Jack arrives at elementary school, wearing his school district approved school uniform, around 7 a.m. for the before school program. He stays in the school’s cafeteria until it’s time to line up to go to his classroom with the rest of his class to begin his classes around 9 a.m. During his stay in the cafeteria, he is given breakfast which is mostly dry cereal and 2 percent milk, maybe a piece of fruit, if he is lucky.
He has classes during the morning which are mostly geared to the language arts area, reading, spelling, grammar, writing, and maybe math. He does get a morning recess, unstructured, on the playground for 15 minutes. Jack needs unstructured in his life at school as long as his unstructured time doesn’t turn into something that gets him into trouble for acting “unstructured” too much.
Lunch time finds him back in the lunch room again for a noon meal that, on paper at least, sounds great, but in reality is a prepackaged reheated parody of a real meal. Jack might or might not eat all or part of it, depending on looks, smell, taste or peer pressure.
After clearing his area of debris from lunch, he is dismissed for about a half hour of recess — unstructured — before he has to line up again and file into his classroom for more lessons. He might get to go to music and computers as many as twice weekly depending on how his school arranges for those things. Science and social studies, which encompasses geography and history, are played down as these are subjects that are not emphasized on the all important standardized tests with which the school and the school district are judged as to whether or not they are increasing their test scores.
The afternoon is broken up by another 15 minute recess — unstructured, of course — and then it’s maybe 45 minutes or so until the end of the day and dismissal.
Jack won’t be going home yet though as he goes to the after-school program which is held, conveniently, right at his school, in, you guessed it, the lunch room. He’ll be in that room doing homework, having dinner, much like his lunch and maybe some free time — unstructured — until he goes home when his parent picks him up no later than 5:30 or 6 p.m.
When the time changes in the fall of the year, Jack will be going to school and going home in darkness. Does Jack maintain his focus in his studies at every opportunity? Would you? Of course not. School for Jack is not the magical place of enlightenment it should be. It might never have been for Jack, as he has gone through this routine every day of his schooling, if he is in one of the upper grades of elementary school, ever since he has gone to school.
Is Jack a discipline problem? If not he is a prime candidate to become one. When Jack gets home in the evening, are his parents or parent capable of re-enforcing any learning that has occurred for Jack during his school day? Maybe or maybe not.
The catch phrase in the school district today is “No Child Left Behind.” Unfortunately there are hundreds of Jacks in our local school district who are being left behind simply because they experience the same boring routine that Jack does every day of their public school career.
People are always comparing the United States with, say, Japan and that country’s test scores. There really is no comparison possible. It is ludicrous to try to compare the two. Japanese families respect education and the educators. They value knowledge and those who disseminate knowledge to others. They nurture their young at home in a way that re-enforces any learning that has occurred for their young in the school setting.
Many of the Jack’s in our education system are sent off to school to get them out of the parent’s hair, let the system feed them, house them for a while and humor them, if possible, and then, begrudgingly, send them home sometime within the 24 hour period of the day. Is Jack becoming the epitome of dull, boring and, heaven forbid, a dropout at some point? What do you think? Is this child being left behind?
Larry Wilson is a 50-year resident of Sparks and a retired elementary school teacher. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.