Saturday, August 20, 2011

My Ramble About The Academic Standards

I'm glad God opened my eyes to bring my son home when He did, because as time went on I began to realize more and more that the future held a lot of me trying to get myself out of what my friends and I call "moral dilemmas". You see, I DO expect my son to know it is important to follow rules, and to follow them, but as time went on, more and more of the of the rules I was trying to convince  him to follow (insert your own word here for getting a smart, strong-willed. logical child to do something that is illogical to him) were obviously arbitrary- especially the one's that had to do with the Standards.

Maybe I was seeing all of this was because I grew up in a different generation than younger parents, and I went to school during a time when teachers were allowed to teach and no one was breathing down their back about Standards. Or maybe it was just because of my son's personality and quirks. Did I mention he has Autistic traits and behaviors? At any rate, it was even becoming illogical to me (the steadfast, no questions asked, rule follower) to spend much of my time and energy 10 months out of the year enforcing arbitrary rules for the sake of character development and moral discipleship and all of that sort of thing.

Dealing with this has made me cynical about these Standards to say the least, and I don't really like to be that way. (Ok, maybe I enjoy being cynical just a little). Anywho, I thought maybe if I blogged about it, it would help me to let some of it go.

In no way am I directing this at teachers. I believe 99% of teachers are there because they have a passion for teaching, but their hands are tied to do anything about the things they know are not right with the system just like the rest of us are.

First of all, I think the way the school system looks at the Standards is..well..backwards. The emphasis should be on what educational opportunities are provided, not what is going to be forced on the students...and if they happen to not "get it" or work hard enough for it, then they should not be made to feel like failures. To me that is no longer not logical. It may be because I have had a great paradigm shift over the past 10 months of de-schooling, but I think I began to feel this way about the time my son reached 3rd Grade when the big push for following the almighty Standards began.

The Standards are even worded as if it is the student's responsibility to learn them instead of the system's responsibility to teach them. Then they put a bunch of letters and numbers next to them and HAND them out or dictate them to the students to write down so they can check them off throughout the year.

They even write them on the chalkboards, put them on the posters on the walls, and talk about them almost daily.

For example:
ELA51R The Student demonstrates comprehension and shows evidence of a warranted and responsible explanation of a variety of literary and informational texts.

ELA5LSV2 The student listens to and views various forms of text and media in order to gather and share information, persuade others, and express and understand ideas.

SS5H2 The student will analyze the effects of Reconstruction on American Life.

M5P1 Students will solve problems using appropriate technology.

Ok, you get the point. I understand and agree that there need to be goals that the teachers and students are working towards, but do we have to subject the students to having to read and learn the actual standards in addition to being taught what is in the standards. Can you say BORING and UNNECESSARY?

Some of these Standards even seem random- especially the Science standards and half of the Social Studies Standards. I guess that's ok, because they have to teach something. I picture a group of Bureaucrats sitting around a table drinking coffee trying to come up with a list of things for each grade level to fill up the time.

Did you know they even have standards for PE? I didn't until my son didn't want to participate in a group dance and I got a phone call from the teacher because he refused to do so. One of the PE standards is group dancing...I'm not kidding..I know that group dancing is something that I have needed to know often in my adult life. Not!

That was just one instance where a moral dilemma came into the picture. Did I really care if my child learned to do group dancing- especially after being publicly humiliated in front of the class by the PE teacher? Nope..but I was told it would affect his grade.
Did I want my child to know that I really didn't care about his grade in PE? No Way!
But did I honestly care about his PE grade at that point compared to all the other issues we were dealing with at the time? Not really!
Do you remember your PE grade from Elementary School? If you do, has it had an impact on your adult life? I can honestly say, my grade in PE hasn't affected my life at all.

But, even so my son needs to know that like it or not, he needs to do what is expected of him whether it makes sense or not.

Being a career straight A student, myself,  and having the child that God chose especially for me, it was hard to come to terms with many things having to do with these Standards and school in general. BUT over the years, I had learned to step back and look at the big picture in a lot of areas.

And what's with all the things they keep pushing on the kids at earlier ages? On some level I wonder if "they" are trying to get most of what used to be a High School Education into the kids heads before they are old enough to drop out of school from either boredom or an overwhelming sense of defeat.

Since our homeschool journey began, I have looked at all the Standards from 4th- 8th Grade to see if we were keeping up, getting ahead or :gasp: falling behind, and to get a general idea what direction his former classmates were going in. I was especially trying to come up with a game plan for Math. I think I finally figured that out- learning about Spiral vs Mastery sure did help in that department.

But back to my rant about the Standards. Here's what I discovered about the Standards for 4th-8th Grade (in my state):

Math Standards are pretty much repetitive each year, with a little new material sprinkled in. Yet, they lead parents and students to feel like they are "Oh, so behind!" if the kids don't "get it" the first time around. The ones who do get it are forced to sit through the same lessons year after year, thus becoming bored. Hopefully they won't become so bored they tune it out and get behind as well. Last school year, my nephew, bless his heart, did  math work at school, math homework, AND extra math practice online everyday because he was "behind" - even though they are teaching the same things again this year, and will be the next and so on...

