Education ramblings

I'm still here and things are fine. Sometimes blogging just doesn't rise to the top of the list what with the dog throwing up (more than once) because someone keeps dropping jelly beans which the dog then eats, having to be out of the house so the buyers can come through with their architect, driving to appointments, and just general life.

I have been reading, though. Reading is always at the top of the list and helps keep me sane. I came across a passage that I wanted to share with you in a book I'm currently reading, Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School by Carla Shalaby. It chronicles four different children, each labelled a 'trouble maker' in their classrooms, with the author thinking about the whys that drive each child's behavior. In the passage I'm going to share, the story is about a little boy (6 years old).

"This most basic requirement of school - trading your own desires for the requirements of the teacher - may be part of a 'hidden curriculum,' but Lucas makes it quite visible in his transgressions and often displays his hurt through anger and frustration.

Similarly, Jackson [Phillip Jackson who wrote Life in Classrooms in 1968] provides a theoretical understanding of Lucas's difficulty sharing space. He names four key features of school life: delay, denial, interruption, and social distraction. And he writes, 'Each is produced, in part, by the crowded conditions of the classroom.' These four features require that children - even very young children, whom we know to be active and impatient - wait a whole lot, get denied the choice of their own work, get interrupted from their own play, and become distracted by the requirement to be with others socially only at 'appropriate' and designated times. These are all normalized school demands and they are largely considered unproblematic, even as we make such demands of five- and six-year-olds, whom we know to be naturally unsuited to them. The fact that the demands are considered normal makes them hidden, part of a neutral and unproblematic school culture. This invisibility draws us to the conclusion that classroom life is regular and children who don't comply with it are irregular. Thus we rely on changing children rather than changing classroom demands.

Children like Lucas, with their exasperation and perseverating insistence on their own desires, their angry red faces and blowups, remind us that our demands are not neutral but, rather, quite challenging and potentially even toxic to the ability of young children to be themselves. ... children today are still being evaluated based on how well they meet the standardized requirements of classroom life." pp. 68-69

Hang in there, I have one more excerpt to share with you, this time about a little boy names, Sean, about the same age.

"In Sean's experience we see a problematic and unending cycle in which a child uses disruption to try to belong and be seen, and rather than recognize that basic human need, the common school response is to exclude him further - to send him away from the group repeatedly. The response is not particular to this school; I see the practice of exclusion and the withholding of attention in every school I visit.

The justification for such exclusion is that teachers do not want a child's disruptions to 'distract' other children. In the individualistic culture of American schooling, it offends our sensibility to imagine that one child's disruption should be addressed as a problem of community rather than a problem in and of the individual. It seems inappropriate, of course, to allow Sean to impact the experience of his classmates. But Sean's willful disruption is a community problem because it is a response to community conditions. Feeling sad and left out, hurt and lonely, is a social problem that requires a social response, and then emulated by the children, who come to believe that Sean deserves to be left out. After all, they repeatedly witness his being sent away.

Instead of rearranging the culture of the community, the response is to isolate the problem in Sean. His shortcomings are cited and measured, beginning the process of urging his mother toward a medical evaluation. But, frankly, Sean misses a lot of academic instruction in the day-to-day. He often returns from taking a break confused about the task at hand and having missed the content required to successfully engage academic tasks. ....

His social problems and physical altercations are cited and measured too, further pushing his mother toward considering a medical diagnosis. But, again, Sean does not have much opportunity to learn the skills of social relationship. The school day is highly structured and intensive, leaving children little time for play, for free conversation, and for unstructured interaction." pp. 112-113

What's interesting is that this is written by a person well-established in traditional schooling, with a biography listing Rutgers, Harvard, Brown, and Wellesley's schools of education. Homeschooling is never mentioned. In this book the option doesn't even seem to exist. The closest the author comes to acknowledging homeschooling or alternative education is a brief mention of two books by Paulo Freire in the recommended reading section.

So why do I bring this up? I guess because it's nice to see someone from within the school world notice that there must be better ways to educate our children. As a homeschooler, it won't surprise you that I believe homeschooling offers a truly viable option to provide children with both an education and a voice in that education. Ms. Shalaby is coming at it from a viewpoint of reforming from within the system. Her path seems so much more impossible to me.

After a little writing break, I have a new article published which I co-wrote with a friend. Meeting Your Child


Donna said…
You know what came immediately to mind to me? What you are describing as the classroom environment is what I see as day to day ALL DAY life for children in institutions. Whether strictly regulated or, frankly, chaotic, there is still a "norm" being applied that is unreasonable for children as young as 1 or 2 or 5 or 7 or... Well, you get the idea. The type of ostracism noted for poor Sean is something I have seen played out over and over in the "home" environment, because for one or two caregivers to manage the needs of twelve to twenty children requires everyone to comply to an accepted set of behaviors. Other behaviors are punished, even when their root cause, as it often is, is just to be seen, to be recognized and to be singled out as a valued individual not just an unremarkable part of the group.
My heart breaks.
Diana said…
Thank you for the recommendation. I read the book this week and thought it very interesting. It gave me something to think about as I think about how to best help some of my piano students.

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