The other day I was at the park talking to another mom. The conversation shifted as it often does to talk about where our kids go to preschool and where they will attend kindergarten. She was raving about the school her child attends and encouraging me to do a visit.
“It’s completely child led. The kids don’t have to do anything that they don’t want to do. They create the curriculum themselves,” she gushed.
She went on to explain that each morning the kids gather in a circle with the teacher (of course, she made sure to mention that if a child doesn’t want to sit in the circle than they don’t have to) and create a list of the things they want to do that day. Basically, it is a list of what they want to play. She re-iterated again and again that it was focused on the arts and not academics.
“I don’t get it. So, like the teachers have no input whatsoever?” I asked.
“Exactly,” she beamed. “The kids get to do all of the choosing. They aren’t forced to do anything. Ever.”
“Okay, but what about if a kid just wants to sit in the sandbox all day?”
“Then they can sit in the sandbox all day!”
Here’s the deal: If Gus was given a choice between playing Power Rangers with a bunch of his friends or figuring out how to spell CAT, he’s picking Power Rangers every time. If I waited until Gus wanted to learn how to read and write, I’d be waiting forever.
I had assumed that the school she was discussing was only pre-school. I can understand how parents get really into preschool that is child led and it makes sense for that age group. However, there comes a point when children actually have to start learning the basic fundamentals of reading, writing, and math. Period. I was shocked to learn that the school continued through sixth grade. She boasted proudly that many kids don’t read when they get to sixth grade. She was proud that the school her child was going to be attending through sixth grade did not force the children to learn how to read if they didn’t want to and who found it perfectly acceptable to be illiterate at age 12. I, on the other hand, found it insulting to all of the individuals who would give anything for the opportunity to learn how to read that there are people who would take pride in illiteracy.
Sadly, she’s not the only parent I’ve met who holds similar views. Many of the parents whom I run into in Los Angeles turn their nose up at academics as if it a dirty word we shouldn’t say. As if there is something wrong with academics. One mother even said, “C’mon, it’s not like we need to teach our kids to get into Harvard.”
Um…for the record, I’m completely okay with my son going to Harvard. If my son was a Harvard graduate, I would beam with pride. Also, I want to believe my child has the potential to go to Harvard. Apparently, where I live, this makes me a bad person.
I want my kid to learn to write. Correctly and appropriately. I want him to learn his letters and the sounds associated with each letter because I want him to be able to read. I want him to know how to identify shapes and numbers so he begins to learn the basic fundamentals of math. I guess I’m just old fashioned that way.
I see the same trend in regard to attitudes towards school that I see in the attitudes toward parenting in general. For example, we’ve identified the strict boundaries and rules that we experienced as kids as being the cause of stifling our individuality and creating all kinds of problems for us later in life. In the same manner, we’ve taken our own issues with education and lack of successful academic progress from our own childhood, and placed it squarely onto the shoulders of our children.
I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll probably say it a thousand times more. My job is to prepare my son to be a healthy adult functioning well within the world. This means sometimes he has to do things that he doesn’t like to do. Sometimes he has to do things that are hard for him. And sometimes, he has to do things even if he doesn’t understand why or the importance of doing so.
Okay, this post has gotten entirely too long. More to come. Stay tuned…