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Alleke is 5 years old

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The Sun is a Planet

Alleke's drawing of the Solar System

Alleke's drawing of the Solar System

Alleke has been trying to convince me all week that the sun is a planet. When I dug out our set of cardboard planets, laid them out on the table in front of her, and asked her to explain why there was no sun, she ignored my question, and instead returned to her original argument, which she had been beating like a dead horse. “Elena told me the sun is a planet,” Alleke said, referring to her teacher who had recently begun teaching the class about the solar system.

I even looked up the definition of a planet according to the International Astronomical Union, commonly referring to as the IAU, but Alleke still insisted that Elena, her teacher, was the final authority.

So, of course, I decided to go to the source. I told Alleke to go back to school after lunch and ask her teacher again if the sun was a planet. She came home from school that afternoon and told me that Elena had confirmed that indeed the sun was a planet.

This morning, as a last resort, I told Alleke to ask Elena if the sun was a planet while Mom was still at school, so that we had a witness.

April returned from school, and I said, “And?…”

April bit her lip and grinned. “Well, Elena said that here in Spain they teach about los planetas or “the planets,” and they say the sun is part of them.”


Having lived outside of my country for the last eight years, I’ve grown accustomed to having my basic beliefs questioned. For example, when I was asked how many continents there are in the world, I said seven, and everyone else said six. I had never heard of the continent of Eurasia. So, actually, I’m not at all surprised to find out that Alleke’s teacher thinks the sun is a planet. I’ve learned how to slaughter my sacred cows.

What I’ve come to realize, however, is that I’m at a disadvantage as a parent. In this case, I don’t know if I should believe Elena. Maybe everyone in Spain does think the sun is a planet…or maybe Elena is full of it. I don’t know what to believe because April and I have chosen to raise our kids in a culture where we didn’t grow up. While other parents rely on the conventional wisdom passed down to them from their culture, April and I have to fact-check, constantly.

The fact that I can’t assume anything to be true or that I’m on the same page as the teacher makes me less confident as a parent.


Betsy said...

After living in Spain I can find humor in this interaction. Especially after teaching at a spanish summer camp where I was discredited for my “belief” that the Grand Canyon is not in Colorado. I am from Colorado! I know there is no Grand Canyon here!!

February 3, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Juanca said...

¡No me lo puedo creer!

A mi de pequeño me enseñaron que el Sol es una estrella y además hace poco estuve ayudando a una niña de 5º de primaria con sus deberes de Conocimiento del Medio (ahora están con el sistema solar) y efectivamente en el colegio se les enseñan que el Sol es un estrella, ES-TRE-LLA!!

Además el libro está bien actualizado, porque dice claramente que Plutón ya no es un planeta tal y como señala la comunidad científica.

Por favor que alguien le enseñe a esa profesora un poco de astronomía básica! ¿Que será lo próximo? ¿Que la luna es en realidad un queso? El sistema educativo español es bastante malo, ¡pero no tanto!

¡Mi indignación no tiene límites!

February 4, 2011 at 8:33 am

kelly said...

¡Very funny Juanca! I have to admit, I sort of wish the moon was made of cheese :)

My intention in this post was not to critique the Spanish education system, but out of curiosity, I found this ranking of education by country from the Guardian UK. Spain does seem to be lagging behind the rest of Europe, including our neighbors Italy, Greece and Portugal.

I wonder what steps need to be taken to reform education in Spain…any thoughts?

February 4, 2011 at 8:53 am

Juanca said...

Politicians, society, parents and teachers.

First of all, politicians have to realize that education is one of the three basic pillars (education, work and health) of any society.

But as you sure have noticed, here they preffer to attack each other than propose something usefull for our children. They MUST reform all education system, and should be an unique education system for all spanish provinces (for Cataluña and Pais Vasco too).

In the other hand we have teachers. There are several teachers that have studied teaching only becouse it garantee a ‘funcionario’ position. It’s a easy career to study at university (only 3 years). You know, work for all your life and a good salary. Teaching should be vocational, teachers must love to teach.

Sometimes, teachers are tired from kids. They have been teaching childs since 20 years ago, or more… I think the should teach for 3 years and have another one, out of classrooms to learn about new ways to teach, make courses, to rest from kids, and refresh their minds, so at the 5th year sure they will be better prepared to teach.

At other countries like Finland, you must to study 5 years to become teacher. 3 years for ‘magisterio’ and two more for pedagogy. So people that study for teacher, really love that proffesion.

Then you have parents, they have to engage to their childs education. But they must to trust teachers (if you solve the teachers problem, of course). They have to motivate their kids to study and learn, making homeworks with them, asking them what have learned at school, and trying to make a little more funny the study time.

Parents that comes to home and they only wants to see TV and don’t be disturbed by their childrens can not complain when their kids have 15 years old and become a slacker.

And finally society must to be involved about children education; on TV, radio, internet, at street, on a supermarket… even those people that don’t have any kid.

But! I think it’s more easy to say that the sun is a planet, don’t you think so?

PS: Sorry about this loooooong post :P I’m so ungry about spanish education system. And of course excuse my english! :D

February 4, 2011 at 9:38 am

Karmele said...

I am sorry to tell you that I received my education in Spain and I have never studied that the sun is a planet… maybe Elena is wrong…

February 4, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Nika said...

The sun is a star. Elena is wrong, don’t worry ;-) I suppose they are using a methodology named “trabajo por proyectos” or perhaps “centros de interés”, but then I think it would be better calling it “The solar system” instead of “the planets” (or perhaps she is using what is called “el método”, that is to say a book sold by a publishing house, wich I think is not the better way to teach children and very out-of-date too but…

February 4, 2011 at 11:31 pm

kate said...

And here in Spain there are only 5 continents!!!!!

I would be quite surprised if it turned out to be general practice among Infantil teachers to teach that the sun is a planet– perhaps there isn’t always a clear distinction made when talking about the elements of the solar system, but to actually teach that the sun is a planet, well, I don’t think that is likely to be common practice. Maybe I’ll ask my coworkers on Monday…

February 5, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Sandra said...

That’s funny – when I was in school in Jamaica donkey’s years ago, we were taught there were only 5 continents too!

February 7, 2011 at 5:08 pm

arm said...

Europe, America, Africa, Oceania, Asia.
I guess the ambiguity comes from America splitted into north-south

February 8, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Valencia said...

Hello, I’m Taiwanese.
When I read this, I was surprised.
Is it a part of Spain culture that the sun is a planet?

February 11, 2011 at 9:47 am

Tumbit said...

Just wondering how you pronounce you daughter’s name ? – With the Spainsh ‘ll’ or the English language way ? – Names seem to cause no end of confusion with the Spanish down our way !

March 1, 2011 at 6:18 pm


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