I’m a firm believer that everything about a person is rooted in the fundamentals- academically, behaviorally, socially, and emotionally. That being said, I feel it is most necessary to idealize an elementary environment that would be efficient for all students.
Beginning with the academics of the school, I must express my dislike for the grouping of students based on skill level. In Affirming Diversity it is often mentioned that students who receive some type of learning support tend to be removed from their regular education class, or even placed in a different class altogether. Despite the fact that these students are still young, with some amount of naiveté, they are often not blind to the fact that they are being separated because of some difference between them and their peers. Unfortunately, if students view themselves the same way they are viewed by the administrators responsible for their skill-based separation, they will likely fall into the vicious role of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Obviously, I am not suggesting that children with learning disabilities be ignored and receive no extra help. However, with retention occurring as young as Kindergarten, and high dropout rates amongst retained children, it may be more harmful than helpful to keep a child from moving on with their peers.
Pedagogy is everything, in my opinion, and while teachers all have their own style of teaching, it is also necessary to alter curriculum in order to fit the needs of the greatest amount of students. Removing memorization of inane information and replacing it practical information, as well as involving students in their own educational plan are two possibilities to increase responsibility and critical thinking. Unfortunately, there are still going to remain some students whose learning styles are incompatible with certain pedagogies. While one teacher may believe visual learning to be most powerful, he or she may have students who are auditory or kinesthetic learners. By meeting the needs of each student, separation by learning style for each topic is one way I feel schools could create a more successful learning environment.
Nieto and Bode discuss constructivism, which may be more ideal than realistic (p. 125). I appreciate the theory and I believe that all learning is based on experiences and that learning should be creative and cultural. I also agree that peer interaction and active learning are necessary to foster a safe and respectful learning environment. Unfortunately, considering the extreme differences and past experiences of each individual, Virginia Richardson in Affirming Diversity mentions the harmful effects when applying this style to everyone (p. 126).
As important as a child’s in-school experiences may be, it may be completely irrelevant if their positive experiences are not also shared and mimicked in their home lives. Although parental engagement is not something that can be enforced, there are certain ways to allow more parents to become involved in their child’s success. Especially with the increase in non-traditional and single parent households, teachers and administrators must work together to find ways that even the busiest of parents can become engaged. The disconnect between educators and families can create unnecessary struggles in miscommunication and a lack of understanding of the child’s home life for the teacher, as well as the lack of knowledge of how a parent’s child is performing in school.
However, parental involvement is also highly important when discussing a student’s behavior. Although I have mixed feelings about zero tolerance policies, a larger part of me is against the practice. The Advancement Project discussed in Affirming Diversity explains the “school-to-prison pipeline” and the punitive route many schools take to push students towards the juvenile system, rather than offer more reform-based options (p. 116). It is also important to recognize the racial disciplinary gap that exists, which the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported “Black students were two and a half times more likely to be suspended or expelled than other students” (Nieto and Bode, p. 130). The lack of communication and understanding, especially when a cultural barrier exists between parents and teachers, can lead to negative behavioral outcomes for students of color.
Socially and emotionally, I reaffirm many of my former ideas of the importance of not segregating children based on skill level. On the basis of diversity, I agree with Nieto and Bode to begin discussing racism early on, and to eradicate “colormuteness” which they define as the unease many people experience when discussing racism (p. 73). While my feelings on how to combat bullying are a large and important part of how I believe the social environment of a school could be effected, the topic is too personal of an issue, which would require tangent upon tangent. I will say that administrators and teachers must be more active in how they handle situations. From my own experience, teachers tend to find it easier to turn a blind eye or act oblivious, but it is their voice and actions that can make all the difference, especially for children too afraid to speak up. While I am sure that a perfect school does not currently, nor will it ever exist, trial and error as well as committed teachers and parents can make a huge difference in the future success of students.
Nieto, S., & Bode, P. (2012). Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education. Boston, MA: Pearson.