March 17, 2006


Reading, Writing, and Virology

...When I was in kindergarten—many eons ago—my teacher and her aide spent the vast majority of their time teaching us the foundations for our years of education that would follow. We started with letters and numbers, ever so carefully as to make sure that we wouldn’t be overwhelmed; the alphabet was presented with patience, numbers were introduced 10 at a time, and after we understood the basics of those we were told how to apply them so that we could create the most basic sentence structures. In between that we learned our colors, the five senses, shapes, and the names of animals that so many of us thought were cute and cuddly. During recess we would race to the monkey bars and swing-set to see who would use it that day; those who didn’t get there in time would ultimately end up playing tag or using the sliding board.
...Oh, how times have changed.
...Starting next week, in accordance with state law, New York’s public school kindergarteners will begin to learn about HIV and AIDS, and how it’s difficult to “get well” from them. Some parents and teachers alike are questioning the curriculum, which is designed to introduce the disease to the five-year-olds with instruction that “contains positive messages about staying healthy,” according to the spokeswoman for the state’s education department. It’s said that the kids won’t hear about sex until they’re in fourth grade—is that the average age when sexual activity begins in New York?—and if any parents wish for their children to opt out of the class, they must write to the principal. I’m guessing that any kids who opt out would be sent to another room where they would learn more of the alphabet so that they can actually get to the letters H, I, and V.
...Teachers who have expressed concern over the curriculum have done so not on the basis of prudishness, but out of concern over the comprehension and cognitive abilities of children that age. One teacher said, “You can tell a second-grader there are different illnesses, colds and viruses, and they’ll understand. But they don’t understand the difference between cancer and HIV.” Another teacher remarked, “They might understand to some extent, but in kindergarten and first grade, it’s impossible.”
...Curriculum such as this, for children this age, should not be implemented for three distinct reasons.
...First, and possibly most important, is the comprehension ability of children as young as this due to their natural cognitive development. Kindergarten-age children fall into the stage of adolescence which Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget called the “preoperational stage.” According to Piaget’s research, children this age acquire language and figure out how to use symbols that represent the world around them. Children this age can deal with the world in a symbolic manner, but can’t think logically.
...In fact, Piaget’s next step in cognitive development, the “concrete operational stage” (ages seven to 11), doesn’t allow for complete logical reasoning, either; children at this level are able to apply logical reasoning only to things which they’ve experienced. It isn’t until children reach approximately 11 years of age—the “formal operational stage”—when they can finally think in fully-logical, abstract terms. Piaget’s work supports the comments that were made by the teacher who expressed concerns over her students’ inability to understand the difference between cancer and HIV. To state it bluntly, children are children—they’re not little adults.
...The second reason that the HIV/AIDS curriculum for kindergarten is difficult to defend is the nature of the disease. The state says that kindergarten children won’t be instructed on the sexual aspects of HIV and AIDS until fourth grade. If that’s the case, why even have the course in the first place? HIV and AIDS has a track record of being spread via unprotected sex, intravenous drug use (with contaminated needles being shared), and blood transfusions. The Centers for Disease Control Website offers five sections for HIV/AIDS prevention, and two of them deal with sexual topics. So, if we eliminate the sexual topics from the discussion, we’re left with mother-to-child transmission, occupational transmission for healthcare workers, and clinical trials of antiretroviral drugs as prevention. In terms of transmission, we’re left with bad blood transfusions (which are decreasing due to better screening) and intravenous drug use. Unless New York has an epidemic of smack-shooting five-year-olds who share their needles, it doesn’t seem as if any of these topics are worth discussing with a demographic whose two most important times of the day are snack time and nap time.
...My third complaint is for the people whose job it is to defend the teachers. Where is the opposition to this law from the New York teachers’ union(s)? If anything, this is ammunition for people who are critical of public education; now they can say that teachers aren’t spending enough time teaching the children the basics (i.e., the alphabet, numbers, shapes, colors, etc.). Instead, it can be argued, they’re spending time discussing viruses and diseases to an audience which isn’t completely sure of what a virus or disease is. With the implementation of this curriculum, the anti-public school crowd can now say, “These kids can’t count to 100 because more time is being spent showing them information on viruses—viruses which they can’t yet spell properly.” Is this what the New York teachers’ association wants?
...Politicians in New York should be more concerned with kindergarteners knowing their alphabet, their numbers, their colors, and their shapes; save human immunodeficiency viruses for later. On the other hand, New York voters—many of whom are parents—have elected the politicians in question. Perhaps this is simply what the parents want.


Blogger Dorid Lovely said...

makes me glad I'm no longer a New Yorker, what a terrible waste of taxpayer money, and teacher and student time. Of course if we look at Piaget and Erickson and compare them to state standards in general we would find some glaring discrepencies... many state standards are developmentally inappropriate.

This is the extreme.

March 18, 2006  
Blogger J.P. said...

Dorid, you’re right. Many of the standards are based upon what the drafters want the kids to know as opposed to what they have the ability to comprehend.

March 19, 2006  
Blogger amy said...

This is a really hard story to swallow. While I understand their viewpoint in educating children, I find their attemps going a little too far too quickly. In Michigan, we were given our first sex talk in fifth grade, then again in sixth grade. I don't ever remember anyone speaking hide nor hair of HIV/AIDS, but I can attest to the fact that when my father was diagnosed with cancer in 1988 - when I was twelve - I didn't comprehend cancer and all that entailed, nor could I have understood the finer points of HIV/AIDS transmission.

And I agree with JP that the NY Teacher's Union should be outraged that time is being taken away from real classroom education with young, open minds. This is as bad as other organizations who are trying to take away recess. Sheesh!

March 19, 2006  
Blogger amy said...

(Btw, I finally answered your question on my blog!)

March 20, 2006  

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