Yesterday, Soph brought home a note from preschool, listing four poems about apples, inviting her to choose one to memorize and recite to the class. My friends were appalled. “What does this teach?” they asked on facebook. “How is this at all appropriate?” But it’s not the assignment per se that I worry about. I remember the passage in Maya Angelou’s autobiography where she recalls the delight she took in recitation and laments that more kids don’t get the chance to memorize and perform beautiful literature. I remember the Robert Frost poem that I memorized at age nine. I am not opposed to kids learning rhymes, rhythms, and the odd joys of reciting aloud something memorized.
What bothers me is that these were bad poems. The best of the bunch, the one Soph chose to memorize, was:
Way up high in the apple tree
A little brown worm smiled at me
I winked my eye and what to you suppose
A shiny red apple dropped on my nose
Yes, it says “what to you suppose” when the teacher must have meant to type “what do you suppose.” Every one of these poems contained a misspelling: “too” instead of “to,” “letter” instead of “ladder:” the kinds of misspellings that spell-check can’t catch. I don’t know if I will ever mention this to the teacher, but it bothers me.
On Soph’s first day of school, this teacher even misspelled Sophie’s name on her napping blanket, writing “Sofia” in huge & permanent marker, even though I had already labelled that blanket in a discreet corner she hadn’t seen. I had to applique a heart on top of that un-erase-able, scrawled “Sofia,” because it infuriated me so much. I think I may need to swallow the spelling snob part of me, and accept that — as long as she spells Sophie’s name right — it may be okay that this teacher can’t spell “to.” Is it okay, though, in someone who is trying to teach phonics?
And, really, are there no apple poems written by actual poets? Really no poems that weren’t adjective-heavy sing-songy nonsense? Isn’t there some gorgeous Robert Frost, or William Carlos Williams, or other poems that would be age-appropriate AND beautiful? I think it is the lack of beauty that bothers me most.
To be fair, there are lots of good signs about this school: Sophie has renamed all her dolls after her preschool teacher. At her new school, Sophie has made a variety of friends, shifting away from the over-clique-y-ness of her old school. Sophie takes a nap nearly every day at this new school, even though she dislikes napping — and this means that we can keep her up later in the evening, getting to enjoy her company longer, and getting to go on adventures like, last night, going out after dark to see the bio-luminescent sand that the red tide washed in this weekend. Also, Sophie loves that her new school has a large play-area well-stocked with tricycles.
But it’s the bio-luminescent-sand kind of adventure that I wish she got more of at preschool, not just at home. I wish she made her gorgeous art at school, not just home.
At parents’ night, Soph’s teacher talked only about teaching literacy. She called herself “traditional” and “academic.” I asked her to tell us about other subjects, like art or emotional development, and other parents glared at me as if I were being rude.
Arrogantly, I am confident that Sophie will learn academic skills. She memorized her bad apple poem with apparent delight. She even “read” her first-ever book this week, by guessing from first-letters and pictures what words were in a new baby-book sent to Everett — and then she proudly re-read the book to any adult who would listen. She’s been asking me about homonyms, lately, fascinated by the way “know” and “no” have the same sound but different meanings. And she is trying really hard to count to 100.
Maybe she knows that I like to talk about these things, too. I am happy to engage in academic subjects whenever she brings them up. But I also don’t worry, much, that “eleventeen” is one of her favorite numbers. We are an intellectual family; I know that Soph will have intellectual skills.
As a wise friend (who happens to be getting a PhD in early childhood education) once told me: No child reaches age 10 without being able to count to ten, name the colors, or say the alphabet. Preschool doesn’t need to teach that. It will be learned, almost no matter what. Some children do reach age ten, though, without knowing how to take turns, empathize with others, or find joy in learning. That’s what needs to be taught in preschool.
I keep hoping that that is what is being taught, even if Soph’s preschool teacher couldn’t articulate it at parents’ night or make it apparent in their apple-poem homework.
And, contradictorily, I also want her teacher to be able to spell.