We registered our son for junior kindergarten next September. I’m far more nervous about it than he is. In fact, he’s quite excited at the prospect of going to “big kid school” and points it out every time we walk by. On the other hand, I feel quite apprehensive. My concerns are more academic than emotional. Though I’m reluctant to imagine him being gone all day, unsupervised by me, my biggest concern is what he’ll be learning and how he’ll be learning it.
I’m very old-fashioned in my approach to education. Influenced by my parents’ lifestyle and my homeschooled background, I am strongly anti-technology when it comes to teaching small children. The early years of school, I believe, are the time to be reading books, drawing pictures, memorizing poems, singing songs, telling stories, and counting objects. It is not the time to be sitting them down in front of computer screens and smart boards and causing their curious little eyes to glaze over as they manipulate the mouse and learn their lessons from a digitalized voice emanating from speakers, instead of listening to human intonation. OK, maybe this is an oversimplification that will create some controversy among you readers, but these are my deep, dark feelings. Regardless, I keep my kid far away from my computer; he doesn’t know how to do anything on it and I’m happy to keep it that way for as long as possible.
I don’t want to be “that parent” who causes a whole pile of trouble for the overworked kindergarten teachers, but this is my kid’s brain we’re talking about and I take that pretty seriously. That’s why, when my husband and I walked into the registration, we questioned the teacher on technology use in the classroom.
“It’s minimal, only about half an hour a week that they’re on the computers. And it’s all educational,” she assured us.
We didn’t sign the internet release form. I’m just not comfortable with signed any internet release form for my four-year-old, no matter how educational the website may be. “What if he just went into the corner to read a book while his friends are on the computer?”
The teacher looked surprised. “Well, of course you can do that, but he’d be the only one.” Frankly, I’m less concerned with him ‘joining the herd’ than what’s filling his mind.
Then the teacher told us about the smart boards that have replaced blackboards in the classroom. “They’re like a giant iPad. The kids can manipulate images and text to create story boards. It’s basically the same as writing and drawing stores on paper, except it’s on the smart board.”
But it’s not the same thing! I wanted to protest. Manipulating a pencil on paper seems much more developmentally challenging than dragging images around on a smart board.
I talked about my concerns with a friend, who informed me that she read in the paper that schools will stop teaching cursive handwriting in order to make more time to teach computers. I was horrified. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not against computers. I make my living by working online, day in and day out, and I love my job. But I never learned computers at school. Computers do not require special class time hours, in my opinion. Kids get enough exposure to computers in after-school hours not to require it to be taught specifically, which I think is a waste of time. Rather, I’d prefer my kid to work on drilling grammar, memorizing times tables, expanding vocabulary, working his way through the classics of Western literature throughout the years of his education, learning to craft a critical essay with effective paragraph construction, become comfortable with public speaking. These are the skills that will really get my kid somewhere in life.
My parents were so fed up with the education system that they pulled me out of school in grade six. After much research, they found a book called “A Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home” by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. Its curriculum included the usual school subjects, with the addition of less common subjects such as formal logic, classical Greek, Latin, vocabulary roots, grammar, and classical literature, with a strong emphasis on history. I knew I wanted to attend university, and that would require maintaining a high academic standard and work ethic at home.
Our day began early, when my sister and I lit the woodstove to heat our schoolhouse. We had to be at our desks by 7:30 a.m. We worked independently until lunchtime on various subjects, thanks to the special textbooks written for homeschoolers that enabled self-direction. (My sister and I were very happy not to have our mother hovering over us.) Afternoons were flexible; sometimes I’d take my books and head by canoe to a sunny rock face on the other side of the lake. In the evenings, Mom marked our work and set our to-do list for the next day; Dad answered any questions relating to math and science. Once a week, we attended music lessons, and had classes with our classical Greek and French tutors.
It was intense, but it was pure education. Our house was steeped in learning, with piles of fascinating, diverse books piled on every available surface. I swear my mom single-handedly supported the local library with the overdue fines she accumulated. We were told to read, read, read, and to discuss everything that we read. We had a computer at home, but no internet connection. I appreciated that computer most of all during our paragraph-writing unit, when my mom made me write and rewrite my paragraphs a hundred times over till I’d perfected them. Other than that, it mostly sat unused.
In his tremendously influential book, “Last Child in the Woods,” author Richard Louv cites a ten-year study showing that computers shouldn’t be introduced into classrooms till high school. One quote I love and hate simultaneously: “Public education is enamored of, even mesmerized by, what might be called silicon faith: a myopic focus on high technology as salvation.”
This strikes fear into my heart. Why? Because I’m afraid I’ll be so disillusioned with the school system-style of education that I’ll pull the plug and agree to homeschool my kids, which I don’t want to! I’m so eager to have my own time and space to pursue my writing dreams that the idea of homeschooling is completely depressing. But if I disagree entirely with how and what my kids are being taught, and I’m still at home, what choice do I have? At least no decisions have to be made yet. We’ll give school our best shot and fingers crossed it goes well.