Peter Rawitsch: A First-Grade Teacher Honors Young Learners

It’s come to this: early childhood as nightmare.  Peter Rawitsch is a first-grade teacher from New York State with nearly 40 years of classroom experience.  He’s alarmed at the course of early childhood education under the regimen of the Common Core Stated Standards, and he’s written an eloquent call to action—to parents and fellow teachers—to raise their voices.

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There’s a paywall at the Albany Times Union, so I’ve given you highlights.  Needless to say, every word is worth reading.

Rawitsch claims that  six- and seven-year-olds are diverted from their dreams in the race to get them college-and-career ready, which puts the kibosh on active learning:

Six and seven year old children are active learners. They use all of their senses to learn in a variety of ways. Each child learns at their own pace.  Play is their work. Using materials they can manipulate helps them think about how things work, use their imagination, and solve problems. They construct knowledge through their experiences.

…Because the children are at different places in their development, some have been successful with the new standards, but for too many, these new expectations are inappropriate and unfair. They’re being asked to master material they simply aren’t ready to do yet.  Among the flaws of the CCSS is the assumption that all students in a given grade are capable of learning all of the same grade level standards by the end of a school year. But many of the current 1st grade standards were, just a few years ago, skills that 2nd grade students worked on.

Rawitsch also notes the shocking fact, conveniently ignored in the broader education reform conversation, that no experts in early childhood education—nationally, and in New York State—weighed in on the development of the CSSS.

The fact is, no experts in early childhood education worked on the development of the CCSS.  There were no early childhood educators on the Board of Regents when the CCSS were adopted in New York. The result has been, that in order to help my students meet the CCSS, I’ve had to create longer blocks of time to teach reading and writing, prepare them for similar looking answers on multiple choice math tests, and help them practice locating and bubbling in small circles on answer sheets. Students are also required to keep up with the “pacing” calendars and curricula many school districts have adopted because they are synchronized with the reading, writing, and mathematics testing that is now given throughout the school year.  This means that there is much less time for Science, Social Studies, exploration, and play.

Here are Rawitsch’s parting words:

It’s time to take action! Parents need to ask teachers about how the CCSS have impacted their child’s school day. How much more sitting are the children doing for reading and writing activities? How have additional paper and pencil tests affected when and how things are taught? Which activities and experiences that once enriched the school day and fostered a love of learning have been pushed out?…Together we need to speak up and advocate for an education that celebrates and honors our young learners.


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A Portrait of Preschool Teacher as Artist by Tom Hobson

In a profession that routinely suffers the slings and arrows of disrespect—it’s “just babysitting,” many say of early care and education—it’s exhilarating to find someone who’s shooting them right back.

Without art we are all deprived

When he’s not teaching two- to five-year-olds in a physically and emotionally safe environment in which children experiment with friendships, explore emotions, and discover their own power, Tom Hobson, a minority male in a deep-pink ghetto, eloquently weighs in at his blog.

A self-described idealist, he believes that early educators have the power to dramatically change society’s view of children and education, pushing up “child-lead, emergent, play-based, democratic curriculum”  into all our K-12 schools.  I’ll have what he’s having.  He’s also got lots of company among his peers in this woefully under-estimated field, who are closing ranks in defending the early years.

Recently, “Teacher Tom” weighed in on the Common Core standards.  While he conflates the guidelines with curriculum–a common conceptual error–he’s  spot on in the rest of his critique:

My criticisms of this federal curriculum is the secretive, undemocratic manner in which they were developed; that professional educators were largely excluded from the process of their development with no early childhood professionals input at all; that none of the standards were field tested in any way before being foisted upon our children; the intentional injection of greed and private profit as the driving force; the inextricable marriage between Common Core and standardized testing and the use of these tests to make high stakes decisions about funding and individual teachers’ careers; and the galling fact that no matter how good or bad the standards are, no matter how developmentally appropriate or inappropriate, and no matter what professional educators discover and learn in the process of using them, there is absolutely no mechanism for feedback, changes, alterations, or re-writing.

Hobson’s right that professional educators were largely excluded from the process of development, and early childhood teachers were not at the policy tables—as is too often the case. Some dismiss their expertise as irrelevant, such as Robert Pondiscio, of the NYC-based Fordham Institute, who purports to be a great champion of democracy, with whom I recently tangled on this very issue.

But Hobson offers up an alternative vision of the early childhood educator’s role.  He sets forth a theory of teaching as both art and science, citing John Steinbeck, who posited that it might be “the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit,” and ruing the consequences for a vibrant democracy:

Teaching is an art and a science, yet we continue to try to turn it into a job along an assembly line. Indeed, this is always the end result when you put one group of humans (in this case adults) in charge of determining when, what, and how another group of humans (children) are going to learn.

The purpose of public education in a democracy isn’t vocational training as so many insist; it isn’t so that we can “beat the Chinese.” The purpose is to create good citizens. Beyond that, however, there is a higher purpose for education and that is to assure that each child has the opportunity to become a masterpiece of his own creation, an individual who is inspired, motivated, and passionate about life.

 


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Defending Childhood: The Heat is On

I left the country for a week and a half and all hell broke loose.  Robert Pondiscio took to the “Common Core Watch,” the bully pulpit for the conservative Fordham Institute, and asked if the blessed academic standards were too hard for kindergarten.  Little did he know the wrath he would incur among those who [... click post title to read more ...]


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