Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Back To School

Note the plethora of books in the butterfly net. He's ready.
Almost every day for the past week has started the same:

"Do I get to go back to school today?"


When EZ was around two and a half, we started making the rounds to various preschools in the area. We were less worried about getting him on the baby-genius track, and more concerned with giving him a few mornings a week to interact with his peers while mama got a few hours to regain her sanity. If he happened to learn anything while there, even better.

We're lucky to live in an area saturated with schools - private, public, charter - you name it, we've got it. Almost every educational philosophy is represented, and the choices really are limitless (as long as your bank account is limitless as well...).

I started off by checking out one preschool in particular, intrigued by what they seemed to offer. EZ is a January baby, making him just short of that supposedly magic 2.9-by-September cutoff that many preschools adhere to. Perhaps it was my mistake to look at schools who abide by that rule, but there we were, meeting with the director of the program anyway.

She watched as EZ played with some toys that were left out as she described the program to me. Then, she pulled me aside and said that while she'd love to have EZ attend, they are pretty strict with their age minimum.

Had the conversation ended there, I probably wouldn't have thought twice and possibly would have even sent him there the following year. 

But then...

"And it's good anyway. That way, he'll be even older when he starts next year, making him on track with the other kids in the class, especially the girls."

Excuse me? 

Of course, I asked her to clarify.

She talked about how boys are naturally slower learners, how if he started this year he'd be behind and frustrated and wouldn't enjoy himself.

If I knew how to arch my eyebrow in that awesomely pointed way, I totally would have. Instead, I thanked her for her time, scooped up EZ, and left.

While I'm sure this director must have met students who fell into that description, she hadn't met EZ yet. Not really. She didn't know what he could or couldn't do, but because he's a boy, she already had a preconceived notion of what he was capable of.

And that totally sucked.

Now granted, I know that all of our kids are special snowflakes and when they do something it's the bestest thing ever and better than any other little kid doing the same exact thing. No, seriously, when EZ pooped in the potty for the 1st time, I almost held a parade

But, for me, this is beyond being fiercely protective of my son because he's mine, and more about this general idea that boy are intellectually slower than girls that has seeped into our society (and by extension - school systems).

I'm not suggesting that there aren't biological differences between boys and girls. I know there are. Books have been written about these difference suggesting they begin as early as the womb, and studies are always looking at the differences between male and female brains. However, regardless of the biological differences between the sexes, acting upon these theories in a way that could potentially affect them negatively in an educational setting makes me bristle.

I want a teacher to look at my child and see his potential, and not rely on the generality that boys are slower learners - that already puts him at a disadvantage. It could be as subtle as not starting to work on reading or math sooner, or over compensating with over the top attention when he manages to do something correctly.

In the end, we chose a school that happened to be a perfect fit. EZ's teachers look at him as an eager kid, full of questions and potential. They don't teach towards his gender, and in fact, in the two years that he's been there, not one teacher has made a comment about the supposed slow pace at which boys learn, or how he learns "as a boy." We've had discussions about his struggles with fine motor skills and his accomplishments in reading. Neither time were those skills, or lack thereof, connected to the fact that EZ is a boy. They were simply presented as "this is how your child is doing."

This Friday, EZ finally goes back to school. He's beyond happy, and I'm thrilled knowing he'll be walking into a classroom that views him as an individual, rather than a sum of his parts.

EZ at his birthday celebration (blowing out the "sun") at school last year


Cat Rocketship said...

Interesting -- and wow, I'd be cranky, too!

It's Me, Tamara! said...

By the way, one of my many (and few) talents is to totally arch one eyebrow in that cool way..
..which I may have to use because Scarlet is two and our turn to look at pre-schools is here. Thanks for posting - I needed it!

A. Mama said...

Tamara - you will certainly have to teach me your trick (as it stands right now, all I can accomplish when I attempt to do it are flared nostrils, ha!). Coffee/tea date soon? We can talk preschool.

Cat - I never know if I take on these issues too personally or if I'm justified and getting all salty and outraged.

