I’ve made no secret of the fact that I dread the start of school. For example:
That’s a rather light-hearted look at why I dread school. I dread the schedule, getting kids up way too early, needing to be places on a strict schedule. I far prefer the less intense, self-driven schedule and “program” of summer. My kids are always super busy no matter what we do, but in the summer it’s doing things they love.
That’s the key. School isn’t something they love. It’s something they endure because they are supposed to. Yes, yes, I know. They need to learn how to do school to go to college, to work, etc., etc. They need to learn to “get along with people” and it exposes them to new things. Guess what. All this happens in the summer, too, when they’re doing things they love.
My concern with school is that I see them learning to do what they’re told. They learn that they are supposed to ingest content and spit it back in the way the system wants them to. Often (at least for my daughter) it’s in the form of a multiple choice test. I see very little evidence of the buzzwords that should be obvious: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication.
One of my favorite bloggers wrote about this same feeling this week (My Summer of Confusion). He is much more eloquent than I am. He is also a former teacher and a leader in the education reform thinking, so he carries much more weight than I do. Here are his thoughts as his kids start school this year:
I’m less and less confident that the emphasis of their time in school will be dedicated to inquiry, to exploring their passions, to helping them create real, meaningful work that lives in the world and just maybe changes it for the better. As much as their teachers might want that, the reality is as a system, we’ve hunkered down against any real innovation, cut budgets and vision regarding technology, and decided to pursue the more traditional paths for “excellence” as in number of AP tests taken, high state test scores, SAT scores.
He acknowledges that he is the outlier, that most parents seem to want more AP classes, “rigor” and high test scores. I, too, have acknowledged many times on this blog that I know I’m the outlier. I don’t want more tests, I don’t want more AP classes. I want my kids to create art to communicate, produce videos to express their thoughts, create solutions to problems in their communities. It doesn’t matter one bit to me if they can get a 4 or 5 on an AP test. Richardson has the same experience I do:
…whenever I say that some of the most important learning that our kids can do in school is almost impossible to quantify and fold into a list, there’s little response. The subject gets changed.
The emphasis in the quote is mine.
I run into the need for “quantifiable results” all the time. I just reviewed a short report on an iPad pilot project in our district. One of the main indicators of a successful pilot was “increasing test scores.” There were a few other indicators, such as increased engagement, but the main measure was these test scores. It is exceedingly disappointing to know that that is how they are measuring success. Technology is a tool that increases our ability to move away from needing “testable” knowledge. Yet, that is how they measure success. Tragic.
Interestingly, though, I’m not so sure I’m the outlier. I’m not sure I’m the only one who doesn’t want more tests, more moving away from the arts and creativity. I think, i’m just the only one willing to speak up. At a recent meeting with a number of parents, I brought up my concerns about the over-reliance on testing. I expected to be ignored, as usual. But instead, the parents agreed with me! We had a short, but powerful, conversation that made it very clear to me that others feel the same way. Now, we just have to speak up and make them listen.
We have a lot of work to do.