I can’t remember how I encountered this quarterly journal but I am filled with gratitude. The winter 2015 issue is packed with articles and essays about topics that have been on my mind and in my heart for some time. The first half is devoted to articles about our children, their education and their upbringing. I have been concerned about the public education trend away from educators to government oversight for the last decade. I’ve supported Catholic education and homeschooling because of my concern for the children who are being mechanized and homogenized by the educational trends beginning with No Child Left Behind and the Common Core. Although these concepts appear to have an admirable goal, they address children as machines to be developed and uniformly released into society as productive automatons. Where is the humanity in this endeavor? What is happening to dreaming and creativity? Children are the future we will never see. A young child learns at their own pace by experiencing the world and people around him or her. They learn language, to use the toilet, social behaviors through experience and need. Yes, they share milestones that can be expected but not set in stone as spelled out in these prescribed expectations. Today many children are exposed to technology for a large part of their day. They rely on machines for their daily interaction, tablets, phones and televisions are their companions. Where is the thinking, touching, smelling experiencing life in this? To dictate at what age each child must learn a particular concept or be labeled a failure is absurd. We are individual human beings. To measure a teacher’s effectiveness by how he or she trains these little minds is not only absurd it is cruel to the teacher and child.
In his article Discovering Reverence, Johann Christoph Arnold reminds us of the awesomeness of the life of each child. He reminds me of the innocent delight each child experiences in encountering his or her world. Do we really want to squash this with our rules and regimentation of how he or she learns and when? Arnold reminds us that our children aren’t objects to be wedged in prescribed slots in our world. He stresses the importance of revering each child’s unique mind, soul and body and by doing so we teach children to respect and treat each other with reverence. What a beautiful thought, how relevant to our world of violence and competition for some worldly material prize and not the joy in living and doing. Our world needs all of them and their uniqueness. Experiencing each child with reverence teaches them not only to respect each other but to love themselves for their unique gifts that only they can offer to the world.
If you are a person of faith you know that each child is a unique thought of God and has a role to fill and gifts to share with the world. Eberhart Arnold says in his words at the dedication of a newborn in 1934 “we can only teach a child when we “‘understand the thought of God for each child, a thought that God has had in eternity and still has and will always have just for this child. God knows what each child is intended to become.” This concept hardly meshes with standardized testing and measuring each child as a commodity to reach each level of education at a prescribed time or be considered a failure and prevented from moving on in his or her education until that particular milestone is achieved and his teacher effectiveness is graded based on this accomplishment as well.Are you beginning to get the sense as I am that the eduction system is not in the best interest of the child but designed to create a person who will be a contributor to the economy of the country?
Joan Almon is also a contributor to this topic with her article Kindergartners are Human Beings,and Other Facts in the Age of Common Core. She has been an early childhood educator for over thirty years. She tells us that standards are necessary when we want to create a uniform product but children aren’t to fit a common mold. Each child is a unique individual and although there are commonalities among children of a certain age they cannot be calibrated according to our sense of timing. Almon says “If a child today fails to develop at the pace prescribed by the standards, there are apt to be serious consequences-the child may repeat a grade or enter special education classes, or her teacher may be penalized or even fired. It’s hard to see how an education based on fixed standards and high stakes testing can help children achieve their full humanity.” Common Core standards for kindergarten aged children are particularly poorly matched to a child’s development. Long periods of classroom instruction and testing as well as worksheets that dress specific skill leave little time for creativity and exploration when a child’s mind is at its greatest potential for development. Many schools are providing tablets for these children to use in the classroom to further develop their ability to take computerized tests. This emphasis on mechanized teaching and technology sends a message minimizing the individuality of the child. Unconsciously he or she loses confidence is his or her own imagination and creativity when it comes to experiencing and learning about the world. Our teachers need to be compassionate thinking people who can give a child enough guidance and freedom to learn and create at their own pace while keeping them safe in their world. Children have an internal sense of their need for learning, development and growth of their minds and bodies. We need to be able to give them the freedom and the guidance as well as exposure to materials to do what they need to do. It is time to be grateful and awed by each life that comes before us for our support and guidance and support as adults in their world whether we are teachers or parents. Protect these tender, vulnerable gifts we’ve received and allow them to fulfill their life not as mechanized beings chasing after outer things and material goods but seeking their own passions and satisfaction in following their dreams.