Interesting soccer mom conversation at the field yesterday.
A woman I rarely see (despite the fact that our sons have been on the same soccer team for the past six seasons) happened to be at the game, bundled in a really cute white jacket lined with equally cute white faux fur and some very sharp matching boots.
O.k., I admit it. I felt really frumpy standing next to her in my massive--but very warm--old winter coat and my tall rubber rain boots, which is the absolute only reason I mentioned what she was wearing. Why is it that some women have such an overreaching sense of style that they can manage to somehow look simply stunning on a muddy soccer field... in 50 degree weather... with gusting wind? But I digress ...
So I was talking to this fellow soccer mom. And in between, "Nice shot, Thunderbolts!" and "Defense, defense!" we managed to have a conversation that still has me scratching my head.
The gist of it is this: her daughter--who happens to be the same age as Jo--is enrolled in public school. Last year, she was in a normal fourth grade classroom, and did so well that the school tested her to see if she should be placed in an accelerated program. The girl tested well above grade level, except in the areas of math and science, where she placed at slightly above average. Using this information, the school recommended placing the child in the accelerated program. When the mother (a certified teacher who is now a stay-at-home mom) voiced her concern about math and science, she was assured that those subjects would be taught at her level in the accelerated classroom. The family agreed, and the girl was placed in the program.
A few weeks into school, it became apparent that the girl--who has always loved school--was struggling. The mother, being an involved and proactive sort, went in to speak to the new teacher. Come to find out, the fifth grade accelerated program uses a 6th grade curriculum. This was not a huge leap in the areas where the girl was already doing well, but it had devastating effects on her confidence and abilities in the areas she was only slightly advanced in. Contrary to what she had been told, the teacher would not be offering custom-fit math and science lessons, as she had no way to provide that service to 26 individual students. The little girl would have to find some other way to "fill the gaps." Together with the teacher, the mother came up with a plan for retroactively tutoring her daughter in everything she has missed out on educationally by joining this program.
In other words, fifth grade.
The mom went on to tell me that her daughter currently has no extra-curricular activities, because her schedule is too full with school work. In addition to her normal 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. school day, she is tutored by her mother from 4:15 p.m. (the time they get home) until 6:30 p.m. Then the family has dinner. Immediately afterwards, the girl has to go and do the homework sent home by her teacher for her normal day's worth of classes. She goes to bed around 9:30 p.m.
All told, less than two hours of this ten year old's day are spent doing anything other than bookwork.
I heard this, and I tell you, I wanted to shake the woman.
I simply can not imagine Jo burdened with that much work. The life would simply be sucked out of her. As much as my children enjoy learning new things and exploring the world of education, to employ them in such a way for such an extended period of time would surely result in children who balk at the very idea of learning for the sake of learning. There is so much to be said for time spent alone with your own colored pencils, or kicking a soccer ball, or talking to your siblings, or building with Lincoln Logs or playing a board game. These are the magical moments of childhood--doing and discovering and having no agenda save a little fun.
How pathetic and awful to have one's entire memories of your fifth grade year revolving around a hellish schedule of cramming math facts and hypotheses. I think of Jo reading (for pleasure, mind you), stretched out on the couch with a rabbit on her chest. I think of the elaborate villages she has built with Legos. The hours she has spent writing plays to perform with her brothers. The new love she has discovered for Holst's The Planets. The Littlest Pet Shoppe animals she plays vet with. The rubdowns she has given our dog. The help she gives me in the kitchen.
All shoved aside for the sake of what someone else has decided is a true "education."
This is no education that I want my children to have, and I feel both privileged and blessed to be able to provide them with something else. Something less defined and, at the same time, I think, more valuable: a life. Because in the end, learning is a lifestyle. We all know that. But what we often forget is that sometimes, the best learning comes from that life itself.