Dear Dr. Fournier:
When I first went to my child’s school, I was amazed. “We care about your child’s self-esteem. We know each child is different and the teachers work with your child based on that concept,” the school told me.
What they didn’t say is that this is the case as long as my daughter works like everyone else! So ultimately, what I got was a big sales pitch and yes, I fell for it. But my daughter is bright in many ways that school totally disregards. She is caring, meticulous and wants to learn. She’s also very sensitive and cries when she thinks she can’t do the work. When I pick her up from school, she’s often upset by extra work she has to do at home because she didn’t finish it in school. This is on top of her homework. She feels so defeated that she says she’s not as smart as the other kids and I’m tired of having her destroyed because she must live up to the expectation of her teachers. What can I do?
With a reform education movement in this country now steering heavily toward more choices in education, perhaps we need to stop and define both terms – more and choice.
In the past, only parents with extra money, and perhaps extra sacrifice, could afford the choice of a private school. Since they were required to pay for their child’s education, many parents went in search of more for their dollar.
Schools responded to the demand for more by teaching more and teaching it sooner. As a result, children were taught in kindergarten what their parents learned in first grade and the accelerated curriculum mentality was off to a fast start.
Now we are beginning to see that this overdose of education has brought only much pain. The children are the ones who pay the price with depression, feelings of failure and reduced self-esteem and worse yet, those able to do all the additional work confuse intelligence with achievement as measured by rote tests. They also have a change in their feelings such as calling themselves ‘gifted,’ leading to feelings of superiority due to their creativity rather than their thought and action that results in true creativity, not just cute ideas or projects.
What we need from reform is not more teaching but more learning and that our choice is not merely between public and private schools, but between schools that focus on teaching and those that focus on learning.
WHAT TO DO
When evaluating a school, meet with the administration first and then meet separately with your daughter’s potential teacher, or teachers.
Keep in mind this general checklist:
• The Curriculum: Ask to see a curriculum guide. Select a portion and ask how quickly the material will be covered and what your child will be expected to know. A teaching-intensive curriculum requires students to memorize enormous amounts of information for short-term recall: “We discuss the chapter in class, the children answer the questions from the book and we have a test every two weeks.”
• Learning-Intensive Curriculum: A learning-intensive curriculum encourages the students to process information with thinking, learning and creativity: “Each child must read the chapter and be able to explain the impact of an event in history or bring to class the questions of the chapter that the author’s did not answer.”
• Homework: Ask to see a typical week’s homework assignments and judge what will be expected from your child both in how they will perceive learning (memory/thinking) and the hours of their childhood it will take to comply.
• Teaching-intensive Homework: This requires a student to do certain tasks, usually for a grade and occasionally within a set time limit. This may include copying definitions or answering questions from the textbook.
• Learning-intensive Homework: This encourages creative thought, which may not be graded. It may include setting aside time at the end of the school day for each child to assess what is left to be learned.
• Tests: Ask to see samples of tests currently used by the teacher. Are the tests formulated by the teacher or from the textbook company? Are the tests graded by machines or by teachers? Will tests be returned to students to give back information in a predetermined format? A teacher-intensive test relies on multiple choice or true-false answers that require students to give back information in a predetermined format. A learning-intensive test requires the student to express thoughts and diverse ideas in reference to unexpected prompts.
One of the best tools for evaluating a school is a very simple one: Stand outside the school for a few days and watch the children leave. Look at their faces. Listen to them talk. Then ask yourself, “Is this what I want my child to be like?”
Your answer will tell you if that is the right school for your child.
CONTACT DR. FOURNIER
Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at [email protected]