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.....