Monday, May 21, 2012

It's wrong to group kids by date of manufacture

Guest post by Teresa McCloskey

While at the park today with the kids, I saw a classmate of Mason's, coincidentally also named Mason and also in as much trouble with authorities as my own Mason.

Mason & Mason F. started kindergarten at the same time.  Their date of manufacture is obviously comparable.  They are both currently in 7th grade.  But Mason F. now stands nearly 2 feet taller than my Mason.  He's filling out.  Mason F. has very obviously hit puberty in his 12th - 13th year of life.  Mason F. was stealing backpacks from two girls then later blew them off to hang with a young lady dressed scantily in short shorts and a spaghetti tank top.  He escorted her out of the park looking every inch of a 16 or 17 year old if I hadn't known his real age.  Meanwhile, my Mason was happily climbing a tree and riding his bike up & down a hill as fast as he could.

Bradley was also along with us today.  He's now a couple inches taller than Mason, and his voice has started squeaking and cracking.  Bradley just turned 12 in February, so he's on the younger side, but still, puberty is making itself known as his jaw strengthens and he struggles between acting child-like and wanting to do more 'mature' things.

All 3 boys would fall in the realm of 'normal development' in terms of their physical growth.  Yes, my Mason's has probably been stalled and delayed a bit due to numerous issues, not the least of which is his stimulant medication for behaviors.  But what I found myself marveling about was the fact that any adult person would honestly and truly tell these 3 boys that they are ALL. NORMAL.  That their bodies will grow, change, develop, and mature at very differing rates, and that is NORMAL.  That puberty can strike anywhere from age 8-15 and nobody will bat an eye over it.  We will bend over backward trying to reassure a young person that it will happen for them, too; especially for those poor souls who do not physically develop until much later than their peers.  They endure such wonderful treatment from their friends by being called things like, "Smurf," and "Shorty," and probably a lot of names much crueler than that.  Each name surely hurts, though, and serves to remind that child that they are different, perhaps "less than" the others around them.

But if we adults work so hard to assure children that what their bodies are going through is 100% natural - as God intended - the way things are - beyond their control, why oh why do we not believe the same about the overall learning process? Why do we not trust that each individual's brain functions in a unique and individual manner which makes learning various skills and abilities come when nature intends?  Reading, math, writing - these are huge areas where kids are forced, pressured, and frequently demeaned, diminished, and coerced when they are not doing it at the same level as their peers.

Why do we do this to kids?  If we can trust their bodies to grow as nature intended, what on earth makes us think we know best when their minds should develop and exactly which skills their brains should be able to accomplish based on arbitrary timetables?  Why do we try to standardize their learning to be identical to every other child who was born around the same time rather than respecting that each child will fulfill their mind's destiny when offered a wide range of interesting information the way we offer a wide range of healthy foods?

Teresa McCloskey is a mom of 4 boys, 'host' mom to countless exchange students from around the world, wife to one amazing husband, daughter of the King, student, life learner who no longer believes in time outs, naughty spots, spankings, shaming, or the compulsory government indoctrination institution system. John Holt, Alfie Kohn, Naomi Aldort, and Adele Faber are some of my heroes.


  1. A very good point!! Pushing them through on a conveyor belt just because they were all born on the same year often fails to address their personal emotional and intellectual needs.
    Interesting read :)

  2. "what on earth makes us think we know best when their minds should develop and exactly which skills their brains should be able to accomplish based on arbitrary timetables"

    I believe that would be neuroscience.

  3. @Anonymous,
    If we were looking at neuroscience we wouldn't group kids by date of manufacture. I challenge you to cite any neuroscience studies that indicate humans learn the same things, the same way, at the same rate at the same age.

    1. Why would you challenge me to cite that. I never said any of those things. I take issue that our brain develops certain skills arbitrarily.

  4. Perhaps it's not the original grouping but maybe the way promotion works? I'm sure that there are plenty of students who have been socially promoted through school, which is definitely a detriment to them because they are not truly getting the help they need; other the other hand, I am sure that there are students who are way ahead of their peers who should be "skipped ahead" and are prevented from doing so.

