Once again, it is that time of year here in New York where residents of the school districts vote for board candidates and approve the budget. Most of the time the school board appears powerless, confined to implementing decisions made in Albany and Washington, D. C. But let’s assume for a minute that it isn’t, which is possible, and that I’m a candidate, which is not.
- A late start, an early end. The school does not need to be a factory.
- Stand up and move. 15 minute breaks in each hour of instruction. Provide the option to stand, and to move about the room, in the remaining 45 minutes: replace the desks-with-fixed-seats with adjustable desks, or remove desks entirely.
- A good lunch. See the examples of France and Japan.
- Turn off the background music on the buses.
- Buses, not Busses.
Why do I hate compulsory schooling, do you ask?
There are two reasons. First, I’m against coercion on principle. But, more importantly, it makes mornings a living hell as I become a complicit actor in projecting State power–and an awful father.
So what did I teach Number Two Son this morning?
Did I teach him that one of the great joys of life is learning? No.
Did I guide him in disciplining himself? No.
I taught him that the Bigger and Stronger One gets what he wants through fear and force. Perhaps a more useful lesson, considering that power relationships pervade life, but not the lesson I wanted to teach.
I can clearly remember the moment when I realized that my interests did not align with school’s. I was 13.
I loved school.
I loved it because I saw my friends. I loved it because I was excellent at dodgeball and red rover and running. I loved it because I was learning new things every day.
And then I had to make new friends. I did.
And then gym was nothing more than basketball. I didn’t like basketball.
And then I got bored. 8th grade math was just the same as 7th, which had been slightly more than 6th. I asked to be moved to the next class. Sure, just pass this test; it will assess whether or not you know what will be taught this year. Makes sense. I failed the test. I had never heard of some of these things. Guess I’ll learn them this year.
But we didn’t. We never covered that material. And next year I got to the class I wanted the year before, just because.
School was not there to teach me the things I wanted to know. School was there for something else.
If you put a kid who’s teaching himself to read so he can play his favorite games, who can do simple sums, and who can count well past 200, in full-day Kindergarten, and he comes home saying he hates math and reading, you’ve done something tragically wrong.
If you take a kid who’s been proficient in math since before Kindergarten, and whose favorite subject was math until this year, and now he says he hates it, you’ve done something tragically wrong.
If you take a kid who loves math as much as she loves reading, who tells you she can’t wait for 4th grade so she can learn division, and who now thinks she’s bad at math, even though she scores high on tests, you’ve done something tragically wrong.
If you take a kid who loved math and science as much as she loves reading, but who left 4th grade thinking that she’s bad at math and science and is about to enter high school still thinking that — even though she’s grasping concepts faster than every one else in her class and is pulling up the school averages on standardized tests — then you’re still doing something horribly, tragically wrong.