Thursday, September 3, 2009

Catching Up or Leading the Way?

I wrote a letter to an author this week: Yong Zhao, who has a book coming out called “Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization,” about standardized testing and how it is killing education in America (No Child Left Behind, etc.).

I am just ecstatic that he wrote it, because of my own daughter Emma, age 9. We bought our house so she could go to a particular school: one labeled by the Seattle Times as The Best Elementary School on the East Side.

By the time we hit third grade, Emma was fighting me daily against going to school, unable to sleep due to nightmares, and a chronic discipline problem in the classroom. I was convinced it was my own bad parenting, and if you’d had as many teacher meetings and Too-Bad-You-Can’t-Control-Your-Child-Tsk-Tsk looks from all the perfect moms as I’ve had, you’d think so too. I took Emma to the pediatrician, filled out a questionnaire, and did you know that’s all you need to do to put your child on daily medication?

I’m sorry but the idea of giving her a pill just so she can get through her day strikes me as a little too Brave New World. I looked at my funny little loud-singing, trampoline-jumping, magic-potion-making monkey and thought, No, this is very wrong. She is who she is and I don’t want to change that. So the doctor referred me to a neuropsychologist, who, after testing, uncovered a few relatively minor disabilities (dysgraphia – she has difficulty writing) - and urged my husband and me very, very strongly: take your daughter out of that school.

She recommended a small private school, which I toured as soon as possible. Their slogan is “In a world that teaches children to fit in, we teach them to stand out.” It’s on the front page of the packet. The tuition is on the very last page of the packet – and you don’t get the packet until the end of the tour. It was one of those rare days I was glad I had sold out; we had an alternative to discouragement and drugs. Emma had a trial day and instantly made a group of friends. Every day, for the rest of third grade, she asked, “When can I start going to my new school?”

Looking back, I realized that everything I was told about the public school and its reputation was based on test scores. There was no art program, except one provided by the parents. Drama was an after school program for the upper grades, again, arranged by the parents. Handwriting lessons were limited, a real handicap when you have dysgraphia. Science was limited. So why didn’t it click with me? One reason may be the staff at the school: nice, caring, well-intentioned people. It wasn’t them, it was the system.

I wrote to Mr. Zhao and told him all this; I didn’t expect an email in reply, but I got one, and I was grateful to him all over again. “Thank you for sharing your story with me, it is for children like Emma and my son that I wrote this book.”

I went to a movie with a friend that same night, and I told her about this. She commented, “I was worried when the rhetoric for No Child Left Behind began. It seemed very corporate to me - less about education improvement and more about teaching conformity.” Brave New World, anyone?

Tomorrow, we will meet Emma’s new teacher from her new school. I’m excited: we don’t have to conform this year. It will be an adventure.

1 comment:

  1. Hi there, thanks for replying to my post on MBC! You make some very intersting points here..I'm from Canada and my husband is a teacher and my daughter has some medical issues. We will need to think long and hard about whether the public system is going to be the right one for us when the time comes.


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