Last week and this week, my kids are taking the state tests. My son had 4 days of testing this week, while my daughter had 3 last week and has 3 more this week. That's a lot of time for testing. And they've both said that, in the weeks leading up to the tests, the teachers did lots of drills and practice sessions for the tests. E.D. Hirsch points out that some of this prep may not really be helpful. I've long disliked these standardized tests. My kids always ace them so it's not that they're not doing well, but I also know that there are probably plenty of other reasonably intelligent kids who don't do well, perhaps for some of the content reasons that Hirsch mentions. It's also frustrating, of course, that so much time that could be spent on other things is spent on preparing for the tests and then taking the tests. How many more chapters of Social Studies materials could you get through during that time?
I also had a parent-teacher conference last week for Geeky Girl. I appreciate it when the teacher not only explains how my kid is doing, but also explains the philosophy of the curriculum. They send out books that explain this stuff, but I never read it. I know, I know. I should. Although I understand the focus on Math, Reading, and Writing, I can't help but be disappointed by the lack of time spent on Social Studies and Science. It seems to me that the 3 R's could easily be taught through a curriculum that deals with current events, history, culture, and science. Why not kill two birds with one stone?
I think what strikes me about the curriculum across the board is its lack of imagination. I know there are individual teachers who are very creative about how they teach, but in general, even at our excellent schools, the curriculum seems to get dispensed in a lock-step fashion. That seems to occur through middle school, though high school looks significantly better from what I've seen so far. Of course, by then, many kids have learned to dislike school and learning and so perhaps can't take advantage or appreciate the creativity and opportunity presented to them.
I'm just a parent of a couple of smart kids, standing on the outside, getting these tiny glimpses into the school life of my kids, and although I'm not horrified, I'm definitely not thrilled by what I'm seeing.