A six-year-old girl is excited about going to her neighborhood school. She was home schooled in kindergarten and now has her new backpack and lunchbox ready for first grade. She can’t wait to make new friends, share her love of art, and write stories. After the first day, her only news for her parents is that the teacher gave her handfuls of candy for being good and that she can get candy every day if she obeys. Her excitement slowly disappears and is replaced with anxiety and stomach aches. When she speaks of school, she relates how certain students always have their names on the “red light” because they are bad, how no one at her lunch table could talk that day because one person was too loud. She says she is writing a story, but the teacher tells everyone how they must write and what they must write about. Her parents rarely see a feeling of gladness about school.
An eight-year-old boy is entering third grade. He has been in several foster homes since he started school and has been shuffled around from school to school. He has missed many days and hopes he can stay here for the year. He desperately wants to make friends. He wants to be able to read books and learn about animals. He has a great love for dogs and cats and dreams of helping to take care of animals that do not have homes. The first day of school he is told that everyone will be taking a very important test in April. They will prepare and practice every day for this test. The teacher has stacks of practice papers that must be completed so that their school will have high scores. Also, each student will have a laptop computer to use throughout the day. Students are told to keep their eyes on their own computer screen and not talk to one another during specific lessons. His hopes of making friends fades away. He soon realizes he does not understand the lectures he hears. He is frightened by looking at the long reading passages he is expected to read and comprehend. He has few concepts to draw upon — no one ever read aloud to him in any of the places he lived; no one ever took him to parks to play or museums to explore; no one ever listened to his own longings and heartaches. One day he asks the teacher if they could study about dogs and cats. She sharply replies that dogs and cats are not part of the curriculum and there will be no time for such study. He is teased by other children for talking about such a silly “kindergarten” topic. The teacher reminds the class that reading and math are on the standardized test and they will be the focus. Certain students that do well on the practice sheets are rewarded with free time, while he must be drilled and drilled on monotonous and seemingly meaningless, disconnected facts.
A young teacher prepares to leave her classroom at five o’clock in the afternoon. She has completed paperwork and worked on grades on her computer. She wonders what happened to the creative ideas she had before she got her job. She knows how to inspire and engage students in ways that they would flourish. She knows how to plan an individual course for each child — one is which their talents and interests are incorporated into a dynamic curriculum. She knows how to use meaningful assessments that do not include grades and test scores. She knows how to “save” the children that are struggling, but she must adhere to the bureaucratic programs that policymakers and other non-educators have mandated. Some educators have been consulted of course, but rarely the dedicated ones on the front lines of challenging educational settings. She longs to tell parents the “truth” about the harmful practices, but quickly remembers that is not acceptable in the world of teaching. She closes her door and tries to forget.
Similar experiences are happening thousands of times each day all over our country. Education is overwhelmed with an allegiance to mandated curriculums and standardized testing. Students are tired and weary. Teachers must not think and create on their own — they must follow the mandated path.
Many teachers, parents, and students are looking for someone to rescue them. There is a better way — a way that cherishes the processes of learning, interests, talents, and developmental needs in physical, social, emotional, and intellectual realms. This way allows students to love their studies and become engaged in ways that motivate them from within. We must present this paradigm and begin the rescue.