This is another excerpt from the book that Melissa and I are writing. We started our state testing last week at school. Every time we begin our state testing, I reflect on the intellectual corruption of the testing process specifically and the state-mandated curriculum in general. The entire testing apparatus runs counter to what we know about real learning.
What makes me irate is the following scenario. Let’s say we have a student named Tommy. Tommy is a gifted writer. He is able to write stories that are more imaginative and beautifully crafted than anyone in his class. He loves to write and he loves to read. He does not love math. In fact, he hates math and it has always been his greatest weakness in school. When Tommy gets his report card, he gets As in English, social studies and science but an F or a D in math. Because of Tommy’s weakness in math, Tommy gives up an elective class in order to take a remedial math course. After all, Tommy must learn math so that he can get his grades up and be prepared for the next level of math.
My blood boils when I see this happen, and I see this happen every year. Tommy will spend hundreds of hours trying to get his math skills from “totally sucks” to “doesn’t suck so much”. Tommy will still be a below-average math student. I will bet that Tommy’s future does not have math in it. Yet we sacrifice hundreds of hours punishing Tommy for being bad at math. Maybe his brain just doesn’t work that way. Maybe Tommy doesn’t want to learn math. That doesn’t matter. The school says, “Tommy needs to bring up his grades in math so we’ll give him more math.”
The real human-intellectual loss here is that if Tommy spent those hundreds of hours practicing his writing craft instead of trying to “not suck” at math, school would have done him a huge favor. The hypocrisy of our educational system is that we accept strengths and weaknesses in adults but we will not accept strengths and weaknesses in students. We will only accept strengths. How unreasonable is that? Students must score “proficient” in all subjects tested every year or they are a “failure”. Really? How many adults would be able to score “proficient” on all of those tests? Not many. Adults have figured out where their strengths lie and pursue careers that cater to those strengths. Adults pursue careers where they find personal fulfillment. Why can we not begin that process earlier in the game? Why can’t we introduce that personalization element into schools? Why can’t we help kids realize their gifts, develop their strengths and help make their learning meaningful? Let’s figure out what each student is passionate about and leverage that drive to help kids learn and succeed.