If you feel like getting a little upset, check out Geralynn's recent post at Empowered by Play: http://www.empoweredbyplay.org/2010/02/racing-toward-all-children-left-behind/.
And here I am, thinking I'm preparing kids for kindergarten. Okay, forgive my language, but really---What the Hell?
I won't go on forever about No Child Left Unabused, but I have to say that this madness (yes, madness, crazy fever sickness!) has got the worst of our country, the worst of our politicians and is providing the absolute worst for our children.
November 2011 will be my 20th year working with young children. When I took my first job as a teacher's aide in '91, the director didn't even bother to check my references. As years passed, I worked as a lead teacher (yes, even without my ECE I was still allowed to sculpt young minds), had my own preschool, and was a nanny for several families. I do this work not just because I love kids, but also because I believe in the moral calling of my work: to help children grow up to be future citizens of a world I would want to live in. Empowering children at this age is important to me because this provides a strong foundation for learning in the later years and gives them tools they can use well into adulthood.
I am glad, grateful, that there is a focus on finding qualified preschool teachers and caregivers for children--truly, I am. Yet it seems that this has been taken to an extreme; the push for everyone to have their bachelor's degree seems a bit dangerous to me. It's not that having a degree in Early Childhood Ed is bad by any means, but it's the idea that everyone learns in the same way that disturbs me.
Along with creating a uniform standard of education, this Race to the Top program the Obama Administration endorses carries with it many intrinsic flaws. For the start, consider the title: a Race to the top. Um, isn't this what many former yuppies freaked out on in the 1990's, when they realized that they weren't any happier racing to the top than they were before they got there? For me, I'm thinking that my Kiddo doesn't need to be The Top at age five. (You can read some of the absolutely absurd criteria at the above link.) That's a heck of a lot of pressure on kids.
And then, once again, there's the whole idea that making teachers jump through hoops and compete for funding (via state mandates) will help kids learn. Aside from being--at best--developmentally totally inappropriate, this is just going to be a new layer of hell for teachers and families both. The misguided thinking which informs this sort of program is almost a weirder, scarier version of NCLB...it's almost like they took off last season's jeans and packed elementary education in a newer, showier model which promises to give you a sleeker physique---but it's really riding up in all the wrong places.
What if we all decided enough was enough? Said 'screw you' to the standardized tests (which don't prove a damn thing about how children learn) and created homeschool pools? What if so many of us said No Child Of Mine is Going to Suffer Greatly at the hands of policy makers who---dare I say it--know nothing of how children learn. The evidence is clear and abundant that this sort of education doesn't make kids smarter but creates more problems for teachers and their students.
And it's a trickle-down process, because for the first time in my life, I find everyone asking me for my credentials. I'm not offended at all, but people need to understand that just as there are people with a talent for one calling or another in the professional world, so goes it with kids. I've known several people in my lifetime who had their ECEs and should never have been working with children. One must be temperamentally suited to the work, one must genuinely like children and want to develop relationships with them. One must be personally invested in helping children to work through their challenges, sometimes even in ways that we don't necessarily feel are right for us, but which work for the children through their own initiation. One must be able to put one's agenda aside and 'read the room' as I like to say, to see what the children are needing in the moment. All of these skills are learned over time--you can't buy this at a college or university: it's a gift.
This isn't to toot my own horn, but to say that there are plenty of us who have had less opportunities earlier in life and have turned them into so much more. That, in and of itself, is the American Dream. Our country simply doesn't have the structure to create an early childhood ed system that can serve every single child out there with degree-qualified teachers. We don't have the funding and frankly, it just isn't going to happen anytime soon. Family care providers are the backbone of childcare in this country; we offer prices more working families can afford and yes, while some providers end up in the papers as simply horrible, there are lots of very gifted and talented providers who are doing a great job helping children to be truly kindergarten-ready.
So enough, Mr. President. Our country isn't going to get any better by stealing recess and pushing our kids to achieve ever more lofty goals. Will this impact the teen suicide rate? Will the age of the average drop-out be pushed even lower, because kids are so stressed they just quit? If Washington wants to make education better, perhaps they need to start by asking the educators first. Perhaps we need to mandate that every student in public school has at least two recess breaks a day, in order to make learning actually stick. Labor laws require that workers in this country are at least allowed two ten minute breaks and a lunch. Think about it.
As for me, mmmm...that homeschool option is looking mighty tasty.