TOLT #8: Book Reviews and The Great Education Debate

One of things I’m doing to see myself as stronger is to make more time for reading. I feel like reading is essential in so many ways. It teaches me new things about fitness, exercise, and living fully in the moment. It also opens my eyes and my mind to new ideas in the world around me. While I mostly read fitness journals (not magazines off of the shelf) and yoga books, I also really enjoy books on education and “the classics”. If I had to name my top three books of all time they would include: The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby (I’ve yet to see the remake of the movie), and Ragtime. However, I have lost myself in Portrait of a Lady (once I got past page 100), Harry Potter, and Anne of Green Gables too. I just really love to read! Here’s a not so brief review (more of a rant on education) of three books I’ve recently read.

In September, I wrote briefly about a book I was reading called the Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. If you have kids, know someone who has kids, or if you’re going to have kids some day, I highly suggest reading this book. I read the 5th edition and then found the 6th at a book sale, but the final edition was the 7th, so look for that one. It contains a list of children’s books that are great for reading out loud to kids at ages from birth until they’re grown. If you work with adults that have literacy problems, read this book too! Anyway, this book got me thinking more about the education I’m currently giving my children. I read to them nightly and often times throughout the day as well. My oldest son does not go to pre-school for financial reasons and by choice of not wanting to stick him in cheap day care where he will not be challenged academically. I know that this post will get me more than one rolled eye and many people will tell me to let kids be kids for awhile, but I’m about to tell you why that is totally the wrong attitude to have.

This spark of my natural curiosity made me not only want to help my kids to be better readers some day (both of them), but also to make sure that I get them to the right kind of school for them. To help them learn for how they learn and to keep them interested and challenged. I was labeled as a “Gifted and Talented” student when I was in Kindergarten and from then on faced times where I was just plain bored out of my gourd in school, while still wanting to learn and loving learning. I never want my children to experience boredom in school nor a loss of love for learning.

Therefore, I started checking out more books from the library and doing my research. I do not intend to home school my children. I have nothing against it, but my stay-at-home mom status was always meant to be temporary.

First we enrolled our son in online and I started using their resources to see kind of where he is in the scheme of things. We started spending more time at the library this last year and also attending other programming at the local children’s museum, other museums, and parks that offered nature and science programs. On top of checking out the maximum number of books each week at the library and voraciously reading them cover to cover as many times as possible, I wanted more! Then I found The Giant Encyclopedia of Preschool Activities for Four-Year Olds. (I don’t know if I mentioned it or not, but Ike will be four this month. AAAAGGGGHHHH! I can’t believe I’ve been a mom for almost 4 years!) Well, this book flat out SUCKED! If my son were a “normal” four-year old, according to this book, he would be the most bored child ever in a pre-school class. I really hope that this book (meant for teachers of 4 year olds) is not representative of how children are being taught in this country…..but sadly it is. There are way too many activities based on singing the activity to the child or relating it to a nursery rhyme and far too few activities that require the children to ask any concrete questions or think for themselves. Perhaps I should have jumped ahead to the book for Kindergarteners or just read some reviews of it prior to checking it out. Either way, Thank Goodness for the next book!

While I was traveling last I browsed the newstand at one of the airports and saw a book entitled The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley. I texted it to myself and sure enough it was available at my local library. It sat unopened for 8 days and the was read in full within 4. It’s not a long book, but it’s a telling book. And here’s what it told me:

  • Our country sucks at educating our children in comparison to the rest of the world
  • Kids are smarter than we think, but we don’t let them think
  • There are few good teachers out there because we have a perpetual cycle of allowing anyone to have an education past high school and we’re suckers for a sympathetic story

Thank you so much Ms. Ripley for writing this book! It blew my mind! It made me want to push my kids to see what their little brains could really do and the truth is, a lot! I started asking my son more questions in the last month to see how he’s viewing the world. I started forcing my little guy to do some more things on his own and figure out how to do things. We also started making him say more words and guess what, he can say a lot more than we were giving him credit for. Both of my kids are very smart and have the ability to be smarter yet! The book did kind of make me want to pack up and move to Finland (or at least Canada because it’s closer), but it did make me think very hard about sending my kids to school here in North Carolina. I was starting to get lax about the idea of public school here, but NO WAY any more. And private school is not any better. So, what in the heck am I supposed to do?!

Ripley outlines some important questions to ask when finding a school. And questions not just to ask other parents, but the teachers, the administration, and the students themselves. Questions like, “What are you doing in class and Why?” If the kids don’t know why they’re learning, then what’s the point? I never enjoyed memorization tactics as a child and my kids haven’t learned that way thus far (except for numbers and letters because there’s not really any other way to learn the order than repetition), so why would I stick them in a school where all they do is copy their history books (if they even get to touch a book)? That is why I hate (maybe hated) history in school.

