I sat in a high school counselor’s office for way too long trying to understand why my daughter, who is one of the last class of students who gets to graduate under Texas’ old 3X3 instead of the new 4X4 still has to take 4 math classes, which means pre-calculus. Turns out that because she was smart enough to be in Algebra I as an 8th grader, which earned her high school elective credit, she only has two high school math credits (Geometry and Algebra II). This means my daughter, who will never ever need to know calculus on any level, will have to suffer through an additional year of math for nothing other than a mark on a piece of paper.
This also means that my two 8th graders, who also are going through Algebra I right now, will not only have to take Pre-Calculus, but Calculus, as well, in order to comply with the 4X4. Not to mention the fact that they will have to take advanced science classes to get their 4th credit in science.
All this got me to thinking, as I often do, about what exactly is wrong with education. I like to blame things on a lot of people – politicians, administrators, parents, etc. but rarely turn my eye on teachers.
Today I will. Although much of what I’m about to say can be blamed on politicians, administrators, parents, and society as a whole, the ultimate responsibility falls on us, the teachers. We have to start accepting that responsibility or else nothing will ever change in education.
What do I see as the problem? Standardized testing. Because of standardized testing, we are creating a society of students who are exactly the same. We take their individual strengths and dilute them while falsely pumping up their weaknesses to make them seem like little homogenized clones of each other. Is it any wonder that students hate school?
Is it our fault?
Bobby comes to school in kindergarten all excited and individual. From day one, we begin the routine. Everyone does the exact same thing at the exact same time. Bobby is taught to expect everything to be exactly the same for everyone and for everything to happen at a prescribed moment. By the time we get them in high school, our students, who desperately want to be individuals, are so beaten down that they begin to forget about what they really like. They leave their strengths behind and since they aren’t any good at those things we are forcing them to do, they lose interest and become mediocre at success.
I have a nephew who is extremely gifted but never graduated from high school. I look at the waste of his potential and I used to only blame him for not trying harder to fit into the prescribed formula his teachers wanted him to fill. Yes, he does have a great deal of responsibility for the fact that he didn’t fulfill his potential, but don’t we, as teachers shoulder some of that responsibility, as well?
We can say that we are forced by administration and the government to pound our students into uniformity. But are we, really? We are told that our students must achieve certain scores on standardized tests. Isn’t there a way to make that happen without compromising a students individuality? I think there is. We have to quit marching to the current education policies and start being our own individual selves.
As adults, we are told that we need to identify our strengths and build on them instead of focusing on bringing up our weaknesses. Why don’t we do that with our students? Encourage our students’ strengths and forget about their weaknesses. Identify teams of students who have varying strengths to form a cohesive group who can teach each other. Celebrate their individuality! Build them up when they come up with an alternative to something you’ve assigned. Give students the opportunity to explore who they really are instead of a carbon copy of the kid at the next desk.
Standardized tests, in my opinion, are wrong on so many levels. However, they are something that is here now and we have to deal with it. We have to stop letting the tests be our excuse. I firmly believe that if we forget about the tests and teach well, an irony will occur – our students will do well on the tests AND be individuals who can feel good about themselves, enjoy their education, and go on to be highly successful adults.
Stop the uniformity!