Are Kids Failing in School or Are Schools Failing Our Kids?
The third grade teacher posed five questions to her class: “What is your favorite color? What is your dream job when you grow up? When I grow up, I hope to live in…. What is your favorite sport? What is your favorite pet?” The students wrote down their answers on a piece of paper. Then she handed out a one-page form that asked the same five questions and under each they had two choices with boxes to check: Red or blue. Doctor or carpenter. Chicago or London. Tennis or fencing. Rat or fish.
When they were done, she asked them how they felt when neither box was right for them,
Nancy’s art classes were famous for helping students of all ages discover their creativity, and in the process, become proficient at using a variety of media to express their artistic visions. But, Harry, age 10, was a challenge for her. He plunged into each project energetically and worked quickly with great focus, but after fifteen minutes would lose interest. Encouraging him to stick with it did not work.
Only connect… —E. M. Forster
As spring begins and the tiny yellow-green mulberry leaves start bravely out from their branches, students begin picking them. They pick them with the same care their parents use when making breakfast. In the classroom they feed the leaves to silk worms. The worms raise tiny faces to look into the children’s eyes, clinging to hands with hind feet. Pulling them off feels “weird.” The students’ reverence is akin to awe. By May the silk worms are spinning their cocoons and the art department has a box full of pure white silk amulettes as light as two raffle tickets and as big as your thumb. Students dye the cocoons turning them into all manner of marvelous creations, and make thread which they use in other works of art.
Cute, but is this activity really essential? Is this the kind of thing that should be going on in school?
Children’s Day pre schoolers are measuring maniacs these days. I had my wingspan measured. It is 101 unifix cubes long. It is also 73 inches, 18 crayons and 13.5 hummingbird wingspans long—same as Malcolm, Annabel’s Dad. Anna Priya’s wingspan is half of Mr. Rick’s.
Experiencing that 101 unifix cubes, 18 crayons, 13.5 hummingbird wingspans and 73 inches are different ways of expressing the same thing is important even if it happens years before they can manipulate the numbers…even before they can associate symbols with quantities. Understanding that there are many ways to see the same thing is a critical educational objective.
Convert the fraction 3/8 to a percent. Turn 37.5% into a decimal. What is the fraction for .375? Students learn how to perform these calisthenics in 5th and 6th grade. However, this business must rest on a complex mental framework in order to be very valuable. Education is building that framework. Learning how to convert fractions to decimals and back again builds only a few tiny links in the fully developed, complex brain.