"I believe that education is the civil rights issue of our generation." – U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan, October 9, 2009

21 Sesame Street: My Undercover Elementary School Assignment

Brief: More than just cookies are being stolen on Sesame Street, creativity is too.

I woke up one morning to a Twister game sitting at the foot of the stairs. ‘”What is this doing here?” I say to my Ma. “It’s game day at your brother’s school, the second to last day of school,” she said. My seven-year-old brother over hears her; he frolics down the stairs saying, “Yeah it’s game day today!”

I decided to join in on this game day. I thought it would be a good thing for me to see where my little brother spends his weekdays, to let him show me his desk, and to meet his teacher. I knew my visit would excite him too. I suppose I wanted to show him that I was involved and supportive of that part of his life.

I hadn’t approached this campus in some time. I used to come here to pick up my little brother from school every now and then, but now I approached the campus with a critical eye. I suddenly had the opportunity to step out of the role of the student and take on the role of the observer. I was curious. How has elementary school changed since I left? Has it changed at all?

After a few post-recess classroom activities and a few (defeated) Connect Four games later, I was able to answer this question.

Elementary school has not changed very much since my time. One thing I noticed is that everything is still structured, if not more. The schedule for the school day is up on the white board, there is no time for tangents or off-topic comments, and your butt must be glued to the carpet—always.

A recent article, 3 Ideas to Prevent Schools from Killing Creativity, Curiosity, and Critical Thinking, brought me back to my first grade classroom experience. One thing this article nailed: these kids are fidgety. You can see it in their eyes, down to their tippy toes; they are in a constant struggle to maintain self-control. You can see that they are antsy to standup, to move around, to talk out of turn, to share, and to engage with their classmates. This is wonderful news!

It’s great that we have children who are eager to learn, share, and to connect with others. It’s understandable though why there is structure—the classroom is innately a jungle and without rules and reminders the monkeys will run wild. But can’t we let them run wild a little bit? Instead of silencing this writhing energy for 8 hours a day, can’t we “transfer” it somewhere else?

This is where the article brought in some interesting points. Though there are activities like recess, art, music, and P.E. class that are meant to give kids a break from classroom lessons, I feel like there is still a lot of structure and rules that essentially take away children’s autonomy. I have no recollection of choosing my own instrument to play in music class, but instead, being handed a recorder and told to play it. And I doubt I would have ever chosen juggling for a P.E. class activity, let alone be graded on it (yes graded!).

In accordance with the article, I think we should allow kids a greater voice in what they want to do in school. We should give them time in the school day to do activities that they are passionate or curious about. This isn’t a recess or some pointless free time, it’s a time where kids can exercise their creative minds with the encouragement and support of their teachers. Giving children this opportunity will help reboot their minds for better focus and concentration on other classroom activities that require attention, patience, and structure. Also as a result, you will help create a group of children who feel empowered and confident to pursue their passions and ideas. We want to generate students who challenge the what, the how and the why—essentially leaders, not followers.

What do you think about the current structure of elementary school? Does it need to be changed? If so, what changes do you think should be made? I would love to hear your thoughts.


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2 thoughts on “21 Sesame Street: My Undercover Elementary School Assignment

  1. Here’s a lengthy (but interesting!) article I read earlier today that I believe is peripherally relevant to your post:

    The applicable selection reads:

    “…placement must be based only on interest and performance, not
    ability. There will always be profoundly gifted students with no interest in technical
    topics, and it is a disservice to everyone to confuse a lack of interest with a lack of
    ability. Similarly, technical teachers will be unable to engage such students, and it
    would be inappropriate to describe this as a failure of the teacher.”

    Not allowing students to ‘choose’ what they pursue, be it playing the recorder or studying advanced calculus, causes misery in the long term for both the student (forced to study something they have no need for nor interest in) and the teacher (who must struggle to connect with students uninterested in the subject matter). I agree with you that students should be allowed to choose what they learn.

    There are limits to this model of free choice. What if a student doesn’t want to learn math? We can’t very well not teach basic math. But perhaps we could offer students different options on how to learn? Although memorizing multiplication tables worked fine for me, many more tactile learners, when faced with all these numbers to memorize and no intuition to how multiplication “works,” might give up on math and decide it’s “too hard.” More varied activities and a choice for the students in how to learn math (among other subjects) might help avoid many students’ aversions.

    Developing and implementing such a curriculum would not be easy – certainly, teachers would need to do a lot of work for it to be successful – but I think it might be worth in in the long run.

    Also! If you have time, you should take a look at that article! I found it very insightful, but I’m curious to see what you’d think of it.

    • alison2012internship on said:

      I definitely think there is a reciprocal relationship between students’ interests and teachers’ attempts to engage their students. I can see how methods used may not be very captivating or interactive and how students’ lack of interest may make it difficult for teachers connect with students (I’d like to add that in a classroom setting, I think students and teachers feed off each other’s energy).

      Thanks for sharing the article it was very interesting. I think the section “we need separate tech-oriented mathematics tracks” warrants some attention. Regarding mathematics, I feel like we don’t carry through with it. Basic skills are essential and I think we need to ensure that children don’t pick up bad habits and substitute their graphing calculators for their education.

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