I read an article that the concepts one needs to know before Algebra are Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, Division, Fractions, Percentages, Decimals, Ratio/Proportion, Exponents, and Integers. There is also a blog post that explains how all the math from Addition to Calculus can be learned in a matter of weeks if one is interested in learning it all at once. I know some kids need repetition and a lot of practice to learn math they are not ready for, but there has to be a better way than to let the kids feel like they are falling behind.

Social Studies Standards
- There is a usually general focus for each year as far as History or Geography goes. That's cool. Then a lot of random stuff is added the areas of Government, Economics, etc. All this is ok, but who decides what random stuff is really important for the students to be required to know and at what age. Most of this stuff is going to be taught again in High School.

Science- The Science standards are mostly random in Elementary School. In Middle School they do focus more on one topic each year. I know Math and Science go together, but some of the Science Standards seem like a covert way to sneak in even more Math and less Science. My son's school seemed to be slack on teaching Science for the most part- which happened to be the main subject he took interest in. They would do 6 weeks of Social Studies then 6 weeks of Science most years, but somehow they always seemed to teach more Social Studies than Science. My son loves Science so much that he read and memorized his entire Science book on his own at school- probably when the rest of the class was doing Math or Writing.

25 Chapter books/1,000,000 words per school year.

My first problem with this is that they let the students know that it is 25 books OR 1,000,000 words per year. I never understood why they had to share the Standards so openly with the students. Can't they just keep the standards to themselves? Some students are too smart for their own good and in their case less is more.... What did MY son hear? 25 books OR 1,000,000 words. He was certain that he read that many words on his own without reading 25 books, and truth be told he was probably correct.

There began another moral dilemma. There was required reading homework Monday-Thursday every week. Should I force him to read and chance that he would begin to hate reading, or should I sign the form every night and write in some random book or magazine to indicate that he did his reading....thereby teaching him that it is okay to be dishonest? I chose being truthful. Yay for me! (This meant insert word for getting said child to actually read).

Where did they come up with this number of books anyway? Did they spend hard earned tax dollars to conduct a study of the number of books that a student should be reading to make it in life? Really, if you want to make someone hate reading, just tell them they HAVE to read 25 books over a 10 month period in addition to all the other work being sent home.

Here's an example of some of this year's 6th Grade Language Arts Standards from the local Middle School's Curriculum Map along with my commentary.

Conventions- (Didn't that used to be Grammar?)

Writing- Technical Writing (friendly letter, business letter, thank-you notes, formula poems, and instructions)

Poems and Instructions - I can see that being somewhat interesting and a creative outlet for most students.  Important? Again it depends on how you look at it.

They taught that in 2nd and 3rd once again redundant and boring- and honestly- if you need to write a letter and didn't know the proper format, couldn't you just Google it?

Oral Presentations- (sorry, I had to throw this one in there for team INTROVERT). I always hated those and would rather have died than give an oral presentation in front of a group of students who already thought I was weird and awkward. Do they not realize that not everyone was designed to give group presentations? They should allow an alternative. The only reason I did oral presentations in school was that my fear of making a bad grade outweighed my fear of embarrassment. It probably did more damage to my self-esteem than any good it possibly could have done educational or otherwise.
I know if we were still going the Public School route, I would be getting a phone call from a teacher for one of those assignments!

Writing Process- prewriting, drafting, editing/revising, publishing. That was also a 3rd Grade Standard- so I was told by my son's teacher back then. We went through H.E.double hockey sticks every week with "Wednesday Writing" back in 3rd Grade. Yep. Yay me!
All those steps in the writing process weren't something my generation was required to do until High School in Grammar/Comp, and our Valedictorian was accepted at Harvard.  I mean we did reports, stories, and book reports in Elementary and Middle School; I even remember learning to do outlines and maybe a real research paper with references, but I don't recall ever having to do the entire drawn out process where we wrote the same thing multiple times. Do Elementary School and Middle School kids really need to focus on process over creativity and content?

This standard alone introduced at such an early age is why my son absolutely HATES writing now. Instead of focusing on content and creativity, they have forced this upon our children at earlier ages, when it is not necessary. How many 8-12 year-olds need to write a formal paper? Shouldn't they instill a love of writing or at least a tolerance for it before pushing the entire drawn out process?

Student to Student Interactions- Seriously? A Language Arts Standard about how kids interact with other kids.  Didn't that used to be called conduct?

There's more, but these are just the one's I had comments about.

Needless to say, it didn't take me long after starting our homeschool journey to not be concerned about following the Standards or to be concerned about trying to make sure my son is keeping up. In the future, if I do choose to follow any type of outside plan, it will be when my son is High School age; then I will sit down with him to help him plan on learning what colleges are looking for..if he is being led that way.

But I'll think about that later. After all tomorrow is another day.

1 comment:

  1. That is simply awful. I had no idea school had gotten that bad. The only result I can see from all that insanity is to produce a bunch of tuned out people who don't want to learn-anything-ever-again!!! Does this mean our home taught kids will rule the world??? ;)


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