Schools are designed around curriculum that is learned in increments. Learn one thing and then move on the next thing. One builds on the other. But what if you didn’t understand that first thing. How can you learn that second thing or the third, fourth or fifth. In many cases you don’t. And then you just fall further and further behind. And with that comes disengagement and very often dropping out of school all together.
When my daughter, Alex, was in 2nd grade – she went to school in Tiburon, just north of San Francisco. Tiburon is a very affluent area and its school system is considered one of the best in California.
One day I was sent a letter from the school. The letter read that the school wanted to put my daughter in a remedial reading class … since she couldn’t read! This came as a complete surprise to me. She was bright and curious and I was told in 1st grade in Irvine (where we lived the previous year), she was doing fine. She didn’t really have homework and I came from a family where my parents didn’t read to me, so I just missed it.
One day a week, Alex went to this “special” class. The expectations on the students were virtually non-existent. I was told if they learned two words a week that was good. It was all about self-confidence. After six weeks, and reading a book called, “Why Johnny Can’t Read or Write but Feels Good About Himself,” I took matters in my own hands.
Alex had more than enough intelligence to learn to read. But, it was obvious, the “whole language” approach the school was using wasn’t happening. Reading to a kid over and over again amounts to little more than maybe an interest in reading (which is great) and word memorization. But what if they run into a word they haven’t seen before.
Over the course of a weekend, I created a set of fifty phonics blends cards – like flash cards. I tried to think of every blend imaginable, depicted it in a word, and then a sentence on each card. After all – how would someone know the pronunciation of “tion” or “cial.” It make no sense. I thought if my daughter learned the blends then she could decipher the words … and in turn, read.
The next Monday I pulled Alex out of the “that special class,” much to the disconcert of her teacher and the principal. I actually had to sign a release. But within one month of using the the flash cards, Alexandria Forsberg was reading one grade ahead of the class!
With school budgets being just another target of austerity efforts, there’s little that can be done for those for that fall behind. Some creative and hard-working teachers put in extra hours or develop “ad hoc” tutoring programs with other students. But this is by far the exception … not the rule. And unfortunately this extra help is often done years too late, in middle or high school.
Parents need to realize the way schools operate today may not be the way they did when they attended them. I assumed “come hell or high water” my kid was going to be taught to read in school. If I was told that the instruction I provided was an equal part of the “grand scheme,” then I would have approached Alex’s education in a different way. Rather than just augment it with real world knowledge, nurturing her creativity and establishing a desire in her to always be a learner … I would have included the basics.
Unfortunately, not all parents can do nor have the time to do what I did. I worked at home, which helped a lot. But regardless, this doesn’t absolve a parents from the responsibility to take control of their child’s education. Whatever resources they can’t provide directly, they have to find access to. This is where friends, neighbors and community comes in.
This extended network of instruction and mentoring can be informal or better yet – be organized. Change your perspective or orientation. Rather than relying on the schools, view them as a supplement, as extra instruction. I know this seems backward, but what’s the alternative … mediocrity, or worse yet failure?
We can’t assume theat public education and the schools are magically going to get better either. It’s been thirty years since the report, “A Nation at Risk,” chastised American public education and demanded improvement. Reform after reform, test after test, have come and gone. And all for nothing. Our national education rankings have actually declined during this period, rather than improved. Our government is incapable at looking past politics and partisanship to actually make anything better for the future of our children. And by the systematic destruction of the social services safety net – the worse is yet to come. As business becomes more technically and intellectually advanced, their future workforce become less.
There is no easy solution other than awareness, diligence, and most of all – resourcefulness.
After all … what other choice do you have. Your children didn’t ask to be put here.