It is wrong to lie to children. Adults entrusted with educating children must abide by this simple principle. Schools, however, routinely shade the truth in the name of policy or curriculum. Lies come in all shapes and sizes from, "You'll need algebra when you grow up" to, "Standardized test scores justify the dismantling of creative curricula." School rules are enforced routinely based on rationale no one remembers. Confidence in the truthfulness of the curriculum and teachers is critical.
Forensic Backpack Ethnography
One needs to look no farther than your child's backpack to find examples of explicit or tacit misrepresentation. I recently did just that by examining the paperwork brought home by my nephew. The kid is a first grader in a suburban school district that has sacrificed recess at the alter of test scores.
Document One - A letter from the principal, "Your Partner in Education"
Beginning this month, kindergarten and first grade students will begin to receive World Language instruction in their regular classrooms in order to meet the state mandate. Mrs. KP will provide exploratory French instruction to the kindergarten students for 30 minutes per month, while first grade students will continue to receive instruction in introductory Spanish with Mrs. DR for 60 minutes per month. As current brain research studies have indicated, children are most receptive to learning a second language from birth to age 10. For this reason, our state has mandated that all districts provide world language instruction from K-12.
This memo oozes insincerity and deceptively peddles an educational program even the principal notes is of dubious value. The unfunded state mandate is dishonest. The crazy notion that such "exposure" is worthwhile in two different languages taught by teachers with undisclosed qualifications is at best troublesome. The illusion that a real educational standard is being satisfied is troublesome and I believe that it was Mark Twain who first said, "Citing brain research is the last refuge of scoundrels."
Document Two - False complexity and the modern worksheet
Words with Short e
Read each sentence. If one of the underlined words is spelled wrong, use a pencil to color in the circle that goes with that word. If no word is spelled wrong, color in the circle below the word NONE. Before you begin, study Sample A and do Sample B.
Every parent has confronted the worksheet that failed to make sense, but things have gotten "curiouser and curiouser" since we now explicitly teach to the standardized test(s). In fact, my nephew's homework dittos had such romantic titles as "Level 1, Lesson 14 Standardized Test 14C." The false complexity found in many of these worksheets disguise their trivial content in confusing procedures and satisfies the increasing demand for uniform homework policies.
This worksheet does more to teach cryptography than reading. Our friends at the multinational textbook conglomerate could sure teach a thing or two to the DMV.
Document Three - Just make up stuff and pretend it makes sense
The following example from a real-life worksheet is a doozy.
Make new words by adding and taking away letters.
tan - a + e = ten
wall - a + e = ________
Children are routinely subjected to a circle of fraud in the name of educational standards. Nonsensical busywork is used to justify questionable curricular content and dubious objectives are used to validate preposterous busywork. A personal favorite is the circle the triangle problem with a picture of a coat hanger as the correct answer.
This exercise is based on the Intensive Direct Algebraic Phoneme System that states, "When a child is confused by reading or number sense, combining the two will multiplicatively decrease the likelihood of understanding."
Can George Orwell please report to the main office?
In this school, children deprived of recess are required to speak quietly in their "indoor voices" while eating lunch. The quietist class each week is awarded the school's "Spirit Award." Perhaps the questionable worksheets are employed to retard the development of literacy for if these kids could use a dictionary they would expose such hideous examples of newspeak.
Gary Stager is editor-at-large and an adjunct professor at Pepperdine Univ.