I want to preface this article by reminding readers that I worked as a teacher in Texas public schools for over six years, teaching English to 7th, 8th, 9th, and 11th graders. (The great bulk of my years as a teacher in the Lone Star State involved the wonderful world of 8th graders.)
And I was mostly impressed with the way Texas had put together its curriculum and requisite state testing, now known as STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness), then dubbed TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills). In 3 – 5 years, the exam will change its name and format again, I’m sure.
But over the weekend, I toured a preschool that seemed rather… structured for the age group. Classrooms looked like what you’d expect at a 2nd or 3rd grade level, with chairs neatly tucked into tables, set places for students, designated stations, and what I swear was the frightening miracle of toddlers cooperating in a silent snack time.
The teachers were enthusiastic and professional, and the director of the school who led the tour could have been more lovely.
All of this structure, we were told, served to prepare these 2, 3, and 4-year-olds for the reality of Kindergarten in Texas. It is, apparently, very set in its disciplined ways.
But that’s the thing – preschoolers are actually in Kindergarten yet. They’re little; some might call them “babies,” and it’s not a far off description.
Even if they were in Kindergarten, setting kids down in desks and forcing eight hours of listening and obedience, with one or two brief and highly-supervised “recesses,” is emphatically not an ideal learning environment for little ones.
It is the ideal one for teachers, though. When you’re responsible for covering x amount of material, and making sure y amount of students get that information into their brains, it is imperative that those kiddies listen, obey, and learn accordingly. A good bit of that involves silence.
I get it. I really do. I lived with the stress of yearly tests hanging over my career and sense of professional worth, and I know what it’s like to have an overwhelming number of kids of your roster. I’m also well-versed in the various levels of hell that one or two riley students can create within an otherwise effective classroom environment.
But this enforced structure is not natural for toddlers. I’d say it’s not natural for anyone under that age of ten or so, actually. Silent and controlled learning environments that lean heavily on seat work are not conducive to the curious, exploratory nature of children.
I’m fine with rigorous desk work for older students. They can handle it, and it’s age-appropriate.
What I’m not fine with is over-structuring education when kids are still just barely potty-trained (if they’re out of diapers at all). It makes me really question what is going on with the lower elementary grades in Texas. And whether or not that has something to do with classes that are perhaps too big, teachers who are perhaps lacking support, and a curriculum design that follows the STAAR test strictures, rather than the reality of childhood development.
The old adage that children be seen and not heard comes from an era that believed in such things. We should talk about all the other things said period also “believed” in, and how happily we’ve left some of those ideas in the past.
This idea that a 3-year-old should behave like a 5-year-old, who is himself being “prepared” for the rough academic reality of a 10-year-old, needs to hit the scrap heap already.
After all, we want kids to like school. Forcing a model on toddlers that limits — and indeed, punishes — their natural curiosity will probably achieve the opposite effect.
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