September has many faces. For many, it’s the start of the school year, which is greeted by either joy or despair depending on whether you are the kid, the parent, or the teacher; where you are along the continuum; and how you’ve taken to the whole enterprise by now.
As a child, I had the most carefree of summers spent exploring the shores of the Atlantic from the safety of the Silverpoint Beach Club. Still, I looked forward to the start of school. New beginnings, new clothes, new books, reuniting with old friends. Things changed over time for me, especially as the challenges of social interactions became more complex and learning became more of a task than a natural part of everyday life.
So, I guess I’m something of a September cynic, and the timing of those kids-on-a-rope could not have been better . . . or worse.
What does it mean to be a kid-on-a rope?
For some, a kid-on-a-rope is simply a toddler, preschooler, or kindergartner traveling from Point A to Point B in as safe a manner as possible. Teacher at the front, aide at the back, and a tribe of small people held together by the wrist with about a foot and a half of rope between them.
Okay. Safety first and all that. I do understand that it’s not easy to take a dozen kids to the park without some means of corralling them.
But a kid-on-a-rope means so much more. The simple visual is a valuable means by which to examine the paradigm that has been school for so long. It gives us the means by which to question what we have taken for granted for way too long.
Five questions to consider
These are very basic questions, but they provide a starting point. Consider that even as we build great technology for teaching, and we train teachers to play a more meaningful role given the more robust tools, there’s an inherent model that needs further disruption.
These are the questions that everyone should be asking, not just educational professionals. If you are a parent, think about your own children and their attitudes towards school.
1. Are all kids ready to start school or learn to read at the same age?
2. Do you need to be in a classroom for five days a week for 7 or 8 hours each day?
3. Aren’t we smart enough to help nurture kids who know what they want to learn?
4. Is a college-prep curriculum the right way to go for an entire nation?
5. Are we effectively educating our kids to perform in today’s (and tomorrow’s) workplace?
Where does it end?
The kids-on-a-rope metaphor doesn’t really end at kindergarten. We’ve been stringing our kids along for so many years with a very traditional approach that we’ve become used to it. Instead of actual rope, it might be ELA and math assessments that start in elementary school, PSATs, SHSATS, ACTs, SATs that shackle our kids to a model of schooling still rewards performance on exams over performance in real life. While many colleges have become test optional, the pressure to perform well on these exams still occupies the majority of students (and their parents) in their high school years. Test flexible universities differ from the traditional application process only in that they are flexible in what type of test they might accept: SAT, AP, etc.
For an interesting read on one direction away from traditional educational methodology, see Competency Works report What is Competency Education? Differentiated instruction is playing a bigger role in K-12 education, in part because of new technologies. Bringing maker-based activities into the classroom, or taking kids out of the classroom for such projects is increasing as well. Change is coming. Technology is fast, but overall systemic change is not.
I suppose that unless you are willing to stand out from the crowd, you could be a kid-on-a-rope your entire life.