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Mom ala' Kindergarten--Sheesh!

Mom ala’ Kindergarten–Sheesh!

School. We’ve all done it. One way or another, some more than we needed, some less than we would have liked. On a recent post, Deborah (aka The Genealogy Lady) asked me why I use the magazine line-lead style on my blog. And then, she shared a really interesting link on the reading style effects technology is having on the readers of today. It wasn’t exactly the Evelyn Wood Speed Reading Method, but it comes dang close.

Apparently several “big deal” studies have been undertaken lately on the effect technology (aka “screen reading”) is having on our brain-training when it comes to reading. We are developing into a society of “F readers” and are training the “youngins” to be the same. Is that surprising?

This made me think of schooling and “schools of thought” in general. It seems that invariably, what is old, eventually becomes new again. Thus proving the old saying “Nothing is ever new under the sun.”

Although the concept of “Blab Schools” sounded rather absurd to most of us growing up, it didn’t look all that bad when we saw the concept demonstrated in the weekly episodes of “Little House on the Prairie.” Kids of all ages and abilities were taught in one open room, by a single instructor. Often siblings shared a desk.

This Blab School stuff isn’t a far cry from the experimental and highly controversial “Open Concept” format of my own grade school experience.

Growing up in rural Indiana, my mother had attended school in a One Room School House–just like Halfpint— and then advanced to the centralized and consolidated High School where there were exactly 7 kids in her graduating class.

Fast forward a few years and that same rural county had become substantially more populated. In our little area, the original schoolhouses had been abandoned and the modestly sized high schools were re-purposed as consolidated grade schools.

Then, around 1960ish came the biggest change in the history of our county. Several of the “re-purposed” schools were abandoned and new, modern elementary schools were built in their place. In the approximately 25-30 year stretch between my mother’s first day of classes at a blab school and then on to a high school with a couple of dozen kids, I started school in a brand-spanking new elementary.

When I say new, I mean new! Parts were still under construction during the early weeks of that first Fall. Kids were uprooted from three old high school buildings and transplanted into a sprawling, one level, carpeted and grade-level segregated Shangri-la approved by our County Commissioners.

Around Second grade, just as Mrs Dean and I had come to a sufficient understanding that I would indeed be doomed to spend my life as a “Lefty,” a new Superintendent came to our district. He held a flashy Doctorate and lofty uptown goals for educating our hayseed little brains on the prairie. Under his direction, our new school would become the second of its kind in the nation.

Did you get that?–IN THE NATION!

In that newly cleared spot, tucked quietly in with the vast acres of corn and soybean fields a sizable plat had been generously donated to build our new school. We were to become national lab rats. Progress!

Immediately, ground was broken for expansion at our new school. The addition was one, massive, open room. The glass of the outside walls was pretty continuous except where sets of boys on the right, girls on the left restrooms stood. There were also large skylights in the ceiling for natural lighting. Structurally, there could not have been a worse design for our safety here at the tail end of Tornado Alley. The single room addition was about three or four times larger than our gymnasium/cafeteria/stage with curtains area they called a “Multi-purpose Room.”

The big project was completed, staff was all run-off or retrained, and when Fall rolled around and I started 4th grade, it was a strange new landscape. My classmates and I had spent the K-3 years at the new school under a strict program of the utmost “oldschool” fashion. We had a teacher, a room, and that’s where we stayed throughout the duration of that grade.

We did have a music teacher who rolled an upright piano down the hallway from room to room for our once-a-week music class, but otherwise, we never ventured past our classroom for anything but lunch, gym or recess.

Suddenly with the coming of 4th grade year, our school was transformed. We, the upperclassmen of the 4th, 5th and 6th grades would be divided by ability and assigned labels / levels. I was a 4-1. There were also 2’s and 3’s. It didn’t take much to figure out that everybody labeled a 4-1 was considered smarter than a 2, and far superior to a 4-3.  Even at that tender age, this “labeling” and “segregating” thing didn’t feel right to me. But still, the terror and the stigma of possibly being bumped down to a “2” (essentially re-labeling me a fallen “1”) was a lot of pressure.

We also “moved” from room to room with a bell schedule. All of this to prepare us for high school. Which is kinda what I thought our stint at the in-town Junior High was supposed to be about. We had a slew of new teachers and separate rooms for each subject. Homeroom was simply where our first subject of the day was, and where we were to hang our winter wraps and leave our galoshes.

We had no lockers. There wasn’t a budget for those.

Kindergarten remained conspicuously untouched by all this upheaval. Their nap-times and double milk breaks remained the same. As a concept borrowed from “overseas,” Kindergarten didn’t really seem significant enough for the new Superintendent to tinker around with.

The addition to the back of the school was officially referred to as the “Pods.” I’m not sure whether that was an acronym or not. But it was basically “stupid land.” My poor little brother started 1st grade that Fall. He was ushered from the quiet and sweet softness of close-doored Kindergarten to an enormous room filled with “study carrels,” lots of teachers milling around, three full grade levels of roaming kids.

There were teachers on staff for each discipline–basically the three R’s of Reading, wRiting, and aRrythmatic. Science, the Arts and Developmental Strategists (teachers’ assistants) milled about as well.

Basically, the kids in first through third grade were gently encouraged to follow their bliss and do whatever motivated or called to them on any given day. This was an effort to promote self directed (aka “learn it when you become interested in it”) mastery.Kids were laying on the floor all day with headphones on listening to stories on tape. Others sat on the desk tops of the study carrels (which we thought were somehow related to Christmas Carols because they kind of echoed when you put your head in them and started singing) drawing beautiful crayon pictures of John Deere tractors.

A few of the kids voluntarily migrated to the “structured lesson” areas; some were herded by the “Developmental Strategists.” These were the students who would later be sorted out into the 4-1 and 4-2s. But the poor suckers who were “learning in their own time,” playing Legos and drawing tractors while they said “putt-putt-putt” into the echoing desk area, they were gunning to be 4-3s. Branded for life.

And there it was–the Blab school, the one-room schoolhouse was back in use. Only a few hundred feet from the shadow of the abandoned one my own mom had attended, kids of all levels were thrown into one open room this time without rulers smacking knuckles or paddles whacking hineys. There were also no dunce caps. Dunce caps were self expressed via the kids who preferred freedom of expression and time management to “learning.” Bedlam at the taxpayer’s expense.

Fortunately, after about 2 years of this nonsense, some changes were put into place. The class levels where changed from numerical designations to insect species for fourth graders, animals of the Sahara for 5th graders, and assorted mythical predators for the 6th grade classes. I was a Thunderbird. Still moving from classroom to classroom with the same kids I had been a 4-1 and a 5-1 with, it was some pretty thin repackaging.

Meanwhile, down in the “Pods” (the “Blab School”) changes took place that no longer allowed for the self directed learning of 7-8 and 9-year-olds. Kids were given assigned spots at tables with their own name written on a strip of construction paper, and taped onto their assigned spot. Nobody got to lay in the carrels and draw tractors or echo out the putt-putt noises anymore.

Gradually, the only thing that had changed about classroom instruction for 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders was that free standing chalkboards were brought in along with bookcases to make “rooms” inside the acres of abandoned newfangled open concept,  carpeted space.

My brother spent three years crawling around under the carrels playing “explore.” Consequently, academics were a struggle for him over the next nine years. School just wasn’t the same when it suddenly became structurey.

So, I guess at least in the case of my own elementary school education, the saying stands true: There is nothing new under the sun. Or maybe Pink Floyd had it right–We don’t need no education

Do you suppose that Maybe someone should write that down…