Sell Out

22 May

My seven-year-old daughter was sent home from her weekly basic skills class with a homework assignment: to read a 95 word story in one minute. I was asked to return it with my signature the following week.

We read it together a few times, over a few days. I then started timing it on my phone, for 60 seconds each time. My daughter became progressively stressed out and, by the sixth time, was speed reading, apologizing and feeling like a failure for only being able to read 83 words in one minute. I told her to stop.

I told her speed reading was stupid, that she would never learn or understand anything by rushing.

Her eyes grew wide and she asked if she could tell her teacher that, that it was stupid. I said to go ahead, as I signed the paper, drew a large arrow indicating to turn the paper over and left the following note on the back.

“Training Lila to read ‘fast’ is not something I am impressed by. Slow readers tend to ingest what they read. This exercise, that you made me sign, makes me feel like my child is a dog that I am forcing to learn a trick, a trick in education that will help her to achieve your ‘teach to the test’ $$$ goals but not make her want to read or have a desire to learn at all. This is a disgrace. You should be ashamed of yourself, to be rushing a seven-year-old to read 95 words in a minute.”

I may just be a tiger mom, but in an alternative way.

I do not think drowning my children in drills to pass tests for funding is education. Nor am I going to keep quiet about it. Neither should teachers. Teachers should feel some weight, some responsibility to speak up themselves, stop the madness, look in the mirror and ask themselves if they are actual educators or just test pushers, afraid to lose their jobs, all the while pimping out whole generations to get their funding, their paychecks.

We have a big, complicated, multi-layered problem with education in this country. I worry about the actions of teachers—their hands apparently tied—and lazy parents alike, all of whom sign off on these practices that inhibit actual learning.

Reading is really one of the most magical things we learn to do. It should be treated as such. My daughter has been reading for less than a year of her very precious life. She will not be rushed into factory habits that make her perform tricks for administrators in cheap suits so she can grow up and get an equally lousy, unfulfilling job.

The note went back to school with my daughter yesterday morning. My phone rang one hour later. I picked up, expecting an unpleasant tone. I was shocked to instead hear Lila’s Basic Skills teacher being very friendly and kind; she said she was happy when parents got involved, even if they were upset, that it showed they were engaged. We spoke for 10 minutes, I explaining my displeasure with the assignment and the very idea that my seven-year-old has to meet any expectations. She explained that this practice is for proficiency not “teaching to the test.” I still disagreed, proficiency being a buzzword linked to all that I stand against. However, I chose not to throw any more dirt. In the end, which comes as no surprise, the heart of my message was still ignored.

I see I have a long road ahead of me, as my babies have only just begun their schooling. My proud, unconventional family will have to dance and balance, with one foot settled in our wacky American society and its messy, insecure public schools, and the other foot rooted deeply in a fierce, uncompromising passion to want to actually learn; and never let anyone, especially a teacher, sell us out.

© Mad Question Asking – 2013 All Rights Reserved

3 Responses to “Sell Out”

  1. lavardera May 22, 2013 at 10:06 pm #

    I so feel what you are saying. We faced the same doubts, and ended up leaving the school system for all those reasons.

  2. bclynch1 May 23, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

    I always felt like a partial sell out when it came to education for various complex reasons ( i wont get into those) stuck between wanting to raise my children for how the world should be but often met with the reality of how the education world is…you posts have this oddly connected way of being relevant to my doings in a given week. I just attended a book signing and long talk by Peter Gray. The book is entitled Free to Learn. I will send it your way when I am finished. Or when I see you next week. (I have 2 other books going now) He is a good friend of an acquaintance of mine (Also named Peter) who started a school/unschool over 30 yrs ago. There mission together with a few other likeminded folks is to change education/schooling in this country! They believe we are nearing a tipping point! Peter B’s school is Open Connections. There is amother school on New England that is well know and it was recently replicated in PA in Philadelphia. I had a conversation with the Robert and his wife. It is new developing school 1 or 2 yrs old. Philly Free School is the name. They have a sliding scale from $0 to12,000 for tuition. You can also consider homeschooling- I know people who have done it up to middle school then moved to traditional for high school and various iterations. What these all have in common is that children are the drivers of their learning and have a voice on the process- this is different in each model but tests are not part of the focus – authentic learning is. Check out these schools . Maybe we will start a school together! Your daughter is lucky to have an advocation mom no matter where she attends!!!

    All the best, Sent from Bethann Lynch’s iPhone

  3. doctecazoid May 24, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    Thoughtful and insightful observations. Like so many local, state and federal institutions today, the education system is broken. Unless and until the focus of education shifts from emphasis on ‘performance’, memorization and rote learning to an emphasis on critical thinking and reasoning skills, the system will continue to be broken and society is paying the price.

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