When I heard, a year or so back, that No Child Left Behind has also been called No Child Gets Ahead, I thought to myself: how absolutely fitting. Long before I paid much attention to No Child Left Behind, or thought about schools (when you're the parent of small preschoolers, you tend not to think about elementary schools), I never imagined in a million years that my own child would be one of those left behind--one of those who would fall through the cracks. I also never thought my own belief in the public school system would be so shattered. The idealist in me was determined to believe in public schools and I still want to. There are the little slivers of light when the confusion shifts and I have moments of clarity; I can see the strength of the public school and what it represents: equal education for all, parental support and involvement, equal opportunities for every child.
But mostly I'm disgruntled. And angry. And sad. And also very disappointed. I loved elementary school when I was a child. I loved the dioramas and the third-grade science fair. I loved studying other cultures and early U.S. history. I still love school. I'm an educator, after all, and I will continue to believe in the magic doors public schools open for so many. But I also can't stand to see so much creativity and so many curriculum choices fall by the wayside as teachers scramble to teach skills necessary for the EOG tests--namely math and writing skills. In L.'s school this year, I feel palpable holes in the fabric of what they should all be learning. I sit with L. and try to figure out what he's doing in school. I ask him, "Did you talk about this at school? Or this? Have you done any science today? Any history?" I rummage through his papers, trying to find some example of a creative project they're working on, and I come up with worksheet after worksheet, with the teacher's comments on the front: "L. isn't mastering this" or "L. is having difficulty with this."
Yesterday morning I walked L. into class and there was a poster taped to the white board. On it were the photos of ten environmentalists who have been important through history. The challenge for the kids is to identify each one by the week's end. A group of kids clustered around it and L. was busy at the pencil sharpener, right next to the poster.
"Who's this one?" the kids asked each other, pointing to a black and white picture.
They debated it for a few minutes, and then L. looked up and said, casually, "That's Teddy Roosevelt."
"Who?" They scramble to be the first to write down his name on a post-it to stick near the photo. It's not a competition as far as I can tell, but these kids sure think it is. Only L. seems uninterested in the challenge, content in the knowledge that he is right. It IS Teddy Roosevelt.
"I got it right!" one student says.
"No, I did!" another argues.
I look around, hoping the teacher has noticed that the other kids are taking credit for L.'s quiet answer, but she is understandably busy, weaving her way through the kids and getting the morning started. It doesn't really matter, in the scheme of things. I know L. is right; he knows it, too. But suddenly I'm ridiculously upset by that moment; it seems to speak volumes to me--to symbolize what has gone so wrong this year. When I leave, I'm mad--at myself, for being upset over such a small thing; and at the public school system, for giving me so many big things to be angry about.