April 23, 2012

Life's Little Suitcase

I rarely bring my profession into this blog...it's supposed to be my escape from that stuff. Yet, here I am, getting ready to puke up all this...stuff.

One day, when my kids in class were begging for extra credit, I asked them why they were suddenly so worried about their grades.  Our relationship was such that I could banter back and forth with them and these questions were answered truthfully.  One child spoke up.  "I have to get an A or my parents get mad."  Wow.

I thought for a second...not because I was judging his parents, but because I was reflecting on my own parenting.  How would my own children answer that question?

I went on to ask what was more important to them, the students.  They all responded the letter grade.  When I pushed further, they all responded they would rather NOT be challenged, but would prefer easy materials that guaranteed an A for their grade.  Year after year, students have echoed that sentiment to me.  That saddens me...

This week children in our state are taking their standardized tests.  It's a high-stakes game for everyone involved.  The students have added pressures this year because the scores count as part of their final grades.  The teachers will have the students' scores counted in as part of their evaluations.  The schools are judged based upon these scores.  Scores are published in newspapers and on websites.  For better or worse, it is a judging of everyone involved.

As parents and teachers, we are quick to say how the children are more than a single test. Yet, if it is our school system that is found to have failing scores, then we decide there must be a cleaning of the house.  People are obviously not doing their jobs, our students are failing, and so on.  We do not want our school systems to have failing scores, but we also do not want the pressure placed on our students to do well.  We are contradicting ourselves and our children are smart enough to know it.

The truth is, we can't have it both ways.  We can't preach that test scores are not important and then rail on if the system performs poorly.  After all, we were the ones telling the students it didn't matter.  How confused would we be if we were told the same thing?  Imagine if your boss came in and told you not to worry about upcoming evaluations, then gave you extra work if you didn't do well?  Quite the contradiction, eh?

If we want our children to understand the true value of learning, we can't shelter them from learning things that may conflict with our own beliefs.  Teaching them the value of learning for the sake of learning means not rewarding A's with a trip to the mall.  Education means asking, "What did you learn?" instead of "What grade did you make?"  Our children's grades need to stop being our status symbols.

Before any one of us ~ parent, teacher, administrator, etc. ~ can criticize, praise, or attempt to overhaul a system that is, indeed, broken, we must look at what we are willing to sacrifice.  Are you, yes, YOU, willing to sacrifice that bumper sticker "My kid is an honor roll student" for a child with an open mind full of knowledge?  Can we, as a country, be okay with not beating other countries in some stupid (yes, yes, I called them stupid.) testing competition?  Think carefully before you answer...it's a harder question than you might think.

When I was in high school, I was blissfully ignorant of GPA's and how my class choices would influence my future.  I remember walking into my high school guidance office with brass balls and dropping my AP English class because I wanted to be with my friends.  I've never regretted that decision.  I spent time with people I loved, made some great memories, and had one of the best teachers ever to walk the planet.  I didn't know enough to worry about the grades, and it was a blessing.

I remember taking these same standardized tests as a child.  I remember my parents asking about my grades and being pleased with the good ones and not-so-pleased with the not-so-good ones.  I know that neither of these things will change.  There will always be tests and there will always be grades.  Humans are ingrained with a desire to classify and categorize things, including our children.  However, I have to think, BELIEVE, at some point we will begin to understand how important it is to be able to explore the world around us, to find out where our natural interests will lead us, and to let those curiosities help us make a life AND a living.

During a discussion in class, we were discussing what they were interested in doing as adults.  Several named professions that pay well.  Out of curiosity, I asked them if they would do something different if money wasn't an issue.  Almost all of them said yes.  Their choices went from those high paying professions, such as doctors and engineers, to the likes of artists, teachers, and chefs.  Our children are sacrificing their dreams for the sake of paychecks, and we feed into that with our ever-increasing pressures of testing and grades.

My soapbox is wobbly, and I think it's secretly telling me to shut up.  It's okay...I'm winded.  


  1. Your words made me want to share these words with you. "The ultimate goal of education is not to fill students with facts, but to inspire their love of learning. Irish writer William Butler Yeats put it: 'Education is not filling a pail, but lighting a fire.'" Even though I've been retired 13 years, these words, cut from an old magazine article, remain posted on my fridge.

    1. I love learning, and I'm forever telling my kids that a C is okay if you learned more than you would have with an easy A. I would be an eternal college student if I could!