Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hamsters, Trains, Chairs and Black Holes

Conversations with Kindergartners can generate some interesting topics.  On the first day of school, a Kindergarten teacher asked her class, "What do you want to learn in Kindergarten?" "How to buy a hamster!" exclaimed one, "How to drive a train."  shouted another and "How to make a chair." finished the third.  This kind of  enthusiasm and excitements held by these four and five year old boys and girls is rarely matched at any other time in a life.  

As a group of these same age students were sharing their recently dictated stories with me, some how we ended up on one student's understanding of black holes.  He explained to me, in a broken English, "that, not now but in long time, black hole will take all of earth in it.  In a time when there are no more people."  I said to him, "That's right.  In the future, the sun will turn super nova and then collapse into a black hole."  Of course I know, but he's five.  He looked at me and just shook his head up and down with a look on his face that said, "Lady, that's what I just said."  Needless to say, these questions and probably many others won't be answered this year in Kindergarten. 
What is the point to all of this?  The point is that these little ones come to us full of curiosity, knowledge, a connectedness to what's around them and just a lively different perspective on the world we live in.  Many American public schools don't seem to care about what these students come to school capable of doing or knowing.  We treat them like empty vessels to be filled or a puppy that needs training.  This negates all that thee children are and are trying to become.  

Our school district, along with many others, have returned to basics.  What that means, is Kindergarten is the new first grade.  The curriculum standards that are required for Kindergarten, a little less than ten years ago, were the expectations for First Graders.  The thought being that since these children need retraining or filling, it is perfectly okay to raise the bar and expect all students to meet it.  We just need to give them more information sooner.  

A saying I heard during when I was getting my teaching credential back during the last century. The saying was, Children come to school like and exclamation mark and they left like a period. Unfortunately, we are starting that process and ensuring that it happens earlier and earlier in the life of children.  Many times that is shown to us by our drop out rate.  These students are finish and moving on often times ill equipped for life.   Charter schools are pulling away students from the public schools like a slow hemorrhage.  These are all in response to what public schools are doing and not doing.  How can we stop these madness?  

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Second Day of School

As the new school year begins, I have these big overarching questions hanging over me.  I ask myself and anyone that will listen, What are we doing?  Why are we doing it?  What are we doing it for?  

Big and general yes, but what good are small and specific questions.  These questions came about the second day of school as I was sitting and consoling a crying Kindergartner.  She wanted to go home, normal for immature students.  Because there was only about 40 minutes before the end of the school day, I was going to sit with her and stay until the parents are here to pick her up.  So, is the case with criers, you have to distract them from why they are crying with miscellaneous familiar conversation, What is your brothers name?, How old are you?, Who brings you to school?, etc.  

Over the course of the 40 minutes, this five-year old, on the second day of school, was able to tell me the names of most of her classmates, what students were doubles, two of the same names, who the smart kids were and who weren't so smart.  She came forward with the truth on a few lies she told earlier during her emotionally distressed period, "I lied, I do have friends."  Then the full blown conversation comes forth about family, friends and anything else that comes to mind.  Also, during this conversion, the student says on at least two occasions, that she is bored.  This is the statement that makes me ask the above questions.  

A students, at the age of five, who, on the second day of school has assessed the class and her classmates says she is bored, I have to listen and ask those questions.  Some of the other reflective  questions I ask are, How do we capture and maintain the interest and intelligence of this five year old?  Why is it that students like this in Kindergarten don't have the same kind of verve in the subsequent grades?  What do we do to them?  It reminds me of a quote "Children come to us, in schools, as an explanation point.  And they leave as a period." 

I come full circle and ask those big questions, What are we doing?, Why are we doing it?, What are we doing it for?  Please help me answer these questions.  It is a big dialogue, and I need as much input as you can give me.