Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Well-Rounded Education

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. 


swedemom said...

I think education varies greatly state by state, even by district. My hometown, Cody, Wyoming has an OUTSTANDING education system with lots of recess and really well-balanced academic program. Kids in Cody still get 3 recesses per day.

I think New York has a pretty balanced program. They have all the extras, like music, art, P.E., library (P.E. is more than once a week), BUT they only have 1 recesses a day. I think we need more recess.

All-day kindergarten has been around for awhile in NY. All of my children have had it and have done just fine.

My kids have a great program in Saudi Arabia, but I'm not sure how many recesses they get. I think they get at least 2. I'll have to ask them.

In my opinion, I think literacy and time spent learning how to read IS needed. My kids really struggle with reading, and, for every single one of them, they have needed a lot of additional help (beyond what I was given as a kid) to be able to manage it. In NY, a much greater emphasis was placed on reading and it benefited my sons. Here in KSA, my younger son is really struggling because the school simply won't provide the additional help he needs in the classroom with reading. I'm doing all I can after-school with him, but he does need some downtime, and time to be a kid.

I agree with you about writing. I don't think writing is taught well at schools.

My friend is homeschooling her kids and uses a program called "Excellence in Writing" that is amazing. It breaks down the mechanics of writing into really clear steps so the kids actually learn. The website is

Royalbird said...

I definitely think the idea of balanced literacy is good, I just don't think a lot of schools put it into practice very well. It's not really all that balanced. Part of balanced literacy is supposed to be writing, and many schools glaze over that. Then when kids get in the upper grades or middle school, they don't know much about the writing process at all. I remember a program used by my school when I was a kid called "The Writing Road to Reading" and it was a very good way of incorporating writing into reading. I do think that reading is important, I just feel you can incorporate reading into every subject so it doesn't necessarily have to be a subject that takes up so much time by itself--do reading and writing activities with the science curriculum and the social studies curriculum. California has some of the worst schools in this regard. Arizona's aren't too great either. I think Utah does all right incorporating everything, but this varies a LOT from school to school. Our principal is big on the arts so she really tries to incorporate art and music into it all. I will have to check out that website. I don't feel that my oldest knows as much about the writing process as he should by now, so I'd like to try and help him some more, especially since he has a love for writing.


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