Further Explanations

Yesterday an ABC News blog writer interviewed me about my article, “What do I Expect in Elementary School? Not This,” after it was picked up by The Washington Post. It was like living in an alternate universe; one where I am actually a writer who stirs up controversy and draws attention to national issues; which I suppose now, I am.

I am grateful for the opportunity to continue the conversation, and elaborate on my motivation for writing this article, as well as answer questions that I have been honored to receive from people who cared enough to reach out and contact me via email this week.

I wrote this article originally from a teacher’s perspective about the same topic. It was about the lack of enthusiasm I saw in my students, and how I felt helpless to change it because I was shackled to the curriculum and standardized testing dates. However, I quickly realized something. Only teachers want to read articles about teachers. I wanted to reach a larger audience because I felt like my message was important. So I flipped the coin. I wrote about the same scenario, but I wrote it through a parent’s eyes.

I write Opinion/Editorial style articles because that is what people read. I have written academic articles, filled with numbers and statistics, and all I’ve heard is crickets. I’ve chosen to write in this format because it is how I can reach my readers, and because I can inject my writing with humor and sarcasm more easily when I write this way.

As the writer of the ABC News article stated, I have two very different children. In our conversation, I elaborated that my oldest, because he is strong academically, feels like he’s getting a Cliff’s Notes education. They touch on subjects for long enough to take a test, but don’t get to explore things extensively. As an avid learner, this frustrates him, and most of what he learns, he does so at home on his own time. There isn’t time for exploration at school, time built in for thinking and creating. They are on a strict schedule, and have to keep that pace so that they can adhere to the curriculum framework, which is determined by standardized testing dates. It isn’t about how much they can learn on any subject that interests them, it’s about what they have to learn before the tests.

My sweet girl has always loved school, but this year has been a struggle because reading is necessary in every subject, and she struggles with reading. She is a kinesthetic learner, experiencing the world through her finger tips by building, making and creating. She’s a mover, a dancer, a singer, and lately, a drama queen. During my interview, I expressed that we didn’t know why school had become so frustrating for her, and we were exploring whether or not it was a learning disability, ADHD, or just that she needed the opportunity to learn in a different way. Public schools are designed for the learner that can read and comprehend information quickly. There is a great deal of memorization required. Not only is this not stimulating for a lot of kids that struggle with keeping up the pace, or who have attention or learning issues, it doesn’t use students’ natural learning styles to utilize the ways that they are able to learn. It doesn’t recognize their strengths, and students that aren’t your typical “academics”, have so much to offer. We just have to get them through school without allowing them to think that they are less capable than their peers.

For my peers in education, I wrote this article because I wanted to clarify that it isn’t a lack of good teachers that is causing our current education crisis. Good teachers are everywhere, and are working tirelessly to engage students; they are successful in spite of our current system, not because of it. The sentiments of teachers align very closely with the sentiments of students and parents on this subject.

We have looked at private school; at Waldorf and Montessori in particular, and at homeschooling. We have looked at every option available in our area. I am not worried about my own children; they are being raised by an insane educator who won’t let them slip through the cracks. This conversation is bigger than that: all children deserve an education that is developmentally appropriate and allows them to learn in an engaging environment. It is possible for the mindset of public school to change.

I wrote this article, not just about my children’s school, which is by all standards is above average, but about education in America in general. My kids are everyone’s kids; the learner that excels and the learner that struggles.

I was driven to write this article because I can see possibility in every child, every kind of learner. Imagine a world where everyone loves what they do for a living. What if we found a way to educate students that tapped into their natural abilities and talents, starting at a young age, and cultivated them, instead of staying with our current education system that works very hard to get everyone to fit into the same box. It would mean that every child could find success, because we would be educating all parts of them; their creative and physical selves, as well as their academic selves. When these students left school, they would already feel successful, and make their way into young adulthood with a passion and purpose. Isn’t that the whole point?

That’s why I wrote this. And that’s why people connected to it; because that is what most people want for their children.