD-labeled kids (I'm willing to bet real money on this) if kindergarten returned to school-readiness. Those kids who can read already (I was one)? There's a place called the library; Mom or Dad can books out from it. 'Nuf said.

Emily said...

Hoo boy, hot topic. With all the pushing of very young kids, something happens along the way later that is very mysterious: by college these same kids cannot write a coherent paper in proper English. I've seen some that my poor friends at the university have to grade, and the American papers are appalling. Maybe the powers-that-be are trying to Get It All Done at a young age since they'll lose them later?

I also notice (from looking at these papers) that one obvious problem is that kids no longer read for pleasure. if they did, there'd be fewer mistakes.

So, all this push to get Johnny to read early without teaching him that it's fun? I'm a teacher (violin) and you don't get very far if there's no intrinsic reward.

I read to my granddaughter whenever I can, for this reason. She is instantly entranced by the story. I'm hoping it will pay off when she needs to find out what happens for herself.

mybeener1 said...

As a high school foreign language teacher in IL, the one thing I've learned in 20 years is that the best students have interested parents. Second is that the students have interests outside of academic topics (sports, music, art, dance)and don't spend their free time with a video game system or tv remote. Other than that, methods come and go and students still learn or don't. But active, alert, inquisitive kids generally succeed.