48. New-Fangled Education

I’m going to try to write this article from the point of view of a parent who has other things to do than keep up with the latest developments in education, and so is sometimes bewildered by the goings-on in schools. I will try not to make it a caricature, but there will be that possibility, and I apologize in advance if that’s what happens. My purpose is to try some bridge-building. As a teacher, I did my share of assuming parents understood, and as a parent, I sometimes wondered what was going on. Please bear with me:
When my kids come home from school, I’m usually tired. I’ve usually had a full day, and try as I will, I can’t always keep my mind on what their time was like. But I set aside a little time each day to ask them for a quick run-down – just the headlines, if possible. It’s not usually possible.
My kids know, by now, that I don’t want to hear a lot about recess, lunch, and what happened on the bus. If I let them, they’d give me detailed accounts of those items, and never get around to the part of their education that was planned by teachers. I’ve been in the classrooms, and I’m quite sure things happen there, too. That’s what I want my children to tell me about. Not how they were safe and everybody said they were out. There’s time for that later.
Well, when they do get around to telling me, some of it makes sense to me. Four times seven was twenty-eight when I was a kid, and (saints be praised) it still is (in base ten, at least). Words are still spelled and pronounced the way they were, and most of them still mean about what they used to mean. Every time I come across something familiar in the school curriculum, I feel a sense of continuity – I learned these things when I was a child, and now my children are learning them, and I can be a guide.
Then there’s the other 90% of the curriculum. They learn about history, and even though they’re looking at mostly the same years (My childhood is not history, no matter what the textbooks say), the past sure looks different now. Math seems to change every time I get the hang of it. People don’t “carry the one” any more. I think they may have even stopped “regrouping,” which looked the same to me. My kids get the same answers I do, but they say that’s not the important part. The reading books are anthologies. They are doing “whole language.” What did I do – half language? Even though words are still spelled the same, I’m not supposed to correct them. How are they supposed to learn? Or is learning an outdated concept?
That’s how I imagine education looking to someone who hasn’t been keeping up with what’s happening. The bewilderment is one of the reasons I write this column. I hope understanding is one of the results of my efforts.

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