Expert Commentary: Ability, Not Age Should Determine School Placement

Everyone likes to talk about the failure of the public education system. It's a bandwagon we can all jump on and play a loud instrument. Unfortunately, the only chorus is "Ra, Ra sis boom ba, give 'em more money la."

Is more money really the answer to public education? Is more time in the classroom? How about more diverse education? Some people say good preschools will advance education. Some people say a better mix of students will create a better learning environment. More education for teachers, better pay for teachers, more time off for teachers have got to be the glue that makes it all work.

If you look at the failure of education it's too big a picture to just put a one line band aid on. Most kids that drop out of high school drop out because it's just one more fruitless effort that means just one more personal failure. In other words they have not learned how to accept that some things are boring and that boredom comes from the inside the person, not the outside in the world.

Why do children get off on the wrong track? Perhaps it starts at the beginning when they are grouped by age not ability. Some kids are way ahead and can handle some kindergarten work at three. But by kraken, they won't step a toe into school until they have reached five by a date drawn from the hand of God or the school superintendent depending on who pulls rank.

Early childhood curricula should focus on the child not the chore. Not all of us are ready for something at a prescribed age. Not all children crawl at six months, not all children walk at a year.

And even the brightest little kid will have trouble in a mega school with forty kids to one teacher. And if the brightest child is thunder struck, what about the child who is floundering? Some six year olds are still struggling with letter recognition, so when they begin to read – there's a blank.

That blank is likely to stick with a child who begins behind – they don't get it and they never learn to read or do much else in school but get into trouble.

But let's take it one step further. Why learn to read at all? What for? It is said most high school grads never read another book. Is that because reading is a chore and not a pleasure? Is reading from the beginning, the boring thing that keeps us from the things we really want to do like watch TV or play video games or go out with our friends?

Reading is a value we learn from parents. Do a child’s parents read? Do you see your teachers reading?  Who’s reading what? What’s the example? Mostly it’s TV and that’s another reason children fail. Their example for education at the hands of their educators is so poor, they are bound to be weak readers, and the inability to read well leads to failure.

And who is not reading? One of the outstanding deficits of our education system is poorly educated teachers who don't read and often can't read for understanding. Many teachers can't speak English well either. Many have no manners. Many can't write a sentence that shouldn't be corrected. If you ask a teacher about the last book he read, you are most likely to hear a popular magazine quoted.

One of our tests for incoming teachers at the Garden School is about the world. It has been called unfair and outrageous. “You’re tough,” said a public school administrator.

Can you pick out Israel , Iceland and Ireland on the map and tell me why the Ivory Coast is not a soap product?

Can you tell me which was longer – the Renaissance or the Middle Ages and which came first?

Can you read Jabberwocky out loud?

Can you tell me if all the water we have on the planet is finite, how we get fresh water?

These are all questions any teacher should know and many can't answer. The reason most can't answer is a matter of poor college curriculum, no intellectual curiosity and a failure to read.

Teachers don't have to know about the world to get a teaching license. They learn all about teaching, but at the end of a four year college program, they don't know what to teach. They've never taken history, geography, philosophy or a real science class.

What happens if you take away all text books, copy sheets and workbooks? Could a teacher still come up with enough of a curriculum to teach?

So put adult ignorance together with slack skills and students who have little or no intellectual example, and mix it all up and you get a big fat F.