Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Imagine if early childhood learning was like school...

Many of you reading this post have experienced raising or helping to raise a young child from infancy to kindergarten age, and you may recall how he or she learned through virtually constant exploration, discovery, trial, failure and eventually success. Whether it was a physical, intellectual or emotional advancement, the cycle of learning was similar.

Now imagine that young child age 0-5 going through those same years but with the limiting structures of our compliance-based, industrial model of K-12 education applied:
  • Learning could only be accomplished between the hours of 8 am and 3 pm, Monday through Friday, limited to 180 or less days per year. Anything outside that timeframe is not to be considered "real learning" and therefore not valued.
  • Learning must be segmented so that during different periods of the day, the focus is on narrow, disconnected topics with strong emphasis on drill and other activities that can be reduced to paper and pencil exercises (okay, maybe a crayon instead of pencil but don't let them get hold of any electronic learning toys as they are nothing but a distraction from real learning).
  • The child must be grouped with at least 25 others of the same age during the learning activity who are all doing precisely the same thing and focusing on the same content, however, each child must be sitting by him/herself, remain quiet, and don't share anything they learn with others unless called on by the adult in charge and only if it is directly connected to the current learning activity.
  • Physical activity throughout the learning time will be limited to a couple of twenty-minute sessions each week. However, these will be fully regimented and adult-led to ensure the time is not foolishly used for trivial pursuits.
  • When the child produces something as a result of the learning, it will be judged on a standard of right or wrong and the child graded accordingly. We'll devote more time to pointing out the mechanical or content errors since that is much more productive than discussing ideas and valuing thinking.
  • The progress grades of these children will be shared in such a way as they understand how they rank in the group. A child who demonstrates higher proficiency will be allowed to do fun stuff while the others are forced to spend more time relearning and reassessing.
  • Periodically, a major assessment will be administered and the results used to identify proficiency and failure. The local media will gather the results from the various groups in the area and publish them in rank order.
  • Homes in the neighborhood will be identified as to the level of proficiency for any children ages 0-5 residing within the household. Parents will be required to write a plan of improvement and have it reviewed by a local governing authority. Persistent failure of the child could lead to removal of the parent.
  • The arts, physical activity, and other non-academic pursuits will be discouraged to ensure adequate time is devoted to "real learning" that can easily be tested on bubble sheets (ok, the youngest of these children can be provides assistance with filling in the circles and staying in the lines).
Gosh, wouldn't this be a much more productive way of forcing toddlers and pre-school kids to learn and getting them ready for what they'll be doing the next thirteen+ years? Shouldn't we restrict the learning during age 0-5 to only what the adults want and then use shame, humiliation and punishment to motivate these kds? After all, it's been the staple of our K-12 system for more than a century and amateur ed reformers seem to want us to do more of it, especially testing, ranking the results, and branding failures more frequently.

While all of this is intended to be satire, I do believe it represents in a way our limited thinking and courage to make the radical changes necessary for our schools to provide the type of learning environment our kids need today. After all, we actually value the way our children learned and what they discovered about the world before they ever even started school, so why does our traditional educational system discourage it? Why does the scientific management model persist?

One of my favorite sayings: Every organization is perfectly structured to get the results it gets (author unknown). But are they the results we want?