AMERICAN EDUCATION REFORM
Posted by Ella Moss on October 5, 2010
I went to a regular public school in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Russia. Like all Russian kids, I started school at 7 years of age.
That is the good age to start school, because a typical child should already develop abstract thinking by that time, so learning math is easier.
Since I became an avid reader at the age of 4, I soon became bored at t school. Unlike me, most of the kids were still learning to read.
I found a way to while my time by reading books under the table. Once I was caught and got “F”.
But, by the second semester, studying has already caught my interest.
In the elementary school (Russian grades 1 – 3), the emphasis was on handwriting and arithmetic. Not even grown-ups had calculators, let alone computers, so we were learning to use our minds and had to develop good memory skills. AND NO ONE COULD WRITE USING PENCILS. We actually had to use liquid ink – remember that one:)?
We would spend only 4 hours in school (from 9am to 1pm), and typical homework time increased to 1 hour by the 3rd grade.
The rest of the time we spent being kids: playing, attending extra-curriculum activities (mine was ballet).
We did not need babysitters, even though our parents were at work for most of the day, because,
1) by 7 years of age we already knew how to warm up dinner
2) senior citizens sitting on a bench (and those were everywhere) SUPERVISED us. Raising kids was everybody’s job (IT DOES TAKE A VILLAGE TO RAISE A KID), and all those grannies were taking it seriously. Many a times I would be called to a bench by such a granny, and she would painfully pinch my ear while reprimanding me.
I can only imagine what would happen to such granny here:).
At school, however, there was no corporal punishment of any sort, even though an average class size was 40.
The teacher would reprimand us by making us stand in the corner in front of the class and writing a note in our diaries in red.
Every kid had such a diary, where each teacher would mark a grade for each lesson and a grade for behavior. It was up to the parent to check the diary each day and, if necessary, apply corporal punishment (although excessive corporal punishment would have consequences for the parent). I don’t remember any child coming to school with bruises left by an irate parent.
Each lesson in school (all the way through high-school) would be 45 minutes long, and then we would have 15 minutes recess, with a lunch recess lasting 20 minutes. Recess was our time to socialize, and we did it with vigor.
In middle school (Russian grades 4 – 8), the school day lasted 9am to 3 pm, and we had separate teachers for each subject.
My math teacher disliked me immensely as I was a rowdy kid, and would lower my grade no matter what, so I stopped paying attention to math, even though I showed promise before, even winning a city-wide competition in math in the 4th grade.
I continued to do well in the subjects taught by teachers who encouraged me or were able to arouse my interest.
Like everywhere, we had good and bad teachers.
BUT CURRICULUM WAS THE SAME IN THE WHOLE COUNTRY. So students transferring to different schools were basically on the same level.
Exceptions were specialized schools (mostly bilingual). But most people could not even dream of placing their child in such a school (one had to have connections).
High school (grades 9-10) was optional in Russia, and most of the kids who graduated middle school with mostly “C”s (like me) went straight to vocational schools.
I chose to go to high-school despite my failing grades. The vigorous curriculum there was even more difficult to deal with, because our minds were filled with girl-boy business. But I managed to graduate with “C” average nonetheless.
By that time I knew I was going to America, so I did not bother with trying to get into college in Russia. Besides, with grades like mine, my chances of higher education were virtually none.
But I managed to get into American college, even with practically no English.
My first semester there was tough: I had to translate virtually every word I read, so reading 1 page (and there would be 30 of those per subject) would take 30 minutes for me.
But by the second semester already I dropped ESL and began acing each subject, getting straight “A”s and being on the Dean’s list each semester.
College education in America was a breeze next to Russian school education! One semester I even took Calculus I, which was equivalent to the 5th grade algebra in Russian middle school, and got an easy “A”.
My last 2 years in college, I had a full-time job, a full-time boyfriend (we lived together), was taking 18 credits, having a major and a minor, and still was getting nothing but “A”s. BECAUSE IT WAS SO EASY!!!
I knew then that Russian (read European) education was by far more superior.
Now my kid is going to a public school in NYC, and it breaks my heart knowing that he is getting sub-par education – even though he is studying way too much and has started school way too early.
I did not know that I don’t have to send him to school the fall he turned 5. So he was still 4, when he started THE TORTURE.
He would say then, “Mommy, I don’t want to go to school. I want to play with cars”, and I would try hard not show him my tears as my heart was crying. He was so right! His childhood was cut short too early. And for what???
He is in the 5th grade now, still 9 years old. He is an “A” student, doing well in school and on state exams.
BUT HE STILL WRITES IN PENCIL, AND HIS HANDWRITING IS SO TERRIBLE THAT I DOUBT HIS TEACHER READS HIS HOMEWORK – I HAVE HARD TIME DOING THIS!
BUT THIS SUMMER I HAD TO GO OVER THE ARITHMETIC WITH HIM, BECAUSE THERE WERE SERIOUS HOLES IN HIS KNOWLEDGE.
Other kids in his school have either private math tutors or attend special math classes on Saturdays in nearby colleges.
Unfortunately, we have neither time nor money. He is in a professional
choir 3 times a week, and on weekends he has tennis, chess and piano lessons. Math he should be studying in school. Afterall, he is there 8Am – 3pm. What is he doing there these long 7 hours?
Plus, he has no less then 2.5 hours of homework every day.
That is 9.5 hours work day for a little 9 y.o. kid (and I am not even adding piano practice, as that is our choice).
Yet he knows much less than I did at that age.
Soon he is likely to be so tired from all this schooling that does not teach him much that I would have to count on his considerable ambition to carry him through the rest of his education.
But even if he gets into a choice IS public school (I cannot even afford a catholic school, let alone something else), I doubt his education would reach the level I’ve received in Soviet Russia.
So I am all for education reform in America.
But starting school at 2 y.o. or taking children’s summer (those short 2 months) away is not an answer.
By the way, in Russia, we had 3 months summer vacation and no extra tutoring of any sort. We rested. We had time for childhood.
And, as you can see from my story, we had huge class sizes and many bad teachers.
Yet, our education was by far more superior.
I credit the curriculum. That is what needs to be reformed. Afterall, it is not HOW our children learn, but WHAT they learn that ultimately determines WHAT THEY END UP KNOWING (which, in turn, determines the future of this country).
And NO ONE NEEDS TO INVENT SOMETHING NEW. Why not to borrow European curriculum and educational methods? Actually, Singapore curriculum is considered to be even better now. At least, many good Israely schools now teach that curriculum.
But, unfortunately for my kid and yours, that is just a wishful musing on my part….