Friday, November 30, 2012

Educational Standards, Bread, Beans and Breakfast

Without getting into too much pedagogical mumbo jumbo, I offer a small window into Dominican education. For simplicity's sake, let's compare education here vs. in the States vs. Finland with bread. Yes, bread.
The bread here is awful. It has no redeeming qualities on its own and is only eaten as a conduit for other foods. The best bakeries I've found on the island have standard-USA-grocery store bread (with the exception of bakeries in Terrenas where many, many French people live and incidentally, an awesome little school is there as well).
The good 'ol US of A offers up a wonderful variety of good, bad and exquisite breads which reflect the nation's immensity and diversity. I have tasted all of the above, and even in smaller towns tasty baked goods can be had quite easily.
I don't know anything about Finnish bread, but any bread I ever tried in the dozen-or-so European countries I've traveled to was delicious. Yes, every single country. #howtogain5poundsaweek So delicious, in fact, that when I returned to the States after living in Europe for just four months, I couldn't eat Stateside bread for an entire year. Just the memory of European bread disallowed my taste buds to accept anything less.
Now that I've made some seriously broad bread assumptions and shallow conclusions, let me simplify the educational standards for these places for kids, ages 5-6, in a similar fashion:
Dominican kindergarten standards
     Math: Know numbers 1-9. That's it. It's difficult to simplify the simplistic.
     Reading/Writing: Know the vowels. As Josh recently reflected, "What does knowing just the vowels give you? Caveman language. Oooo, aaaa-aaaa, oooooo. You know that very rich languages like Arabic don't use vowels? There is inference and context involved, of course--which makes it all the better. Consonants are really where its at if you're going to only cover a handful of letters. But why would you set the bar so low anyway?"
No wonder they run out of things to do an hour into the day and resort to Tom & Jerry marathons.
American kindergarten standards
     Math: Know numbers 1-100. This also includes some sequencing and other basic math skills like counting by fives and tens, simple addition and shape recognition.
     Reading/Writing: Know the entire alphabet, have emergent/basic reading and writing skills.
Finnish kindergarten standards
    Well, they don't go to school until they're seven, which is pretty awesome if you live in a place that is aware of childhood developmental needs. Once little Finnish boys & girls start school, the standards delve significantly deeper than basic understandings and knowledge. There is a clear focus on depth and higher order thinking skills. And my favorite: on the individual child and his or her needs. These people know what they're doing. And I bet they eat well while they're doing it.

Perhaps now you understand a bit where I'm coming from as an American educator in a Dominican system. When Zora, a kindergartner this year, brought home her homework for the first time, I was slightly confused. She had to trace three diagonal lines.
When we registered her, they did a pre-assessment where she successfully counted from 1-10, identified five shapes, eight colors and wrote her name. My child is not smart. She isn't dumb either. She is totally average.
And yet, had the teacher assessed her skills at the beginning of the school year, I shouldn't have seen homework practice involving tracing three short lines. So, I gave the teacher the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps she hadn't had a chance to see what her students were capable of and differentiate appropriately. I told Zora to write her name on her assignment so the teacher could see that she was already producing letters--several leaps beyond the baby-steps of tracing lines. Surely, her next homework assignment would better reflect the level she should be working at.
What was the teacher's response? She pointed at Zora's carefully written name and said, "No me gusta. I don't like this." Zora came home in tears that day and refused to write anything (least of all her name) for at least three weeks. I was livid.
Not only is Zora entirely average, so am I. Coming from average makes it all that more frustrating looking at the current situation. I know there are vast oceans of capacity beyond my pedagogical know-how and yet, I feel like a big fish in a little pond here.

Long story short, we're continuing to homeschool--and still send her to school. We had a math lesson the other day over beans and breakfast. Despite her teacher's best efforts, she is counting to 100 by tens.
We often use wet erase markers on the oh-so-classy plastic tablecloth for lessons. 
Our little bean counted 100 beans.

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