    And schools aren't entirely at fault here, either. I am sure that quite a number have bowed to parent pressure because of the stigma of being "held back."

    It's a tough problem to solve/change to make, but I'd love to see your solutions. My perspective is from that of high school, so where I'm sitting, I'd start by capping class sizes at 15-20 students. This way, differentiating and individualizing instruction is easier.

    I know that isn't a complete solution but it's a start.

    Of course, that would require hiring more teachers which means spending more money which means potentially higher taxes ... aaaaand that's not an idea lot of people seem to like.

    1. Sorry for the double comment here, but I forgot something. To add to my comment, I'd also make course selection at the secondary level varied and customizable enough so that students are able to take courses in what's interesting to them along with completing core requirements.

    2. @Tom Panarese,
      Most people progress in different areas at different rates so it makes no sense to move a person up or down in every area. In the current school structure social promotion makes complete sense because not doing so results in a label for the child who is just repeating what didn't work and all research shows that leaving students back is academically and socially detrimental.

      The solutions are already there. Democratic schools and SEM allow students to be authentically grouped by interest and ability and is available for ALL age levels. Montessori, while generally found in early grades, are making more of an appearance in secondary levels. Google Montessori High School and you'll be pleasantly surprised.

      These solutions DO NOT require more money. Just a rethinking and restructuring.

      If we're really concerned about saving tax payer's money, we'd stop the runaway mega billion dollar testing industry. The truth is most people sit by and do nothing while our children are not being properly served even though models exist. The government refuses them funding. The people/parents need to speak out and demand what is best for kids.

    3. @Tom Panarese,
      Students should have course selection at all levels of school. I don't believe everyone needs the same core as we're all different and we don't need the same things. Also, let's not fool ourselves. Many of us had boring crap forced upon us. I know I'm not alone when I say I didn't learn and don't remember a single thing delivered that way.

    4. I guess there was "boring crap" forced upon me at times that I never did use--I never did use what I learned in calculus--however, I know that even in the classes that weren't the most useful in the long run, I learned something either about the subject or my own character.

      As for solutions not requiring money ... it's possible, but knowing how this bureaucracy tends to work, I wouldn't be surprised if someone wasn't able to squeeze some extra money out of it (and I definitely agree that the textbook companies have been robbing us blind for years and that needs to be stopped).

      A measured approach to such a large-scale change might be a good idea here. For instance, starting with small changes that are easily implemented and get quick, sustainable results before tackling larger, system-wide problems.

  5. I am torn and conflicted on this issue. So here are my thoughts. There is no one child that is like the other. None of them grow or develop exactly the same, learn the same, enjoy the same social activities, etc. But as the guest author pointed out, all three boys are within the normal "range" for their manufactured date. Their cognitive and social development is not only due to neuroscience and genetics but also environmental, socioeconomic class and learning disabilities. Yes, the truth is that puberty starts between 8 and 15. But puberty and intelectual maturity do not go hand in hand either. The truth is there is a range for all children... I am thinking of Piaget's research.So, if we allow for students to learn at their own pace, will they ever make it through school or be ready for college or carrer paths? I individualized instruction for my students, both in leveled in groups as individuals. I don't cram anything down their throats, but rather expose them to tasks and content at a their developmental readiness allows for. Regardless of the "high stakes" grade level testing, I view students' individual progress as what is the most important. However, when do we say to a parent, your child is working at a developmental level that is well below his or her age range. I don't know about you, but I don't think this works either. There are some great parents out there who knowexactly how to bring the best out if their child as far as learning is concerned. These parents homeschool, unschool, or enroll their child in digital or traditional education and then work closely with the teacher to bring their parental insights to the classroom. There are some teachers out there that are so dedicated that they spend their own money, extra time, and energy to help students as if the child were there own. But I have seen lazy parents say they are homeschooling, and really just means they give their child a Math and English workbook purchased from Walmart (if they do this much.) This leaves big gaps in a child's learning and they are set up for failure before ever beginning. Likewise, there are unfit, bitter, overworked and underpaid educators who should have never gone into the profession. Personally, I like the idea of straying away from worksheets and texts books and using a thematic approach to incorporate multiple interests while still teaching authentic real world skills. I also would like to see multi-age (not grade level) classrooms. The best experience I have ever had was when I taught a class of 7-10 year old, looping with them for at least two years. The themes would change and the content level increase in difficulty of course, but the multi aged group I taught tended to learn so much for their differences that they were more cohesive as a group and more enthusiastic as learners. One way of learning does not work best for everyone and I am all for varying types of schooling, so long as the child does not fall into an arrested development and progress was being tracked in some way.