US – Below Average in EVERY category

I had consulted with my pediatrician awhile back about starting our son in school early. Everyone has advised me against that for various reasons. We will not be doing it due to the cost to get him tested and appeal to have him start this coming fall. Instead we’re considering a Montessori school. In the mean time I plan to keep teaching him in any way I can to expand his growing mind. So, I picked up one last book I’d like to tell you about. The Homegrown Preschooler by Kathy H. Lee and Lesli M. Richards. These two ladies have done some amazing things that I could not handle myself. I suggest reading their stories and picking up this book if you’re a stay-at-home mom whether you plan to stick your kid in school or not. Their approach is a hands on learning style that I can get behind. Granted, I won’t be purchasing school supplies every week and going through all of their activities, but even just doing a few of the things, or at least looking at what we’re already doing differently, has made a great change in the way I’m approaching education at home for now. We busted out the play-doh that Santa brought in stockings and started talking more about how it works and what we can do with it. There was a brief time out due to Eli trying to eat it (may have to make some of my own “edible” version for him), but overall it opened up some new conversations and creative outlets. We started finding things in our house we could use to teach math and shapes and properties of matter even! I have so many new ideas thanks to this book. I even let my child do more of the mixing and measuring when we baked the other day…..just to let him learn something new.

Now, I don’t pretend that my child is a genius. I am not naive nor blinded by love for him. He still has a long way to go in life and he is, in many ways, a typical four year old boy. But the one thing I will fight for and defend for him is his right to learn if he wants it. I work in education and I expect a lot from the students in my classes and from the professionals I train. Why is it unreasonable to think that my children’s teachers would do the same? Why is it unreasonable to expect them to have lived up to a high standard in order to educate my children?

I started teaching when I was in high school in the religious education program at my church. I would read the required lesson to the kids in my class (4th graders) and then turn to them and ask, “What does this scripture mean to you?” I was faced with many blank stares, wide eyes and mouths, and a very quiet room at the beginning of the year.

No one had ever asked these kids to think for themselves. They would be adults in the working world in 8 more years and would be expected to do exactly that. By the end of the year we had serious discussions about faith and responsibility. I don’t know why, at 17, I was able to figure out how to teach critical thinking to a group of students and yet most teachers in this country cannot. I had no formal training, but I thought about how it made sense to learn. And it makes sense to ask questions. So…..

What kind of education do you want to have for your children?
Where do your kids go to school?
Are you a kinesthetic, auditory, or visual learner?
What’s the best book you’ve read lately?

Thanks Amanda!

5 thoughts on “TOLT #8: Book Reviews and The Great Education Debate

  1. Oh AL, you need to come to our school. It's so great! Yes, they teach is songs and rhymes and it really does help. Especially as Alexandria has gotten older (FIRST GRADE! AAAHHH!!!) and has begun learning the awful nuances that is the English language. Her favorite right now goes something like this. "If two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking" Like in "toad" you hear the "o" sound and not the "a". From the very beginning (3 year preschool) she has been challenged and right now reads at a 3rd grade level. Each grade level has had separate groups in them where the teachers can focus on each learning level. So the slow learners aren't frustrated being lumped in with the fast learners and vice versa. This has continued and will continue throughout elementary school. It's so great! Because I had concerns about that as well noting early on that she was pretty smart and she catches on pretty quickly to the things around her. Not so much the physical things (she still can't throw a dang ball!) but the entire world around her. I think I helped her out because not only did I answer her questions when she was young but I expanded on them. "Why is that bird in the grass?" I would answer "He's poking around in the dirt for worms to eat." Then I would go on about the rain we just had and why the worms are so close to the top and how the birds know this….and she LOVES IT! Now for your questions. I want this education for Alexandria and Jocelyn that Alexandria is getting right now! They go to a public school.I am a visual learner…not entirely sure what a kinesthetic learner is…but I am assuming that means to carry out a task…like take a science lesson from the lecture and putting into practice in the lab?? I like that, too, I do not like rote memorization or listening to lectures. Probably why I hated history, too. But history shows and movies are cool. Drunk History is my favorite show!! You should check it out!Best book I've read lately….currently reading one by MaryJanice Davidson..all her books rock!


  2. You need to read Ripley's book and especially the part about tracking children as early as elementary school and the negative effects that it can have. That's what I don't want for my boys because it happens so often to boys. Does Lexi's class involve a lot of hands on learning (kinesthetic) or do they do a lot of worksheets? Iowa was one of the better ranked states for education (comparable to the UK on the chart above), but still nowhere in the US ranked as high as any of the countries in the top 10. Disappointing to me.


  3. What is tracking? I'd rather not read the book. I find non – fiction to be mind numbing. They do a lot of both in Lexi's school both now and in previous grades. Right now they are learning about mechanical engineering and they learned about some wind scale thing and had to make observations everyday according to what the flag looked like outside. They have plants in the classroom to learn about…plants. 🙂 Their teacher loves when they bring in bugs so they can learn and observe them. It's way better then what I remember from school.


  4. Tracking is when they separate kids out into different levels instead of expecting the same high level of all of the kids and helping the lower kids to get there. If Lexi is in a high reading group and other kids in her class are not being asked to read the same things, then they are tracking the kids. If they are all asked to read the same things, but are getting different amounts of help to read at the same level, they're not being tracked. Tracking has a negative effect on both the top level and lower level children because it tells people that being "good at school" is something they're born with and that it can't change. Thereby, if a kid is deemed "smart" early on, but reaches a point where they struggle, they don't understand how it can happen. And kids that are labeled as "remedial" or whatever the equivalent term they use is, they never strive to get better because they see that they aren't "born smart" and don't understand that they can get smarter.I'd love to visit Lexi's class if I'm ever home when she's in school. It sounds like a neat set up!


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