American public schools are failing all over the nation. They are failing to teach literacy. They are failing to prepare students for higher education. They are failing to prepare students for life.
Reading and math, reading and math. I just read an article from some small town U.S.A. (outside of New Jersey) about how they are introducing all day kindergarten. Because of more hours in school, the article stated that they would be able to spend 30 percent more time on reading and 40 percent more time on math. The other 30 percent of the time was to be spent on building social skills. Let me ask this question. Whatever happened to science, social studies, art, writing, music, speech (as in public speaking skills), and P.E.? Why are these subjects being removed from schools all over the country in favor of reading and math? Don't people see what a disparity this is, how this takes us from what used to be a well-rounded education and makes it so lopsided and boring that young kids, who have a natural thirst for knowledge, are completely disinterested and bored in school by the time they are only seven years old? No wonder the public schools are failing--they are driving children away from loving learning and only teaching them to despise it.
I had a very well-rounded education. In elementary school, we went to P.E., art, and music once a week. They were pull-out classes with a certified instructor in that subject area that went for an hour each time. We also had one library day, which was 45 minutes. Those times were teacher prep times for our classroom teachers, plus we learned a lot in those classes. In art, we learned art history and about various artists in each period in art history and their contribution to art. In music, we learned about singing and various musical instruments. In P.E., we learned how to play many different sports and participated actively in doing them. In our classes, we learned science and social studies. I remember learning about how batteries worked and how the incandescent lightbulb worked, all in elementary school. We learned about the different time periods throughout world history, and that is when I developed my love for history.
Today's kids get plenty of instructional time in language skills. They have "balanced literacy" (something I'm actually on board with and I think is great, but too much time is focused on it). They have guided reading, shared reading, independent reading, and writing and word study (spelling). Guided reading is when they divide into leveled reading groups and read. Shared reading is when they read together as a class. Independent reading is just that, reading independently. They focus on phonics (now called something else but it slips my mind) and whole word studies. They do spelling. They touch on writing, but I feel they don't do enough with writing. It's mostly reading. This "balanced literacy" takes up much of the day, about three hours. If they are in school for 6.5 hours (which mine are), they have 45 minutes for lunch, 15 minutes for a separate recess, that only leaves 2.5 hours for everything else. Since math is also a priority, they usually spend 1-1.5 hours on math alone. Our school has a time set aside for extra help, to help kids who have fallen behind or give enrichment to kids who are keeping up and need more stimulation. I think that's great. We are lucky to still have P.E., although it's only 30 minutes and is very different than what it was when I was growing up. Library is 30 minutes, and they have computers too. As far as music and art, that's not really required anymore so many schools skip them altogether. Science and social studies are also often neglected, which is why 4th graders no longer know how to read maps (this should be taught in 1st and 2nd grade) and 5th graders no longer know much about history.
Education is always a big issue in elections. Everybody realizes that our system isn't working very well but nobody seems to know what to do about it. I suggest bringing us back to a well-rounded education. Bring back science, social studies, music and art. Include dance and theatre arts in that as well. When I was studying elementary education, I had to take classes in each subject area and learn the basics of that subject as well as how to teach it. We also took classes on how to integrate subjects into one another because time in the classroom is limited so it works to teach more than one subject at a time (like writing a history report using proper grammar and mechanics). I don't know if this is how teacher education still works, since it has been more than a decade since I went through my program, but if it is, it doesn't make sense that they aren't doing this enough in school.
I think more testing should be done. Not end-of-the-year type of standardized testing, but testing that finds the child's abilities and strengths and then places them according to that. Teach all the subjects but utilize methods that work for that type of learner. Allow children to use their strengths as a ladder and then help them with the areas which which they are weak. Allow them to excel in the areas they are naturally good at and praise and reward them for it so they feel good about something they do. With the curriculum so rigidly focused on reading and math, that leaves a lot of children in the dust who are intelligent, even brilliant, but just struggle in those subjects.
I realize none of these things will probably happen in my lifetime, but it's nice to imagine. I'm starting to understand why home schooling is such an attractive option for many people because if done properly, it allows you to do just this, focus on your child's strengths and help them overcome their weaknesses. Focus on their learning style and adjust your teaching style to help them. Perhaps, though, if all these home schooling advocates spoke up about what needs to change in the public schools and then initiated that change, we'd have better schools.
Writing this has made me miss teaching in a lot of ways. I did love teaching all the subjects, especially finding neat ways to incorporate one subject into another. I think it's even gotten harder to do that with so much emphasis on reading and math. Reading and math are important, true. However, more can be done to make public education in America more well-rounded and inclusive.