Are Schools Ruining Childhood?

Back to March 2016 Ed Reporter

Are Schools Ruining Childhood?

More than two years ago, child and adolescent psychotherapist Katie Hurley wrote an article claiming that Common Core is ruining childhood. She said her 6-year-old daughter had four or five tests each week. Hurley wrote, “The people behind the Common Core might think that they are ensuring college/career readiness, but what they are really ensuring is a generation of anxious robotic children who can memorize answers but don’t know how to think.”

let them be littleHurley listed five ways Common Core is destructive to students. Her reasons can be summed up: Creativity has been replaced by busywork; Academics always trump socializing, even for very young children; Schools aren’t allowing children time to eat or to have recess; Even children in lower grades are doing hours of homework, making time at home equally stressful as that spent at school.

She wrote: “It’s time to rethink the Common Core. Stress is dangerous and impacts physical and emotional health. It’s no way to live, and it’s no way to raise our children.” (Huffington Post, 10-25-13)

Tearing Up a Kindergartener’s Paper in Rage

A widely seen video shows a teacher at Success Academy charter school in Brooklyn, New York, yelling at and shaming a kindergarten student who didn’t correctly answer a math question. The classroom assistant had secretly filmed the lead teacher in 2014 because she was concerned about “the daily harsh treatment of the children.”

The video is disturbing. It shows a teacher who’s not in control of her emotions. The child starts to answer the question, becomes confused, pauses, and looks at her teacher.

As described in the New York Times:

The teacher takes the girl’s paper and rips it in half. ‘Go to the calm-down chair and sit,’ she orders the girl, her voice rising sharply. ‘There’s nothing that infuriates me more than when you don’t do what’s on your paper,’ she says, as the girl retreats.

The Success Academy manual doesn’t promote this sort of behavior by teachers. It indicates that “teachers should never yell at children, ‘use a sarcastic, frustrated tone,’ ‘give consequences intended to shame children,’ or speak to a child in a way they wouldn’t in front of the child’s parents.’” This kindergarten teacher failed every one of those mandates.

When the video was discovered, the teacher was suspended for little more than a week. Then she was back in her classroom. This teacher was held up “as an exemplar within the network,” and “the network promoted her last year to being a model teacher, who helps train her colleagues.” (New York Times, 2-12-16)

Tricking Children into “Loving” Tests

A kindergarten teacher named Bailey Reimer wrote an article for a Chicago school news outlet explaining how her “kindergartners came to love testing.” This young teacher says, “The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) affirms the value of collecting test data as a way to look at student progress.” She believes, “As teachers, we have a chance to build a culture around testing that allows students to understand its value and the opportunities that come with it.”

Reimer says, “I love tests that give me relevant, timely information about how my students are doing, from how many letter names they know to how many words per minute they read.” Many would say that a kindergarten teacher should be able to asses her students’ progress just by spending hours a day with them, during which she can observe them. But it is obvious by her support for ESSA that this teacher has bought into the top-down, federal government-led, data-collection education system.

She says, “In my class, testing is one of the best tools to get students excited about how much they are learning.” She continues, “Many schools, like mine, opt to start preparing students as early as kindergarten. This way they can make sure that students and teachers take full advantage of the benefits of testing.”

Even Reimer admits, “Of course, 5-year-olds don’t come to school automatically loving testing. As educators, it’s our job to build that appreciation and understanding.”

She says that all kindergarten teachers can be as successful as she is in convincing young children to willingly submit to testing. She writes that “when it is time to announce an upcoming test, students can look like mine: smiles wide, fully attentive, delighted to show what they can do.” (Catalyst-Chicago.org, 1-11-16)

While Ms. Reimer celebrates her classroom of kindergarteners’ “delight” about testing, others may see young children trying very hard to please their teacher, any way they can manage.

Getting Tough on Kindergarteners

Reports of how kindergarten has changed aren’t just anecdotal. University of Virginia researchers documented differences in the “views and experiences” of kindergarten teachers in 1998 and those of “their counterparts” in 2010. They found “dramatic differences in what teachers now expect of pupils and how they have structured their classrooms.”

In 2010, 80% of kindergarten teachers believed children must learn to read in kindergarten, compared to just 31% in 1998. In 1998, almost 60% of kindergarteners had the opportunity for weekly “dance or creative movement.” By 2010, that occurred in only about 40% of kindergarten classrooms. In 1998, about 90% of kindergarten classrooms had a “dramatic play area” and an art area. By 2010, drama areas were found in under 60% of classrooms and an area devoted to art was offered to fewer than 3/4 of kindergarten students. (Education Week, 2-10-16)

Keep in mind that 2010 was only the start of the Common Core push to make kindergarten fully “academic,” just the first time “experts” were officially preparing the youngest for “college and career.” It is almost certain that opportunities to engage their imaginations, for creative art and dance experiences, and any other semblance of fun childhood experience has greatly diminished for 2016 kindergarten students. No wonder fewer enjoy school. This is no way to treat 5- and 6-year olds.