What is YOUR 3 year old reading?

*Shaking my head in shame*

I have always known that the American primary education system was failing students across the country, but today, I got a rude awakening as to HOW FAR this failure goes. Whenever a child learns to read by the age of 3 in America, we’re in awe. If a child can’t read by 4 in Ghana, they ask what’s wrong with him/her.

Today my father went to enroll the girls in elementary school. Nadjah being five and a half was expected to go straight into the kindergarten class, possibly even first grade.

“Can she read?” the principal asked.

“Well…I’m not sure,” replied my dad.

He knows that girl can’t read. Just 3 nights ago she asked him to read a book to her. If she could read, she’d do it herself.

When he got home to tell me about their (near) future matriculation, he was all a-chatter about the caliber of student at Faithway Christian Academy.

“You should see the 3 year olds, Malaka,” he said. “They were standing in front of the classroom, reading and reciting their ABCs…and writing them.” He droned on and on about how smart these kids were; which  indirectly said to me how dumb he might think mine are. Waves of shame suddenly washed over me. I pursed my lips.

“Oh yeah?” I said  in response to his reverie. “I see.”

Inwardly I fretted over my children’s academic success. Aya could be forgiven for being somewhat behind. After all, she just turned 4 two months ago and has never seen the inside of a classroom. Nadjah on the other hand is nearly 6, and is the victim of Georgia’s reprehensible and ridiculous policy which says no child can even set foot in a Pre-K facility until they turn 4 in September. Na was born in December, which means she had to sit out an entire calendar year before starting Pre-K. To add insult to injury, the Pre-K curriculum only requires children to be able to count to 10, and prior to her graduation, I have never seen her bring home a sheet of paper that proves she can write her alphabet free hand. (That was something I had to teach her at home myself.) Prior to attending Georgia public Pre-K, she could count and recognize numbers up to 30 by the time she was 3. All that training went down the drain when her numerical aptitude was replaced with songs about popsicle sticks and mischievous bunnies.

A friend of mine enrolled her 3 year old child in school in Ghana last year. In 3 months, she had learned her two times tables and could write her numbers from 1-20. A product of a Ghanaian education herself, my friend was terribly displeased with what her child’s private school in Texas was teaching her daughter – which was nothing.

“We believe in developing the whole child,” the administration said in defense of their curriculum. Sure, but in developing that whole child, can you throw some math and science in there too?

Looking into my eldest daughter’s eyes, I know she’s not ready to deal with the rigors of a Ghanaian school. The teachers will not brook opposition, rude interruptions or back talk – and she is the poster child for all three.

“This school doesn’t look fun,” she lamented, after she’d been introduced to her new teacher and class.

“It’s not supposed to be all fun, Nadjah,” I scolded lightly. “You will have fun when it’s time for that…at recess perhaps…but you’re here to learn.”

I asked her if she understood and she nodded forlornly.

Aya on the other hand picked up a sheet of paper, asked the principal for a pencil, and declared she was ready to start school.

Tonight, I’m praying that they can get through the first week without too many tears and/or being ejected from the school for some asinine reason…like jetting out of the classroom to chase chickens. When I rise in the morning, I’ll do the same thing. I know my children are smart, and can pick up material if in the right environment. Children are sponges, and can learn virtually anything – if parents and educators are willing to believe in them, challenge them, and set the bar higher than memorizing the theme song from Barney & Friends. It’s just a shame that (once again) it’s taken classroom full of 3 year olds from a “third world country” to demonstrate how far America truly has to go in terms of laying a foundation for academic success.

No wonder so many children get left behind.