Some of the most fond memories I have of my childhood, outside of the time spent with my family, are that of day care, nursery school, pre-k, and kindergarten. My parents would drop me off at the house, church, and schools (respectively) and when they picked me up at the end of the day, I would babble incessantly about everything that had occurred. About the way Sister Mary pushed our desks away, had us stand in a circle, and taught us about hugging, saying “no”, appropriate touching (blatantly assuring us all that coming forward about any interactions we felt uneasy about was both brave and encouraged), as well as my boy-hunting during free time, about the “modern” art Lori had us create by ourselves with macaroni and pipers before she ushered us to put our art on the radiators to dry before she rolled out a huge piece of canvas and laid on the floor with us and we all painted a mural to be proudly hung in the courtyard for the rest of the school to see, about the books and movies Mrs. Benezra showed and encouraged us to indulge in, how we sang about the days of the week every single day before we left for the classroom, about the poetry we wrote without instruction… These women helped my classmates and I learn in safe, productive environments filled with color and confetti and movement. We were always set in groups with children across the room when we needed to work in teams. We were taught that everything we created necessitated time and effort, and that with those things the beauty could be appreciated. We were driven towards math and English and science and our teachers were engaging and, more often than not, sat with us during these educational experiences: be that on the rug watching ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’, in the pool when we trusted we could float, or in the mud capturing crickets and earthworms in order to marvel at their contributions to the life cycle (before being placed back in the flowerbed).
That makes it all the more heartbreaking and disturbing to see articles and reports detailing that 8,000 preschool children are suspended each year more than once (and of course most of these kids are little black boys because brown skin is so frightening). The first years of school aren’t all sunshine and roses, of course. There are outcasts and problematic kids (like the one who put glue in my hair after I refused to share), but the appropriate reaction to these tantrums and instances of acting out isn’t suspension. If I remember correctly, the kid (Lewis? who was the size of a second grader, yet 4-years-old like me) was pulled aside and sternly asked why he poured glue onto my ponytail. He offered up an unsatisfactory explanation and Lewis had his art taken from him and put in time out for the rest of craft hour in order to understand that lashing out at other people in lieu of verbalizing his frustrations would result in his extracurricular activities being denied to him. It was never a problem again – not for any of the sixteen children in that basement classroom. The transgression faded into memory and we proceeded along as well as we all had before that incident.
Placing the focus on funding rather than the education and productivity of children is at the core of the problem with our educational system these days. And increased funding is a result of higher test scores. These high scores, of course, come from schools whose children already have historically accurate and up to date textbooks, nutritional lunches, and arts and music funding (also known as “super schools“). But there is also the issue of dealing with stress. Teachers aren’t unilaterally taught how to deal with children at all, let alone how to deal with one or two annoying/bullying/uncommunicative kids, when they also have fifteen to twenty other children to care for. *cough*Teach For America is shit*cough* So they treat them as they would an adult who possesses reasoning skills – they lash out expecting the kids to understand the full scope of their transgressions. Expecting the little humans to get that there is such a thing as a three strike rule. To know that physical communication is strictly prohibited… It can’t work that way, and clearly, it doesn’t.
While the school to prison pipeline florishes, millions of kids who aren’t intentionally thrown out of their classrooms and into “detention centers” (prison) are taught to abhor learning because of the restrictions it places on their self-expression and tendency to explore everything. Even worse is that these children aren’t being taught anything of substance, but are instead forced into scantron shading classes before being tested on random facts they can’t even remember a year later. All so the school can receive funding for NOT-textbooks nor writing implements. Most of the funding goes to the aforementioned super schools creating a larger disparity between communities, and puts more pressure on ill-prepared educators as gym, music, arts, and ESL programs are cut and their children haphazardly placed in special education.
…The entire system is on fire and is also being gleefully ignored… But what happens when this generation reaches adulthood and can’t function in the society which so fucked it? What do we do then?