Unicorns and Dinosaurs

“Okay, come on. You can do it,”

When that’s how I start my day, I know I’m behind already. I know what kind of day it’s going to be. Doesn’t it feel like May has become one of those months to simply endure? The merry-go-round that is school builds up speed. Everything spins faster and faster, but doesn’t really go anywhere.

Yesterday, a ten-year-old told me he planned to be a doctor when he grew up. You know, I have no problem when kids know early what they want to do with their lives, when they’re truly inspired, but I have a problem when I know they’re saying all this because their parents and school pressures them to get serious so early. He’s a pretty serious kid. He probably would be anyway. I figure he’s the kind of kid I’d really like to have as a doctor someday, but why not let him be a kid for a little bit longer? Why not let him write about dragons?

Yesterday, a friend and I had a conversation about homeschooling versus the traditional public schools. I’m not a fan of either, really. I’ve met homeschooled students who didn’t know fifth-grade math on their way into college. Some of their ideas about science and history were wild. And don’t get me started on ‘you’re’ versus ‘your.’ But I also see that public schools are teaching in eighth grade what they used to teach in tenth, pressuring kids to read more advance material and produce serious responses to it.

I can imagine what they’re thinking: If most schools teach this stuff in high school, we have to get a jump on them and teach it in seventh and eighth grade. If homework gets serious in middle school, we need to prepare the kids by giving them as much in elementary school. I see kids who stand up to the onslaught of pressure. I also see kids who are bending. Those backpacks are fricking heavy. The reading material they cover is heavy too. The Hunger Games? Ender’s Game? Too much dystopia.

To Kill a Mockingbird and Farenheit 451 are really a high school texts. It’s not that younger kids can’t understand them. It’s just that I think the nuance of the books could be better grasped with a little maturity. I loved those books, but if I’d been challenged by them earlier, I’m not sure I would have.

I wonder about pushing kids to be developmentally ready earlier and earlier when its obvious that some kids just aren’t. It doesn’t mean they aren’t smart. It just means that they’re not ready.

I work with kids in first grade who are stressed about their sight words. They usually feel better after we play with the words for a while, make up stories with them, find words that rhyme. Maybe I should do opposite games with those words. But what is the opposite of ‘of?’

And why are they teaching structured writing in grade school? Last week, a fourth-grader insisted that a paragraph must always have five sentences. She said I was doing it wrong. She was so serious.

We were writing fiction.

I told her that a paragraph could be a single word if it worked for the story.

She looked at me dubiously.

Honestly, I think that during most of elementary school, the kids should be writing about unicorns and dragons with an occasional book report that’s more about what they liked or didn’t like about a book. Why wring the joy out of writing so early?

I’ve been thinking about teaching a new method for structured writing for the kids. If every sentence is categorized, why not have them stretch the limits of that categorization? Get them to surprise me, to write the craziest structured essay they could write. I wonder if I could make it into a game, a puzzle.

I’m feeling like a contrarian today. I want my students to write about unicorns and dinosaurs.

Thank you for listening, jules