Thursday, February 24, 2005

#151 - Tally Ho!

Utah is leading the charge to turn our collective backs on President Bush's No Child Left Behind program.

It's about time.

I tend not to form strong opinions about most domestic policies, largely because I'm not that smart. I have always figured that if I were smart enough to fisk a government program, I might as well run the silly government while I'm at it.

However, as a parent I have always been concerned with whatever direction our education gurus appear to be pointed. Generally speaking, it's always the wrong one. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is no exception.

The basic premise of the Act appears good on its surface. Leave no one behind. Make sure everyone graduates with all the right skills and knowledge. Just as we don't leave a wounded Marine in the field, neither do we leave kids without all the tools they need to succeed in life. Quel noble.

The problem is - and has always been - in the assumption that kids can be made to learn at the same pace as their classmates. Just as "one size fits all" is a lie, so "one pace fits all" is likewise. A lie. A scam. A farce.

Exhibit A is my son. My ex-wife and I had decided early on to homeschool him. Try as we might, he just wouldn't get interested in reading. There was no question about his intelligence. All his other skills were right where they should have been by any reasonable measure. He just wasn't interested in reading.

As our marriage began its sunset, we realized that our son would have to go to public school. We were worried about how it would be perceived that a second grader had such sub-standard reading skills as he seemed to be exhibiting. Then, very suddenly, he started picking up the books and almost literally overnight became a voracious reader. Had he actually been in a public school before that happened, we would have been subjected to all sorts of testing, conferencing, and angst over his perceived non-performance. In fact, he was just waiting for his interest level to catch up with his skills. He actually could read, he just didn't want to.

NCLB, in this case, would have caused a lot of grey hair for no good reason.

The Woodyettes are another fine example. Here we have two youngsters who love to learn. They love the fact that Mommy is their teacher, and Mommy (an ex-teacher herself) loves teaching them. They have lots of fun together. The girls constantly amaze me with their progress. Reading is no exception.

Mrs. Woody settled on Hooked on Phonics for her curriculum and the older Woodyette went to work toward the end of her Kindergarten year. A year later, she was reading the first Harry Potter book by herself. Daddy was blown away. Mommy just wears that smug smile of a parent who knows her kids. Interestingly, while we hadn't planned on starting her quite so soon, the younger Woodyette began - on her own - to pick up on what her big sister had done. NCLB wouldn't have done that for my girls. Mommy did that because it was a natural progression for them, and they demonstrated that they were ready.

I'm pleased to see states demonstrate the kind of backbone required to snub the Feds. Shucks, if I thought California was capable of putting together a responsible and comprehensive education program, I'd even support higher state taxes to offset the loss of federal money. They're not, so I don't, but I can dream.

In the meantime, NCLB is dead. Long live NCLB. Now, let's move on to a program that works. For a change.

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