A true measure of learning, teaching
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, May 7, 2015


Just got my first complaint about Common Core from my granddaughter in Nevada, when I asked her the usual grandmother question, “how are things at school?” Both the grandtwins are good middle-school students, both write excellent essays that I love to read; her complaint was about the constant testing. She is looking forward to high school: when I asked if they won’t still be doing testing then, she said yes but implied at least she’s moving in the right direction, away from it all!

There might be a resolution sooner than graduation: I found a website “Nevadans Against Common Core” which shows people organizing in opposition just as they are here. My son told me the problem is that Nevada doesn’t want to lose the federal money that comes with compliance. Yes, we know about that federal trap too.

Having been a student myself (Catholic school 1-12), the parent of a Massachusetts public school student, and now a grandparent of public schoolchildren, I recognize the efforts that have been made over the decades to find some system that works to educate all children. The nuns taught phonics, which worked for most, not for all; I suspect that dyslexic kids didn’t get the assistance they needed.

Fortunately we weren’t national-tested on science, as much of what we learned in the ‘50s was wrong.

When my son started school, reading was taught by memorization, and math with a frog who jumped forward for addition and backward for subtraction. I’d taught Lance phonics with Dr. Seuss but he had a hard time with subtraction because he couldn’t imagine how a frog can jump backwards; someone finally told him the frog turns around. Still, he never really caught up with math.

We took Algebra in 9th grade, Geometry in 10th: the grandkids have already taken both. This may be a good thing but I can’t comment on teaching math, since I can’t balance my checkbook without counting on my fingers.

It’s true that over the years, educators needed more testing to determine what was working, which communities were doing better than others and why; MCAS seemed to be a good tool for comparison here. I understand why some national educators then thought it important to compare the states by using federal standards, but it’s becoming obvious that the federal government meddling in state and local education doesn’t work.

Because it’s Mothers’ Day, I’ll tell you what does work, in the non-math arena, based on my experience as a child, a parent and now a grandparent. What works is what my mother did for me and I then did for my own child: teaching reading at home.

Of course it was easier when one parent didn’t work, was home during the day with the pre-schooler. My mother recalled my toddling behind her with a Little Golden Book in my hand, as she did housework, asking “What’s this word, mommy?” I didn’t go to kindergarten, but started first grade reading at a third grade level, impressing all the nuns who thought I was a lot smarter than I am – an assumption that followed me to graduation.

When I became pregnant, I vowed that I would teach my child to read, never to assume any school system will perform this essential task. I read poetry to the infant as he lay in his crib, showing him the rhythm of words; when we got tired of baby books, his dad and I read our own novels out loud. On weekends we read in bed, our pre-schooler snuggled between us with his own little book, learning that reading is a wonderful grown-up thing to do.

When living in Greece, we mail-ordered children’s series like “The Happy Hollisters”, and the Madeleine L’Engle books. When Lance started school, he was reading at a 6th grade level. We continued to read books together, him dramatizing the children’s parts in, for example, “To Kill a Mockingbird”. He still reads voraciously, we share favorite books, he thanks me often for this one great gift.

Best thank-you of all: passing it on to my grandchildren, who already read at an adult level. For their entire lives, the twins will be able to teach themselves, by reading any book on any subject. This benefit was passed down from my mother, who always stopped to tell me the word I wanted to learn in “The Little Red Hen”, and my mother-in-law: when I met Lance’s other grandma, she was sitting in a laundry basket filled with clothes, reading “The Velveteen Rabbit” to her youngest child.

One reason I chose this subject was something I heard on the Rush Limbaugh radio show last week that I thought was a joke. However, I checked it out, and WND Education reports that there really is a British philosopher who claims that reading to children gives them an unfair advantage over less fortunate children.

A story on the website of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s website raises the question “Should parents snuggling up for one last story before lights out be even a little concerned about the advantage they might be conferring?...

British academic Adam Swift told ABC’s Joe Gelonesi “Evidence shows that the difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t – the difference in their life chances – is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don’t,” Swift said.

In his article, Gelonesi added: “This devilish twist of evidence surely leads to a further conclusion that perhaps – in the interests of leveling the playing field – bedtime stories should also be restricted.”

Well, that’s sick. Glad it’s coming from Australia rather than anywhere in the United States. Yet.

This week, because of Mother’s Day, I’m celebrating mothers who teach their kids to read, though of course it’s just as good when fathers spend that quality time with their children. Even Common Core, as annoying as it is to youngsters like my granddaughter who would rather be reading or writing than taking tests, won’t keep them from becoming educated adults.

Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is president of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a Salem News columnist.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

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