Two moms cite failures of "progressive" local schools

The Tribeca Trib
June, 1997

To the Editor:

I am writing in response to your recent article on education and to express my disappointment with our local public school, PS 234.

Although my child no longer attends 234, I am concerned that our community is not being as well served as it could be by our school administrators. I see a two-tiered system of education developing even within the public school system. I believe that those who can afford expensive private tutoring, especially in the upper elementary grades, are flocking to it in record numbers. Why? Because the parents are discovering disturbing inadequacies in the preparation received at PS 234 and have found administrators unresponsive to their concerns.

Their noncompetitive, nonstructural, creative and progressive approach to learning so embraced by our school seems to have been tried and rejected though, in school districts throughout the country. There is nothing particularly avant-garde her. Less dogmatic teachers have concluded that children learn in a variety of ways and that instructors can best respond to individual needs by using a variety of teaching methods, including some traditional ones. Unlike PS 234, most schools seem to be aiming for higher academic standards, rather than purity of philosophical experiment.

While the development of creativity and high self-esteem are laudable goals for students they should not preclude the simultaneous development of more measurable skills. Reading comprehension, writing, study and organizational skills, mathematical and scientific methods can all be taught.

Why should our children have to teach themselves or teach each other? Not every child has the self-motivation, basis of knowledge or confidence to approach these subjects creatively at the elementary level to learn through a strictly creative approach to these subjects. Many children have learning styles that demand more structure. In our neighborhood those children are out of luck.

Accommodating the needs of accelerated learners or those who appreciate structure does not require students sitting in rows engaged in mindless rote memorization. Other schools have successfully combined rigorous standards with modern methods. Children need not be traumatized by high expectations. My own child is happiest when he is busily engaged. He enjoys the sense of mastering new skills, even when he hasn't invented them. I believe he had entirely too much "free" time at PS 234.

Though standardized test scores raking 234 near the top of our city's public elementary schools have brought a degree of complacency, I believe those results are largely a reflection of our neighborhood's demographics, a highly educated and involved parent body, and extensive private tutoring.

A similar complacency is echoed in our children who know that not much is required of them at PS 234, and that whatever effort they can muster will be "good enough." It is my belief that attitudes and work habits formed by children at the elementary level can have significant lasting effects.

Name withheld by request

To the Editor:

Hurrah! Nathan Weber for sharing your wisdom and insights with us in your article "In Local Schools, Inflexible Theory Doesn't Benefit Students" (April, 1997) I also applaud your guts. I totally identified with Nathan's experiences, thoughts and feelings.

After first grade, my child could not read a simple word like 'saw' or 'did.'I panicked, and taught him to read over the summer. BY the middle of second grade he was easily reading "Boxcar Children" chapter books with mama at the helm. I listened to the philosophy of ECC to the letter, no rote learning, no pushing, no boring multiplication tables although I saw them neatly tucked away in a friend's house who was following the same "guidelines."

How can I justify hearing that cursive writing is a dying art form from another teacher in PS 234? I took forward to getting letters from camp from a graduating fifth-grader who was not taught to write in script. My child will be graduating without knowing what a noun is or a verb. He doesn't know when to use the word "I" or "me" in sentences.

Do I know if intermediate school is prepared to go backwards and pick up after all these left out facts and topics? (As Nathan pointed out, teachers aren't consistent. My younger one has spelling lists and can spell as well as or even better than my fifth-grader in the same school.)

Curriculum, what's that? I have trouble teaching my child because I don't know what they are studying. I have nothing with which to refer, no books, no jumping off point in my "teaching" every night.

I hear arguments already. "We are one of the top schools in Manhattan. We feed SP classes, "gifted classes" in intermediate schools. Why are the open classroom schools being criticized?" I don't know. I think some children are compatible with this system or have parents who are affluent enough to hire tutors. And there are the working parents who come home every night as we do after exhausting full-time jobs to teach the children what is left out of their "curriculums."

I'm part of the common folk who are dependent on the public system. We deserve choices between experimental classes and more structured learning here in District 2, or instruction at some mid-point.

I could go on and on with confusions and negative experiences of mine and other parents.

Please, parents whose children attend these schools, share your experiences honestly with your community. We sit in isolation, sharing stories with only our closest friends. I urge you to write this newspaper positive as well as negative experiences. An open give and take might prove to be more fruitful than complaining to each other on line at the Food Emporium.

A Concerned Mother

Reproduced with permission from the Tribeca Trib.

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