Last week, a Facebook post flew across my radar and grabbed hold of me. It was from a teacher who had watched a little boy in her class painfully try to complete a standardized test. Her post captured the struggle of the boy, her delicate position as a teacher, and her difficulty as she navigates through an educational system that asks her to educate children with her hands tied behind her back.
I’m reminded of this post on a daily basis when I pick my kids up from school. I sit in the car and often wonder what could happen if we all collectively stuck up for those little minds and loving souls? I’m talking about the powerful influencers called moms, dads, and grandparents. These influencers flock to private Facebook groups that have grown tremendously over the last few years and pack an auditorium to learn how their child can opt-out without repercussions. This time of year there is a wave of social media posts that show flat-out refusals to participate in this educational system. With assessments, tests, scores, and systematic rankings of our kids becoming the only priority in schools, how can we band together to demand change?
I think back to my parent-teacher conference when my son was in Kindergarten. Frantically rushed during the meeting, his sweet teacher was equipped with a bar graph and pie chart, automatically generated by his assessments. She explained that it carefully plotted him and his current performance as well as his potential. These hollow assessments were the only tools being used to predict my son’s potential? She was concerned and wanted me to bring him for extra help. Extra help in Kindergarten in addition to a full day and nightly homework before school in the morning. I can recall my response being calm while my insides were on fire. For those curious, I didn’t bring my son to extra help in the mornings. In fact, I began to relax about homework. I didn’t fight as hard to complete it all and pressure this little mind to do better, stay seated, and concentrate harder. Upon opening my eyes, I saw an exhausted child in front of me. I took this picture when my son was in Kindergarten as a reminder for myself. It has served as a catalyst to worry less, find lessons in everyday life, and to make more time for fun and creative activities. In an effort of full disclosure, we were able to take him out of public school after Kindergarten, and thankfully he now attends a Montessori school.
Now, looking back a few years later, the ongoing coordinated efforts are still working hard against the testing, the homework, and stress propelled by a giant greasy wheel filled with money, government backing, and corporations. But what is happening in the meanwhile? To that little boy, that was mentioned in the Facebook post? He struggles along which is not necessarily all bad, right? I mean, kids need to get tough, build character, and not give up. Ah, yes to all of that. But is he being encouraged to keep trying? Or is he being set up to fail?
I get that little boy in the Facebook post, and I understand the struggler. I get the frustration that rises in those kids told to “just focus” or “just work harder” but still slip farther behind. They know it because they try to follow along in class with their friends but they are completely lost. At some point, it’s too much, and the catch up becomes too overwhelming. What happens to those kids then? Yes, some persist and eventually get it and go on to do amazing things. Some are lucky and have an amazing teacher that finds a way to explain it so they can understand. Some learn to hide and hope they will never get called on throughout their school days while some will use humor to compensate. Others seem to acquire a special skill of attracting trouble. Some just fade out and lose the will to keep trying after being held to a comparison that is unrealistic for them. It’s exhausting to think about continually failing to measure up against a standard that is not developmentally appropriate.
Obviously, there should be standards, and kids should strive to exceed expectations and compete with the rest of the universe. It is always agreed upon that children develop at different speeds, yet those that can’t keep up get beaten down in a systemic way – and we’re letting them. Those dedicated teachers like the one in the Facebook post try to lift them up, but their message gets drowned out by the loud churn of that giant wheel.
I’ve known all of those types of kids, and you probably have as well. I was one of them – a very lucky one. Through an incredibly tight group of friends, I had comic relief, personal tutoring, and support. Even though we were in separate classes aside from a study hall, or gym, they were my people. I had a tight group of friends that made all the difference – Christine, Elissa, Mitch, Darren, Gooch, Bear, and Jeannine. Thanks to amazing teachers that truly made a difference along the way like Mrs. Magnum and Mrs. Mulvey. Those teachers that displayed the highest degree of patience and didn’t stop until they figured out a way to break it down so it could be understood. When it was time to graduate, I had 14 varsity letters in various sports, but those couldn’t help me escape my SAT scores. I remember when everyone revealed their scores…except me.
Testing was awful back then, but it was nothing compared to the current educational climate. I wonder what would’ve happened if I was in school now? Surrounded by these artificial benchmarks that will indicate “college and career readiness”. Maybe I wouldn’t have hung around with my group of friends that all graduated towards the top of our class. Maybe I wouldn’t have bothered to attend a community college while visiting those friends who went on to Harvard, Cornell, or Binghamton. I would never have tried to get that first job in Manhattan. I would never have gone back to school many years later to become a nurse and graduate with honors. I certainly would never have ever attempted to write and submit articles to the Huffington Post.
For the sake of the kid in the Facebook post, for the strugglers, for all the kids, I sincerely hope we figure this out soon. How does school differ today compared to when you attended? Did you have a special teacher that made a positive impact on you?