Some of you may already know that I used to work in preschool. I have my Associates degree in Early Childhood Education, and it taught me a lot about working with kids in a lot of ways, working with parents, and why the current education system needs major reform. At least in this country. In many foreign nations, their educational methods have proven to be much more effective. Anyway…
So, after spending a grueling two years being a mother, a student, undiagnosed autistic, and still making the Dean’s List (twice) and Phi Theta Kappa (membership is based solely on academic merit), I received this degree. Then I went to work in preschool. I worked in private and public preschools and daycare, mostly as a substitute, because it turned out I was really good at it.
This is where being on the spectrum played to my strengths. I get bored easily, so I was much more receptive and energized shuffling around the classrooms, getting to mix up my routine, interact with a variety of kids and teachers, and try out different methods of care. I liked knowing exactly what was expected of me that day — Tuesday, fill in for toddler room assistant, Wednesday, cover lunch breaks — rather than just strolling into a classroom and not knowing what the heck might happen.
Of course, after a while, I got used to the general routine that’s pretty much the same across American preschools. It was good to know that whether I was going to a private Montessori program or an emergent curriculum daycare, certain things would always be the same — circle time, lunch, rest, outside time, helping the children with outdoor clothing or remembering to put things in their cubby.
Now, Muffin’s arrival required a big change in my work schedule. Since he was born 4 weeks premature and needed to go to physical therapy and specialist pediatricians, trying to go back to work seemed very intimidating. So I chose to stay home with him until he was older, probably ready for school himself.
Since White Fang had already been in school for several years, I had a good idea of what had worked so far for him when it came to academic instruction. White Fang was diagnosed on the spectrum at age 4; he needed socialization skills and applied behavior coaching, so he went to a special needs preschool (the only one in our area). But Muffin, while he has some physical challenges, emotionally and socially he should be able to handle “regular” school.
However, after my experience in the field and as a parent, these are my thoughts on “regular” school. (Warning — some of them won’t be popular.)
- A lot of what we do with children in pre-school-age programs is not effective to prepare them for grades 1-12. There are a whole lot of wonderful staff who honestly love kids and are doing a great job keeping them happy and showing them the importance of friendship, problem solving abilities, and self-help skills. But most kids are already learning the alphabet, counting, shapes, colors at home, and while reinforcing this knowledge at daycare does help, I really think we could be increasing our effectiveness as teachers by exposing the kids to more things they may not have access to at home. Things like music, art, cooking, gardening, foreign languages, caring for animals are all great ways to broaden kids’ horizons and teach them plenty of useful information, personal skills, empathy — and get their brains working independently, not just from memorization.
- While a lot of daycares/preschools are doing this stuff (and I wholeheartedly applaud them for it), there are generally too many regulations pinning down teachers in age 2-3-4 classrooms, and way too much of their valuable actual teaching time is being eaten up by filling out useless reports that the parents won’t even read. Too many Early Childhood staff are undervalued, underpaid, and underappreciated by the management in their own programs. For example, even when I worked in the same classroom all summer, because I was “just a sub,” I often wasn’t allowed to fill out what each child had for lunch, how long they napped, how many times they went to the bathroom — all a ridiculous waste of time, but was mandated by the center (and where they got their funding from). Anyway, designating such a task would’ve provided the head teachers with more time to lesson plan or create a special project. (You know, something important.)
- Some centers are even insisting parents are not qualified to teach their children — anything from hand washing to proper nutrition to identifying the weather — and are flatout engaging in cultural warfare, trying to force parents to change their style of raising their kids. (I quit at a center that did this — and before I left I ripped my supervisor apart, told the management they were full of baloney, and wrote letters to my Congresspeople, encouraging them to cut funding to such programs.)
- School used to be about reading, writing, math, history, science, the arts, and respecting your classmates. Now it’s about 40% academic subjects, and 60% politically correct silliness — for the teachers as well. Teachers are no longer allowed to address students in ways they haven’t been coached in, or to let students ask unpopular questions or voice an unpopular opinion (and it’s usually the government or someone else who doesn’t know anything that’s telling us what fits that criteria). Again, this isn’t across the board, but it’s happening far too much in what’s supposed to be a democratic country with protected free speech.
- School is not adequately preparing our children to become young adults and go to college or into the workforce or an apprenticeship.
- College is also a joke these days. European universities have us so beat, because they provide much more relevant material to actually getting a position in one’s selected field, and do it in about half the time, and often for half the price as well.
And for the sake of length in this post, don’t even get me started on the stupidity in special education.
When I look at this little face and think about his future, I want him to be compassionate, confident, inspired, and know that he can do anything he sets his mind to. I don’t want him to be told he can’t be a doctor because his SAT score was off by one point. Or that he needs to attend 5 years of basket-weaving courses just to work in a cubicle.
(When it comes to White Fang’s adult future, again, that’s another post entirely.)
I want my kids to have what the Founding Fathers of this country envisioned. I completely support what Dr. Martin Luther King said: “I dream of a day when our children will be judged…only by the content of their character.”
If that means private school, homeschooling, skipping traditional college, online classes, to give my children what they need for their futures, I’ll do it.