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.
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