Sunday, April 26, 2015

Fighting for Finn

One Saturday morning I had the privilege of spending time with my three-year-old nephew, Finn.  Finn and I headed off to the “train store” which is really our local Barnes & Noble. For a good hour I watched him play with the trains, play with the Legos, listen to a story and look at books. He's a really independent little guy. He has an unbelievable spirit. He talks to everyone and he is quick to introduce himself. He kept up a running chatter the entire time were together, narrating and commenting on everything around us.

As I sat and watched him, I thought about all the things are going on today in education and how sometimes I am so upset I feel like I'm screaming inside my head. I thought about how I'm so angry at what's happening. I thought about why.  And I thought about my own kids. I thought about what is happening to them in this age of “reformy” education.

My son is almost 18 years old.   He will be out of high school in a few short months and for the most part, he will have escaped Common Core. He will get out just in time, although he is not unscathed. For you see he grew up during NCLB, which means that over the years the curriculum has become narrower and narrower due to the regulations, initiatives and budget cuts. Throughout his entire educational experience, the focus has been on ELA and Math and, as a result, he doesn't really see much beyond that. We have talked about college but he doesn't see that there is nobility and success in learning a trade.  In reality, he has not been exposed to anything other than reading and writing and math. Sure, there's some history and science in there but everything involves reading and writing. Even his gym class and his art classes have involved reading and writing. And while that's not a bad thing, in some ways it hasn't been a good thing either.

My daughter is 14. Because I am so enraged what is happening in education, my response has been to remove her from public school and enroll her in a private all-girls Catholic School.   I am hoping the private school experience will help mitigate some of the effects of common core.  There's nothing like a group of nuns to ensure excellence in education I guess. At least I hope so. However, her educational experience is even narrower than her brother’s as she is just that much younger. With the focus so heavily on non-fiction and on “rigor”, there is less opportunity for her to be as creative as she is naturally.  You see, my daughter is a poet, she's an artist and she expresses herself in ways that do not play well on standardized tests or really any tests for that matter. My daughter has a different way of looking at the world.  She is not a kid who performs well on tests although she is super smart and gets good grades. She works hard and I hate to see what common core is doing to her.  It's going to suck the love of learning out of her and that is so sad.

So, back to this morning, sitting and playing trains with my nephew.  Finn personalizes this fight for better education for me. Because he is four, if Common Core is allowed to continue he will be the one who is most affected by it. He makes this personal for me. Finn has a spirit like no other kid I've seen and common core will make his educational experience at best, boring for him. At worst, it will make it painful. Finn is not the kind of child who will be able to deal with the rigor of Common Core (read: sit silently and do worksheets). Finn is a boy. He's ALL boy. Finn experiences the world physically.  He likes to dance his way through his day. Finn will not do well with common core. It will take his learning down to such a narrow scope that it saddens me. 

So, it is for Finn that I fight. It is for Finn that I want to see education be developmentally appropriate and creative and diverse. It is for Finn, that I don’t want education to be common.  It is for Finn that I want to see the world be a better place. Because no one should have creativity stifled or their spirit quelled. No one should have to do an art project and then write an essay about it.  No child should have to read an essay with no background knowledge and then try to figure it out what it means. No eight-year-old should have to sit for 90 minutes at a time doing a test that means nothing to him or her. No six-year-old should have to practice filling in bubbles. No 13-year-old should have to read the same literature passage over and over and over again line-by-line for no reason. That's not reading. That's not writing. That's not learning. I'm sure that everyone has a little Finn in their life or at least I hope they do. And for that reason alone everyone should get educated about what's going on, get informed and start fighting back. Americans are complacent in a lot of ways. We have short attention spans and the news cycle is very short. We believe a lot of what we read and a lot of what we see. And we don't stand up, at least not for long. But we can't afford to be complacent here, as the so-called “reformers” are counting on that. They are counting on the fact that we will get bored or that we won't inform ourselves and we won't keep up the fight long enough. They think we are going to get bored and go away. 

Guess what?  I'm not going away, I'm not going to stop fighting. I'm not going to back down. I’m staying strong.  For Finn.

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