I remember my fifth grade science fair project – a demonstration of how television worked. I struggled to understand the concepts I was reading about and don’t think I ever really got it but I remember trying to work through it. I remember a sixth grade social studies project. I stayed up late the night before writing it. My teacher pulled me aside and told me that this was not my best work and he expected better of me. I didn’t excel on those projects, but the experience inspired me. When I was in high school I worked with a group of friends to transform the theatre into Wonderland ala Lewis Carroll. And we created Alduous Huxley’s Brave New World in our teacher’s work room.
My husband and I had a conference with our third graders teacher this week. I like her teacher, Ms. T. She has many years of experience and clearly still loves being in the classroom. She is in complete control of her classroom and yet is flexible enough to offer each child what they need. But as we left her room Tuesday night part of me wondered if it was the right place for my daughter.
We asked Ms. T if there would be any projects for homework. “No, she said I used to do those but I quit. Most of the children here just don’t have the resources and parental support to complete a project like that.” WHAT?!! I understood what she was saying. Our family is very focused on education. We put school first and yet some nights it is difficult to get the regular spelling, math and reading homework in between dinner, soccer and church events. Our family is firmly in the middle class and running to WalMart to get poster board, construction paper and a new set of markers is not a big deal. According to our school’s report card approximately one-third of the population is economically disadvantaged. I get that asking the kids to make a shoe box diorama of the solar system would challenge most families and be almost impossible for other families. But isn’t public education supposed to be about challenging us as a society? Stretching us and making us better?
I think we need to have high expectations for all children and find ways to help them succeed. Maybe that means doing the long term project in class and asking the parents who can to donate supplies, but I don’t think it means giving up on the project. If you don’t have the fifth grade science project you’ll never be able to create your brave new world.