Thursday, January 11, 2007

Charles Brown

Now, the final student, our hapless hero, Charlie Brown. Brown’s solo is delivered as if he is wringing his hands. You can hear the stomach juices churning inside his belly (not literally, of course. That doesn’t make for good Broadway audio quality).

If I start writing now
When I'm not really rested
It could upset my thinking
Which is no good at all.
I'll get a fresh start tomorrow
And it's not due till Wednesday
So I'll have all of Tuesday
Unless something should happen.
Why does this always happen,
I should be outside playing
Getting fresh air and sunshine,
I work best under pressure,
And there'll be lots of pressure
If I wait till tomorrow
I should start writing now.
But I if I start writing now
When I'm not really rested
It could upset my thinking
Which is
No good at all.

Charlie Brown needs help. He’s not slow, or dim-witted. He just thinks too much. He needs some one-on-one guidance. He has needs (don’t we all), and a few kind words could put him at ease. He probably does need fresh air and sunshine. This assignment might be too hard for him. He needs some individualized help, and he is one student in a group of 25-30.

Charlie Brown repeats these phrases throughout the song, and he also has the final words in the song. After everybody has finished their lines, and reports, Charlie Brown shouts out:

I haven't even started yet!

The end result here is much more tragic. Like Schroeder, Charlie brown will get a poor grade. He will begin to hear the words, “slow, behind, special needs”. And those will be the nice words from his teachers. His peers will likely call him ‘stupid, moron, retard’. A kid this age can’t brush these comments away, especially when they are coming from authority figures. Poor Charlie Brown will begin to believe these words, and in a tragedy of self-fulfilling prophecy, by the time he is in High School, he will be behind, slow, and have more needs that he did in elementary school. He will probably drop out and never have much of a life. This in spite of the fact that he is not stupid, only that he learns differently from others. He needs an active role in his education, not a passive one. He can’t sit and learn, he needs to get his hands dirty.

The song is meant to be fun and silly, but it is much more. The point, at least to me, is that each student is different. They are on different levels, they have different skills and needs. They need individual attention. Do students get this attention in public schools? Yes, two or three times in 7 hours if you ‘fit into’ the public school model of quietly sitting at your desk listening to the teacher expound. You'll get much more ‘individual attention’ if you don’t fit that mold, though that attention often takes the form of negative reinforcement (Sit down! Stop talking! Listen to me! Put that book away, pull out this one!).

I've been pretty critical in these little essays, but I do not blame school teachers. I do not blame school districts. The blame lies with us. It is our fault for thinking that sending a 7 year old to sit in school 7 hours a day is a good thing. It’s not a good thing. There will be a time when the student is ready to learn in such a way, but not at such a young age. My children love to learn. I loved to learn at their age. When they are most excited it’s not because they’ve received a gift, or eaten a good meal. It’s when they’ve figured something out. The most enthusiastic and passion filled words out of my children’s mouths are ‘Dad! Guess what!” They’ve learned something, and they want to tell me.

I hope that passion never leaves them. And that is why we homeschool.

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