A failing grade for informal education
Today was transition day at my sons school. It was a promotion ceremony for those who were moving from Pr-K to Kindergarten. I never really liked these things because I felt they had taken a minor accomplishment and made it into a very big deal. Growing up in Indiana, I never had a promotion/graduation ceremony until high school. Anyway, standing there taking pictures and listening to the ceremony, I found myself disturbed by the program and the reaction of the parents in attendance. Education is a lifelong process that involves formal and informal styles. Going to a school environment provides us with the formal education. Things we learn outside those walls via experiences are less formal. It is this less formal education that far too many parents are forsaking. I witnessed that today in the transitioning program. For example, The transitioning classes were tasked with dosing a performance of some sort. One class did a rendition of “one, two, buckle my shoe” with a sort of hip-hop flavor to it. It was actually very cute and you could see the teachers put a lot into getting the kids to do it correctly. Contrast that with the class who did a swing routine to an old ragtime song. It was very well coordinated and the kids performed a routine that required great timing. Like the previous class, you could tell the teachers put some work in to get the kids to do the routine.
Of course the class who did the “buckle my” shoe routine was showered with raucous applause. The other class with applause but with much less enthusiasm. I overheard one lady refer to one little girl in the first routine as “sassy”. I had to ask myself why did the second routine get such short shrift from the audience? Both classes performed beautifully, the only difference being what was performed. Then it hit me. It was the informal education that seeped into the school. These kids were exposed to this at home, and the school basically reinforced what they had already been exposed to. The swing act was strange and foreign. It was out of so many parent’s comfort zone. Many could not appreciate the fact that the second group probably had a much tougher time, since few of them would have had any exposure to a genre that is out of fashion right now.
For me that is at the heart of the educational crisis that we have in this country as a whole. Children who are exposed to a wide variety of activities and cultural knowledge tend to do far better than their counterparts whose world view is limited by the informal education at home, but also by the formal education at school. I have heard teachers in the past say they want to interact with kids in a way they understand. For me, you are doing more harm than good. If you come to them and deal with them in a way they already are comfortable with, how can you possibly expect them to grow and to explore. I remember when I started the 9th grade, some of my friends were taking shop classes and I wanted to take shop classes also. My mom had another idea. She wanted me in chorus and orchestra. I was so embarrassed, and spent the first week pouting and complaining. By week three I realized that I was there and there was nothing I could do about it. At the end of the semester, I had come out with a B in both, and learned that there was a whole new world of music out there that I had never even heard of and had some rudimentary music reading skills. To this day I appreciated the fact that my mom was willing to make me suffer in the short run so that I could learn something new and fascinating.
I don’t want to sound like someone who dismisses anything to do with hip hop because I don’t. It is actually a powerful movement that has provided us with a whole new perspective on the world around us. But it should not be the only thing that we expose our little ones to. We should expose them to classical, rock, international music and so on. We should take them camping or hiking or even gardening. If possible, we should travel with them. I believe that parents should compliment their child’s formal education with and aggressive informal education at home
My gut tells me that so many of the children that transitioned today will not get that exposure. And they will be at the mercy of a society that will leave them behind and feel no sense of sympathy for them. It all starts now, because if we don’t start now, we are going to regret it twenty years from now.