I am not an Elementary School teacher. My wife is, however. She has been teaching me for years with her stories of students and work-related lore. However, I looked at things through high school aged glasses. I believed, and still do to a certain degree, that not much had happened from early American education until today. I think I have been wrong.
There are certain truths that have not changed much. One of those is the introduction and permanence of early academic literature and teaching methods in the classrooms of yesterday and today. I asked the Lowell, Massachusetts Public School system to provide me literature on what was being taught in the fourth grade today, and I compared it to yesterday. It resulted in an interesting conundrom, that being that the titles of the courses taught remained the same from the 1830’s to the current day. But, that did not mean that education had not changed somewhat. In fact, it had. I learned this by comparing books from earlier years to the current testing excessive academic curriculum.
I picked up a couple of modern books to compare today’s Fourth Grade to yesterday’s. I have to be honest. These books from today were being given away at a local neighborhood school. Maybe they had no ability to sway the students, I do not know. But the Core Curriculum was the bastion of defense. If there was going to be some radical comparision, it would be in the books and augmented by the Core Curriculum. It would not be conveniently displayed in a couple of no-cost books found in a file labeled “FREE,” in the hallway of a primary school in Lowell, Massachusetts.
So, here is what I found. There is a continual effort to make lessons current and forward-thinking. Many of the lessons were based on the embryonic curriculum of the past. Many of the titles of the 1800’s, were used today in the effort to massage learning out of the students of today. As I pointed out in another article, some repetitiveness was in the academic curriculum of the 1800’s. Academics is, by definition “of a school” and “Conventional.” (Webster’s Dictionary). Conventional does not sound good when describing the STEM Curriculum, or any other curriculum partially based on the scientific and engineering requirements of the past fifty years. When I was a third-grader, your mathematics curriculum required you to take a 100 question mathematics test in three minutes or less. I took addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division by the time I had finished the Fourth Grade.
Mathematics is much more thought provoking now. You have to determine why something happened, not just what two numbers equaled. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, I believe) was the result of a diminished capability of students to solve important questions that test their ability to answer questions on the process, not just on the accuracy of rote memorization. Kindergarten students now know how to read, I was simply being taught to color and spell my full name when I was that age. Reading, and I am not saying this because my wife is a Reading teacher, is necessary much earlier than it used to be. I was taught to read in the First Grade. I would be eclipsed by today’s schoolchildren.
Due to my substituting and following the teacher’s instructions, I have learned a great many things. One thing is that Americans do not quit. We continually try to give our children something that they did not have control over in earlier centuries. There is nothing wrong with this approach, it is called progress.
What is the point? It is simply that few students do not want to learn. Some students, such as those in ELL programs, have to build up their knowledge of English before they wrestle with all we are aiming at them, but they are like any child. They want to progress. It does not do any good to tell people that the language of the United States is English. There is no official language of the United States. ELL students deserve the same consideration as any English-speaking child in this country.
One way we can help a child who is having difficulty is to lean on those people who are Specialists in their fields. We learn History from a person like myself, a History Teacher. We learn Mathematics from a trained professional mathematician. We learn Language from a career professional who teaches English, Khmer, Spanish,