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Commentary | VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY

One-Size-Fits-All Learning Leaves Parents Little Choice

March 06, 2004|Maria C. Feldman

By every outward appearance, my child's elementary school in Long Beach is an ideal school. But if you have a noncompetitive, creative, slow-and-steady visual learner, it is not the place to be.

Testing is the push, speed is the goal and rote memorization is the vehicle in which our children are driven. Tactile and experiential learning and critical-thinking skills are, for the most part, nonexistent; the few seasoned teachers who attempt to work these skills in are under heavy pressure to stop.

Fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice work sheets are abundant. Manipulatives -- real objects, such as sticks or balls, used to teach math -- are not to be found after first grade. Five- and 10-minute "benchmark" quizzes are polarizing the children who do not fit into the crate that the school system has constructed. It means nothing to the powers that be that by the age of 6 or 7 there are bright, eager-to-learn children who no longer want to go to school.

My husband and I attended a special presentation regarding testing, given by a representative from the Parent Academy division of Parent and Community Services with the Los Angeles County Office of Education. My understanding from this meeting is that state and federal decision-makers did not intend that our school districts choose and apply a curriculum that has turned some of our schools into test-prep factories.

I also learned that if parents are not happy with what is happening in our public schools, we can "opt out" -- that the school's opinion is that if 95% are happy and doing well, then too bad for the 5% that aren't.

Part of the problem here is that parents are afraid, intimidated and worried about "developing a reputation" if they speak out. As long as parents are unwilling to speak out, I fear that the system will prevail and 5% of our precious young people will be completely burned out by middle school, with the spark that motivates them to learn extinguished. They will be the children "left behind."

My husband and I "opted out" our son in January. Our kindergarten-age daughter, for now, remains at the school. Our tax dollars pay for our schools, and no parent should have to "opt out" of public education because of their child's learning style.

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Maria C. Feldman lives in Long Beach.

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