As a school administrator, I have spent a lot of time considering the knowledge, and skills, that I hope (and need) our students to develop during their time in our junior high school. The sad thing is that, as much as I would like to say it isn’t, high-stakes testing is a factor in my deliberations. Financial considerations, community perceptions, and teacher accountability necessitate attention to what students will need in order perform well on state standardized tests. Unfortunately, I can’t just thumb my nose at testing.
However, as a parent, I could care less about high stakes testing, test prep, or test taking skills. In fact, I resent my daughter’s missed opportunities that are a result of the pressure schools feel to prepare for state exams. For example, she has not had an actual art class in her entire elementary school career. In addition, time in classes like physical education, and music, are dramatically reduced to give more time to core content — not because of perceived value, but because those subjects are tested.
So, for a moment, I am going to set aside my thoughts as a school administrator, and let you know what I wish MY DAUGHTER’S education would emphasize.
- Thinking – That sounds terribly generic, but I don’t think that’s a given in our schools these days. I don’t want her to memorize, I want her to “turn on” her brain, and really think, problem solve, and apply learning in relevant activities. Real “thinking” isn’t necessarily supported by test prep.
- Empathy - I want my daughter to understand that everyone faces unique circumstances, and I want her to be able to put herself in their shoes. As a famous quote, often attributed to Plato (but likely not his quote), indicates, I want her to, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
- Purpose - From a parents perspective, our kids are asked to do too many things that lack a clear purpose. Boring worksheets. Too many math problems. Busy work. I want my daughter to feel like the work she is asked to do is meaningful, and that she has an audience that extends beyond her teacher, and her parents.
- Creativity - It’s hard to foster creativity in schools when students are not given choices. I want my daughter to be able to pursue things that interest her, to participate in activities that require imagination, to be physically active, and to develop an appreciation for arts and music (see, Is Music the Key to Success).
- Difference Making - Little things can make a big difference. School should provide opportunities for students to be difference makers — with peers, the community, and the world. We shouldn’t talk to kids about doing great things “when they grow up,” but we should give them every opportunity to do great things now. I want my daughter to know that she makes a difference — that she matters.
As a parent, I have a responsibility to make sure I support my daughter’s development of these “soft” skills, but I do wish our education system paid less attention to testing, and placed more of an emphasis on cross curricular competencies, and social good.
Shouldn’t my actions as an educator support my parental vision of what eduction should provide for my daughter? Perhaps it is time to begin thumbing my nose.