Opinion

Which came first: Education or the chicken?

I once saw a T-shirt that said “People say I have ADD. I don’t know what they’re talking about — HEY LOOK! A chicken!”

We Americans suffer from a collective case of Attention Deficit Disorder, and nowhere is this more obvious than our education system. (OK, I admit it: In the 10 minutes since I started this column, I’ve navigated away from my page to surf an online school sale and respond to a couple e-mails).

In the past 20 years, we’ve learned more about child development, learning styles, brain development and cognitive processes than what has been known by human beings since the dawn of civilization. We know that beating or shaming children does not enhance learning or correct what was thought of as “laziness.” We know that the ability to learn requires nurturing and interpersonal engagement. We know that empty, feel good “self-esteem” programs do nothing if our children are not loved and supported at home.

We also know that there are a myriad of learning styles and that with these different styles come a preferred teaching approach.

Have these discoveries led to a better system of education? In fact, our system is less responsive and more bureaucratic than ever before. It is less capable of implementing different teaching models for different students, less capable of engaging parental input or rewarding teacher initiative than ever before. Teachers, students and parents pay more and receive less per education dollar than ever before.

Because we have not responded to what we’ve learned about child development and the science of learning, we’ve had to dumb down our curriculum, implement inferior testing measures (read: WASL) and depend on private grants to pursue innovative initiatives. Money tagged for education is locked into competing interests like teacher pay issues, code compliance issues, facilities vs. books and classroom costs.

Federalizing our education system has turned it into an adversarial game where competing interest groups literally fight each other for funding. These groups include teachers unions, school districts, parents, textbook companies, state welfare agencies that get funding based on students identified as poor, and the list goes on. They are all forced to wrestle each other for the most lobbying influence, the most money. Lost in the battle are the kids who long to be engaged and challenged in a way that is meaningful for them and brings out their God-given potential (oops, there I go, putting God back in the schools).

This is not a blame game and not a reflection on teachers or parental incompetence, but an indication of a collective lack of focus (the ADD thing I mentioned at the start). The American education system, like our people, is overfed and undernourished. We’re attached to the nanny’s breasts, refusing to graduate to a sippy cup.

My three kids have each benefited from different education models. I’ve homeschooled, private schooled and public schooled each of them at different stages in their development. They each have different struggles and different gifts and learn differently (gasp). Their peaks and valleys of learning have come at different points and were inspired by different subjects or different teaching methods.

One of my children is a special needs kid with significant language and cognitive challenges that have kept him two years behind his age group since preschool. In preschool, I began the battle of trying to unlock his little world. Hearing loss? Autism? Asperger’s? Sensory integration issues? Auditory processing? You name it, I’ve heard of it. Short of the Tibetan Grapefruit Diet, I’ve tried it.

This process did bring an interesting phenomenon to light. Whatever specialist I took him to determined that he just so happened to have that same disorder that they specialized in. Wow! What are the chances? Months of occupational therapy, years of language therapy, hours upon hours of assessments, including a full neuro-psychological evaluation, chiropractic and neurology assessments, all based on one specialist or another’s recommendations.

No matter what we do, what great new recommended therapy we pay for, the kid progresses at the same rate. He learns in fits and starts, but always remains between one to two standard deviations below the norm for his age.

Quite simply, he needs a school with other kids like him. I’ve found a few, but they all cost dearly — though less than what my share of taxes for his education come to.

I’ve been fortunate that I have the resources to pursue his issues and to implement an education plan that works for him. As he approaches middle school, those options get more difficult and more costly. Each year we re-evaluate and decide what he needs. Many parents could not afford this luxury and are stuck with a “one size fits all” answer. This is the tragedy of our ADD nation.

There’s money everywhere for the wrong things. What if we unlocked this money and let teachers and parents organize different education models? What if a group of parents and teachers wanted to start a Montessori school and were permitted to use their tax dollars to fund this venture?

HEY LOOK! A chicken!

Federal Way resident Angie Vogt: vogt.e@comcast.net. For past columns and further commentary, visit www.soundupdate.com.

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