Monday, July 18, 2011

Sometimes the "Joy Factor" Makes Your Five Year Old Vomit in the Morning

Michael Winerip:

Matthew is bright but can be disruptive and easily distracted. It was not a natural fit for the Success charters, which are known for discipline and long school days. From Day 1 of kindergarten, Ms. Sprowal said, he was punished for acting out.

“They kept him after school to practice walking in the hallway,” she said.

Several times, she was called to pick him up early, she said, and in his third week he was suspended three days for bothering other children.

In Matthew’s three years of preschool, Ms. Sprowal said, he had never missed time for behavior problems. “After only 12 days in your school,” she wrote the principal, “you have assessed and concluded that our son is defective and will not meet your school criteria.”

Five days later, Ms. Sprowal got an e-mail from Ms. Moskowitz that she took as a veiled message to leave. “Am not familiar with the issue,” Ms. Moskowitz wrote, “but it is extremely important that children feel successful and a nine-hour day with more than 23 children (and that’s our small class size!) where they are constantly being asked to focus and concentrate can overwhelm children and be a bad environment.”

The next week, the school psychologist evaluated Matthew and concluded he would be better suited elsewhere: “He may need a smaller classroom than his current school has available.”

By then, Matthew was throwing up most mornings and asking his mother if he was going to be fired from school. Worn down, Ms. Sprowal requested help finding her son another school, and Success officials were delighted to refer him to Public School 75 on the Upper West Side.

I've spoken to parents who pulled their children out of Democracy Prep Blackstone Valley with similar physical symptoms of stress. It isn't necessarily just the ADD kids who break down in a "no excuses" kindergarten. It can be just as hard on the quiet five year old perfectionist who gets every question right but lives in constant mortal fear of the reprimand and public shaming taking place in his or her classroom every day. And it isn't a picnic for the parent, who is desperately trying to sort out whether their child is going through normal anxiety about leaving home and starting school, or if there is something more weird and complicated going on.

There is the question of whether the "no excuses" model is appropriate for any kindergarten (to which I suspect there is no firm and final answer because it depends on the quality of the implementation). There is the question of whether it is genuinely good for children in certain demographic groups, or perhaps just a more amorphous constellation of personality types. But it should be quite clear that this is not for everyone, and the corporate school reform movement is building long-term problems for itself by downplaying that fact. Which tells you something about what they see as the ends and the means (e.g., choice vs. a test-prep monoculture).

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