Thursday, July 8, 2010

Looking back at a very young self

Doctor's orders: stay off feet as much as possible while broken foot heals.  So I got out some boxes of old papers and photos I've been meaning to go through for ages.  Kind of amazed to find my old report cards from elementary school.  They tell an interesting story.  Here are a few from first and second grade: 

First grade, second half: 

Second grade, first half:

This was the situation: We lived in a small town in southern Oregon.  My brothers and friends and I were outside all the time from the time school let out until supper and then often until bath and bedtime.  Weekends my family spent on my grandparents farm on a dead end road in the hills at the edge of the valley with our extended family (we were related to most of the people on last segment of the road).  Cousins ran loose in the fields and woods in between meals and other interesting family events.  I got PLENTY of fresh air and exercise.  And with that many people around, plenty of socializing.

I was excited about school. I already knew how to read and make letters and do simple arithmetic.  I was bored (believe me, Dick and Jane was even dumber and more boring than you've been told).   I was entranced by learning, and lusted for the interesting books for older kids I found in the classroom.  I seized every chance I could to read them (and get some quiet time, which was hard for me to come by).  

I think a lot of teachers don't actually think about what is going on, and don't bother to ask the questions that would illuminate a child's experience.  There were rules, and rules must be followed.  Especially in the America of 1950.  (Think about that next time you wonder why the 60s happened.) 

At least my first grade teacher recognized my leanings toward creativity.  But she is also the one who told my mother she should not have taught me my letters, because they no longer used that method to teach reading.  My ploy was to ignore what the teacher was doing and just read ahead on my own, and do arithmetic the way my dad taught me.  Hence the "stubbornness", which has stood me in good stead all my life. 

Now the last half of second grade:

Learning to fit in, though there was still criticism (one of them was that I often didn't color inside the lines of the mimeographed "art" projects, or use the "right" colors!).  By third grade, I asked my parents how old I had to be to leave school.  I was serious.  I was bored stiff.  I wanted out. 

In fourth grade, my parents moved to a different town, and I started a new school, with an enriched program for kids like me, including real instruction in art and science. I was off and running.  I felt challenged and stimulated, and began loving school again. 

And eventually became both the scientist and the artist that child was trying to be.


andrea said...

This was enlightening! I was one of those kids lucky enough to have started school in the mid/late '60s and in many ways it was a golden age of education. In the '70s there was both money and the kind of openness brought about the social upheaval of the '60s. I went to an experimental school for one year, my teachers were tolerant of my early "wanderings" and need to draw and write and read something other than the tripe delivered in the readers. There were art, PE and music specialists at the elementary level, etc. My own kids, born in the '90s, didn't have it so good. B
"Back to basics" was regressive in every way and even the high schools have had funding to other-than-the-academics slashed. I'm glad one just graduated and one only has two more years!

Annie D. Stratton said...

I have the same concerns about my grandchildren. But my children's experience seems to have rubbed off. All of them were artistically inclined and intellectually curious. I was fortunate to live in a city with a public school that operated as a "democratic free school", based on Summerhill School in England, founded by A.S. Neil. All my children attended school there.

Unfortunately, by the time my two older girls were in high school, the school had come under scrutiny by the school board, who no longer practiced a hands-off approach, and a change in principals-- without consulting the staff, parents, or students, as the contract required. The new principal was obviously charged with bringing our "excesses" under control, and many of us left. My oldest completed high school by attending community college and transfering credit back, my middle girl, interested in science and math, transferred to a magnet high school, and I home-schooled my youngest from the age of ten.

Now my oldest home-schools her two, the daughter of my middle daughter attends a small village school here in VT, and my youngest has hers in an charter school that follows many of the same principles as Summerhill did. She had to go head-to-head with her ex on that, and won because the charter just happens to also be her neighborhood school (he wanted to transport them clear across the city to a school in a more "prestigious" neighborhood).

But there is still the rigidity of the testing to deal with. I wish Congress would just dump that.