Wendy Priesnitz - writer, editor, changemaker
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The Pandemic, Learning Benchmarks, and Revolutionizing the Education System

benchmarks and revolutionizing education

A recent article in a local media outlet was all about how the youngest school students are struggling to meet “reading benchmarks” due to the disruptions to their schooling associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. And, said one expert, this may be a “generational catastrophe” in the making.

Most readers would be alarmed at that prospect, at least until they recognized the hyperbole that is so popular in the media. At any rate, what could be done to avoid such a catastrophe is left unclear, although there is no shortage of psychologists and child psychiatrists explaining and bemoaning the problem. Since a real solution would involve demolishing vested educational interests and revamping virtually every aspect of society, it's easier just to blame the virus, the government, the teachers, or the parents.

Now, I and some of my readers know very well that reading can and does happen without expectations that someone else has put in place, concocted to manage the slotting of children into their spot on the assembly line of school grades.

In fact most children will learn to read (and do many other things) when they need to, without being taught, through active, self-initiated play and exploration, and supported by adults and older children who read on their own and with the children. They will do it on their own timetables and based on their individual development processes, without benchmarks. They will do it in the same way they learn how to walk and talk. (Those who experience difficulties or an obvious barrier can be given appropriate help – known in school-talk as an “intervention” – when and if they need it.)

Children only need to learn to read around the age of five if they are to be force-taught other “subjects” in a sequence dictated by school. The goals are to make the system work smoothly and to reach the expectations of adults that their children will be able to compete in the working world. Aside from the fact that we cannot reliably predict what the jobs of the future will look like, this system is not in the best interests of children's learning or their mental health. The pressure to reach school's set of benchmarks is stressful for those who don't fit easily into those slots as well as for their families and teachers. And the pressure to keep up and not fall behind has been exacerbated by the pandemic. On top of that are the stresses created by the sometimes bizarre and futile lengths schools are going to in order to keep Covid out of the classroom. (One recent article quoted a child psychiatrist who said teachers are highly stressed, but that they are still the best people to help stressed children. Hmmm.)

If our society really cared about children's well-being, we would get rid of those benchmarks. The whole system would be redesigned. If there truly is a mental health crisis among our children, something that will so negatively affect their futures as to be called a catastrophe, why would those experts be bemoaning that in the media rather than creating the changes that are necessary? Living systems change; all else stagnates and dies.

So, what if that future catastrophe could be an opportunity instead? What if education were to be one of the many things re-envisioned as this pandemic ends? What if children were to be respected enough that we could trust them to control their own speed and process of learning? (The home education community can provide leadership based on over half a century of experience.) What if we also implemented other solutions, like a universal basic income, that would remove the need for school-as-daycare, allowing all parents to provide their children with the opportunity to learn in ways most suited to them rather than to the system's benchmarks? What if, at the very least, the social supports were in place for low-income families whose kids need to go to school to eat lunch and stay warm?

What if we could create new ways of living rather than trying to get back to a normal that wasn't working for most of us?

 Wendy Priesnitz

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copyright (c) 2022

Beyond School by Wendy Priesnitz    Natural Life's Green and Healthy Homes by Wendy Priesnitz    It Hasn't Shut Me Up by Wendy Priesnitz    Challenging Assumptions in Education by Wendy Priesnitz    Life Learning by Wendy Priesnitz