When I reflect on my childhood nothing but fond memories come to mind. Growing up in a rural part of western New Jersey sure had its benefits in the 1980s. Upon returning home from White Township Consolidated School (K-8) my brothers and I would complete our assigned homework in less than an hour, which was reasonable in my opinion. More often than not, as soon as we finished we whisked out the door of our house to get outside regardless of the weather. The next couple of hours before and after dinner were then spent playing with friends outdoors, exploring, riding bikes, fishing, shooting hoops, or hiking. If by some chance the weather was really bad we would then play with toys, tinker with Legos, or challenge each other to the coolest games of our young generation on the Atari and later Nintendo. For good measure, some time was also spent on the Commodore 64 and Apple computers.
The childhood years were some of the best of my life -- as they should have been. There was enough time dedicated to learning during my elementary years, but also ample time for play, exploration, competition, and leisure. These experiences definitely helped mold me into the adult I have become today. School complimented my activities at home as education was structured in a way that focused on experiential learning, play, performance, and building self-esteem. I learned and acquired an array of skills that prepared me not only for college and careers, but also life. I can't even begin to imagine what my life would have been then or become today if these experiences had been ripped from me. Unfortunately this has now become the reality for our youngest students in 2014 and the near future in the name of education reform.
Education reform is destroying childhood as we know it at both home and school. As a parent of two elementary students (first and third grade) in Staten Island, NY, I witness daily the negative impacts that Common Core and standardized testing, under the guise of education reform, are having on them. They come home each day and spend hours on homework that makes little sense to them and absolutely no sense in some cases to us, especially in math. Their love for learning is squashed as more of an emphasis has been placed on instructional scripts aligned to the Common Core, test prep, and homework designed to make them relive the torture they just went through in school. I do not fault the school, principal, or teachers for the wretched environment that my kids are exposed to each day, but rather the reformers who are making them hate school with a passion. Shouldn't we be instilling a passion for learning in each and every child?
Education reform will be the demise of our once great educational system if politicians and other stakeholders do not get a grip soon. A recent story from an elementary school in Long Island, NY should make the dire predicament we are in very clear. Just the title of the article alone painfully illustrates the monumental mistakes that are being made for the sake of "improving" education -- Kindergarten show cancelled so kids can study to be 'college ready.' Here is an excerpt that should make every parent's and educator's blood boil:
A Long Island school has canceled its traditional end-of-year kindergarten show -- saying the children can't afford to take time off from getting themselves "college and career'' ready. "The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple," reads a letter sent by the principal at Harley Avenue Primary School in Elwood, Suffolk County, to parents last week. "We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers."
Are you kidding me? How can anyone with a good conscious do this to little kids? It is these experiences that make learning relevant, meaningful, and fun. The fact that schools feel they even need to prepare elementary students to be college and career ready is appalling in my opinion. This is not even the worst of it though. Other priceless elementary experiences that define the childhood years are being dramatically cut, such as the arts and language programs, recess, and extracurricular activities. Developmentally young students need these experiences, but they become quite expendable as only Common Core-aligned math and language arts associated activities will create a college- and career-ready student down the line. What is being done to them in essence is robbing them of some of the most important, life-defining moments of their long lives that will provide the foundation for future successes.
This post provides me with a stark reminder that current education reform has absolutely nothing to do with authentic learning, success, and student achievement. It has become a financial pipeline to line the coffers of anyone associated with Common Core, standardized testing conglomerates, and test prep. The pressure put on teachers to prepare young students for college and careers is utterly ridiculous and should be replaced with inspiring them to explore and discover their learning passions. After all, this is what our system was based on for years and success followed. As a society we cannot stand idly by while crucial, foundational elements for learning such as play, creativity (driven by students), discovering self-identity, and the showcasing of non-tested skills are eradicated from elementary schools. If we do, I fear that our education system will hit rock bottom in a few mere years and we will have no one to blame but ourselves for not acting.