It’s been a while since my last post, so much so that my wife even commented on it. Well, I’ll forgo the usual excuses and just say that if anything could push me to update my neglected blog, it’s Tom Whitby’s EdReform REBEL Day: http://tomwhitby.wordpress.com/2010/09/22/a-modest-blog-proposal/.
Now, I’ll admit, I’m not usually a big picture guy and that informs my opinion. See, I have a hard time accepting the fact that all of these education reformers know what’s best for my students. They’ve never met my students, worked with them, talked with them, gotten to know them. They just assume that, since they are in 6th grade, they should know certain things, same as any other 6th grader across the nation. And what’s more, they should know the same things that kids their age around the world know.
But, there’s a problem, they are not those other kids, they are my kids. I’m going to do my best to prepare them for the world, passing on all I can about grammar, punctuation, spelling, and writing. Some of them will find uses for it later in life, others won’t. I can’t predict how, when, or even if they’ll use what I teach them. Neither could my teachers, nor their teachers before them.
Part of me wants to see just one of my students stand up when we give the yearly standardized tests and yell out:
I will not make any deals with you. I’ve resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or Numbered. My life is my own. I resign!
Because that’s what these tests do. They push the kids to learn specific things. They file the tests in their PERMANENT FILE (I remember that file’s existence being a particularly scary thought as a kid) and index them according to their skill level. We brief the kids on the test and debrief them, ever so carefully, as not to have them reveal questions which may or may not be used in the future on another standardized test. And we number them (put your student number on the test, bubble it in exactly), reducing them to data, not human beings.
Carl Anderson asked us to list books we think education reformers should have to read (http://carlanderson.blogspot.com/2010/10/edreform-required-reading-list.html). One of my choices was The Tao of Pooh because in my opinion, we need to take a more Taoist view of education. In the book, the author, Benjamin Hoff, quotes the mystical poet Han-shan:
A scholar named Wang
Laughed at my poems.
The accents are wrong,
Too many beats;
The meter is poor,
The wording impulsive.
I laugh at his poems,
As he laughs at mine.
They read like
The words of a blind man
Describing the sun.
To me, I think that encapsulates the struggle with education. We set the parameters for student learning and we try our hardest to mold each student into an exact copy of every other student in their grade. We ignore what makes them unique and we force ways of doing things upon them that drain creativity out of them. Left to their own devices, they are capable of so much and I fear that when they reach their potential, they will look back at us and view us as being blind and trying to describe the sun. I wonder how e.e. cummings reflected upon his grammar teachers?
My students are not the same as your students. Going even deeper, none of my students are the same and neither are yours. Why do we treat them as if they were the same? Why are we forced to let people who don’t know our kids beyond their numbers and test scores (if that) tell us what’s best for them? Year after year, I talk with students who have wonderful, insightful responses during class discussions who just don’t do well on tests. Why can’t I find a means to authentically assess them?
Let’s face it, good test grades are not a guarantee of anything. Some of our best and brightest, like Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein did not fit the student mold and learned more on their own than in a classroom. And I think we all know people who excelled at school and failed at life. So why do we keep treating it like we’re failures if we don’t raise test scores?
Please, please, let me get to know my students and work with them to develop the type of education that will best suit each one individually. Please don’t tell me you know what’s best for them, unless you want to take the time to get to know them. At the end of each day, I’d rather inspire a kid than have them go up a developmental level (though, as my continued employment as a teacher might be dependent on the latter, I’ll take both) for this particular year. I’d be happy to know that even one thing I’ve taught each student made a positive difference in their lives (a real difference, not at “I did better on a test” difference, but a meaningful difference). And I hope with the stress of these tests and the pacing guides, and the mandatory lessons, and everything else, we don’t damage these wonderful students.