Several things happened this week that gave me pause:
First I saw on CNN the story about a little fourth grader in Texas who hung himself in the school restroom. The child psychologists all attributed his death to depression and the economy and the pressure he likely felt as he made his way through school. But he was nine. And while depression may be on the rise (like obesity and diabetes and other childhood illnesses) it hardly explains such an extreme response.
I wondered… what was it about his school that added to his hopelessness? Or what could have been different for him? Were his talents and interests nurtured? Or had he been reduced to a test score and a proficiency level?
Then I started my class at USD on Tuesday. I am teaching a course on Education Reform. In an attempt to introduce the students to El Milagro, I shared an I-Photo slide show of our kids over the years. It captured the spirit of children dancing and singing and celebrating. Talented. Diverse. Exultant. But there were no pictures from this school year.
So I wondered… what kind of climate have we created for the children of El Milagro lately? Is it a refuge from the stress of their struggling families? Or have we pushed ourselves too far out on that assessment ledge… and in the name of someone else’s definition of accountability… hung our toes over the brink?
Then I listened to President Obama talk about his vision of education in the State of the Union. In it he said:
“This year, we have broken through the stalemate between left and right by launching a national competition to improve our schools. The idea here is simple: instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success. Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform – reform that raises student achievement, inspires students to excel in math and science, and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans, from rural communities to inner-cities.”
I wondered… isn’t that a frighteningly narrow definition of “school success?”
So then I started reading Yong Zhao’s book entitled “Catching Up or Leading the Way “ where he states that China is going the opposite direction as the US right now. That they value outputs and student achievement for sure, but they value the inputs too. Zhao urges American educators (of which he is one) to rethink the preoccupation with testing and national standards:
“America is at a crossroads. We have two choices. We can destroy our strengths in order to catch up with others on test scores, or we can build on our strengths and remain a leader in innovation and creativity. The current push for more standardization, centralization, high-stakes testing, and test-based accountability is rushing us down the first path. What will truly keep America strong and Americans prosperous is the other path because it cherishes individual talents, cultivates creativity, celebrates diversity, and inspires curiosity.”
I wondered…What are we doing for our children? Are we handing them musical instruments to play their hearts out on, inviting them to dance, coaching their teams, encouraging community service, investing in their health, encouraging them to think, inspiring them to invent and innovate, handing them a camera to capture their youthful energy in photographs? Or are we drilling them on test taking skills?
The Race to the Top may actually be a stampede over the edge of the cliff.
I wondered… what have we learned from that tragedy in Texas?