Kelly Deneen said...

Oh, that is crappy. How can a judgment ever be made that quickly? In my experience I have seen numerous boys mature more slowly in terms of sitting still/paying attention, but I haven't heard about a discrepancy in academics between boys and girls of the same age. And every child is so different! One of my best friends has a son younger than Delia, and he is a far better listener and farther ahead academically than she is.

I am glad that you found a preschool that you are both happy about. Was he off all summer then?

Nicole said...

i love the pic of EZ blowing out the son - what modality is the preschool?
happy you found one that aligns with your outlooks / goals - it is so disheartening that teachers are pigeon holing our kids based on gender

A. Mama said...

Kelly - Totally crappy. I'm not debating that boys develop differently than girls, but to lump them all in, especially when education is at stake, really grinds my gears. We totally love where he is now. He was off during the summer, but took a few summer camp sessions at his school (much more low key/laid back) which he loved!

Nicole - EZ goes to a Montessori school, and their method of including a variety of ages within one classroom is one of the top reasons we love them. Instead of notions like "all 5 year olds must be able to read!" you have kids ages 3-6 all within one classroom - some reading, some not. Not focusing on age (but rather on skill sets) also tends to take away focus on gender (imo).

Anonymous said...

On my list of things to do in the next few weeks is to look at pre-schools. This is ONE more reason why I'm not looking forward to it.

jeremy said...

Alright, I was going to stay out of this...but...I agree, from a parent's perspective we want our children to be treated individually and be uniquely challenged and not be typed. However, from the perspective of an educator (and now educational researcher) the developmental differences between most boys and most girls at e's age and beyond is pronounced and has a dramatic effect on how they receive the education presented to them. Individual cases not withstanding, there is strong EVIDENCE that older boys (thus more emotionally mature, on average) do better in early grades as they are able to focus on the skills that if missed lead to other issues later. I get it that it is unpopular to ever hint that each child is not a totally special unique individual ready to change the course of human history, but the data are clear, MOST boys would benefit academically from being older. Alright, let the hate responses start. By the way, I am the father of a totally unique, gifted, awesome, special about to change the world daughter who is on her way to kindergarten this week...yikes.

Anonymous said...

As a child care provider and sometime preschool substitute teacher, I would just like to point out that scientific evidence about genders only matters if it conflicts with a curriculum somehow. And I can't even think of an example that applies to preschool.

It is just bad teaching to begin by assuming that any child is "behind" without any evidence about that particular kid. I was in mortal terror of the oldest preschool classroom until I got to know each one of them! At the preschool level, responding to a child as a representative of a group will get you in trouble--the kid will go out of his way to prove you wrong. Seriously, those kids hazed me, in the words of their teacher, until I knew each personality.

A. Mama said...

Jeremy - I totally appreciate your input. The reason I put this out there was because I wanted to get various perspectives on it.

I myself battled with the response. The former teacher recalls all the evidence based research I read about child development. But the former teacher in me also remembers all the diverse students I met and taught, and regardless of gender each of them had their strengths and weaknesses. Granted, I taught at the high school level, so it's a whole different ball game as far as where they're at.

But, as a parent of my own special snowflake, I thought about how it all really begins when they set foot in their first school experience, you know? Anne-Marie (conceptionquestions) really summed it up for me with her comment: "It is just bad teaching to begin by assuming that any child is "behind" without any evidence about that particular kid." <--this. How does those preconceived notions seep into how they then interact with E? Do they just give up on reinforcing a certain skill set b/c he's (in their mind) too immature and focus on somebody else? These thoughts crossed my mind (and clearly stayed on them 2.5 years later...)

And, we're talking preschool here, not even kindergarten. I am more than happy that E has a Jan birthday so I don't even need to worry about starting him young or not. He'll be 5.5 by the time he's headed to K and that sounds just about perfect for him.

Anonymous said...

Interesting Times article that was forwarded to me by a well-meaning parent today. Thought I'd add it into the discussion (I'm being lazy and not bitly-ing it: