May 25, 2005

Fiddling While Rome Burns

The Boy has one more year of daycare before he traipses off to Kindergarten. As his birthday is at the end of August, I've had more than one furrowed-browed mom express concerns about whether I should "hold him back so he'll be ready for Kindergarten." This makes me wonder about a number of things, but mainly it makes me wonder why the hell a Kindergartener has to be six years old nowadays to do a five year old's work. Kind of defeats the purpose of having Kindergarten, doesn't it?

FYI, The Boy will start Kindergarten as a young 'un. If he can't hack it, he'll just redo Kindergarten--either way he'll get more intellectual stimulation than he would in a standard preschool/daycare environment, and have a year of "practice" under his belt.

But here's the thing--when you start paying attention to all the education hoopla, and believe me, there's no shortage of the hoopla, you are left with the impression that no one, either inside or outside of the American Educational Monolith, has even the foggiest notion of what the hell is going on. Instead, you have a whole bunch of people with competing agendas vying for air time. And this teaches my kid to read how, exactly?

My mom taught high school for thirty years and the accepted knowledge was that the folks in central administration--you know, the people deciding what textbooks to buy and developing curricula--were the folks who were too incompetent to actually teach. Unfortunately, when I come across articles like this one, I suspect that my mother is correct.

Don't just read the article, though, because that's not even really the point. Read the comments BELOW the article. Again, I am curious as to how Karl Rove, Iraq, Al Franken, and/or the outcome of the 2000 presidential election are responsible for the use or non-use of phonics in kindergarten. And yet, those seem to be the preferred topics when ostensibly discussing how our teachers get trained to teach.

I want teachers with knowledge of their subject matter and enough street smarts and conflict management training to be able to keep control of their classrooms. It's sweet that people are focused on "social justice" but the reality is that training in high-flown concepts goes straight out the freaking window when you've got a classroom full of people with no respect for you, much less some abstract idea of how the world "should work."

Homeschooling just gets more damn attractive with each passing year.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at May 25, 2005 09:00 AM

Funny, but the teachers who actually get hired in my state (at least those in oversaturated specialties like elementary ed or social studies) are the ones who actually know how to teach, and have good subject matter knowledge. The hype is hype. Want to know the best way to stay involved in your kid's education and make sure it's a good one? Invite his teacher to dinner, be friendly, be interested, and volunteer occasionally in his classroom.

Posted by: Michael at May 25, 2005 09:19 AM

Michael -

I've been irritated by the "education curriculum" for many, many moons, primarily because when I finished my MA and decided that it would be terminal, I looked into teaching. I figured that a Master's degree and 3 years of experience would qualify me to teach high-school English.

The hoops I would have had to jump through to satisfy the "education curriculum" were ludicrous. I figured I'd just have to take the main ed. courses, but noooooo, it was going to be another whole degree program. My thesis advisor was similarly incensed.

Of course now we've got a lateral entry program that cuts out a lot of the crap, and Hublet went into teaching through it. But even the "bare bones" stuff was awfully heavy on social justice and engineering and fairly light on things like "handling 30 surly 15 year-olds without getting killed."

There needs to be a reckoning but there won't be, because no one seems able to separate education from political posturing.

I plan to be involved in The Boy's schooling, but my frustration with a system that focuses on one tree in a forest full of them seems doomed to continue.

Posted by: BAW at May 25, 2005 10:44 AM


I might agree with you if you could prove that our kids actually have even an inkling of our history and social structure (civics). Given that here in NYC they most certainly do not, in fact cannot even come within a century of when the Civil War happened in many cases, then I wonder what state you live in. It must be paradise!!

Posted by: dick at May 25, 2005 11:23 AM

Let me state from the outset that, from an insider's perspective, I don't think public schools (except in certain pockets) are broken, though there are problems. The high majority of the teachers I work with are qualified, hard-working, and likely to expend weekend mental energy angsting over why Johnny is sucking so much on his tests, or why Cindy won't work up to her potential. I would (and will) trust my son to them (while providing comprehensinve parental micro-management oversight to correct their flaws, of course).

1. Schools without tremendous discipline from the top down are not getting near what they could out of their students. AND...

2. In general, and especially so far as humanities instruction goes, the referenced article is spot on. So much refuse is poured down your throat when you go through teacher "training", and so much of it is presented without acknowledgement of alternative viewpoints on cognition, behavior, or curriculum.

Let me offer a specific example that I hope is relevant. One of my English colleagues is almost exactly my age, and is a great teacher. She also happens to be a conservative. As with me, however, I do not think she would ever intentionally want to indoctrinate her students with political agendas, right or left. But, every year in American Lit. she does a project, one that is frequently held up as a cross-curricular model for English teachers-in-training. It is much ballyhooed on many English teacher internet sites.

The idea is to use Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" (cough) as not only a way to discuss Puritans and the Salem Witch Trials (b/c Puritans did nothing but drown witches, btw), but also as a way to discuss McCarthyism, and then tie all three things (the play, the Puritans, and the McCarthy era) up in a pretty bow. Now, I could list 10 or 20 problems with this, but I will mention the most prominent three: time in American Lit. is being wasted on a very suckful "The Crucible", the Puritans are forever (for most kids) reduced to witch-drowners, and the McCarthy era is glossed over without any discussion of, you know, the actual communist threat.

