Monday, May 6, 2013

Fun in School


I have in my pocket a ticket from my youngest daughter's last concert with the Syracuse Children's Chorus. She earned a place in the chorus last year and was excited to be a member. Yesterday, however, she was grateful to be done and out of the group.

I'm disappointed she won't be singing in the chorus, but I understand why she is so happy to be shut of the enterprise. Chorus wasn't fun. In that there is a lesson for all schools.

My daughter loves to sing and perform. Music is for her as necessary as breathing and a hell of a lot more fun but the chorus is a very serious group. I respect them striving to be at the highest level and want my daughter to achieve, but it was too serious and not enough fun for my daughter. There wasn't time to be social or silly. There was no time to make new friends. So she's out.

It's similar to her school and most public schools in New York State where the push is to achieve higher and higher standards at the expense of fun. Things that draw kids to school are sacrificed so that schools can implement more testing, drilling, and sit-in-your-seat-and-listen teaching.

Consider the Common Core, a push to raise standards in English and Math, Science and Social Studies. The Common Core raises the standards and pushes efficiency. Thus teachers talk at students and test them. That this isn't the best way to learn doesn't seem to matter. That it's not fun is beneath Common Core consideration.

My older daughter did a project last year in which she and her friends surveyed the school population about favorite colors. They compiled the data, did all sorts of figuring about it, graphed it, put it in pie- and bar-charts, and generally thought about what it all meant. She loved it. She got to travel around the school passing out questionnaires. She worked in groups with friends. And she learned from me how to work a spreadsheet.

That sort of project is time-inefficient requiring time to organize how kids will move around the school and work in groups. It also involves dealing with the conflicts that arise. It requires the trust of colleagues and administrators. But the killer is this: it doesn't involve a lot of the teacher standing in front of the class teaching or a standardized test at the end.

But it's fun.

I can hear David Coleman, architect of the Common Core, saying, "no one gives a shit about fun."

Fun matters. Had the Syracuse Children's Chorus been more fun my daughter would still be a member. The Chorus would have benefited from keeping her. She's spectacular.

Leaving the chorus is easy. Leaving the Syracuse City School District is much more complicated. Unlike several other parents in our school, we aren't moving our daughters to private schools or the suburbs. Not yet.

Still, if the school doesn't remember its whole purpose, and soon, I worry that my girls will continue to enjoy school less and less. School isn't all about the academics or the damned Common Core. If it was, I'd school them at home. They are in school to learn those core things, but also for cello and violin, music and art, lunch and the playground. That last bit is important.

Anyone who has been through school knows that more than half of what we learn comes not from classes but from interaction with the other people in the school. An education can be had in silence and solitude from a book, but it pales in comparison to the learning that we achieve when we come together in groups to work and have fun.

The Syracuse Children's Chorus forgot to bring the fun. The Syracuse City School District is eliminating fun. New York State is supporting if not requiring that elimination. It's a short-sighted plan. I'm opposed.

If writing wasn't fun, there's pretty no chance in hell that I would do it. Because it's fun, I continue to write on.