Thursday, October 28, 2010

Like Father, Like Son

We utilize an educational paradigm called, delayed academics. I have mentioned it in passing, but never fully explained why we take the position. Here is why:

Caleb is a lot like his daddy.

That's a compliment that I happily assert. My husband is handsome, loyal, incredibly willing to encourage me, and tells me how much he loves me regularly. Caleb is all these things in junior form. Christopher was also diagnosed with ADD (probably would have added the "H" in there if they called it ADHD 30 years ago) when he was a small boy. For a time he was medicated with Ritalin. Were Caleb in a traditional classroom he to would be facing some of the same issues his daddy faced. Like father, like son.

Caleb is quickly distracted, has a hard time maintaining focus, and doesn't easily retain spoken information. For instance, a while back I was working with him on verse memorization for our church's Wednesday night youth program. He was studying the books of the New Testament. After 45 minutes he was still unable to fully repeat a mere 6 books in the correct order without any prompting. His attention span simply can not keep his focus long enough to work on detail oriented seat-work. What would he be doing in school for 8 hours a day in 2nd grade? Detail oriented seat-work.

I struggle with the ways Caleb does not automatically "learn." But what do I think learning is? For his father it was "learning" he couldn't do what the other kids did. His notes were pinned to his shirt because he was not able to remain focused on the task of delivering them home safely. It was feeling inferior, and inadequate because concepts, lessons, indeed learning did not click for him the way he was told it should. However, my husband is now a highly respected, well-paid senior level software architect who oversees enterprise-wide design solutions. He counsels teams of people through the decision making process for website protocol and design in places that are receiving hundreds of thousands of hits a day. In other words he succeeded. He is, I believe, the exception and not the rule.

So many children, namely boys, are labelled, misdirected, and pigeon-holed by our scholastic requirements. At an age when kinesthetic development is literally causing their bodies to jump we often expect them to sit like well-mannered lap dogs. The maxim, "Girls mature faster than boys," is so well accepted in our culture, and even proven true based on dozens of research studies, statistics, and overall observation. Yet, what is the maturity these studies, statistics and observations are measuring? Often the ability to succeed in a controlled environment more readily embraced by girls. Even with this understanding of the already slanted concept of maturity, rarely are the findings from these studies used  in tailoring educational programs, or expectations. "Boys will be boys," is another highly used proverb that points to the idea of boys being more aggressive, less compliant, and generally more raucous then their female counterparts. Yet again, in the typical school classroom the rules focus on those aspects that come much more naturally and easily to the girls - namely: being quiet; focusing for extended periods of indoor time; learning auditorily or visually as opposed to kinesthetically; working cooperatively and not competitively; and verbalizing needs articulately.

And we wonder why our boys are vacillating so wildly between effeminacy and machismo.

We did not want our own son to have the monkey on his back that often haunts young adolescent boys in traditional classrooms. We wanted to encourage him that the way he was designed was not an accident. That's part of the reason we chose to homeschool. But even within homeschooling many parents are hung up on the local public school's standards for determining what should or shouldn't fit in their home. I don't think I need to state the obvious, but in CA those standards aren't exactly something that should instill trust and respect in our minds. For instance, much of the prevailing thought on how to raise obnoxiously low test scores is simply increase seat-work. Yeah, 'cause if the student didn't understand it the first time you explained it then the additional 30 minutes of working identical problems with the same explanation will definitely help.

Note the sarcasm.

Delayed academics asserts that children learn academically in much the way they learn physically - through involuntary leaps and bounds. I say involuntary because children do not determine when they will learn to walk. If given the right environment, support and encouragement they will develop the skill as their body allows - not in a smooth curve of perfect progress but rather in a one-day-she-couldn't-and-now-she-can kind of way. Mental development follows this same course. Therefore academics are rarely any different than the physical progression of maturity. If given the right environment, support and encouragement most children will "click" with book learning in a sudden, and often mind-boggling way. How many times have you said, or heard the phrase, "The light just suddenly came on for him!" And more times than not there wasn't anything different about the approach of the subject in question - the mind was simply ready to make the leap.

