By Stephanie~Guest Author
About four years ago my older daughter was in public school, my son was in day care, and the little one was not even a glimmer in her daddy’s eye. I was working full time with a community mental health agency, doing consulting & counseling in the schools and community.
One day, I visited a second grade classroom to pick up a little boy I was scheduled to see. His teacher, a kind, soft-spoken woman, told me I needed to wait, because the little fellow was in the middle of a test. Not a problem. I sat down, wondering what kind of “test” a second grader would be taking.
The teacher read the questions to the class. I listened. “Supply and demand?” “Economic interdependence???” I tried to keep my jaw from dropping. This just seemed too surreal. But the kids sat quietly, filling in the answers. Even the little guy I was there to see, who I knew was extremely hyperactive and coping with an abusive family situation, seemed to be with the program. Amazing.
When it was time to go, I smiled at the teacher and thanked her. Then I said, “Ummm … I am very impressed at what your second graders are learning. I never heard this stuff until college.” The teacher, who was a very sweet person, got a look on her face - for just a moment - as if she wanted to disembowel someone. “Standards of Learning,” she explained.
At that time, my older daughter was already in first grade, so I was very familiar with “Standards of Learning.” It was the reason “Anne” HAD to learn to write her name correctly in Kindergarten, even though she had fine motor delays and would have been much happier playing with play dough and Wikki Sticks to hone those skills until she was ready to write. It was the reason even Kindergartners got precious little recess time. But this was my first exposure to college economics for seven-year-olds. I was stunned.
Happily, I now have my own copy of the Standards of Learning (thanks to the day care kid who scribbled all over it with a marker, forcing me to purchase it from the library). So I can share this with you:
Economics - (SOL 2.6)
“The student will explain the interdependence of producers and consumers in a market economy by describing factors that have influenced consumer demand and describing how producers have used natural resources, human resources, and capital resources to produce goods and services in the past and the present.”
Now … go read that to your seven-year-old, and see whether he sees the relevance to his life.
I mentioned the economics test to my daughter’s first grade teacher. SOLs were a hot topic in her school. The faculty’s frustration and anxiety was palpable. (That was before a worse disaster struck - President Bush’s “educational reform,” No Child Allowed on the Playground … I mean No Child Left Behind.) Recess and free play were being pushed out of the lives of kids as young as five, and the teachers - who were gifted, dedicated, and knowledgeable about child development, were hamstrung, unable to do their jobs correctly.
“Anne’s” first grade teacher told me that before the SOLs were implemented, meetings had been held to solicit teacher input.
“We all went to the meetings and told them how developmentally inappropriate the social studies objectives were. It made no difference.”
Of course not. They didn’t really want teacher’s input. (Take the opinion of a classroom teacher with 25 years experience with first graders - or, God forbid, a parent - over that of a bureaucrat? Never!) The machinery was already in motion, and the effort “to solicit teacher input” was merely a formality.
Several years later “Anne” was in third grade. It would be her last year in public school. Her school was still struggling to come to grips with SOLs and had just been hit with NCLB. “Anne” and her classmates sat in a classroom for about 7 hours a day, with a scant 15 minutes for recess. That 15 minutes was forfeited if the kids didn’t keep up with their schoolwork, which included passing timed drills on math facts every day. (You don’t crank out all those math facts correctly in two minutes - you don’t get recess).
The teacher was busy pushing those math facts, reading skills, history lessons and so forth and - probably - thanking God it was her last year before retirement.
In case you’re worried that they were neglecting those crucial elementary school economics skills - don’t fear -
Economics (SOL 3.7) - The student will describe the economic specialization and interdependence involved in the production of goods and services in various types of communities in the past and present.
Economics (SOL 3.8) The student will explain in simple terms how opportunity cost, scarcity, and price influence economic decision making.
Economics (SOL 3.9) The student will explain the relationship between taxation and government services. (Is there a clear relationship between taxation and government services? - See http://www.taxpayer.net/awards/goldenfleece - But I digress.
Third grade is also the year students take SOL tests for the first time. It consumed much of the instructional time that Spring. We could have papered all the walls of my house with all the “practice tests” Anne brought home to study. Her days in public school would soon be numbered.
Well … this is the closest I’ve come to posting a political rant on a web log. (I’ll stop now … I promise!) In my own defense, it is not a partisan political rant (one party bothers me nearly as much as the other) … but a political rant all the same.
Yes, I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder. That’s a good thing, though, because on my worst days - when I am in tears and anxious to put my little hooligans on the school bus and get them out of the house *for their own protection,* and when I tell myself that surely a professional teacher - ANY teacher - could do a better job than I … I need to remember these things.
I LOVE our freedom. My kids can have recess all day long if we like. We can cast aside our bookwork at times when it just isn’t coming together. I can let them run around in costumes wielding toy swords. I can let them dig in the dirt, roll in the grass, or play in the rain. We can spend a whole “school” day reading a great book and eating popcorn and chocolate. They can be kids.
We are free to tailor the lessons to where THEY are, instead of trying to reconfigure the kids to fit the lessons. They can find things that are meaningful to them. My very kinesthetic son can play with Legos or bounce on a big ball during “school.” They can learn to write and memorize math facts at their own pace - when THEY are ready. They can focus on their gifts, rather than the things that they “can’t” do.
I love the way the kids are learning, and I am thankful that we live in a country that allows us such freedom.
I still peruse the SOLs from time to time (believe me … after that economics stuff, it gets even better) I read about NCLB in the newspapers. I often feel sad for all the wonderful teachers and students in the school system - particularly the kids who aren’t “typical.” I sometimes get angry.
And they wonder why we home schoolers fight against government intrusion into what we do?
Stephanie is an eclectic home schooling mom of three bright, creative and very spirited children. She lives in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of VA with her best friend & husband of 16 years, their 3 kids, two dogs: Elissa & Lea, a blue-tongued skink named Samwise Gamgee, a snail named Pippin, & various fish, worms and other assorted critters.