Friday, November 30, 2012

What I am Reading...Kinderculture


I usually don’t post about a book until I have finished reading it and can offer an honest review.  However, I just finished the first chapter of Kinderculture, a book that actually caused me to pause and think about what I had just read.  In fact, it made me rethink some things that I have believed in and operated on ever since I was in graduate school and read the works of noted child psychologists and philosophers.  
Just yesterday I was chatting with my friend Michele, whose children are younger than mine and attend both public and catholic school.  Her kindergartner's homework is to write complete sentences on assigned topics.  He can’t read yet.  He is five years old.  When I was teaching kindergarten I was mandated to assign homework.  I assigned one sight word a week and made a big deal out of making collages from words found in newspapers and magazines.  This was only 4 years ago but the demands placed upon children are increasing as their ages decrease.  
We discussed why this is happening, offering our theory on what is broken in the education system.  Test scores are not improving, and the changes that are being made do a disservice to the teachers who truly want to help children learn, the children who are the subjects of inappropriate directives and the parents who are caught in between.  So what needs to change?  Should things go back to before No Child Left Behind standards?  Back to when we were in school reading from primers in coded reading level groups and rote memorization was expected? Do we need Common Core State Standards?  Do we need the US Dept. of Education at all? 
In the years since I have been in school as a student and an educator, the world has indeed changed.  Quite dramatically in fact.  As Kinderculture points out, children now operate in a world that is not much different from the one adults navigate through.  Their laptops, Kindles, iPads and smart phones offer them accessibility to information literally at their fingertips.  They do not have to rely on adults to “teach” them anything.  Math can be learned on Khan Academy.  Youtube videos can offer tutorials on everything from how to knit to how to construct a five paragraph essay.   Great Courses offers full college level courses via DVD and Ivy League institutions like MIT are offering their courses online.  How knowledge is constructed has been permanently altered.  
Point in fact, my 15 year old nephew recently showed me a video he created about a whale watch excursion he took last summer.  It was quite professional. I asked him what program he used to create it.   When he replied Final Cut Pro, I was impressed because from what I have been told this is a very challenging program to master.  The Jacob Burns Film Center markets their FCP classes to college students and adults at $400 for levels I and II.   I asked if he has classes on this at school to which he scoffed and informed me he taught himself through youtube tutorials. Youtube saved my sister a boatload of money.  This leads me to ask, why are we outsourcing and paying exorbitantly for what we can find and learn on our own?  Why did I just pay too much money for a writing course that could have been run out of my home, with my girls' peer group for free?   Perhaps it is so we can have the piece of paper with Jacob Burns Film Center on it, or Writeopia Lab or XYZ Public School, authenticating that the learning was delivered in an appropriate accredited manner.
Children now have blogs, Twitter accounts, Instagram and Facebook pages.  They read their books digitally, accessing a full digital bookstore at 2am should they choose. How can children who are learning in a paradigm that is completely oppositional to that of a traditional model sit through a day of being told what to learn, when to learn it, how that learning should look, and which way it should be communicated?  For some children it must be excruciatingly difficult.  I wonder what doors would be unlocked if public schools took a cue from democratic school, like the Sudbury model, where children determine the course of their learning and the teachers facilitate rather than lecture.
Part of me wonders how my girls would adjust if/when they go back to school.  The adjustment would not be easy.  While Lilah was writing today, her fingers were typing away on her laptop as she researched exotic fruits.  A key element to her story is the fruit rambutan, a lychee native to Malaysia and Indonesia.  I wonder if children in school are able to write in the same way, instantaneously accessing information that propels their story line forward?  I honestly don’t know.  It has been a long time now since I have stood in a classroom.  
I am eager to keep reading. Chapter 1 gives those of us who either work with children or live with them much to ponder.....  

10 comments:

  1. This definitely sounds like an interesting read! The more stories I hear from our local public school, the more glad I am that we pulled our girls out when we did. Even though it is a small, rural school, there are still so many issues that I am thankful that we don't have to contend with!

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  2. Oh, and I often say how absolutely incredible it is that school districts' budgets are so huge, when education can happen for FREE!! Astounding!!

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    1. I have always believed that money (or lack of it) is the problem. In fact, I saw so much waste when I was a teacher that I know there are areas that can be trimmed, cut out and modified and would save thousands of dollars to be put towards programs that are underfunded like the arts.

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  3. Sounds like an interesting book.

    Many of my uncle's friends know that we homeschool. At the wake, they were asking questions; everyone is just appalled at the state of education. Those who were teachers were especially upset and said it just keeps getting worse. My cousin, who recently stepped down as principal of a prestigious public school to teach at a private school because he was so dissatisfied with some of the things in the public school setting now, said I was preaching to the choir, homeschooling was the way to go now if you can do it.

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    1. I would have loved to hear that conversation!

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  4. I really want to read this book! Everytime I come across something like this, I wonder why parents don't get together and say no! When they make your kids feel stupid at 5 years old, they are setting them up for failure. Come on people! It's ok to advocate for your kid....Hopping of my little box now.

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    1. It is so hard to say no to the system....your child pays the ultimate price and you are forever branded the difficult parent. I led the charge when our school took away winter outdoor recess and no matter how many of us complained and no matter who we complained to there was no winter outdoor recess. Period. I had meetings one on one with the Superintendent over things I found objectionable (with signed petitions) and I got nowhere. The system is so large and the administrators so rooted in place and the union so powerful that there is not much that can be done unless you want to go full scale Julia Brokovich which has happened, but not very often.

      BTW - She is not making her son do the homework!

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  5. Oh, I know, but that's when you have to really buck the system... Where there is a will there's a way!

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  6. This is such an interesting topic! I never really thought that kids do learn like we do. When I'm stuck with a knit stitch I always turn to youtube. My oldest in particular has learned so much from youtube, particularly techie things. Lots and lots to ponder.

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    1. It is an interesting book. I finished chapter 2 today and have a few issues with it. The book is a series of essays from various authors. I wish I counted how many times "right-wing" was written so far! There is much to ponder and some things that I really disagree with....like "right-wing" family values is really anti-family and anti-women and pro-corporate greed. Chapter 2 discussed cultural obsessions with vampires in series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight. I wonder if the author ever read the books he critiques. I have in fact and I highly doubt the author of Twilight had a goal of using the clans as metaphors for white elitism. I don't think I have ever read a book and really thought that deeply about metaphors and symbolism and allegory, etc.... I do find the opinions on schooling and education really interesting and it keeps me turning page (for now). I do have to post another review so that I can share that this book seems to have a liberal bias to the writing.

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