    1. == If we allow for students to learn at their own pace, will they ever make it through school or be ready for college or carrer paths?==
      Absolutely. Read my posts an unschooling and you'll learn not only will they be ready, but in most cases they are better prepared than those who are traditionally schooled.

    2. ==I am all for varying types of schooling, so long as the child does not fall into an arrested development==
      If a child wants tho learn s/he can not be stopped.

      ==and progress was being tracked in some way.==
      I'm not sure this is as important as we think. Think about real life and how we track progress. I believe real world assessment makes much more sense. We can see how we're doing without traditional assessments. Additionally, tracking OFTEN gets in the way of learning. Imagine if we tracked walking and talking in the same way we expect tracking to occur in schools. I believe it would be detrimental and unnecessarily costly.

  6. You are teaching me patience, Lisa. ;-) I have started to reply several times, but keep get interrupted and when I come back to the computer, I continue to read your blogs on unschooling and innovative technology as well as various methodologies and so forth, and you are taking me out of my comfort zone I'll have you know. LOL. That's a good thing. My husband said to me last night as I was reading your blog from my droid before going to sleep, "Why the heck are you reading about educational stuff?? It's summer time!" And I stopped in my tracks and a light bulb went off in my head.... I, like any other child I know, was reading and learning because I WANTED to and was curious. Not because someone was requiring me to do so. I am just about as geeky as they come when it comes to integreting new technologies and assessing my own students in a variety of ways, authentic ways.... And although at my digital school, we do have curriculum written for us, teachers have the right and ability to alter it in any way. But, what I have not been able to wrap my head around (which I think I started my true learning process last night) is the unschooling realm. You see, I am a "pleaser;" I've always been given a hoop and jumped through it with perfect ease and grace. Yay for me...or is it? Then as I became older, I began jumping though more hoops provided by my school/teachers, but I would sometimes get in trouble because I lit the hoop on fire and jumped through it backwards. Ok, maybe my metaphor is hard to follow, but go with me for a minute.... I love to learn, always have. It didn't matter what, I just felt an internal need to master it. My mom would often tell me I was wishing my life away, trying to accomplish too much at a time, but I couldn't help it. It was what I wanted to do. I now have a 16 yr old son, who is a lot like me. He went to traditional school and participated in his gifted program from K-8 grade. After entering HS, he was so bored and distracted, and did not socially make a smooth transition. (He's always had his "corkiness" but it really started becomeing more evident in 7-8th grade and by highschool was really obvious.) He was bullied and of course, being the "rule follower" did not fight back, which only made the bullying worse because he was made fun of for not fighting back. The administration did nothing. The teachers did nothing. He failed an assignment that he worked on so hard; it was a research report on the Warsaw Ghetto, and because he didn't follow the teacher's instructions explicity (she wanted a double spaced 2 page report and he created a a Go Animate" video where one character taught the other about the topic. I thought it was really cool, and you could tell he had done the research. That didn't matter- F... We have recently (I know this is "late in the game") by my son is an Aspie. He is now doing school at home with me as his coach and his curriculum (and teachers) allow for his differences without placing him in special education. We have a program at our school called REAL- (Real Experiences for Authentic Learning) where my son gets to develop his own course and earn credit for it. He will be job shadowing someone who is a graphic designer (which is my son's passion-- his work is all over Deviant Art). He will choose his own goals, he will put in the time, and he will produce a product that reflects his learning. The sky is the limit.

