What I learned in third grade

By Daniel Dunkle | Jun 13, 2013

“Be aware of wonder. Live a balanced life — learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.” — Robert Fulghum, 'All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten'

Robert Fulghum had a point in his essay, 'All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten.' After spending an entire day in the third grade last week, I learned lessons any adult could benefit from.

I kind of love the classroom, a world of order and routine. Everything has a place and most things are in their place, even though the kids seem to shed objects as they move: rulers, pens, papers, dog-chewed stubs of pencils.

The teachers and children are individually equipped, as ready for survival as campers with their lunches packed and their bags and cubbies and desks full of stuff. Everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing right now, where they are supposed to be.

It stands in contrast to the newsroom, where reporters are pulled in several directions at once and wander the streets at noontime in search of food.

Kids love structure. I think adults like it too.

There were a number of surprises for me. I thought computers would be a bigger part of the modern school experience, but this classroom boasted only one neglected in a back corner that doesn't even work. Doesn't some big company out there want to donate technology to schools?

I expected more variety to the day. There are two classes: literacy (reading and writing) and math.

The school flirts with other subject areas — a visiting teacher singing in French and a visiting wildlife guy with some pretty cool critters, but the clock starts to slow during the third hour of reading.

I pictured more drawing and coloring worksheets on topics of interest. Maybe, it being June 6, they could have talked about D-Day (The Longest Day version rather than the more gory Saving Private Ryan, perhaps).

The logic is simple, the school needs to improve its reading and math scores, so it's pounding those topics. There's no arguing they are the most important subjects, but it gets at the thing Fulghum talks about: life in balance.

Many kids find what they are interested in while they attend school. Some, like my Dad, will be more interested in history than anything else. Others will find their passion in art or music.

Some students spoke fervidly on behalf of art programs at a recent budget meeting in Belfast, according to The Republican Journal.

"My middle school years were some of the toughest years of my school career," one student said. "... I didn't know where I fit in until I found the art room."

“A fifth-grader from the Drinkwater School said if there was no art at the middle school when she arrives there next year, it was 'no school I would want to go to.'"

The school teaches new methods of math and probably tackles literacy in new ways too. This bothers some people, but with a little effort one can approach new methods with an open mind.

One lesson I learned came in talking to a couple of the boys. They were maybe 9 years old, and they talked to me about watching R-rated movies and playing first-person shooter video games. To be allowed to play a bloody, rated M for Mature video game was a bragging right for the boys. These are games where you shoot one person after another.

When I asked them about reading books, their eyes darkened.

“I'd rather just watch the movie,” a boy told me.

Teachers are trained to do their jobs. They can teach kids how to read or solve equations or play the trumpet. But parents teach something at home that enables this process to function. Parents either place a high value on education or they don't, and the kids will pick up on either attitude.

The first step is to limit TV and stop allowing violent video games to serve as babysitters.

It's hard, but leading by example seems to be the only thing that works with kids. When you read as a parent at night, your child emulates you and starts reading too. The same is true of exercise or being patient or being a good listener.

I realized too, it is important for parents to stay positive when talking to children about their school and their teachers.

It is not about money. Regardless of your socio-economic status, your children can achieve great things. All they need from you is a positive outlook.

First-year teachers, like Aubray, who had to put up with me all day, could use your support.

To close with another quote from Fulghum, “Don't worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”

Daniel Dunkle is news director for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife and two children. Email him at ddunkle@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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