Lost in time: the hidden dangers of the 5th grade curriculum

Posted by Rebecca Moore - 04 November, 2015

Biff tries to sabotage time machineWhat begins as simple story about two 5th grade teachers, Kathie Clayton and Kathleen Brewer, receiving a summer professional development grant to revise the 5th grade social studies/language arts curriculum has now taken a bizarre turn. What you may hear from students and teachers might not convey the irregularity of these events, but my office can reveal that activities on the 5/6 hall are anything but business as usual. Something remarkable and potentially unsettling is afoot.

Something remarkable and potentially unsettling is afoot.

“This all started rather innocuously, with an email,” says Ms. Clayton. “It was the first Friday Digest, to be specific.  [She is referring to a compilation of articles about education and other topics that Head of School Jay Rainey sends to faculty and staff most Fridays.] What caught Ms. Clayton’s attention was an article about grading differently.

“It had to do with using game theory, where students can earn extra ‘experience points’ and level up in their school work," she says.

2015-10-29 08.13.59At first, the extra credit involved finding the photograph of an evil time-twister who infiltrated the Constitutional Convention. Students spotted the bad guy in an image on their course syllabus, but later this character, Biff Abadguy, was seen in person on campus during the Underground Railway simulation, and there were several sightings of him on the afternoon of Friday, October 30.

The physical presence of a time twister on campus called for special operations. I am told that technicians from the Agency have brought an ITT-D (Individual Time Transport Device) into the Middle School. The teachers do not want parents to be concerned about their children getting lost in 1860 so they are calling the time machine an art project. The technicians claimed to be Upper School Stagecraft students led by Upper School theater teacher Connie Voight. She and Ms. Brewer are in an LLC together (they allege this stands for Lifelong Learning Collaborative), but exclusive video footage obtained by the Communications Office indicates they may have received instructions from a certain Commander Superior.

IMG_0676The technicians assured me that what they have installed is just a crate that they have rigged up with electrics.

Sophomore Tristen Hunnewell, one of the students responsible for the construction of the so-called Time Machine, spoke at length about the safety of the construction without addressing the obvious risks of time travel.

“Safety is always an important and inherent concern when building structures that will be supporting people. We faced another problem with the interior lighting, in this case the wiring. With children coming in and out in such a small space, it was paramount that we cover any exposed wire. All setbacks aside, I really enjoy seeing the progression of a project from simply a crude sketch to something that is aesthetically pleasing, and the satisfaction of knowing I contributed to that outcome is unmatched. As well as construction techniques and skills acquired, Stagecraft and set construction teach time management, for students are constantly working against strict deadlines. With this pressure on us, resourcefulness and ingenuity are often heightened, and even improved upon.”

IMG_0682Math teacher Rachel Plucker was nonplussed by the drama taking place down the hall from her classroom on Friday afternoon, and 5th grade science teacher Susan Smith said there was nothing to be excited about. “History is horribly boring,” she said. “It’s just a string of dates, battles and dead people.”

But others feel differently. We managed to obtain an exclusive interview with Mr. Abadguy, who expressed grave concerns about the project and has been trying to disable the Time Machine. “The students will enter the machine and come out believing themselves to be individuals from Chattanooga in 1860. They are going to choose personas of people who lived then, and they will discover that all of these people had reasons to support or oppose the war based on who they were. This alone,” he said, “will give them an entirely different perspective on the Civil War.”

But don’t we want Randolph students to be able to see history through multiple perspectives?

IMG_0692“No!” shouted Mr. Abadguy. “You don’t understand. The people of Chattanooga should think and act as one, under my direction. That is my temporal territory and having these children meddling in the affairs of the populace will interfere with my plans to agitate for secession. The Agency is aggressively recruiting young agents who are being trained to think about history from multiple viewpoints and to ask why and how questions. This is very dangerous: agents should not be able to think critically about history; I need them to be ready to believe what I tell them; no questions. It’s not their job to think. Did you know that they are even going to read Lincoln’s and the other candidates’ campaign speeches without knowing whose is whose and evaluate them based solely on the content and rhetoric? Curiosity once aroused is very powerful. We will end up with lots of young agents stirring things up with questions. I don’t know why they can’t just be satisfied with facts. They need to stay happily in their post-millennial era, with no idea about why things came to be. These teachers are going to be very sorry!”

Curiosity once aroused is very powerful.

IMG_0688I shared these concerns with Middle School Head Clay Elliott who laughed at the suggestion that the students were in any danger. He assured me, “Everything is running smoothly in my division. Any reports of time travel or a strange device on the hall are no doubt misidentifications of an art project or the result of overactive imaginations.”

I am going to keep my eyes on this hallway just the same. Parents, if you are reading this, please, talk to your 5th grader before it’s too late and they get lost in history.

***Exclusive video of events on Friday afternoon including top secret Agency footage.***

Topics: 5th grade, Academics, creativity, curriculum, English, history, interdisciplinary, Middle School, new students, Program, teachers, time travel, People


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