I’ve been thinking over how to do this, whether to write this post with a tone, or overload it with facts and figures and research.
I think what is best is just to speak from my heart on this. I’m willing to provide data to support my assertions, but in many ways and in many places I already have. Please take a few moments to look it up for yourself, if you aren’t sure, or message me directly, and I’m happy to answer anything I can.
That said, here we go.
We are all having the wrong conversation. All we discuss is how we can improve student learning, and what impact all the different things in a student’s life have on the student’s ability to learn, and how we can respond to the needs of students to help them learn. And that is a beautiful thing, truly. I would not argue with any of that, with any of the discussions or data or facts or opinions on those topics.
What I WILL argue with, however, is having this discussion as a means to label and punish instead of uplift and support, because in reality, this discussion is based on a wholly flawed foundation. And I do mean wholly.
When it comes right down to bare facts and hard data, the reality is that students today are learning more with lower dropout and higher graduation rates and with less of an achievement gap than ever before in recorded American history.
Keep your opinions and dearly-held beliefs to yourself for a few moments. In the entertainment industry this would be called “willing suspension of disbelief”. Be a good listener and stop formulating your counter-argument while I’m still talking.
We will never achieve 100% of anything. NEVER. The very concept of perfection is patently ridiculous. There are exceptions to every rule, right? It is ludicrous to expect that 100% of students will graduate from high school with passing scores on any given standardized assessment and go on to college where they will successfully complete a full degree in the expected time frame and find a job and live the American dream with little pink houses for you and me. And in any case, whose dream is that? Even parents get the dreams of their children wrong. What makes any individual competent to say every child should go from Point A to Point B, and should any given child deviate from that course (say, to take the road less traveled), well, that child is failing? And not only is that child failing, but that child should be told he is failing, and that his school is failing and his beloved teacher is failing as a result of his failure.
What a heavy burden to lay upon the shoulders of a 9-year old kid, a 3rd grader, the age of my daughter, my eldest child. (Who, by the way, is absolutely NOT taking that damnable test.)
It is no difficult thing to see the spark of creativity and enthusiasm die in a child forced to perform at ever-higher levels of achievement, although it is difficult to witness. Educators of conscience, what are we to do? To sit hopelessly by and allow it to happen? What of the future? Where are the educators of tomorrow? Where are the leaders of tomorrow? Hell, where are the role models of today? Everywhere we look there is corruption. Money can’t buy happiness? Sure it can, and if it can’t literally be used in that way it can certainly ease the pangs of discomfort and desire. Those in power wield it as both shield and sword, alternately striking at and deflecting blows from the “have-nots”.
What is my solution, you might be wondering. What do I think we should do instead of what we’re already doing? How can we make things better?
WHICH IS MY ENTIRE POINT. What needs to be made “better”, and what does “better” look like or mean? How can we improve student achievement? WE ALREADY HAVE. How can we decrease dropout rates and increase graduation rates? WE ALREADY HAVE. When will it be enough for you, for us?
Am I beating my head against a stone wall, spitting into the wind? I’m okay with you thinking that. Some day, however, some day we will need to acknowledge that we have created the very system that, through its self-fulfilling cyclical nature, can never be perfected. The better we are, the better we want to be. The better the kids score on the test, the more we need a test that is harder so we can prove that we still need to get better. Because what happens if we aren’t always racing to the top? What happens if we give kids the space to be kids, instead of forcing them to be automatons, widgets, cogs in the clock? What happens if we nurture the spark in the eyes of our children instead of watching it slowly dim, until all that is left is the darkness waiting to be filled?
What if, instead of standardizing our educators and our kids, we allowed ourselves to celebrate their differences? What if, instead of winnowing learning down to a set of questions on a single test, we allowed students to show us their knowledge as artisans, in their own ways and at their own speed? What if we trusted our educators to recognize the achievements of their individual students and determine what needs to happen to support their learning? While we’re at it, what if we gave the educators the resources they need to make all that happen?
I know why the caged bird sings.
“the caged bird sings of freedom”