Come on, admit it: a smile creeps over your face when you think back to your days in elementary school. You made new friends. You pretended to be a chef in the kids’ kitchen area. And when it was time to devour some food that wasn’t made of plastic, you looked forward to Thursdays when the friendly lunch lady dropped off a cart of manna from heaven: rectangular slabs of steaming pizza, topped with just the right amount of cubed pepperoni.
But there was another reason why you got excited for elementary school: dinosaurs!
It was the greatest unit ever written: students studied and learned a multitude of scientific dinosaur names (rest in peace, “brontosaurus”), and your work culminated in some type of artistic project that allowed you to draw a Tyrannosaurus ripping the wings off a hapless Pterodactyl with its six-inch (fact remembered!) razor-sharp teeth. Okay, so maybe my drawings were a little more graphic than others.
Needless to say, my enthusiasm for dinosaurs knew no bounds. Therefore, you can probably understand my sadness upon learning from my mother-in-law–the curriculum director for Stockbridge Community Schools in Michigan–that those fabulous dinosaur unit plans have gone the way of our possibly-feathered, not-so-much-reptilian friends: they’ve become extinct!
Apparently, there isn’t enough time to cram in a unit of dinosaur study with the countless hours spent prepping for the next round of elementary-level NWEA MAP testing. Maybe the “educational experts” think that that Mom and Dad can just teach about our dino-buddies by popping a copy of Jurassic Park in the Blu-ray player when the kiddies are old enough to witness the carnage (mental note: my three-year-old son is not old enough). Whatever the reasoning, we are doing our children a great disservice by taking the dinosaur unit out of the elementary classroom. Case in point? Uh, me! Consider the following:
Dinosaurs taught me to pay attention to detail. While my classmates were busy drawing “birds” that looked more like flattened McDonald’s logos, I was busy coloring the intricate trail of blood left by the T-Rex I illustrated as he dragged his prey back home for a family dinner. My illustrations always earned high marks, even if my parent-teacher conferences seemed to drag on a little longer.
Dinosaurs taught me to appreciate other cultures. Any true dinosaur fan will eventually stumble upon Godzilla. I fondly remember reading movie monster books in elementary school, which served as my introduction to Japanese culture. I continued learning more about other Japanese customs and traditions, as I developed a fascination for anime and puroresu, the Japanese style of professional wrestling (Antonio Inoki is “Ichiban!”). Needless to say, my eyes were opened to the world.
Dinosaurs taught me that life isn’t always fair. All you have to do is go to a little kid’s tee ball game to see how this “everyone is a winner” attitude has poisoned our society. “Did you lose? Awww, well here’s a nice sportsmanship medal to take away the sting.” Come on! Dinosaurs taught me to take a loss with some dignity. I’m sure that when the dinosaurs learned that an asteroid was hurtling towards the earth, they didn’t run around screaming, “That’s not fair!” No, they faced their impending demise with poise befitting of creatures confident enough to defecate and fornicate in public.
Okay, so I’m being a bit facetious with my argument here, but I hope my message isn’t lost: we’re making a giant educational mistake by taking out everything that is fun in learning just so we can cram in more tests to generate data. So the next time you’re thinking about cutting an awesome, fun lesson that can build great life skills just for the sake of checking off some standard on a checklist, stop and ask yourself this: when is the last time you have seen your students wide-eyed with wonder and truly fascinated by what they are learning?