"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Friday, March 16, 2012

It's Never Too Early To Start Preparing For College

Twenty years ago the "experts" thought children as young as two and three did not have the fine motor coordination to do many tasks, like using a pencil or a mouse. But some tech geeks, anxious to really maximize the benefits of the home computer (and sell more software) decided to go ahead and make learning programs for little kids like "Playskool Friends" and "Freddy Fish" anyway.  They proved the experts wrong. Toddlers were soon sitting transfixed in front of their home computers clicking away to make things happen on the screen, mousing almost as good as their parents.  Give any child that age today an iPhone and they will soon be mastering Angry Birds to levels that embarrass mom and dad. Their brains are in high gear making neural connections that allow them to understand, synthesize and adapt to their world. So is it wrong to start thinking that we can begin preparing them for college in pre school? New York City says "no", but teachers, parents, and most importantly kids, disagree.

NYC Department of Education has prepared a get-’em-ready-for-college curriculum for the pre-K set.  It includes literacy plans that, in keeping with the Common Core State Standards, use nonfiction as the preferred reading material. But since the kids generally don't read yet, the plan calls for teachers to read and kids to do lot of sitting and listening.  Already this is sounding like the pre-school from hell.

One sample non-fiction book they use is a fairly dull tome on plants, From Seed To Plant, by Gail Gibbons. (The kids are squirming already.)  In addition to some basic words you would expect to see in such a grade level text like dirt, sun and green, are some words that you might also find on the ACT like: stamen, botanist, ovules, minerals, nutrition and pistal. (Some children begin longingly looking at the toy corner of the room.  There is unease among the ranks.)

Then the teacher hits home that comprehension section of the standardized assessments and asks the kids:
  • What types of plants do you notice in this picture?
  • What is this part of the plant called? Stem, leaf, root? How do seeds travel?
  • What are some places where seeds fall?
  • What do birds do with seeds?
  • How do plants grow once they land in the soil? What happens first?
(This incites full on rebellion with some kids staging an occupation of the craft center demanding water based glue for everyone)

When parents pick up their children, they will not be handed  kids who have had fun interacting with each other and learning how to get along, who have been allowed to run around and use up some of the plentiful energy 3 and 4 years olds have.  Instead they will be met by children who are learning early on that school is a lot of sitting still and boredom. Their children will think of bubbles as little circles that adults are crazy about you staying inside the lines of when you color, rather than fun multicolored balls you create by blowing and pop with your fingers. They will learn to fear that thing they can barely say, "summative assessment," because it always seems to make teacher's eye twitch and the tension in the room grow palpably just before they do it.  And they will know the word "palpable' because it was in a story last week about a little cow who felt the fear in his herd as they were chased into the slaughter house.  The story also explains the  sobs coming from the children every day since whenever their parents offered them a hamburger from McDonalds.

The good news for the teachers is, if it is all day pre-school, the kids will look forward to nap time as an escape, though it really may be more a symptom of depression.

New York parents wont feel any more comforted by the pre-K math standards:
  • reason abstractly and quantitatively
  • construct viable arguments
  • critique the reasoning of others
  • model with mathematics
  • look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning
  • analyze, compare, and sort two- and three-dimensional shapes and objects, in different sizes, using informal language to describe their similarities, differences, and other attributes
Teachers won't be much happier about implementing these standards.  Having to do the mental exercise of viewing your plan for the day through this high level language and college like targeted goal setting and then translating that into the very simple actions needed to communicate that message to the 3 and 4 year old mind will be mentally exhausting.  The kids will still be making clay snakes that they form into triangles and squares, while the teachers are checking off "two dimensional spacial recognition and labeling."

All of this may not matter to parents who keep their kids at home for the pre-school years or find a private school that still focuses on social skill development and hands on activities. But we must always keep an eye out for the experts who want to close that door and require you to turn your child over to their "better" system.

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