Grade levels are not natural, and they are not necessary. They were meant to categorize people so that they could fit nicely into pegs and slots in the cold, massive factories we call public schools.
Children are not products, they are human beings. Modern education systems see them as nothing more than the combination of chemicals and electrical responses; without souls, without any emotional, eternal, spiritual connections or needs.
(If you don’t believe me, check out anything by B. F. Skinner, the darling behaviorist of modern education; I have one of his books sitting on my shelf, Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Reading it made me physically ill.)
So, in the big picture of policy-makers and curriculum developers, a child is not a person, he/she is a statistic, a commodity that must be developed, delivered, and otherwise dished-up in such a way as to be useful to “society,” never mind that children may be needed by God or their families, never mind any uniqueness or any potential outside the expected “norms.”
In the shoveling of one load of data after another, the individual is forgotten. To the politician and bureaucrat the numbers represent “products” and schools are more processing plants than collections of warm, living human beings. And yet, each plot on a graph is representative of millions of tiny, chubby hands; of voices that laugh and cry and ask questions, each in a distinctive way.
Grade-leveling is the outcome of cold mechanistic thinking; it is about processing, categorizing, and conveying human potential into the correct bin, either as rubbish or plastic-wrapped product. In reality, children rarely, if ever, perform according to category, and most of the time the results are harmful, even cruel.
Western education is in a mess, not because of the lack of concentrated instruction or money spent, but because of this evil way of looking at human beings. There is no way out until we come back to look at people as the intentional children of a loving Creator.
I remember well the different groups and levels in my own elementary classrooms growing up. The teachers would do everything in their power to keep us from discovering the performance of our fellow class members by assigning names to the various reading and math groups, either according to the names of trees or animals, etc., but we all knew. The faster students strutted, the at-level students felt mediocre, but the slower students cowered, even hung their heads in shame and stood alone during recess.
I have even witnessed this phenomenon in my fellow homeschoolers. Most of us do not realize just how silly the whole system is, so we automatically apply it to our own children, but we somehow fail to realize the absurdity. We expect our children to perform at the highest level for each age and we somehow feel as though we are failures if they are unable to be over-achievers by the current standards for each grade.
Then we ring our hands and become frustrated with our four-year-olds when they can’t grasp things like “other children” who don’t actually exist except as a conglomeration of test scores on a bureaucrat’s presentation in some stuffy board room.
Children are more than a collection of test data.
This is what we have come to expect; children are supposed to learn and perform at certain levels at certain ages, it’s just the way things are done, they way they have always been done.
Nothing could be farther from the truth! Old textbooks from the era of the one-room schoolhouse attest to this. Children were not in “classes,” but in book levels. If a child could grasp and perform all that was expected at a certain level, he/she moved up. If not, further practice was applied until he/she could move up.
Instruction should be simple, sweet and adaptable to the child, not to the school or the “curriculum.”
Children at all levels worked and played together; the older, more advanced expected to help the rest. Very little room for the envying and bullying so prevalent today.
To be sure, development and learning ability varies from child-to-child. As distinctive as a fingerprint is a child’s visual and audio memory, ability to process, even attention span. It is just as ludicrous for a parent to expect his/her child to be at doing work at a specific grade level as it is to expect that every six-year-old will wear a perfect size six pair of jeans!
And this is why we, as homeschoolers, can throw off such nonsense and reach for something better, something sweeter and more respectful. In doing so we may just find ourselves rediscovering all sorts of things, such as the simple joy of learning and discovery, and the gems and jewels that are hidden in each of our children.
Ways to do this:
- Throw out the age-grade level categories.
- Spend time studying each child intensely to discover his/her unique talents and abilities.
- Formulate goals and plans based on his/her potential and what he/she will need to be successful, not just for college, but for life first as a person; a child of God, a mother or father, a neighbor, and then as a “citizen.”
- Use milestones such as independent reading levels to plan your “curriculum” instead of grade level expectations.
- Use textbooks formulated before grade-leveling such as the McGuffey readers, or reference and non-fiction books and materials that are not written with any certain age in mind. (Believe it or not, something as modern as Khan Academy is perfect for this mindset!)
With just a little change of heart and mind, we can recapture and offer our children what has been lost. We can stand with them and offer them help and hope as we clasp their tiny hands and watch their world open before them.