One week into school and I’ve heard from Cosmic Jr’s teacher twice. Yesterday, after a week of the boy swearing he had no homework (over and over – I was giving him a chance to ‘fess up), she called to inform me that he had not turned in anything. Sooooo… we pick him up from school, bring him home, chew him out and sit him down for the homework march of death. Which nearly killed Mom. Cosmic Jr. is wailing that it’s all boring.
We start with science, since the boy wanted to start with reading. [insert evil parental cackle] For an hour we drop balls of goo and measure their bounce height, stretch them and measure their stretchability and imprint them with paperclips. All in all, not a bad series of experiments – until Mr. Cosmic said something about the scientific method. And Cosmic Jr. looked clueless. Er…?
Moving to math, I discover that the "essential skill" being studied is using shortcuts to figure out divisibility. In the fifth grade? WTH were they doing for the first four? Even numbers is a valid topic for 10 year olds? What are the 8 year olds doing? Counting to 10? The "challenge" question (not required, of course) was to find a number over 100 that is divisible by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, and 10. Gosh, let’s see. Ends in 0 and we can mark off 2, 5, and 10. Throw in a 4 next and we can mark off 4. Make it 540 and we’re done. Gosh, a whole 8 seconds or so of challenge. What happened to trains traveling towards each other from Chicago and Pittsburgh? *grits teeth*
Spelling – surely spelling will be a challenge? I peek at the assignment. "Choose 5 words with suffixes, use them in sentences and write the definitions." CHOOSE? CHOOSE? OK, once I lower my blood pressure, I decide that we can make this worthwhile by building in some grammar skills, so we start with the suffix -ly and I’m gonna cover adjectives and adverbs. "Cosmic Jr., what type of word is lone?" He stares blankly. I ask what the definition of a noun and a verb is (realize this is a kid who has read and reread all the Harry Potter’s and loves to read) – he looks blank. I scrap spelling for the time being and ask when they are going to diagram sentences. Apparently no one diagrams sentences anymore. "Stream of consciousness with personal spelling encourages creativity" and "spelling lists are ineffective". No wonder resumes are utterly incoherent – no one knows if their participles are dangling or their modifiers are misplaced and they couldn’t conjugate a verb (much less spell conjugate) if their lives depended on it. I think it is time to revive Schoolhouse Rock, dammit.
Reading. I know we’ll be fine with reading, right? Until I see that his language arts book is the state EOG study guide. Since when are study guides textbooks? Why are we teaching the tests instead of the skills? Why have two parents I know been turned down in their request to advance their advanced students a grade? Easy, if you have to keep the slow kids with their class (wouldn’t want them left behind to actually learn the material), we have to keep the fast kids back to balance the test scores so the schools look like they are "successful".
Can we bring back nuns and eraser throwing harridans who believe that when kids leave their class they should *know* the material – not only the test answers, but the why behind them? Can we graduate kids that can read and write and spell and do long division and balance an equation? And no, I’m not blaming teachers – every one I’ve ever talked to firmly believed in teaching the key skills (you know, like phonics) and every one was mired in the "required curriculum" to "prepare students for the EOG tests". In other words, 5 years of elementary school are basically geared towards teaching a test so the school looks good.
As someone who teaches skills for a living, I can tell you that someone who passes a certification exam will lose the job to someone who actually has the ability to do the job – every single day of the week and twice on Sunday.