My wife left me a message today after receiving my daughter’s IOWA test results in the mail. A few years ago we had a major battle with a principal of a certain school regarding my daughter’s placement. She has a late December birthday, and the school insisted she should be in the lower grade, i.e. she will be turning 9 this December, so they would have placed her in 3rd grade. Fortunately she is in 4th grade in her current school, where she scored in the 97th percentile on her IOWA, meaning she is in the top 3% of 4th graders in NYS. I can vouch for the fact that she cares nothing about school performance, in part (I think) because she is not being challenged. I don’t write this to brag (OK, maybe just a little bragging : ), but to reflect on the misguided advice of her former school which is symptomatic of what schools do. I can’t recall who made this point – I think Herbert Kohl, but I may be wrong – but it is simple and obvious. If someone came to your workplace and decided to do a corporate re-org and assign job function and responsibility by people’s age, that would be construed as unfair, discriminatory, and downright stupid. But when a school takes children and assigns them to classes based purely on birthday cutoff without any discrimination as to ability, that is viewed as a sensible rule to be enforced as a yehareig v’al ya’avor. Let me just head the pedants off at the pass – true, developmental stages roughly correspond to chronological age, but the key word is roughly. Chazal say 40 se’ah are a kosher mikvah, but 40 se’ah chaseir kurtav is pasul, but children’s developmental stages are not mikvaos! Not that her current school is perfect – one teacher suggested her poor penmanship is a sign of a potential learning disability which could interfere with her school performance and therefore we should ask the district for testing. Glad we turned that advice down as well. I guarantee that if you walk into a doctor’s office and subject yourself to endless tests, something wrong will turn up somewhere. Yet, your doctor would be guilty of malpractice if a single test or cutoff was used to determine your prognosis without taking a holistic view of your medical history and overall health. Too bad schools don’t take the same approach, and too bad they can’t be held accountable for the educational malpractice that occurs all too often.
One other point while I am ranting on the sad state of education. My older daughter last week needed some help with her math homework, which involved factoring. While helping her I asked her why she needed to know how to factor. Answer: because the teacher gave us this work. And why did the teacher do that? Answer: because it is in the math book. Ah Ha! That explains it – there is a conspiracy of math book publishers to crowd kids’ minds with useless information! How can anyone feel motivated to learn anything if it is presented as useless trivia which does not enhance one’s comprehension of the world or provide a practical benefit? (I am too afraid to ask her teacher if she can answer my question as to why kids need to learn factoring, but if I’ve made you curious, take a look here for starters).