I don't want to waste my time trying to get Phoebe to walk when she isn't physically ready for it. Similarly, I don't want to waste my time, or my children's time teaching them academic rhetoric if they are not ready to learn it. However the rise in single-parent families, and the increase in dual-income families means parents need institutions that can help in providing childcare. With public school already an accepted norm in the vast majority of American families it seemed only natural to put the burden of responsibility on them for the care of our youngsters. But these are schools, so we also expected that our children's time there would create more academically robust students, if for no other reason than to assuage our guilt at leaving them in these classrooms for 8 to 10 hours every day. The result? The expected age for children to "click" with book learning has dropped significantly over the past 30 years. Instead of character being the greatest lesson beyond fine and gross motor skills for the average five, six or seven year old it is paragraph reading and complex fractions.

Now, let me add a quick word for the onset of better and more intuitive means of education. There have been some incredibly amazing inroads made in the connection of small children and academic achievement. Teaching communication through sign language to the pre-verbal, understanding phonics, raising the expectation for literacy across gender and socioeconomic backgrounds are wonderful, and I support all of these developments. What I don't support is the unapologetic use of generalized standards based on convenience and lies.

For a mainstreamed child to read by age 6 is convenient. Therefor, it is necessary that all mainstreamed children read by age 6.

The convenience.

The lie.

There are countless others that follow this same pattern. It simply takes too much time to create a dynamic lesson that can encompass all levels of learning in one room. And in fairness to the traditional classroom, you have to break the children into groups based on something. Age is the most obvious, so assumptions of academic progress based merely on age were bound to occur. Those generalizations were given merit as scores of averages proved them correct. The average age for understanding a concept was noted, birthing the standardized testing phenomenon where administrators, teachers, and parents could check to make sure their Suzy Q reached her potential.

Since when did the average become equal to the potential?

I want my children, both male and female, to set high academic expectations for themselves. I want life long learners who love to read, explore concepts, and not be afraid of asking questions. I want well-adjusted, confident children who have a security in their body's design and development. I am firmly convinced that can not happen when academic pressure is added to the already mounting list of responsibilities placed on children in traditional classrooms during their younger years. I am convinced that children are designed to be children first and foremost - not scholars. Learning through play, interaction, and experience extends well beyond the toddler years. Yet we stifle that natural flow of cause and effect far too quickly creating unnecessary work on our parts, and years of frustration for our children.

So how does delayed academics answer these concerns?

By looking at those same averages used for standardized tests, but zooming out for a slightly wider context to their findings.

On average children reach a learning plateau at age nine, or roughly the equivalent of 3rd grade. During this time the vast majority of students who previously didn't "get it" suddenly understand concepts that alluded them for years. Likewise, many students who were exceptionally bright are quickly absorbed into the norm. In other words an evening works itself out, and from 9 years old on a new game is played. Delayed academics takes advantage of waiting for the new game before ever beginning. Rather than drive concepts into hardened earth it says to wait until the soil has been softened with the fullness of the young child experience. At nine the cognitive abilities are more advanced, and the physical discipline more inline with the demands of book learning for hours each day. The rigors of detailed seat work and rote memorization no longer compete against six-year old bodies bursting with excessive energy. Delayed academics keeps your seven year old from feeling like a failure when it really is just a matter of time. And if there is a genuinely significant learning delay the maturity of the nine year old to handle the truth of their situation will surely be an asset.

Christopher came out of the academic system a victor, though most of his early markers generally pointed in the opposite direction. I have confidence that even though Caleb would be receiving the same marks were he in a public classroom he too will be like his Daddy, emerging as a bright, capable and educated man.

After all, like father, like son.

No comments:

Post a Comment