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And We Have to Teach The Kids Too???

Next Wednesday is Maya's last day of pre-k. There will be tears shed (mine), phone numbers exchanged, summer playdates scheduled. After all the farewells and the thank yous and the have a nice summers, Matthew and I will face the horrifying realization Maya will now be home with us, every day all day, for the next two months .

There is no standardized testing in prek. (Although the way education reform is currently trending it wont be long before there is) But I can tell you that her teachers did a great job. She has a ton of friends. She loves school and is excited to learn new things. She can read small books , do basic arithmetic and draw a garden full of rainbow colored  flowers . She is absolutely one hundred percent emotionally and academically ready for kindergarten . And if she wasn't I trust that her teachers would tell me.

Most of the recent education initiatives in NYS have been about testing. Apparently three hour long reading tests for fourth graders with nonsensical questions is not enough, we need more. We need to test kids younger and more often. We need to flood neighborhoods with charter schools to rescue distraught parents from the horrors of their local public school. And the newest "fix"? We need to tell them what to read.

The NYS Education Department recently announced a plan to require that the reading curriculum for all students in grades K-5 be least 50% non fiction. ( ) Are you proud of your child for choosing (on her own) to read the entire Harry Potter series instead of watching TV? Sorry, not good enough. They should have been reading the NY Times instead. 

Would it be good for kids to know more about the world around them? Absolutely. Should we assign biographies of interesting people, current events articles, memiors? Absolutely. Do we need to mandate this? Well if we don't teachers might actually be able to use their brains. And we wouldn't want them to do that, now would we?

What all of these rules and standards are really saying is that we (and by we I of couse mean they, as in the evil education bureaucrats) no longer trust our teachers to actually teach. Find creative ways to teach math so kids dont fall asleep? Not in this environment . Take field trips to enhance what we are learning in history? Sorry no time. Assign interesing reading that is relevant to our children's lives? Not with these standards.

They might as well hire robots.

When I was in elementary school we had a teacher by the name of Alan Zeigler. He was a writer-in-residence from a program called Teachers & Writers Collaborative. Only unlike with most workshops they run, which are ten week sessions done inside the regular classrooms, Alan Zeigler had his own room. It was a big classroom with bright orange walls and I got to go there every Friday afternoon to write.

There were desks in the room but you did not have to use them. Mr. Zeigler let us sit wherever we wanted, on the floor, by the window, lying down staring up at the ceiling waiting to be inspired. Sometimes he gave us assignments. Often we were already working on something so he just let us be. I wrote poetry and short stories. I wrote a horrible play with two of my friends which he let us perform in front of everyone. (Those poor kids. We of course thought we were geniuses.) 

If you ask me what I remember from elementary school I will tell you about playing in the schoolyard, my witch of a fifth grade teacher , and that big orange classroom. Alan Zeigler is the reason I wanted to be a writer all through junior high and high school and even half of college before I realized that I needed a paycheck too and decided to double major in education. He is the reason that after I graduated I actually went to work for Teachers & Writers myself for a year. If you like this blog, thank Alan Zeigler. 

All these new educational reforms do not make me feel more confident that my daughter will learn things in school. Rather, they just make me relieved that I now only have to teach karate, that I am no longer in a classroom attempting to inspire young minds within guidelines that feel like a straightjacket. Yes there are bad teachers in our public schools. But there are also wonderful, creative, passionate teachers out there, teachers who believe that the classroom setting need not be limited to the confines of those four walls, teachers who believe that reading should be a journey and writing should be an explosion and learning should be,

Please, for the sake of my daughter, and everyone else's, please just let them do their jobs.


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