My colleague, I'm quite certain, is not thinking that she is offering thin-gruel liberal dogma, with a side of dubious, shallow historical understanding, to her kids. This is what she was taught about these two unbelievably different eras, and she is thinking that this is a COOL project, passed on to her by the fine folks at her higher ed. institution. But her kids are being cheated on this one, and many will never take the time later in life (as I doubt she will, no disrespect intended) to seek out more facts and fuller contexts on the Puritan or McCarthy eras. For the most part, they've just been indocrinated by someone unaware she is indoctrinating them.

Posted by: Husband of BAW at May 25, 2005 12:45 PM

"...the McCarthy era is glossed over without any discussion of, you know, the actual communist threat."

This irked my daughter tremendously.

But I agree that the public school system isn't broken. Make sure the kid is learning what he needs to learn (and not too much of what he doesn't) and he'll be fine.

Posted by: Laura at May 25, 2005 01:41 PM

My head is too fuzzy to read all of your post right now (today was the last day of school and I am frazzled to a shafrizzle), but the earlier part made me want to offer my experience and wisdom: there is a very strange way of doing things in this town - and there is a very competitive educational atmosphere - and people ARE going to look at your strangely when you send him to kindergarten at age 4 (but almost 5). More than likely he will be the youngest child in class. My girl is among the three youngest in her class with a JUNE birthday. It freaks me out, but there it is. And boys? Boys are held back with even more frequency than girls. So the class below The Boy will be fraught with huge Neanderthals lumbering around and swining their arms.

So just be forewarned, make your decision and stick to it, and know that talking education/schools in this town is as fiery and prickly as discussing politics and religion. Good luck. I'll support you whatever you do.

Posted by: Belle at May 25, 2005 03:39 PM

Thanks Belle -

Am hoping that Johnston Co. might be a little more laid back.

Posted by: BAW at May 25, 2005 03:44 PM

In my state (Illinois), each university or college that offers programs leading to teacher certification has its own curriculum. At my university, BAW, if you want to be certified to teach, say, English, you would have to take whatever ed and English courses you were lacking (and the English courses would have to correspond to the state standards; with an MA, no problem). ith no education classes, you could do it in three semesters, student teaching included. It would take three semesters for the courses because there's a sequence to them, and yes, they're heavy on actual experience in schools. Excluding student teaching, the minimum number of semester hours required for education courses is ten. Seems reasonable to me.

That said, the state has decreed that you can't be certified in just history, for example: you have to be certified in history, economics, sociology/anthropology, geography, psychology, and political science. English? No, it's English and communication (I'm unclear on what it entails). Biology? No, it's all science. Don't worry, it will all change in a few years. It always does.

BTW, husband of BAW: your colleague didn't get that "indoctrination" in her ed courses, did she? Sounds more like it came from an English professor.

Posted by: Michael at May 25, 2005 11:40 PM


It was probably a combination of the two. I have no doubt that many English Profs. would approve of that project, but in a regular college English class (at least in my experience)the prof. wouldn't ordinarily say, "Hey, if you are going to teach one day, here would be a cool project." More than likely she got it from an Ed. class designed specifically for English teachers (and probably taught by an English Phd.)- that is where I first heard about it during my own training.

During my truncated training period, the only Ed. class I felt was worthwhile (and worth the money) was Classroom Management. I'm sure most teacher organizations and Ed. departments would cringe to hear this from one of their own, but Child Psychology, Theories of Learning, etc. meant little to me when I took them, and even less now that I'm actually in the profession. I think most teachers manage the art of human relations pretty well by necessity (if they are going to stick), whether they know their psych./theory backwards and forwards or not. In fact, much of that stuff seems counterintuitive once you experience a real classroom.

Posted by: Husband of BAW at May 26, 2005 11:26 AM

HOB, I find that the ed psych and other classes lose meaning the older the child. They are, I think, vital for elementary ed teachers, but not for high school teachers. I also find that Ed schools are worse in the better research universities. The mid-tier universities, generally, are more concerned with producing teachers than researchers, and their ability to attract students depends more on the quality of their graduates as evaluated by principals and superintendents. Certainly it's true at my university.

Posted by: Michael at May 26, 2005 12:53 PM

For the love of Pete, where do people get the idea that making childhood longer is a good thing? And where do they get the idea that trying something and failing is the worst thing that could possibly happen to a kid?

Holding back a kid that hasn't actually failed makes no sense. None. The fact that this is even in question in our society scares the crap out of me.

Posted by: Ken at May 26, 2005 04:14 PM

HOB: ditto on the classroom management vs. rest of the ed courses. And I wish to add that Theories of Learning is a useless graduate course.

One of the intro ed courses I used to teach had a requirement attached where the students had to work in a school setting 2 hrs/wk over the semester. I loved it because the students would come to my class asking questions about and providing examples of how the theories applied to the classroom.

The admin decided to take that requirement off and turn it into a straight theory course. The exact why was unclear.

Frustrated the heck out of me since I had several students say after having worked in the classroom that they either knew that teaching was/wasn't for them or that they liked teaching but needed to change their focus/grade level.

How much would it suck to get to your student teaching experience and realize that you hate teaching elementary ed or that high school biology isn't for you?

Posted by: di at May 27, 2005 08:16 AM

It would suck, but I'm sure the Ed. Dept. would welcome those folks back with open arms and provide them with more wonderful, practical training in their new focus areas - for a small fee, of course.

Posted by: Husband of BAW at May 27, 2005 11:03 AM

One of the prerequisites for admission to the teacher ed program at my university is to complete a 1-semester-hour intro to (secondary or elementary) ed course, which involves a fair amount of observation in schools. It's a great gatekeeper.

Posted by: Michael at May 27, 2005 09:28 PM