I will start with Piaget. He found that certain understandings, skills if you wish, values eventually, have to wait until we are a certain age. Sometimes gender and unusual and specific strands of DNA can be variables also. Consider the affect of having light eyes for example on sun sensitivity or when small muscle coordination is sufficiently developed to lightly hold a pencil. When does a student have the internal stillness to sit in a seat for an hour?
To test Piaget’s proposition my colleague at the alternative school tried to test whether a young girl understood the relationship of volume to size and shape of different containers with a three year old in regular attendance at the school and then again when she was four. Could she know when pouring a certain amount of liquid into differently shaped containers if they would overflow or not. At three she didn’t get it, regardless of repetition, but she did when she was four just as Piaget had predicted.
There’s a certain parallel here. In the name of improving the schools we accepted curriculum for each grade level replete with digital packets – worksheets with underlying bias unaddressed – and let the core content be determined by someone else in someplace else without regard for local, cultural, social, environmental, ethnic and economic circumstances and with all individual differences disregarded.
We have been looking at “the core” to tell us what we could and should assign at each certain grade level and thereby identify when a child has “fallen behind.” (Pause for a moment to absorb the words; catch the implications of the language.) This then is the new dogma, simple and unforgiving.
The essence of the idea originated from how annoying it is for a teacher when you assume a skill will already be mastered by the grade level you were teaching, only to find many of the students have not. Only now we have not only held the student responsible, we have held their teacher responsible for what percentage of the students have “fallen behind.”
We have asked teachers to become semi-robotic servants – at the expense of the honor and special talents of individual educators, who with the support of administration and colleagues can play unique roles in addressing quite varied learning difficulties and can create opportunities for learning utterly unimagined before, including providing the patience, guidance and encouragement to help individuals make progress or deal with their frustrations in a loving and accepting manner.