Feb 26, 2013
Yesterday I was at the kindergarten helping my teacher friend. I had a load of library throw-away books for five year-olds. Before class began I shifted some things to a cupboard from a book-case and created a small library for books I’ve brought in over the year. My friend asked me to draw a large circle with sidewalk chalk on the playground cement – sadly they only have a small patch of grass. I said yes if I could have a problem boy to help me. There is something about him I like – he acts out his angry feelings. I can tell he needs someone to validate him. It went well. I showed him how to make a knot on the end of the string and sat next to him while he practiced. Together we used the string and chalk to draw the circle. He went from scowling to smiling. Then he told everybody about it. All day I caught him smiling at me.
That night I had a dream. In the dream I voluntarily spent 30 seconds in 30 degree water in the ocean as a subject for an experiment. When I got out, the area was deserted. I walked and walked, up and down long flights of stairs and in barren fields looking for someone. Finally I found the building where I had signed in. But the person told me to wait, there was someone more important to take care of first. When they came back and took my temperature, it was normal and he said “Would you mind doing it again? These results are unusable.” I was horrified and really really mad. As I have learned to do with strange and vivid dreams, I asked the Universe for an interpretation. A few minutes later I had a powerful notion for an essay. I realized I had been unconsciously communicating with the Universe about my day at school. I know there are a million opinions about the sorry state of public education but I need to say this.
The school is in Santa Ana, CA and the students are, with few exceptions, Mexican-American. They come in as Spanish speakers which requires the teachers to be bilingual. This school’s kindergarten curriculum is what mine was in first grade. These kids come in cold and are expected to learn to read, do math, and be docile learners. I help her test the kids four times a year for a report card that has over 30 grades. My friend majored in Spanish but she talks to them in English and by mid-year they communicate in English very well. Kids are natural learners – it really is amazing how fast they learn. They are also natural at trusting, bonding and loving with consistent adults in their lives. Every year that I have helped my friend I am elated at how loving the children are toward me – not so with their teacher. Many find her uncompromising and unloving – in a word, cold. Her bane, the “uncooperative” students who take time away from teaching the curriculum. It reminds me of the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date” but the rabbit never arrives – he only worries. So does my friend about her teaching. Yet I know that she is not cold or unloving . We have been friends for many years and we have a close bond. But bonds need time to grow.
Though she doesn’t say this aloud, I can see it in her teaching style, she is tired of the whole thing. After 24 years and 24 different groups of kids, she yearns to retire. She starts from square one every year. It is a pity and I pity her and all public school teachers and all their students. After a few years most teachers and students don’t care anymore. Kids are not people, they are objects on assembly lines to be molded so they fit into the school code of good behavior. Those who rebel are scolded and punished. I see my friend finding fault in each infraction and her temptation to punish. No real bonds are formed, there isn’t time. One hundred and eighty days of rushing through lessons isn’t long enough. Thirty-two uncohesive kids spread one teacher too thinly.
When communities were small there were just a handful, if not a single, teacher. She (they were all women) taught the same children every year and formed bonds with them. Relationship bonds are so important for kids and women. I don’t mean all was rosy, there were many flaws, but there was consistency. That is gone now in favor of this monster assembly line that people are realizing is creating broken down people who hate to teach and hate to learn.
Imagine how we would feel if parents and children were mixed up in a big machine and rematched every year. That would be completely unacceptable and everybody knows it. But, except for those running some private schools, no-one that I know recognizes the insanity that is “acceptable” in public schools. Have you heard of the Waldorf Schools? In their system they stay together year after year until the students are high school age. And I imagine that there is much crying and promises to visit at that time. Not only do the teacher and students become a unit, but the parents also. They don’t have to get to know a new teacher each year, not knowing if it will turn out to be good and they say “thank god he/she got a good one” or bad “just grin and bear it until next year” or hear the principal say “I’m sorry, there is no room in any of the other classrooms.” And think of the teacher – each year a new “batch of kids”, strangers without names or personalities, not knowing what they are going to have to deal with – and not knowing anything about their backgrounds or their parents. Learning is not devoid of these things. They create the foundation under the teaching/ learning structure.
My friend says it is easier for her to stay with kindergarten. She doesn’t have to make lesson plans for each new grade level. Phooey !! What a cop-out. If Waldorf Schools can do it, so can all schools. If people only knew the value and benefits of relationship bonds, the sense of security and trust they create. Teachers work for half a year when other people work all year long. Teachers take the summers off but that time should be used to get ready for the next year of teaching – new subjects, not new students. I don’t believe that the Juggernaut will soon come crashing down around the administrators and school boards heads from its great weight and be replaced with a new human centered structure designed for human beings. But the fact that it needs to is elementally obvious.