“Your Majesty, please… I don’t like to complain,
But down here below, we are feeling great pain.
I know, up on top you are seeing great sights,
But down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.”
As August rolls on in the sweet land of liberty, students across the nation are savoring the last of their summer break by playing
board games video games until their thumbs fall off, avoiding the outdoors like the cooties and learning to dance Gangnam Style. Ok, that last one may have been just me. For teachers, this stretch was similarly relished. It was a time to catch one’s breath, eat a leisurely lunch with actual grown-ups and get to go to the bathroom whenever they gosh darned felt like it. However, as they prepare to return to school this fall both students and teachers, alike, will have one thing to look forward to…the Common Core curriculum. Just as the professional judgment and expertise of the teacher has been steadily minimized through the widespread reliance on standardized testing scores as a measure of student achievement and teacher effectiveness, the Common Core takes matters to its logical conclusion by replacing state and locally developed educational standards with a national curriculum that all states who sought Race to the Top funding are expected to follow in lockstep fashion. By 2014, students in Kindergarten and up will take end-of-year assessments called PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers) because, well, all 5 and 6 year-olds should be ready for college and careers before they can go to first grade. Soon, Kindergarten through 2nd grade students can experience the same high stakes testing anxiety that their older counterparts have known for some time now. Meanwhile, some parents get the privilege of being told their daughter/son did not pass and will be in remediation classes for the rest of their natural-born lives…or they graduate high school, whichever comes first.
Let me take just a minute to break down what life is like in a typical Kindergarten classroom, or at least what is was in mine. Our day starts with 18 boys and girls, of varying backgrounds and abilities, who are all inclined to decide that they need to blow their noses, show me their loose tooth or new sneakers at the exact same time upon their arrival to the classroom. Invariably, before the morning announcements are over, half the students will need to use the bathroom or need a new pencil/eraser. Guaranteed, that by the end of the morning read-aloud, at least five students will inform me that a) they have a microscopic boo-boo, b) they’re hungry and/or c) they have to go to the bathroom again. As the day progresses and the stamina of the students begins to diminish, I remind them that they just need to pull themselves up by their untied bootstraps and finish their math problems or so help me,
God Bill Gates, himself, will descend from the heavens to reform their pint-sized, wayward selves. In the past year, I have learned many things from my students. I have discovered that apple sauce and ketchup mixed together are not gross but milk and peas are really yucky. I have found that 5 and 6 year-olds do not like to sit still for more than 1 minute and 43 seconds at a time but they do love to clap, sing and dance. I have ascertained that my students do not always like to talk about why Hansel felt conflicted when he was fed by the witch while Gretel was left to starve but they will gladly talk about their lunch, their baby sister, their pet hamster and pretty much anything else under the sun except how Hansel and Gretel can be compared to similar protagonists in the folk tale genre. I have also realized that children do love to learn, play and talk but it has to be within a context of authentic experiences that are carefully constructed so as to shape their thoughts and ideas in a meaningful way.
(This article appeared as a guest post in the “Teachers in Their Own Words” series for David’s Chura’s provocative blog, Kids in the system)