Monday, June 12, 2006

A Confusing Mish-Mash of Rants, Vents, and Opinions

Not everybody is ready for formal schooling at the same time. 
I've often wondered why our society is so set on grouping everyone according to their age.  Any one classroom at any given time will contain a group of students who are approximately the same age.  This has nothing whatsoever to do with readiness or ability.
There are four-year-olds who are reading Harry Potter, and fourteen-year-olds who still can't manage it.  Yet.  This doesn't mean they never will, necessarily; it just means, not yet.  Not yet is not a crime, nor is it a disability.  It just means, not yet.  Am I good at programming a vcr?  Not yet.
A kindergarten classroom with twenty-three students contains twenty-three diverse and individual little people.  Some of them can read and write cursive, and do long division, and draw pictures of people complete with nose and ears and a hairstyle and jewelry.  Some of them don't know one color from another and don't recognize any of the letters of the alphabet and can't count to three and if they can figure out how to hold the crayon, their 'person' will probably not have any features other than a stick body and a mouth.  Not only can they not spell their last name, some of them don't even know their last name.  Or their address.  Or their phone number.  Some five-year-olds get off the bus carrying a briefcase and a cell phone, and some don't even own socks.  We stick them in a room together because they are all five years old and we expect them to function at the same level.
We continue this absurd mindset throughout the school years.
Back in the day, pioneer children were AT FIRST grouped according to their age, and then were allowed to advance (or retreat) as they learned.  It wasn't all that unusual for a seventeen-year-old to be in the third grade (except for harvest season) nor was it a freakish thing for an eight-year-old to be reciting with the fifteen-year-olds.  Teachers were allowed to place students where they belonged according to their skills and learning, and their age was inconsequential.  Twelve-year-olds went to Harvard. 
And I say, if a student is ready, why shouldn't he/she go to Harvard at age twelve, if he/she WANTS to go to Harvard at age twelve.
I also say, if a student is NOT READY, why should that student advance forward with those students who ARE ready?  Wouldn't those who still don't 'get it' hold those who do, back?  They sure do.
Now, some parents go berserk over the very idea that their innocent little nine-year-old Punkin might be sitting next to a fourteen-year-old boy in fourth grade.  But if ALL students were held to a consistent pattern of behavior, why would that be a problem?  Of course, if the students and "those" parents were running the school, it would be hellacious, but why do we allow that, either?
If any student of any age, in any classroom under any circumstances, chooses to misbehave and put another student in jeopardy or even merely disrupt and annoy, that student should be set to rights immediately, and no excuses should be accepted, and no exceptions should be made. 
Everybody behaves properly, everyone advances at his/her own pace, everyone is allowed to move forward or step back, no stigmas, no big deal, because school is all about learning, right?
In a dream world.
And why this big deal about age grouping?
In the community college setting, I have a student population of anywhere from age 18 - 80.  The mixes work beautifully.  We have experience, and naivete, maturity and youth, all in the same room discussing and learning the same things, and each age has gifts to give each other.  It's good for a teen to hear the voice of experience from someone other than a parent or a teacher, and it's good for an older person to hear the voice of youth and idealism from someone other than his/her own child or co-worker.  When there's a REALLY old person in there, it's even better.  Yes, older than me, even.  There are a few still alive, you know.
I personally believe that the community college is one of the best ideas ever hatched by educators.  A large university is an awesome and wonderful place, but it isn't for everybody.  In a community college, students of any age can find success.  Our classes are small, and diverse beyond your imagination.  My university professors never knew my name or recognized me on the street, but I know every one of my community college students by name, and they know me.  No TA teaches my students; I teach my students.  I grade their essays and tests and quizzes myself, and I know how each of them is doing at any given time in the semester.  My students are not numbers, seated in numbered rows for attendance purposes; my students have names, and can sit anywhere in the room they darn well please, except in MY chair.  After a couple of weeks, I can sweep the room with a glance and know who's there and who isn't.
Those who aren't there are in deep doo-doo as you all well know, but I digress.
I believe that if we re-organized our schools according to the pattern established by a community college, our students would be better served.  I believe a lot of the behavior problems would disappear (and those that didn't, would be expelled and never allowed on the premises again) and I think the younger students would benefit from having older students to look up to and listen to, and I think the older students would benefit from knowing they are setting examples for the younger students.
When did it happen, that our society has segregated each other according to age?  There is very little intermingling of ages now; everybody hangs out with their own age group, more or less. 
This is not a new idea; it's old.  OLD.  An OLD IDEA.  And I think it's a shame we ever got away from it.
You don't want fourteen-year-old Billy sitting next to tiny Punkin?  Make sure your child's school has a well-established, consistant, and strict behavior policy.  Keep abreast and know if it's being followed or not.  And above all, make sure you understand and agree that this well-established, consistant, and STRICT behavior policy applies to Punkin as well as to Billy.  No exception, no elitism, no entitlements. 
If Billy bothers Punkin, he will greatly regret ever even THINKING about bothering her.  And if Punkin bothers Billy, ditto.
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Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 9:34 PM | |


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