Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I'm Not Ready!

Two unpleasant surprises from The Boy's school this week.

I learned this week that The Boy 's kindergarten class breaks up every few days for different reading levels, with TB and a few of his friends staying in their classroom while most of the class goes elsewhere, and a few kids from other classes stream in. They're the 'honors' group, in a sense. The fluent readers.

They're five years old.

Although the larger class is admirably multicultural and multiracial, there isn't a single black kid in the honors group.

It's the second half of kindergarten, and the tracking has already started.

It just didn't occur to me that it would start so early.

At one level, of course, I'm pleased and proud. The parent in me takes as self-evident that my kid is exceptional, wonderful, and objectively superior to all other kids in every possible way. And even putting parental blinders aside, TB loves to read and is good at it, and we've gone out of our way to convey that school is good and reading is fun. He's a bright kid, and I want him to be sufficiently challenged in school. I don't want him to be bored while the teacher helps the other kids learn their letters. To the extent that different reading groups will allow him to stretch, rather than sit and wait, I'm all for it.

But still...

It would be utterly devastating, I think, to hear that your kid has been pegged for the lower level group when he's just five years old. And sooner or later, the kids figure these things out.

I don't know how to reach the least-prepared while still challenging the most-prepared. I don't have a realistic answer. It just makes me sad to know that the differences are so stark so early.

The other shocker from school is that they had their first 'lockdown' drills this week. The teacher turns off the lights and the kids cluster in a corner where they can't be seen from a window or the window in the door. The kids are told that if they're in the hallway and lockdown mode kicks in, they should just duck into the nearest classroom, even if it isn't theirs. The teachers are to make signs with numbers on them and place the signs on the windows facing out, so the police will know how many kids are in each room.

To TB, this is no more harrowing than fire drills. It's just one of those bizarre school rituals. He does as he's told, but he doesn't really understand the reasons for it. And in this case, that's just as well.

I don't want him to know yet why schools need lockdown drills. I don't want him to hear phrases like “ugly custody battle” or “disgruntled employee” or “lone gunman” or “hostage crisis” yet. He's five.

I graduated high school in 1986. My entire k-12 experience was in public schools. I don't remember ever having a single lockdown, or even hearing the term. We got the “don't take candy from strangers” talk, followed later by the “don't drive drunk” talk, but not much more. And it wasn't because we were rolling in money, either. Northern Town was never wealthy, and the exurb in which I went to elementary school sort of peaked at middle-class. But even there, 'school violence' referred only to students fighting with each other.

I don't blame the school for doing lockdown drills. They're certainly better than the alternative. Heaven knows that if it turns out to be necessary, I'll be damn glad they were prepared.

I just wasn't prepared for my five-year-old to tell me at dinner how the entire class crowded into the corner so they couldn't be seen from the door.