  7. So, what I am trying to say is, I am starting to understand the parents who really are truly involved and creative and unschool or homeschool their children. They talk about the things they do, and I think, "Hmm, that's a fantastic idea." Here is where I get lost. I am a creative teacher, and a digital teacher at that, who changes some of "blah" parts of my prewritten curriculum and substitute pencil/paper monotonous tasks with various ideas that are more fun and give children more ownership in there learning...But where I start to feel conflicted is when my endoctrinated brain is told data is not important. Deep down, its probably not as important as I was taught. And, I know for certain that no one student fits into the box our educational system has provide them. This is one of the reasons I moved from traditional teaching to digital...However, we are held to the same standards as public schools in our state, and in order to stay open, we have to show growth and value added and blah, blah, blah. So, I am guilty of using some of my time to teach to the test. I have started creating games with "released" state test items from previous school years, and using the data I've crunched, have found the top 25 math and top 25 reading "most commonly missed" types of items. We "play" through VOIP/whiteboard interface and I am working on a way for students to create their own games or presentations on a couple of release test items and then we will all share with one another. Is this a good solution? Not really... Is it the only one that takes some of the sting out of the test; for me and my 3rd graders, yes. I even wrote a story called Twas the Night Before Testing and read it to my class the day before state testing to ease their nerves. Its an uplifting story, and the "morale" of the story is "Try your best on whatever you do, but remember this test is just one measure, it does not define YOU." This has seemed to work. I actually raised reading scores last year by 26% points.

  8. So, I suppose I am still entangled in how to remain creative, keep my job, allow my students to enjoy their learning and work at the same pace while still needing to incorporate test preparation. I have learned (by trial and error) in my environment, that by adding little "check points" along the way in my course about what was hard, what was easy, what did you like, what would you rather learn about, and have them answer a few "mastery of content" types of questions, most everybody is satisfied. But am I?? I don't know. I love what I do, and I don't feel like I can challenge the standards and toss them out myself, because my livelihood depends on it. And I do so much more with the students' learning that I have learned to justify it. So that is delimmna #1. #2, I still wonder how exactly the students who are unschooled "properly" (probably a poor choice of words) manage to fit into the square peg of college when they are a different shape. This boggles me, but I respect the parents who understand it and are able to raise children like this. That is awesome and my hats off to the unschooling and homeschooling communities. But I wonder what else I can learn from them to help in my alternative form of learning that is still subjected the traditional way of testing each year. I feel like I need to figure out their secret, or change something I do, or continue doing something I already do, etc. Qs- Are there ever children who learn at home who do NOT pick up the skills they need to be successful and is this just determined by adjusted by what the parent thinks their child needs, whether it is more structure in one area and more freedom in others? And last but not least, what is being done, or can be done, about those cases where educational neglect is occurring. I have had instances of working with parents who had no skills or desire to home or unschool. We (teachers, society, etc.) cannot stop them, but I feel this desire to somehow get these children into a safe and happy learning environment. Without taking parental rights away to opt out of testing and so forth, what can be done about these students who are kept home for a variety of nonschool related situations? Please feel free to delete my posts-- I do not want to dominate your board, but you've really got my juices flowing. Oh, one last thing... I saw that you work for the NY DOE; is learning about other forms of education a hobby/interest or is it to be able to work towards change in our overall traditional school system by incorporating some of their methodologies? lol- ok, I'm finished. ;-)

  9. I guess I have trouble with trusting that the light bulb will go off in its own time. I worry that delays are signs of larger problems that require help and support and for which early intervention is beneficial. Sometimes I think I'm overeducated concerning learning disabilities and so I'm more likely to suspect them when they don't exist, like medical school students who believe they have every malady they read about.