If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

On My Soapbox

I have been known to get on my soapbox.  I have been known to preach a little sermon.  I have been known to share my opinions.  I have even been called Julia Sugarbaker at times.

When I do step up on my soapbox, I'm sure I use my 'teacher-voice' and speak loud and clear.  Well, I am standing firmly on that soapbox right now.

I recently saw a FaceBook post where somebody wanted me to click Like if I thought gardening should be taught in school.

I didn't click Like.

I also didn't go all Julia Sugarbaker on the post.

I was sorely tempted, though.

You see, I don't think gardening should be taught in school.  I don't think a lot of things we have to teach at school should be taught there.  Or maybe if we do teach some of the things I'm considering, it is an extension of what parents need to be teaching at home.  If children are going to learn about gardening, they should be taught that at home.  By their parents or grandparents.  Not - at - school.

I do think teachers and parents should work together to help children get a well-rounded education.  I do think teachers should be teaching from the time the first bell rings till the time the last bell rings during the school day.  And maybe even teaching as those children walk out the schoolroom door!

My firm belief is that the first teachers of children - the most impressionable teachers of children - the most influential teachers of children are the parents of those children.

My daughter was in a twirl when she recently realized that her third-grade child would be expected to use a computer to take an online assessment at the end of the school year.  She learned that her child is not going to simply click on the chosen answer like she used to color the bubble in on an answer sheet.  Her third-grade child is going to be expected to key in words and sentences and paragraphs to construct an essay.  Her child is going to be expected to click on a choice and drag that item to the correct space.  He children are as digitally native as any other children in society today and more-so than some.  Yet, her children really don't have 'mouse-skills.'  In other words, their digital-native little hands have been touching and swiping and dragging items on a touch screen of a tablet or a phone.  They haven't been using a keyboard and a mouse attached to a laptop or desktop.  So, they might not be ready to actually show what they know when it comes 'test-time.'
My third-grade granddaughter, Lillie, practicing her computer skills.

Educators in our district have been up-in-arms because of the same concepts that my daughter was in a twirl about.  Plus, some students wouldn't even have a mouse and would be using the laptop or Chromebook touchpad to complete the assessment.  How on earth could they take time away from the basics of education and all that is required for students to have in their body of knowledge if they had to pause and teach mouse and touchpad and click and drag skills?

Interestingly, just putting the tools in the hands of the children is the greatest and most important part of teaching them to be proficient.  Most of the time they will figure it out on their own.  Thankfully, my daughter and her husband did what I believe most parents should do - they purchased a Chromebook and wireless mouse for their children to learn and practice the required keyboarding, touchpad, and mouse skills.  Their home environment will work collaboratively with their school environment in learning the skills required.  Interestingly, when the children visited recently, they brought their new laptop.  Lydia, the five-year-old, wanted to show me something and needed to scroll down the web page.  She didn't have the wireless mouse attached at the time and in less than thirty seconds, I showed her how to use both fingers on the touchpad to scroll and she gave it a try.  Voila!  She was almost instantly proficient!
Five-year-old Lydia practicing her computer skills.

It is the job of the parents to teach their children what religious beliefs are important to guide, mold, and nurture their spiritual thinking.  There is nothing wrong with including information about different world religions within school curriculum.  In fact, after reading an article on teaching history, I weeded out what I thought was the most important concept: "The future of History teaching is...teaching them...HOW to APPLY historic knowledge to modern problems."  There was a recent uproar about the teaching about Muslim religion as a part of a history class.  If the one stirring the pot and causing the uproar took time to investigate further, he/she would see that part of the curriculum is also the teaching about Christian religion.  In the social studies classes I have been fortunate enough to visit, the teacher carefully instructs students ABOUT the different religions and how they have made an impact and shaped our world to be as we are today.  These teachers are careful not to let their own spiritual beliefs influence their students - mainly because they don't want that responsibility.  Secondly, these well-trained and knowledgeable folks wouldn't want somebody exerting a religious influence over their children that might not be shared beliefs.  It is a careful line they toe but I've not seen one cross that line while I am working with them.  They stick to the history and let the students and their parents make decisions about following their own spiritual calling.

That article also noted something that is far, far more true than anybody can imagine.  " the curriculum is overcrowded as a whole and bloated with content."  Think about it.  In a social studies or history class, students today are expected to learn the historical facts and information that many generations before them were taught as well as all the events, facts, and information which have occurred since.  Public education began in this country in the mid-1600s when it was decreed that every town of fifty families should have an elementary school.  Just think about all the history that has taken place since the mid-1600s.  My goodness, just think about all the history that has taken place during my 50+ year lifetime!

The same goes for literature.  Consider how many books, short-stories, and poems have been written since the mid-1600s...and during the past fifty years.  When thinking about literature, also keep in mind that we have incorporated magazines, newspapers, blog posts, etc.  How on earth could an English-Language Arts teacher incorporate all that into the curriculum?

Then there is science.  Just stop and think about what scientific advancements have taken place in your lifetime.  Is all that supposed to be included in a child's body of knowledge?  How?

So, all this to say, I don't think folks need to get into an uproar about topics which are included in the social studies and history texts.  I also don't think folks need to expect teachers at school to be teaching their children gardening - or any number of other topics, for that matter.

Mostly, I think folks need to stop and think about what they need to be teaching their own children at home and use that time wisely to teach them what is important to them as parents.

I'll lower my voice and code-switch back into my usual lazy southern-drawl instead of using my strong, Julia Sugarbaker, teacher-voice.  I'm stepping off that soapbox and back onto the ground now.