Does the Dumbing Down of America Start With Our Children?

March 14, 2012

As usual, public education is in the news.  We complain about it, worry about, propose solutions to improve it, but the story is still a sad one.

LA Unified has proposed yet another set of budget cuts.  This one would remove all art programs from elementary schools.  Sigh.

The district is so bad off that without a major overhaul it will never improve, but I know LA Unified is not the only public school system in this country with problems.  Patterns across the nation are changing for the worse.  The “standards” are supposedly rising, and yet kids are entering middle school without basic math skills.  Our high school students are being outscored and outplaced by their counterparts overseas.  It won’t be long before we see #omfg in the dictionary.

And still, I keep hearing that elementary school is much more demanding now.  “They” have high expectations.  It’s not like it used to be!

Really?  Because When I was in elementary school I can remember actually being scared of my math teacher.  Yes, I had a separate math teacher because in my PUBLIC elementary school, beginning in the third grade we changed classes like the middle schoolers.

Nearly twenty years later, when I became a sixth grade teacher I was repeatedly called out by both parents and administrators for being too strict.  For giving students low marks.  Shit, they can’t remember to bring a pencil to math class?

And now, nearly twenty more years have passed.  I am no longer teaching school, but I am a parent, and education is constantly on my mind.  Hayden is in a pre-K program and will probably start kindergarten in August.  He will undoubtedly be the youngest in his class since the state has changed the cut-off date for kindergarten age requirements.  He will be in a kindergarten class with kids who look like they are in second grade, which is the single reason why I would even consider “holding him back.”

Because I do feel that by not sending him to kindergarten this fall I would be doing just that- holding him back.

As parents and educators and politicians and “experts” we have initiated the trend to hold our children back in everything they do.

Kids are being swaddled until they weigh more than the family dog.  They are drinking from a bottle and wearing diapers until they are five years old (hang on, I have to gag).   They are encouraged to delay kindergarten until not five, but six years old.  They must now ride in carseats until they are in the fifth grade (because that is how old my son will probably be by the time he passes the weight limit for a carseat).

In some ways, we are expecting less and less of our children.  And yet, we as a nation are DUMBING DOWN.

I tell you, if my son at the age of three can be shown one time how to play the Sonic racing game on a iPad and beat his father every time from there on out, he can hold a pencil and learn to write at age four.

Am I missing something here, or have the expectations for children changed considerably?  And if so, why?

How do you handle these issues with your kids?  Do you follow the “experts” recommendations, or do you follow your instincts and cues from your child?


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6 Responses to Does the Dumbing Down of America Start With Our Children?

  1. Alex@LateEnough on March 15, 2012 at 10:29 am

    I think we are pushing and coddling in all the wrong places (except car seats. The longer in the seat the safer not because kids are stupid but because many car safety features are designed for adult heights)
    The public school system is too inflexible. I’ve been on both sides — one skipped a year and one we are holding back. But neither were for academics and neither choice would be possible or helpful to my kids in a public school system setting.
    I don’t think school is about academics. It’s about social relations and hierarchy. it’s about how to think more than what to think. But there aren’t good measures for those things. So they stay and we pretend school isnt about that by measuring memorization of facts instead and giving into the idea that no kid is average or all kids should be average.


    thesweet Reply:

    It’s a tough decision for me because I think in some ways H is ready- he’s a thinker, an analyst (unfortunately this aspect of him will not be challenged much in school). But then there will be the bullies and the emphasis on writing letters perfectly, and I am not so sure about sending him. If we don’t send him to kindergarten in the fall he will repeat a year of preK.


  2. Christy D on March 15, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Unfortunately I don’t have any kids, but I agree with everything you are saying. Oh and also, we are allowing our kids and older generations to expect that everything should be handed to them. Um…no, you should work hard for what you want and then it can be given!! And why can’t there be losers any more?! Don’t you learn more about yourself when you lose?! How can you learn to get back up again.


    thesweet Reply:

    There is this weird trend now of “good jobbing” kids for everything they do. The kid breaths? He’s a winner! I feel like we are giving them a bunch of fluff.


  3. Anne at Always Half Full on March 16, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    I’m a public school teacher and I have major problems with both sides – how schools are educating kids and how parents are raising them. The standards-based system we have fallen to is killing the education system. The pressure to teach so much information (often most of it being developmentally inappropriate for the majority) causes rushed instruction and memorization tactics. The reason students don’t have basic skills is because we don’t (and can’t) teach for meaning because there are too many facts they need to spit back on a multiple choice test that determines whether schools are funded and whether I’m a good teacher or not. We need to be teaching concepts and understandings, critical thinking, problem-solving – and the facts will follow. As hard as many try to teach that way, the standards take over.
    Not to mention federal law dictates that students identified as having a disability that causes them to learn in different ways and different rates than their peers (special education) are required to pass the same tests with the same information as their grade level peers that do not have disabilities. Heck, Virginia law for special education has students within a range that labels them with an intellectual disability taking the same tests as average intelligence peers – what is that about? After less than a year in this country, a student that is not proficient in the English language must pass the same tests as students who are fluent and literate in English since birth. Please tell me how that makes any sense?
    I’m fine with making sure there are certain things all students learn. But when I’m required to teach twice to three times as many concepts/facts/skills than there are days in a school year – education will never be about quality – no matter how hard I try.
    I could go on for another 5 years on this topic… but I won’t!


    thesweet Reply:

    Just some of the reasons why I didn’t last more than two years as a classroom teacher. Even back then we spent several months literally teaching to the test.


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